There’s no getting around the fact that site migrations can be a harrowing experience if details both large and small are not taken care of first. Whether a site is moving to a new content management system or an entirely new domain name, migrating a site requires careful consideration to avoid harming its SEO.
Site migrations must have a strategy to address crucial technical issues like (in order of importance) getting redirects in place, making sure all analytics and reporting software are in line, and taking care of any outstanding duplicate content.
While those technical issues have the highest priority, there’s one more thing you need to keep in mind: how does the migration affect your backlink profile?
Site Migration Impact on Existing Backlinks
There’s really no such thing as a “typical” site migration since most websites are unique. If a backlink points to a link on a site that does not exist or does not have a proper redirect to the new URL, there is a lot of value lost from that backlink. Simply put, if a page’s URL changes during a site migration for any reason, any backlinks pointing to that original URL have reduced in value.
There are three common kinds of migration, each with possible impacts on existing backlinks:
- Moving to a new CMS: Some websites that are quite old may have been created in an older framework or with an older programming language. If these sites move to a new CMS that does not support the older URL extension (e.g., .html), the URLs will have to be changed, even if none of the content itself does. For example:
- Example.com/home.cfm was originally built in Adobe ColdFusion, but the site owners want to transition to a WordPress install. Because WordPress doesn’t support the.cfm code, the URL will be changed to Example.com/home
- Moving to a new domain name: Sites that want to rebrand and take on their brand identity with a new domain name face the largest risk of adverse effects to their overall SEO. Not only will they have lost most branded search traffic, but all backlinks pointing to the previous domain have also significantly dropped in value since every URL will have changed. Even though 301 redirects still pass on “link juice” to the new URLs, the value is far less than a backlink pointing directly to the new URL.
- Moving to a new hosting provider: If a site moves to a new hosting provider but does not change URLs or the URL structure, there is no impact to the backlink profile. However, if the site owners decide to change the URL structure or retitle URLs to fit with a rebranding, then there is a loss of value from existing backlinks.
So it’s clear that in most cases a site migration means that backlinks will pass on considerably less link juice after everything’s said and done. Luckily, taking advantage of link reclamation is a sure-fire way to regain what may have been lost during the site migration, but this is just one tactic to consider.
Link reclamation should not be the focus forever, so here’s how to plan out a long-term link building strategy for any site facing an imminent site migration.
Link Building Pre-Launch
One of the first things to take on before a site migration is to pull any data from a site’s backlink profile. Using tools like Google Search Console, Moz Explorer, or Majestic SEO, having a complete list of all relevant backlink data will provide an idea of where to go once the new site has launched.
The next step is to rope in whoever is in charge of the site’s public relations and make sure they are included before the migration. Having a properly optimized press release will go a long way to maximizing any benefits both from a brand awareness and SEO perspective. This should be prepared well in advance as well as a highly targeted list of publisher contacts to ensure the press release is delivered to the appropriate sites and other media outlets.
Once PR efforts are taken care of, make sure to update all social profile links if the domain/brand name is changing following the new site launch.
Link Building During The Site Migration
For this stage, the site is either within several days or immediately after the new site has launched and users can now visit the site. During this time, the main link building tactic to focus on is performing manual outreach for link reclamation.
This can be a daunting task if a site has an extremely large backlink profile, so here’s where data pulled before the site launch will come in handy. Using factors such as Moz’s Domain Authority or Alexa Rank, sort the list of backlinks and try to identify websites with high value to qualify them for link reclamation.
Site owners could potentially perform link reclamation for months on end to regain the link juice lost from a site migration. But over time, this tactic will provide less SEO value compared to other link building tactics.
Depending on the diversity of a site’s previous backlink profile, try to sort external backlinks by domain authority and eliminate any sites below a certain score. The types of sites worth targeting during this reclamation phase will focus on the following by priority:
- .edu, .gov domains
- High domain authority publishers
- Relevant industry directories
Outreach to these sites will generally be easier than other link building tactics since the link already exists. As always, remain polite and courteous, and you’ll rarely encounter negative feedback from your link update request.
Avoid the Rabbit Hole, Alice
Having laid out which sites to target during this reclamation phase, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. Even if a link is from a high authority site, this doesn’t mean it’s worth the time reaching out to get it updated.
For example, a lot of backlinks may be from news stories or press releases dating several years back. It will be extremely difficult to get a publisher to update a news story from 2011 just because your site has changed domain names.
Another example is if a backlink is from a site which is in no way related to your industry. Topical relevance is very important in regards to the quality of a backlink profile, so there will be times where link reclamation to irrelevant websites may not be the best use of time.
Link Building Post-Launch
Link reclamation, when done correctly, will take several weeks, if not months, following a site migration. But as mentioned earlier, there will come a point where reclamation will provide fewer returns relative to time and resources invested.
This will ultimately fall on personal analysis, but once outreach has been completed on the targeted list of qualified sites for link reclamation, it’s time to consider moving on to a more comprehensive link building strategy. This is the time to refocus on building up internal pages on the site relative to a site’s keyword focus.
Link reclamation shouldn’t necessarily be abandoned completely long-term, but it’s important to weigh the value of time invested and the overall returns when diving into the multitude of link building tactics. If acquiring new links begins to slow down, link reclamation is worth revisiting so that some link building activity can continue.
Site migrations will always have some degree of negative impact on the site’s SEO. Provided that all technical concerns are squared away, link building should still be part of a site migration plan to help reduce these negative effects.