How to spin a bad site migration into higher traffic and conversions

Site migrations can be a daunting task because of all the things that can get lost or overlooked during the move. If not properly planned and executed, a site migration can result in a frustrating experience and kill your organic visibility, traffic and revenue.

A botched site migration was the situation performance agency Merkle was brought in to resolve for its client, a leading electronics manufacturer. The team found ways to recover traffic and achieved better performance than pre-migration levels, increasing conversions and revenue. The effort earned Merkle the Search Engine Land Award for Best B2B Search marketing agency Initiative in the SEO Company category this year.

The task

On this particular campaign, the agency was brought in to recover organic traffic after a full site replatforming and migration to HTTPS. The site was losing nearly 50% of its organic traffic compared to the year prior.

Merkle composed a strategy that involved identifying which areas of the site lost traffic, conducting a technical audit of the new platform and optimizing for keyword signals.

The challenges

Because the team was not involved in the migration, it was harder to understand some of the nuanced changes in the site build. During the migration, many URLs had changed, making page-level performance difficult to compare. To add to that, a large percentage of the client’s organic traffic originates from specific model number searches and, due to frequently changing inventory, individual keyword-level performance evaluation was also impossible.

Fixing organic performance also meant untangling intertwined sections of the client’s B2B and B2C divisions on the site. The B2B division existed as a subfolder of the company’s main site, and some products were sold through both, resulting in heavy competition on search results pages.

To add to the complexity, the new site uses several JavaScript-driven components, server-side URL rewrites, hreflang tags for almost every country and a dynamic mobile design.

Technical and on-page remedies

Addressing redirect errors and lengthy chains — some in excess of five redirects — was one of Merkle’s top priorities and resulted in steady indexing and improved rankings. From there, the team rewrote the robots.txt file, which had been blocking crawls of APIs that the new platform uses to call critical on-page content. Merkle fixed sitemap issues, such as adding missing URLs and removing non-indexable ones, to grow sitemap indexation from 5% to almost 90%.

The client’s new platform’s templates used <h1> tags in multiple locations on a majority of pages. Merkle revised the templates to recode unnecessary header tags as h1 classes. It fixed link errors, which peppered the site’s navigation, added noindex tags, canonical tags or redirects to all thin and near-duplicate content. Further, it updated contextual links, the HTML sitemap and even its footer to send a cohesive signal to search engines.

A sitewide keyword strategy encompassing meta tag, anchor text and internal links was also implemented. Through testing, Merkle identified ways to encourage sitelinks to show for rich snippets in search results and applied these techniques to flagship campaigns, increasing visibility by hundreds of thousands of impressions per campaign.

The hreflang problem was resolved by optimizing tags for top pages to realign signals to the correct country pages, reducing traffic headed to the incorrect version of the site.

The payoff

For its efforts, Merkle increased the number of keywords ranked on page one by 30% versus pre-migration levels, which equates to a rise of 79% when compared to the initial migration decline. Overall, total ranking keywords rose 9% (up 26% after the initial migration decline).

The site’s organic traffic from Google now exceeds pre-migration levels, increasing by 112%. More importantly, the fixes resulted in a 56% year over year increase in long-form completions, which was the client’s primary conversion metric.

Every site migration is a bit different, and unfortunately bad ones are still all too common, but this award-winning case study is proof recovery is possible with the right approach. Merkle marketing agency Director Cheryl Sansonetti and marketing agency Coordinator Andrew Galuppo said the Search Engine Land award is the result of a team effort. “It recognizes and celebrates the great work that our employees and clients do together, our teams work hard and we like to celebrate that in many ways,”


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing agency, journalism, and storytelling.

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