Jen Slegg’s post on Google’s Updated Site Move Recommendations for Webmasters is timely in that we are working on multiple large domain migrations at moment – tis the season I guess. As I have often said, redesigning a website and migrating the domain at the same time is the SEO equivalent of diamond cutting. There are not many ways to get it right and an infinite number of ways to get it wrong. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some observations on a domain change we worked on this year to add to the collective wisdom.
Site A had a lot of content on multiple topics and a lot of organic traffic. Site B had a lot of content on a single topic and decent organic traffic, but about 4x less than Site A. The client had decided to shut down Site B in order to focus on Site A which would be a much better business. The migration plan was to redirect related Site B content to Site A URLs whenever possible, but all non-related content, which was about 90% of the site, would be redirected to a selection of top-level pages. The client didn’t want to do anything more finely mapped than that, as it would have taken a lot of time/effort/$, etc.
The redirects went live and for the first week the organic traffic to Site A popped strongly. But this was a false positive. It was merely the result of searchers clicking on Site B’s URLs in the SERPs before Google had a chance to crawl and purge/demote them. Over the next two weeks, organic traffic fell to about where it would have been (based on the 2015 trend) indicating almost no demonstrable benefit from the move.
It’s possible Site A’s traffic would have been worse off without doing the migration due to algorithm updates, competition, etc. but at a high level it looks like this site migration was not worth doing.
An interesting data point was that average bounce rate from Google visits to Site A the week after the migration ticked up by almost ten percentage points and over the following two weeks drifted back down to where it was pre-migration.
This makes sense as searchers were clicking on Site B results in Google and getting redirected to irrelevant URLs which inflated bounce rates. As Site B results lost their rankings, the bounce rate returned to normal.
It would have been impractical to do detailed redirects on a site of Site B’s size (and impossible as there was no similar content on Site A to map redirects), but too often I see these kinds of outcomes from domain migrations, and even URL migrations within a single site, where the business owners don’t fully understand the downside of these choices. To most SEOs this stuff is obvious, but to everyone else it’s often the lowest priority, until it’s not…
If you want to read a happy story on this subject, check out my SEL post From oDesk To Upwork: How To Migrate A Domain And Not Kill Your SEO.
And of course if you need help, we provide Domain Migration SEO Services.