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Migrating URLs

One of the objectives of our recent site relaunch was to maintain the inbound links into the old site, mapping them to the new site via 301 redirects.

I know from my days as a retailer the critical importance of inbound links, both for visitor traffic and for SEO ranking.

This was the first time I worked closely on a URL migration, and wanted to share some things we learned in the process:

  • Identify all of the pages on your old site up front. It was easier for us than many sites because our site is small.
  • Find all of the links on the pages. Make sure that you haven’t missed anything. We didn’t do this, and missed a handful of files, mostly small applets. It turned out these were fairly popular. We even got emails from folks asking where they went.
  • Don’t forget the images. You may want to do spring cleaning when you move to the new site, but finding and moving missing images after the fact is painful.
  • Keep a copy of the old site available. It’s been a valuable resource. It’s fine to have it behind the firewall after the move to the new site.
  • Start testing internal site links as soon as possible. We use an internal self-spidering script and Apache logfile scraping to find missing links referenced from our new pages.
  • Watch for external broken links. The Google Analytics and Google Web Master Central 404 reports were a great way to find content that hadn’t been moved or re-mapped.
  • Don’t underestimate the time it takes to do it right.

I’ve heard the average time between replatforming an ecommerce site is about four years. That means many online retailers are either heading into or just coming out of a site redesign. Often a redesign means all new URLs. Budget the necessary time and effort to keep all your historic URLs working.

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4 Responses to “Migrating URLs”
  1. Sante says:

    That is wise information – It was very common in the recent past to destroy the old website by the tune of “out with the old in with the new”.

    My experience tells me to use extreme caution when it comes to URL rewriting, especially for old websites that are doing well and I would go as far as saying not to implement the rewrite if things are going well.

    I have seen people rewrite the URLs and loose a considerable amount of traffic that takes a very long time to recuperate.

    Happy holidays :)

  2. Sante –

    Good points.

    You write “…especially for old websites that are doing well and I would go as far as saying not to implement the rewrite if things are going well.”

    Sure, but if the old site is going away, completely gone, with no option to keep — for business or technical reasons, whatever — then keeping the old site running simply isn’t an option.

    In that case, the best you can do is salvage all the inbound link value you can with careful and exhaustive 301ing.

    Cheers

    Alan

  3. Small Urls says:

    That was a nice piece of information.. And i think that google follows the same trick when we switch from the blogspot domain to a custom domain..

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  1. [...] In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss how we’re migrating from our old URL structure to our new structure — without destroying all our hard-won and much appreciated inbound links. [...]