The giants of fairy-tales have three things going for them: strength, resources, and infamy.
In a similar way, our industry giants often dominate the searches due to the strength of their team, the resources of a large budget, and their brand fame.
A household name, a large team of experts, and a budget to rival the plunder of a fantasy kingdom, isn’t a luxury we all have as search marketers.
So how do you stand out from the crowd in a marketplace dominated by industry giants with resources out of your reach?
We are going to explore ways to win organic clicks and conversions away from the big, established players in your space while working with budgets a fraction of theirs.
In just five steps, I’m going to show you how you can prepare your website to bring down the giants.
1. Look for Their Weaknesses
The first step in competing against the dominant brands is assessing where they have weaknesses.
Content Gap Analysis
Start with a content audit. Using a tool like Ahrefs, you get an understanding of what keywords you are ranking for, which they are not.
In Ahrefs you can enter your domain and a couple of the sites of competitors who are also in the top 5 organic search results into the “Content Gap” feature and compare it with the number one player in your industry.
This will show you which keywords you and your competitors are ranking for which the giant is not. This gives you an idea of where your competitive edge is.
For example, I have chosen the industry “wooden sheds” and entered two websites and the brand I am keen on improving.
If the giant I’m wishing to take down is Homebase, a large home improvement and gardening store here in the UK, then I can see that the keywords they are not ranking for, but some or all of the smaller brands are.
This gives me an idea that I can compete more easily for terms such as “potting shed” and “playhouses”, both with a high monthly search volume but not something the giant is currently targeting.
Screenshot from Ahrefs’ “Content Gap” report
Content Format Gaps
The other aspect you should be looking at in your content gap analysis is the formats of content that are not being utilized by your heavyweight competitor.
Whatever your industry there is always the scope to go outside of the standard “text on a page” template for your site.
Diagrams, videos, and audio files all increase the ways your website can be found through search. You can easily use a crawler to search the code of a site for the indicators that it is using formats such as PDFs and even videos.
For more detail on how to use a web crawler and custom extraction to identify types of content on a page, such as YouTube iframes, take a look at Screaming Frog’s guide to web scraping and data extraction.
Once you have an idea of what content your competitors are not using you can start to take advantage of that gap.
For instance, producing video guides to explain how to set up the technical products you are both selling, or the audio explanation of complicated medical topics could give you that edge in usability and conversion.
Make a Display of Strength
Improving how your content is displayed in the search results can be an easy shot to take against a behemoth competitor.
Oftentimes, due to the sheer volume of products or pages on a site, they rely on templated page titles and descriptions rather than having the time or facility to craft them all by hand. Use that to your advantage.
Up against the likes of Amazon, however, whose inventory is in the millions, it can cause you to get the click even if you aren’t out-ranking them.
Mark up Your Unique Content
The best way to maximize the effectiveness of the content types you are utilizing that your competitors aren’t, is by using schema markup.
This will enable some search engines to pull through this information and display it in the SERPs in a more appealing way than a standard search result.
For example, if you choose to use videos on your site you can mark them up in such a way that Google can use them to populate the video carousel, a spot in the SERPs that is reserved purely for videos.
Even if your giant has great written copy that answers a user’s question it will not be able to outrank the video you created that visually answers their query.
Aim for Featured Snippets
The holy grail of search results, the featured snippet, evens the playing field when it comes to search rankings.
No matter if your site is not ranking in first position for a search query, you are still eligible to appear in the “position 0” placement if your content best answers the user’s search.
Studying the search results related to your industry can allow you to see when featured snippets are appearing and what is the content currently populating this area.
Use Your Other Resources
If you are lucky enough to have access to paid search accounts for your brand then make sure you are using the data gathered from them. Analyze the converting terms that are relevant to the campaign you are running.
Larger brands may well find their teams working in silos, or even outsourcing elements of their campaigns to different agencies which means the cross-channel insight is harder to come by. Use this to your advantage.
2. Be Quick & Nimble
Juggernauts are intimidating, but they are also slow. The benefit of a small company or agency is the speed in which you can pivot.
If a campaign is not effective, getting sign-off to learn from it and try something new is not as much of a bureaucracy-laced endeavor as with a large brand.
