How Does Migrating to a Web Host Affect Your Site’s SEO?

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By Adrian Cruce

Building a formidable web-based presence that drives traffic from multiple sources is a cornerstone of proper online brand management. With both organic and paid marketing efforts capable of attracting visitors, customers and subscribers, investing in a diversified traffic strategy is all but required. Despite the numerous methods for increasing reach and visibility, some of the oldest methods – such as search engine optimization – remain the most powerful.

SEO, in particular, provides an abundance of opportunity for driving first-time and recurring traffic to your website, but anybody who has utilized SEO knows how fickle search engine algorithms can be with respect to change. Any major overhaul or transformation of your website can throw a proverbial wrench into your long-term SEO efforts, requiring careful consideration and planning.

One such example is migrating your website to a new host. While in theory this can be managed with minimal hassle, it often presents unique challenges for brands to overcome. To help businesses and brands avoid the worst of it, let’s take a look at how migrating to a different web host can affect your site’s SEO (and what can be done to mitigate it).

General Factors to Consider During a Migration

Before any action is taken, it is vital to take the time to compile a checklist of must-do actions, as well as factors that deserve consideration in the midst of a migration. There are both tangible and abstract factors that any migration process should take into account; acting hastily can pose a great risk to your brand’s overall performance in search engines.

First of all, consider when the migration should take place. Most websites have naturally busy and slow periods – if you pursue a migration during a period that is otherwise busy for your website, then you might lose valuable traffic and customers.

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It’s also worth the effort to perform a test migration before engaging in the actual process. While this may not highlight any potential issues with regard to SEO, it can ensure that problems such as broken links and errors are kept to a minimum when the actual migration occurs.

You’ll want to crawl your website prior to any migration in order to ensure that you have a comprehensive and complete list of URLs pre-move; this will ensure that no content is lost during the migration process.

When switching web hosts, you’ll also want to consider other aspects of the migration process that might be required. Examples include nameserver changes (which don’t affect SEO when handled properly) and domain changes.

How Migrations Impact SEO

The biggest and most important SEO concern during any web host migration is the impact on your links. Search engines such as Google and Bing have crawled your website since its inception, indexing each page and assigning value to it based on its current location. When you perform a web host migration, there are numerous instances in which the structure of these links can completely change. Without proactive steps being taken, this can result in every one of your links via search engine results pages being broken. The end result is that all of that precious SEO clout you’ve worked hard to build can be lost – at least temporarily.

Even when a change in web host doesn’t result in a new domain name, these problems can manifest. One such example is changing to a different content management system: with new software running your website, the inherent structure of your URLs may change by default, creating broken links in the process.

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As such, focusing on mitigating the impact that links can have on your SEO during any migration is paramount.

How to Mitigate the Effects of Migration on SEO

As mentioned earlier, it is highly recommended to do a migration test-run first – this will help identify any other potential issues that could affect your website’s SEO performance, functionality and/or design. However, the biggest focus will ultimately be on ensuring that links and pages still function properly, both internally and via search engine results pages.

Two types of redirects can help in both test-based and real migration situations. 301 redirects are very useful when migrating to a different web host or domain, as it tells search engines that your page has permanently moved. Another option is the 302 redirect; this works the same way as 301 redirects, except that it is used on a temporary basis. Your SEO juice will be passed to the new link when using a 301 redirect (this is not the case with 302s). You can learn more about when to use 301 vs 302 redirects by clicking here.

Additionally, there are a variety of smaller actions and steps you can take to further avoid any issues. For example, a migration could result in duplicated content on your new host; eliminating duplicate content will further reduce any SEO impacts. The creation of a new, up-to-date site map can also be vital in ensuring search engines accurately index all pages sooner rather than later. Additionally, keep an eye on your analytics before, during and after the migration – tell-tale signs of trouble will appear first, and knowing there is an issue ASAP can help you respond before it becomes an even bigger problem.

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How Long Will a Migration Impact SEO?

Perhaps the biggest question brands have in relation to web host migrations and SEO is how long any negative impact will last. Ultimately, this depends on the quality of the overall migration and which of the above actions (plus others) are taken.

The effects of a poorly-executed migration can cause substantial losses in traffic for six months or more. This is obviously the scenario everybody wishes to avoid, but websites both large and small can lose half of their traffic or more for months at a time if not handled properly.

When approached proactively and sensibly, shifting to a new web host will be a mere blip on the radar. A momentary hiccup in traffic – perhaps for a few days – is all that will be experienced when approaching migration from a sensible SEO perspective.

Site migrations can be complex, frustrating tasks. Whether the migration is to a new web host, domain or content management system, an extensive plan must be in place before any action is taken. Brands that address site location changes, platform changes, content changes and structural changes alike during any migration will experience a minimal impact on their search engine visibility. In short, migrations do not have to be painful experiences when planned properly and in advance.