8 Steps To Maximize Success In Global Site Migrations
With the change from winter to spring, we are seeing a lot of companies bringing their international sites out of hibernation and refreshing them with new looks as well as new content. I am seeing this even more new sites evolving in Asia and Latin America where companies are trying to capture significant opportunities in these emerging markets.
Furthermore, I am also seeing a significant number of migrations to new content management systems (CMS) that are more accommodating to Asian languages, resulting in complete changes in URL structures and content volumes.
The planning and opportunity assessment process I will outline can also be very useful if you plan to migrate from regional representation to local representation.
For example, if you covered Latin America with a LATAM site that was a single site in Spanish for the region and you are moving to local-centric sites, it is important to use a process like I describe below to find additional local opportunities.
In the following steps, we are trying to identify the content with the highest value to ensure that we know what it is, keep it alive, redirect to the new pages and lastly measure the increase and decrease at a word/page level.
If you follow the steps outlined below and gather all of the bits of data in Excel the resulting pivot table should look something like the screen capture below. This pivot table shows how all of the information comes together. to allow you to sort the data and make decisions about migrating content.
Note, due to image size restrictions the URL’s are not shown in the graphic but they would be off to the right.
Step 1: Develop Master Keyword Lists
Start the process by creating a master list of keywords that are important to the country and business unit managers. You should have this already but just in case, check with the local teams to see if they are retiring any products, services or sections of the site as part of the transition. Even if they are, you should handle this properly as well since there is often significant opportunity long after you stop selling the products.
Step 2: Master List Of Pages
In this step, we want to get a good idea of how many pages we have on the site for each country and language version that will be part of the change. You can develop this list by crawling the site or exporting from a database.
There are a number of tools you can use, but two that are easy are Screaming Frog’s Spider or Microsoft’s IIS SEO toolkit. Both will get you a decent list of pages. If you have a tool that develops XML sitemaps, you can use that as well to create that base list of URL’s. The list will never be perfect but it is a great start.
This list can also be used to check redirects post-launch to ensure they were all implemented correctly. Note: of the last 5 site migrations I worked on, we were 5 for 5 where the developers implemented the redirects incorrectly.
It is critical that you check these as quickly as possible post-launch in order to salvage any mistakes.
Step 3: Inbound Links
Another often-overlooked step is to identify pages on the site that have a lot of quality links to them. We work so hard to get these links and most of the time there is little consideration for link equity during a rebuild or a site migration especially in overseas markets.
If you have an account, you can use MagesticSEO’s Bulk Back Link checker to check up to 150 URL’s at one time for authority and relevance. You can also use the MozScape API from SEOMoz to do this as well, but that requires some programing skills.
If you are migrating from a regional site to local sites this step is critical. In many cases, individual country sites and blogs may have linked to your regional site (since that is all you had available) and these are the links we need to make sure are redirected to the local version with the best authority.
For example, one page of a Latin America regional site had over 2,000 links from Mexico and none from any other country. There was no plan to migrate the links and they would have been lost. We redirected the LatAm version of the page to the new page in Mexico, resulting in the new page jumping to the top of the search results.
The challenge is when you have a lot of links from different countries to the same regional page. For these pages, you have to look at the link value from different countries and conduct outreach to the local sites to get them to link to the new local versions. You can redirect the old page to a dominant country or one that has the highest number of links.
Step 4: Page View Data For Each Page
In this step, you are looking for the number of page views of each page. This helps you to understand the overall value of the page to visitors.
You can draw the line where you feel comfortable. I have seen companies use last month, six months or even one year to determine the cut off. One year makes the most sense if you have a lot of seasonality in your traffic. The key is to identify high page view pages to make sure they are replicated in the new structure and/or redirected to the new content.
Step 5: Keyword Traffic
Export a master list of traffic by keyword from your analytics tool. This will allow you to see which keywords are driving traffic. You can merge the highest traffic generators from this step with those generated in Step 1. You can also add in your PPC keywords and traffic to this mix as well, but we are mainly concerned with organic search traffic.
Step 6: Keyword & Landing Page Current State
Once you have your merged list of words from Steps 1 and 5, throw them into your favorite ranking tool to see how well certain pages are ranking for top queries.
While many of you are adverse to rank reports this is a great pre- and post-launch diagnostic tool to see which words and more importantly, which pages, are ranking so that we can add that to the content value matrix we will develop later.
This list of high-ranking keywords and pages will offer an additional attributes to score the pages. Additionally, post-launch we can use this list of keywords and ranks to see which pages have been negatively impacted by the update rather than just guessing. The goal is to increase rankings post launch but we can be satisfied with no change as well.
Step 7: Develop Keep/Redirect Or Delete Lists
In this step, we need to develop a criteria that we will use to decide which pages to keep, which pages to redirect and others to remove from the site. Based on various performance attributes, we can identify pages to keep or delete from the site and our redirect/outreach efforts. I typically use a weighting such as (25+ page views (3 months) 10+ monthly visits (monthly), Top 10 organic ranking (in local version of search engine) and 5+ quality links.
Use your own criteria based on the type of site you have and available resources to work with the content and handle redirects and testing. I typically will use a few variations of this until we get the right mix.
For those pages you are not migrating, you should evaluate if it is best to send them to a higher level page (typically not possible with regional site migrations) or if you should use a 410 header response to tell the engines to purge them. Obviously, for those of high value and that have a one to one relationship on the new site, you should set up a 301 redirect.
Note: if you are creating new country sites from a regional site or changing any of your previous geographical signals like sub domains or directories, make sure you update your Google Webmaster tools geographical targeting settings.
Step 8: Measure & Monitor Impact
Once the site goes live, you can run steps 3, 4 and 5 to monitor inclusion in indexes, identify pages and keywords that had a drop in rank and those that may not have been redirected correctly.
Doing this immediately after launch can help find problems before all value is gone. The value of doing this “before” the build starts you can get a good sense of the content that must be preserved, currently performance an that that should perform that is not which can be optimized in the migration.
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