Quick to React to New Opportunities
Many enterprise businesses have several layers of authorization required to make the smallest change.
Being able to adapt quickly to a change in the market or capitalize on a new audience gives your SEO team the edge.
Keeping an eye on what is performing well on social media can help you to ride the wave of an emerging trend.
This kind of adaptation is often out of reach for larger brands who are beholden to strict marketing and content plans that cannot be deviated from easily.
Through your understanding of market trends and the ability to move swiftly, you can create content for digital PR purposes a lot quicker than a team that is on a strict content plan.
Make Changes Swiftly
An extensive development queue is frequently a barrier to getting changes implemented to a website quickly.
Often, there are other priority tasks your in-house or agency developers are focusing their time on. Multiply this delay by ten for an enterprise site.
Being able to talk to your developers and ask them about priorities is a huge benefit that comes from working in a smaller company.
You may still be outsourcing your development work, but chances are you have a direct dial to a member of their development team or your account manager rather than having to submit a request and escalate it through slower, more official channels.
Make sure you take advantage of this closer working relationship by:
- Discussing your needs with your development team.
- Educating them on the importance of SEO, if it’s an area they are not familiar with.
3. Identify Your Secret Weapon
Your secret weapon against strong competitors is likely going to come out of your ability to focus your time and efforts where they cannot.
In some instances, this could be within a local community.
If your business serves people from a physical location, you are far better placed to rank for queries with a local intent than a purely ecommerce site.
If your large competitors also have brick-and-mortar stores but not in a location near yours, then your niche will be your local area.
Your small business that is in the heart of a community will be able to gain relevant local links from charities, sports clubs and community events in that area far easier than a large multinational corporation.
If you have a handful of shops across a small area, you are more likely to be able to spend time building relationships with local contacts than a centralized SEO team for a company that has hundreds of locations to cover.
Highlight Skills & Expertise
Another great way of differentiating your client or your company from larger competitors is by using its staff to build authority for your site.
The chances of the CEO of a company that has 100 employees being open to working with you to secure local media coverage is higher than one who is overseeing a 10,000-strong company and not even resident in the country you are optimizing the site for.
Expertise within the brand you are trying to promote will be more accessible within a smaller organization than it would be within a massive one.
Get to know the experts within your brand and start looking for opportunities for them to contribute to digital PR efforts.
Data that has been produced through their research or their expert opinion on a topical subject will go far in promoting the website as a source of authoritative information within the industry.
Keep the Battle Small
One of the key points to remember in taking on a giant is that you are only going to be able to beat them in certain conditions.
For example, you have no hope (or need) to beat Amazon in the SERPs for “cheap pillow cases” if you are a retailer of luxury perfume.
It is key to look at the few pages within their site which are actually competing against your website and identify how you can outrank those.
It may be that you can earn better, more relevant links to your product pages than your big competitor can purely because they have more products so their team’s time will be spread more thinly than yours.
One weakness larger brands have is very tight brand guidelines and sign-off procedures that stop innovation from occurring.
As a smaller brand, you have the opportunity to be bolder in your marketing.
Whether this takes the form of irreverent calls to action in your meta descriptions or taking a swipe at the competitor through a comparison article, you have the option to make an impact where a larger brand is wrapped in red-tape.
4. Develop Your Battle Plan
The key to winning any fight in the SERPs is having a great strategy.
In the case of fighting industry giants, it is imperative that you are developing a battle plan that capitalizes on their weaknesses we’ve already discussed.
Add the Value They Can’t
In many cases, this includes answering the queries they are not. This will likely be long-tail searches that require in-depth research.
A great source of material to start your long-tail strategy off is user forums.
Subreddits can be a gold mine of information on the sorts of questions users want answers to but cannot find an answer to online.
Through sites like this, Quora and Answer The Public, it’s possible to build up a picture of what your target audience is interested in but don’t necessarily have access to.
Use this to create content that engages your target audience in a way that your competitors aren’t.
Bring the Fight to Your Battlefield
It might be that the players dominating the industry on Google are not as hot in other search engines, or indeed, are neglecting other channels altogether.
A key question to ask is, are you ranking in the right search engines?
For instance, it may be that due to their lack of video content that you identified through your content gap analysis they are not visible on YouTube at all.
