A website redevelopment is a large and complex task, migrating content from one website to another, and there are several things that need to be considered from an SEO standpoint. Our SEO Office Hours Notes cover these, along with best practice recommendations from Google to ensure your site redevelopment is successful.
Check out our in-depth website migration checklist for a practical guide on how to manage major site redevelopment projects.
Merging two websites together can be complex, but isn’t inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for SEO
Merging two websites together essentially creates a new entity. Google must explore and review how this fits into the wider search landscape as it would with any other new site.
Site migrations that involve merging content from multiple domains can be complicated, but it’s sometimes the only option. It’s therefore not a bad tactic, but extra care should be taken to ensure every step is well documented in case errors do occur.
Images should also be redirected during a website migration
John answered a question about organic search fluctuations after a site migration. As well as checking the page differences before and after in regards to aspects like internal linking, content or structure, it’s also important to consider embedded content like images.
If you don’t redirect your old image URLs, Google needs to reprocess them again and will find them again as new because they don’t have the connection between the old and the new URL ones. He clarified that it can have a big effect if you have a lot of image search traffic. It makes sense to set up those redirects even if you’ve moved over a month or so ago.
Internal URL changes can cause organic search fluctuations
A participant was seeing organic search fluctuations after a URL structure change on their website, despite adding 301 redirects. They asked if that is expected and how long the process should take. John responded that changing internal URLs means they have to almost reprocess the entire website and understand the context of all the pages on the website first, which can take a significant amount of time.
You are likely to see fluctuations in organic search for at least a month or longer if it’s a bigger change. Fluctuations can also occur if other changes have also happened at the same time, such as internal linking, content, or page structure updates which could have caused the pages to become weaker. If this is the case, John recommended reviewing the pages before and after to understand these differences and which things might need clearing up.
There’s generally no SEO benefit to repurposing an old or expired domain
When asked about using old, parked domains for new sites, John clarifies that users will still need to put the work in to get the site re-established. If the domain has been out of action for some time and comes back into focus with different content, there generally won’t be any SEO benefit to gain. In the same vein, it typically doesn’t make sense to buy expired domains if you’re only doing so in the hopes of a visibility boost. The amount of work needed to establish the site would be similar to using an entirely new domain.
Blocking Googlebot’s IP is The Best Way to Prevent Google From Crawling Your Site While Allowing Other Tools to Access It
If you want to block Googlebot from crawling a staging site, but want to allow other crawling tools access, John recommends whitelisting the IPs of the users and tools you need to view the site but disallowing Googlebot. This is because Google may crawl pages they find on a site, even if they have a noindex tag, or index pages without crawling them, even if they are blocked in robots.txt.
Rollout Stack Migrations Gradually in Stages
John recommends rolling out a migration between different stacks in batches, allowing enough time in between to test and track any negative performance impact before rolling it out to more sections of the site.
Block Staging Sites From Being Crawled by Google
You should block Google from indexing your staging site as it can cause problems. You can block access based on Googlebot’s user agent, or using robots.txt.
Expect to See Rankings Drop When Sites Are Merged
If you merge websites, you should expect to see some rankings drop, as Google doesn’t just add up all the signals, and the pages need to be re-evaluated on the new site. Ensuring you have correctly redirected every page should help the signals be moved over.
Google Re-Evaluates Pages if the URL Changes
If you move a page to a new URL, Google will re-evaluate it and the rankings may change temporarily.
Splitting or Merging Websites May Change Rankings
If you’re moving a whole website to a different domain, Google can move the signals across for the whole site. But if you’re splitting off part of a site to a new domain, or merging multiple websites, then the rankings may change as Google has to revaluate the sites individually.