Five pitfalls of web migration 

When you move your website to a new system, there are lots of pitfalls to watch out for. Tim Lacey, a non-executive director at Infinity Nation explains the top five issues facing investors and entrepreneurs when dealing with website migration.

Every business wants a well-performing website that can showcase and sell products effectively and quickly. But when you move website data from one platform to another, you’ll find the same problems crop up all the time and the fallout is disruptive and costly.

If you’re an investor in an e-commerce company, it’s very useful to understand the hidden digital performance risks to ensure they are identified and mitigation plans are in place before embarking on a migration project. Such risks should certainly be flagged in a digital due diligence process.

1. Legacy Issues

Why spend thousands of pounds building a website that looks great but has the same glitches as the old one?
This happens because performance issues are not always easy to quantify. If you haven’t identified which areas on your website aren’t search engine optimised, for example, then how do you know what to change?

The most common legacy issues are:

  • Poorly optimised and/or duplicated meta data
  • 404 errors and dead pages
  • 301 redirect chains
  • Lack of category content
  • No sub categorisation
  • Crawl issues
  • Key pages with low site visibility

These must be addressed before undertaking the migration process, or new investment could be squandered.

2. Migrating during key trading periods

A new website can be derailed by lack of planning.

Stakeholders usually insist that a website goes live by a set date, to converge with press coverage, rebranding or new products. In-house teams are aware of their key trading periods and, understandably, want the new site to capitalise on certain events. They don’t appreciate that restructuring timelines need built-in flexibility.

Even with a tight migration plan and engaged technical SEO team, a website transfer takes 4-6 weeks to stabilise. This is because Google has to re-crawl and reindex the new pages. If the Meta data or content has changed Google also has to re-evaluate searcher intent. All these factors can cause a fluctuation in performance and rankings. Migrated sites usually stabilise within four weeks but it can take longer, depending on website size, redirect numbers and site structure. Six weeks is the accepted industry average.

When developing a website you have to assume there will be hitches and insert contingency plans into the timeline. Unforeseen delays are costly; factor in an adjustment period and your business won’t suffer.

Most companies don’t take delays into consideration. With a key trading period looming, panic sets in and someone decides the site must go live before it’s ready. The consequences can be devastating.

3. Failing to update internal links

This is more common on websites that have updated their domain structure or re-categorised, rather than new sites.

Developers create a redirect rule, routing all existing links to the new structure. The concern here is that pages start to get redirected within a website. Navigation links, on-page copy and breadcrumb structure (caused by developers forgetting to update the code) now all pass through a redirect chain.

Redirect chains are the bane of search engine optimization. Once a site has a redirect chain, its link-equity gets diluted and it loses value. It also means Google finds it harder to crawl your site. Google allocates a certain amount of crawl budget to a website and will visit up to four times a day, spending this budget as it goes. If Google gets lost in needless redirect-chains and loops, your allocated crawl budget is wasted. And Google will spend less on its next visit. There is usually no need for links on your website to be redirected through a 301. Instead, the link itself should be updated. This is not difficult; it just requires know-how and CMS access.

4. Old websites still live

This tends to happen in two instances: when a developer has not built your new site in a secured environment (non-indexed in Google); and when a company changes its domain from http to https.

If your website is not built in a secure non-indexable environment it will get indexed by Google. This means you will effectively have two live websites: your new domain, plus a developer domain. To Google’s eyes that means duplicated content and you run the risk of being penalised. An experienced developer will know about this, but building a site in-house or outsourcing to low-level developers could spell trouble.

5. Blanket redirects

Blanket redirects are more common on new site migrations and can have various detrimental effects.

They occur when developers redirect an old site ‘in bulk’, usually to save time. Old product pages tend to be redirected to high-level category pages on the new site. Developers frequently redirect too many pages to the homepage, which eats up your crawl budget. Bad redirects result in key pages being de-indexed from Google.

If high-performing category pages do not appear on the new site, traffic and revenue will be reduced. It is important to carefully identify your key pages and match them correctly to the new structure.

An experienced third-party team will flag-up and manage these performance issues, making the migration process as smooth as possible.
Tim Lacy is a non executive director at Infinity Nation

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Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for from 2018 to 2019.