Is this a channel that you can exploit further? Don’t fall into the trap of only fighting them on one front.
Consider more industry-specific search engines, like TripAdvisor, is this a more level playing field for you to thrive in?
By looking outside of your primary search engine you can open up another line of attack that might not be where their efforts are focused.
5. If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them
Another option is that if your industry behemoth is actually a marketplace or reseller, like Amazon, it may be a good move for your brand to start selling through them.
This sort of decision is usually outside the purview of a digital marketer, especially if you are working within an agency, rather than in-house.
However, it may be within your remit to make recommendations and use the data you are gathering as part of your reports to encourage this to be considered.
For brands that aren’t ecommerce, another option is to piggyback off the success of your industry competitor and look at partnering with them.
Can you write for their blog so you are getting traffic through referrals from their site and raising your profile with their audience?
For instance, sites in the UK targeting medical information terms such as “eczema treatment” will likely find themselves outranked by the National Health Service (NHS). However, this site does link out to reputable, authoritative websites that may give more specialized advice than they do.
If you stop looking at links as only being there to boost your backlink profile and see them as avenues to raise your profile with your audience, then you could find traffic and engagement rising drastically.
It isn’t impossible to steal organic traffic from the big players in your industry. It’s just daunting.
Put together a robust plan of attack and you should be able to start chipping away at their organic traffic and building up your own.
Soon, you might find you start to level out in size.
All screenshots taken by author, August 2019
Avoid These 9 Enterprise SEO Reporting Mistakes That Devalue Your Data
Enterprise SEO can seem slow, expensive, and burdened with process. This is particularly true in reporting, where workflows and deliverables can be extensively detailed and nuanced.
Whether you deliver physical reports or have online reporting, dashboards, or presentations, there’s a lot to talk about.
As SEO professionals, we’re never short on metrics, segments, and ways to fill up paper – or webpages of data.
We have a tendency to throw the kitchen sink out there to justify our efforts, explain the complexity of SEO, and get buy-in.
And despite our best efforts, many of us make reporting mistakes that can actually hinder our enterprise SEO strategy and how it’s perceived by others.
In this article, you’ll learn more about nine common enterprise SEO reporting mistakes that devalue your data and take away from the important opportunities you have to use reporting as a positive way to enhance your strategy and efforts overall.
More importantly, you’ll learn how to solve and avoid them, as well.
1. Not Aligning With Broader KPIs And Goals
So many of my articles start out with goals and that’s because without them, SEO can get off track from the start.
Worse, SEO might end up doing extra work that isn’t necessary or has to be thrown out anyway.
Investing in any area without clear goals or an understanding of how SEO efforts drive toward ultimate marketing or business goals is setting yourself and your team up to fail.
Enterprise SEO can include reporting to a lot of different types of stakeholders. Implementing technical and on-page updates can move slowly – especially if you need to get new content deployed.
Many clients, managers, and executives don’t know or care about the details of SEO.
They care about what it drives. What it needs to drive toward are goals they understand and you want to connect those dots from the start.
Solution: Spend time within SEO and with other channels or stakeholders to define specific KPIs that tie into broader business goals.
2. Lacking Baselines And Benchmarks
Most reporting compares one timeframe to another.
Even with comparisons in place, stakeholders will often ask, “Is that good?” The context of where we started and what impact specific optimizations had is essential.
That means you need to find meaningful milestones for comparison in your reporting.
Whether that means a year-to-date compared to the same timeframe the previous year, or month-over-month, have a reason and justification for it.
Know for sure what the data is showing in terms of trends and performance for your own organization – and how it compares to the marketplace as a whole.
SEO reporting and data is meaningless if it is in a vacuum and lacks context.
Is 1000% traffic growth good? Maybe. But was it bad to start with and we’re still below industry average? Not as impressive.
Solution: Work with key stakeholders to get agreement and buy-in on meaningful milestones, baselines, and benchmarks to use going forward (and backward) in SEO reporting for objectivity.
3. Missing The Customer Journey
When we talk about enterprise SEO, we’re likely managing a large site that is driving toward lead capture, a sales transaction, or maybe even large-scale page views (e.g. publishers).
Yes, there are visitors who will come here and convert on the first visit and within a click or two. Focusing on those visitors alone limits your potential, though.
