7 steps to manage the URL migration

Last week I posted a blog regarding the [importance of link building][100], so why you should really take care about your content and the links that can be generated around it.

This week, I would like to stress you regarding the importance of what is necessary to do when migrating a site. Editorial or technical necessities are generally the reason why such changes are required, but often they can include a domain change. It doesn’t really matter what are the reasons.

As soon as the new site with the new URL structure will be deployed, not managing properly the URL migration will invalidate the link equity, and the page authority previously acquired.

This is because once a web site goes live, sooner or later, it starts to be linked. This could be done intentionally - for marketing reason – or naturally, by persons who like the web site. It doesn’t really matter who, when and where the web site gets a link.

In the above scenario, it is likely all the users who try to get access to an old URL will land on an inappropriate page or in the worse scenario onto an error page. This will lead to:

  1. Drop in traffic levels from the search engines (due to a loss on confidence)
  2. Poor user experience for visitors
  3. Potential loss in revenues

A URL migration is then required, in order to manage the changes between the old URLs and the new one.

Best practice on how to proceed with the URL migration

Step 1: Audit the existing indexed content from the original site by getting a list of the URLs by the different search engines. Integrate the URL list with the one provided by the customer.

Step 2: Depending on which web server operating system you are using, create a 301 (permanent) mapping of old pages contained in the indexes to the new URLs. Make sure simple URLs are used and avoid canonicalizing the resources.

The redirection should be in place indefinitely because, although the search engines update their indexes within a reasonable timeframe, the third-party links around the web are likely to stay longer.

Step 3: For less important pages, which need to be progressively abandoned, best practice suggests using 404 page error pages. The double side effect of the 404 page is to

  1. Explain to the user that a page no longer exists and,
  2. Inform the search engines to safely remove the URL from their index.

Step 4: Re-submit XML and HTML sitemaps for the new site. Tell Google and other search engines adhering to the sitemap protocol (Yahoo!, Bing, Ask) about all the new URLs as quickly as possible.

Step 5: Support the crawling of the web page using an HTML sitemap. This will favor the user’s navigation.

Step 6: Update inbound links / reconfigure all inbound links to the most appropriate URL

Step 7: Webmaster tool audit to analyze 404 error page not properly redirected.