In an enterprise organization or for an enterprise-level SEO strategy, there could be an untapped wealth of customer journey and conversion funnel data available from others in the organization.
Find the right brand, product, sales, or marketing manager to get it.
This will help you greatly in organizing your reporting showing how SEO is contributing at each stage (or could be in the future).
If you’re simply reporting in aggregate on average position, traffic, and conversions, you’re missing out on an opportunity to tell a bigger story, get deeper into what is happening, and justify SEO strategy needs from others.
Solution: Organize your SEO reporting in a way that matches the known customer journey.
Build the funnel around keywords, topics, and conversion paths so SEO can be measured objectively compared to other channels and sources.
4. Not Separating Keywords By Type
One of the biggest mistakes in enterprise SEO reporting is blending all keywords and intent signals into one metric.
Of course, I’m a big fan of executive summary-style, streamlined KPI reporting.
Just don’t stop there.
Brand terms should rank well on their own if there aren’t SEO issues.
As SEOs, we often don’t have a lot of control over demand and search volume for branded terms.
Why would we want to provide reporting with them blended in with generic terms that are in our specific optimization strategy and plan?
Upward and downward swings in brand traffic can be tied to PR, seasonality, and other demand drivers that we don’t control.
Blending them in with generic and focused SEO strategy terms can tell the wrong inflated or underwhelming story in your reporting.
Solution: Segment performance data between brand and generic keywords, at a minimum.
Go deeper where you can into specific focus topics and in alignment with the customer journey tied to your strategy if possible.
5. Focusing Too Much On Indicator Metrics
I learned early in my career that I didn’t ever want to hear a client or manager say, “That’s all good, so is there ROI?”
We definitely need to track keyword performance, rankings, traffic, and conversions.
That alone is not good enough for enterprise SEO strategies, though. What is converting? What is the ROI on that? Can we justify this level of investment in SEO?
These questions must be answered or no one will want to hear about average position, impressions, or visits.
Starting at the end – the most important metric or business driver that SEO can impact.
Lead with that. Then, where relevant on other pages, tabs, or in deeper conversations, get into the SEO-specific indicator metrics.
That’s how you can keep your executive-level audience engaged.
Solution: Provide an executive summary or lead with the result that came from your amazing solution.
Go deeper into the “how” you got that result in an appendix or separate part of the report.
6. Nerding Out Too Much
I love hearing about how getting a database-driven canonical strategy implemented across 100k product pages solved a year-long issue.
I could talk for hours about those types of successes. But this is what I do.
If your reporting is full of our SEO language and your key audience doesn’t understand or care about it, they’ll completely miss the point.
Lead with outcomes, read your audience, and structure your reporting and communication around what will resonate most with them.
Be sure to take credit for the wins; just make sure those wins and how SEO drove them are actually understood.
Solution: Have others give you feedback and advice on how deep they want you to go technically in reporting. You can always adjust what you’re already doing based on helpful feedback.
Get help on translating terms and metrics if they aren’t resonating with your audience.
7. Lacking A Connection To Broader Strategy
Large organizations have big marketing teams, content efforts, PR, and a lot more.
That’s typically good news for enterprise SEO campaigns.
That means we’re not hurting for content, relationships to drive inbound links, and resources to help us with funnels, modeling, and customer engagement data.
It is easy to want to stick with just core SEO metrics – on reporting what we control.
However, your reporting is a great opportunity to show how content, links, and website technical aspects are helping or hindering overall SEO performance.
If you want more resources, buy-in, or support from content creators, IT, developers, PR, and others, then show the connection between those efforts and your own.
For example, if a PR campaign ended and we have fewer links now, bring that up!
If we have been asking for new or optimized web copy for months and the content writers have focused on other priorities, show the cost of that missed opportunity.
Reporting can be a great way to call attention to opportunities and therefore make the case for resources.
At the end of the day, SEO isn’t an island. Showing data and the real impacts of not getting collaboration can help.
Solution: Find areas where you have great support or need it and highlight those in your reporting.
Tie cause and effect together in your narrative (written or spoken) and emphasize that SEO can’t operate in a silo.
8. Simply Providing “Reports”
Does your enterprise-level SEO reporting platform include a lot of default KPIs and metrics?
Templates and automation are great.
Whether you’re an agency scaling reporting across clients or in-house building your own, having a starting point and data that is aggregated from multiple sources is key.
The challenge is that without customization and tailoring your report to the company, specific baselines/benchmarks, and KPIs that uniquely matter, then you’re providing something that looks and feels generic.
If your strategy is custom-tailored to the brand, then make sure your online or physical reporting reflects that.
Don’t let it look like you just swapped out a logo and plugged in some data sources and that was it.
Solution: Invest time to tailor the deliverable so it is a tool to leverage for communication versus a burden or task to complete.
This could mean customizing the report’s look and feel, changing up the metrics, or considering other methods for sharing the information.
9. All Data And No Insights
This is a mistake that becomes most critical when stakeholders have access to a real-time reporting dashboard, or when we send reports to them via email without a meeting to walk through them.
Go a step further than avoiding the mistake of having a simple or generic report – make sure you’re telling a story!
Data is simply data. It is open to interpretation or frustration without context.
Frame the context. Tie the strategy to the results. Good or bad, you need to be able to articulate what the data means and inspire others to actually care.
Come armed with several key insights and ideas to get a step ahead and make reporting time productive.
When things are performing well, it is easy to show a few percentage increases and to go on your way.
However, in good or bad times, pull out details on what drove the performance, what is working well, what isn’t, and how we can keep or stop doing something to impact performance in the future.
Reporting shouldn’t be disconnected from conversations around strategy and collaboration.
Solution: Create space in documents, presentations, or conversations for sharing insights and smart thinking. Think insights first in your presentation.
Maybe you don’t even have to show the data behind them or the reporting details. That’s a huge win, as you’re talking about things that matter more than the raw numbers that got you there.
Enterprise SEO requires a lot of effort, collaboration, time, and investment. It can all be tanked by reporting mistakes that can have serious consequences.
By not showing the proper value of SEO to an organization, it can get cut or the resources you need can be hard to get.
When lacking context, insights, and leveraging the opportunity to report to your audience, you can lose their attention and make your own work more difficult or scrutinized in ways you don’t want.
Work toward a tailored reporting focus to make it a powerful tool tied back to your strategy and into bigger picture impacts that SEO has on the brand.
Featured Image: PROKOPEVA IRINA/Shutterstock
5 Technical SEO Issues On Large Ecommerce Sites & How To Solve Them
Wish your product listings could rank better on search engines?
Feel like your success is as limited as your crawl budget?
Effectively ranking thousands of products, hundreds of categories, and millions of links requires a level of organization that can sometimes feel out of reach.
This is particularly true when the performance of your ecommerce site depends on a limited crawl budget or disconnected teams.
For large ecommerce sites, it’s an immense challenge.
In this post, you’ll find proven solutions for some of the most persistent technical SEO issues plaguing sites like yours. You’ll learn how to tackle issues around crawl budget, site architecture, internal linking, and more that are holding your site’s performance back.
Let’s get to it.
1. Crawl Budget Is Often Too Limited To Provide Actionable Insights
Growing your ecommerce business is great, but it can lead to a massive volume of pages and a disorganized, outdated website structure.
Your company’s incredible growth has likely led to:
- Extensive SEO crawl budget needs.
- Lengthy crawling processes.
- High crawl budget waste from easily-missed, outdated content, such as orphan and zombie pages, that no longer need to be crawled or indexed.
- Difficult-to-follow reports filled with repetitive fundamental technical errors on millions of pages.
- Incomplete and segmented crawl data, or partial crawls.
Whether your crawl budget limitations are from website size or desktop-based crawling tools, you need a solution that allows you to review and understand your full website, as a whole — with no limits.
The Solution: Use Raw Logs Instead Of Crawl Reports
To overcome the issue of slow, limited crawl budgets, we recommend using raw logs instead of crawl reports.
Raw logs give you the power to:
- Monitor crawling, indexation, and detailed content analysis at a more reasonable price.
- Understand which pages are impacting your crawl budget and optimize accordingly.
- Eliminate critical errors right after a product update.
- Allow you to fix issues before Google bots discover them.
- Quickly identify pages with 2XX, 3XX, 4XX, and 5XX status codes.
Using a raw log tool also gives you the exact picture of a site’s SEO efficiency.
You’ll be able to pull reports that show the number of pages in the site structure, the pages getting search bot visits, and the pages getting impressions in SERPs.
This gives you a clearer picture of where structure and crawling issues occur, at any depth.
For example, we can see there are more than 4 million pages in the site structure above.
Only 725,161 are visited by search bots.
And only 29,277 of these pages are ranked and getting impressions.
24,189,025 pages visited by search bots that aren’t even part of the site structure.
What a missed opportunity!
How To Discover & Solve SEO Crawl Issues Faster With Raw Logs
Implement a no-limit SEO analysis tool that can crawl full websites of any size and structure.
Blazing fast, JetOctopus can crawl up to 250 pages per second or 50,000 pages in 5 minutes, in order to help you understand how your crawl budget is affected.
- Create an account at JetOctopus.
- Access the Impact section.
- Evaluate your Crawl Ratio and missed pages.
In seconds, you can measure the percentage of SEO-effective pages and know how to improve the situation.
Our Log Analyzer tracks crawl budget, zombie and orphan pages, accessibility errors, areas of crawl deficiency, bot behavior by distance from the index by content size, inbound links, most active pages, and more.
With its effective visual representation, you can boost indexability while optimizing the crawl budget.
Crawl budget optimization is central to any SEO effort and even more so for large websites. Here are a few points to help you get started.
Identify whether your crawl budget is being wasted.
Log file analysis can help you identify the reasons for crawl budget waste.
Visit the ‘Log File Analysis’ section to determine this.
Get rid of error pages.
Review the site’s crawl through log file analysis to find pages that may have 301, 400, or 500 errors.
Improve crawl efficiency.
Use SEO crawl and log file data to determine the disparities between the crawled and indexed pages. Consider the following to improve crawl efficiency.
- Make sure the GSC parameter setting is up to date.
- Check if any important pages are included as non-indexable pages. The data in log files will help you locate them.
- Add disallow paths in the robots.txt file to save your crawl budget for priority pages.
- Add relevant noindex and canonical tags to indicate their level of importance to the search bots. However, noindex tags do not work well in the case of multimedia resources, namely videos and PDF files. In such cases, use robots.txt.
- Look for disallowed pages being crawled by search bots.
2. Managing A Massive Internal Linking Structure Can Be Complicated
Internal linking is one of the best ways you can inform Google of what exists on your website.
When you create links to your products from pages on your site, you give Google a clear path to crawl in order to rank your pages.
Google’s crawlers use a website’s internal linking structure and the anchor text to derive contextual meaning and discover other pages on the site.
However, creating a crawl-friendly internal linking structure is tough for large-scale websites.
Keeping up with internally linked products that constantly go in and out of stock isn’t always sustainable on a large ecommerce site.
You need a way to see where deadends happen during a Google crawl.
Why Internal Linking Structure Matters
Google relies on internal linking to help it understand how visitors can quickly and easily navigate through the website.
If your homepage ranks well for a specific keyword, internal links help in distributing PageRank to other, more focused pages throughout the site. This helps those linked pages rank higher.
The Solution: Find Crawl Dead-Ends With Interlinking Structure Efficiency Tools
Our Interlinking Structure Efficiency solves this issue by giving you a clear view of your site’s internal linking health.
- On the dashboard, go to Ideas -> Structure Efficiency.
- This screenshot shows the list of directories that are present on the website, the pages in this directory, the percentage of indexable pages, the average number of internal links to a page within this directory, the bot’s behavior here, SERP impressions, and clicks. It clearly reflects SEO efficiency by directories to analyze and multiply the positive experiments.
Check out how our client DOM.RIA Doubled Their Googlebot Visits by experimenting with it.
- Crawlability: JS content limits a crawler’s ability to navigate the website page by page, impacting its indexability.
- Obtainability: Though a crawler will read a JS page, it cannot figure out what the content pertains to. Thus, they will not be able to rank the pages for the relevant keywords.
As a result, ecommerce webmasters cannot determine which pages are rendered and which aren’t.
It also shows the JS errors.
Here’s how to put this feature to work for you:
- Go to JS Performance in the Crawler tab.
4. Few Tools Offer In-Depth Insights For Large Websites
Core Web Vitals and Page Speed are significant technical SEO metrics to be monitored. However, few tools track these page by page.
The Solution: Use One Tool That Gives You True Priority Tasks
Google Shares Advice on Site Migrations
Google published a new video about site migrations. John Mueller offered insights into how Google handles website migrations and how long they can take. The major takeaways are that site migrations can be difficult and that a comprehensive plan needs to be in place before the migration.
The video begins with a question:
“We’re currently going through a site migration and we’d also like to restructure the URLs on the site. Does this impose any risks?”
Migrating a site typically means changing the domain name, sometimes because the company is merged with another one or because the branding changed.
Joining two sites together are the trickiest because you have to choose what URLs will remain and which will be merged into existing pages that are similar.
John Mueller answered:
“Unfortunately, while this may at first sound like a small change within a website, it’s not that simple for search engines.
In particular, search engines like Google store their index on a per-page basis.
So if you change the address or the URL of a page, that page’s data has to be forwarded somehow, otherwise it gets lost.
It doesn’t matter if you’re completely rebuilding a website or if you’re just removing a slash from the end of URLs. These are all essentially site moves.”
John Mueller Offers Site Migration Tips
1. Research the Options and Potential Effects
Site moves can be disruptive so it’s important to plan out the move by mapping one site to another. One way to do it is to divide the two sites into sections and see if sections can map to each other.
From there it’s a matter of mapping URLs one to one and deciding which URLs cannot be moved to the new site and should resolve to a 404 response, which can be tough if there are links pointing to those pages. Which is why it’s important to plan ahead, thoroughly.
“Since these changes take time and have ranking effects, it’s also recommended to consider the timing of when you make a move.”
Screenshot of Google’s John Mueller
2. Create a List of Old and New URLs
This is an important step.
According to John:
“…This tip will help help you to track and check the changes afterward.”
A good practice is to create a spreadsheet of URLs, which can easily be done with Screaming Frog.
Once you’ve got the redirects in place and the new URLs up, you can check the work by uploading the list of the old site structure to Screaming Frog so that it can crawl the URLs.
This is easily done by selecting Mode > List then clicking on the Upload drop down menu tab and selecting the type of file being uploaded.
Screaming Frog will crawl the old URLs in the list and show you which URLs are redirecting to the new URLs and which are not and returning a 404 page not found error response code.
The 404 URLs may be the URLs that didn’t make it over to the new site (if they aren’t the URLs planned on being purposely dropped).
You’ll have to determine if the 404 is the correct response (you meant to do that) or if the URL was unintentionally left out of the site migration and needs to be mapped to a new URL.
3. Implement the Migration
“301 redirect all the old URLs to the new ones, also update all internal mentions such as:
- structured data
- and the Robots.txt file”
4. Monitor the Migration
Mueller advised using Search Console for this:
“Check all pages for the redirect. In Google’s search console report you should see a quick change for the most important pages and then a slower change as our systems reprocess the rest.”
Mueller cautioned that this last part can take months to finish. He’s talked about how determining overall site quality can take months. Google has to basically learn what a site is about, including site quality and to understand where the site fits within the Internet.
John recommended leaving the redirects in place for at least one year.
In my experience, it may be necessary to consider leaving the redirects in place for longer than a year. The reason is because old URLs that have links from other sites pointed at them will become broken links if the redirects are removed.
You can create an outreach to contact sites that are linking to you and ask them to fix the links to point to the changed URLs.
But you have to be aware that doing this kind of outreach can backfire because some sites, for many reasons, may decide to remove the link altogether.
Also, there may be links out there that you don’t know about, so you can never be sure that you had all the inbound links updated. So for that reason, it may be necessary to keep those redirects in place and be ready to update them should some of the URLs change again, to avoid creating chained redirects.
A chain redirect is when an old URL redirects to another old URL which itself redirects to another old URL before it redirects to the final URL. Over the years this can create a chain of redirects which becomes problematic for crawling.
Site Migrations are Tough
As Mueller advised, it’s important to plan ahead. Map similar pages together and be conscious about link equity from inbound links. Site migrations can result in a site losing search presence but it doesn’t have to happen if it’s preceded with a thorough migration plan.
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