7 Handy SEO Tools Functionalities that facilitate a Fast Web Migrations & Redesigns validation
Although in SEO we all know that Web migrations, redesigns and structural Web changes are some of those scenarios where is critical to have SEO input and validation since the planning stage we all have likely run into scenarios where the changes are launched and help is requested afterwards (this is certainly one of those scenarios that generate many of my clients!).
Web migrations are one of my favorite topics and in the past I’ve shared about:
- Overall best practices and steps for successful Web migrations
- How to recover your Web traffic after a Web migration has gone wrong and filmed a Crawling Mondays episode about the topic showing how to do the main validations,
- How to monitor Web migrations
- How to achieve an SEO friendly rebrand
- The SEO Guide to Migrate International Websites
- HTTP to HTTPS SEO friendly Migration Checklist
However I was asked a few days ago about a topic I hadn’t yet specifically covered: those tools functionalities that I find particularly useful to do post Web migrations and redesigns validations, and that can highly facilitate and speed the identification of issues… especially when you don’t have access to all the data and you might need to start from scratch.
So this time I would like to show those functionalities of popular SEO tools that I find highly useful and save a great deal of research and analysis time when identifying a Web migration or redesign impact, especially handy in those scenarios where we haven’t been involved from the start (so let’s assume here you don’t have a rank tracking tool monitoring the evolution of the site targeted terms), the changes haven’t been documented, we might also have limited access to historical data from the site directly and therefore we need to do more research but at the same time, a fast analysis to take action fast to avoid losing (any/more) traffic.
1. Validate the old top ranked pages status/redirects behavior
It’s critical to do a parallel crawl of the old pages (besides doing a full crawl of the new site version is) that used to attract more traffic and conversion to the site via rankings, links, shares… to identify if any of them hadn’t been 301-redirected to their new relevant URLs versions, or are showing an error status, non-relevant, looped or chained redirects.
To obtain the old pages to list crawl you can use the top ones from the Google Search Console and a further list from Google Analytics historical data, which I also recommend to validate, however, when doing the initial fast check I like to prioritize the validation of the old ranked pages using the SEMrush organic search report selecting the most recent date previous the Website redesign/migration.
By doing a list crawl of these old ranked pages I can directly obtain the queries and positions for which they used to rank before along the search volume of these terms and estimated traffic coming from them, and besides verifying the redirect behavior also being able to easily:
- Prioritize them based on the previous rankings, targeted search volume (potential) and estimated previous traffic.
- Identify if they are redirecting now to non-relevant or less optimized pages that would have a harder time keeping the old rankings for those particular queries.
For this I like to use Screaming Frog list crawl feature that allows you to also export (through the “export” option at the top) the crawled URLs in the same order as you imported and crawled them, making them much easier to paste directly in the sheet you had of the URLs with their old ranked queries and additional position and traffic SEMrush metrics.
You can do this with mobile search rankings too, particularly important for sites that are mobile first, with a higher share of mobile traffic or migrating from an independent mobile configuration to a responsive or dynamic publishing using a single URL for mobile and desktop pages versions:
Use the “redirect & canonical chains” feature of Screaming Frog to validate if there are any additional redirects after the first one or if the redirect destination is canonicalized to another URL -a potential reason for not recovering the old ranked positions even if it’s relevant for them-.
If you have the capacity I would also highly recommend to use Deepcrawl (better for bigger sites) or Sitebulb that will allow you to easily visualize the evolution of what you find in the re-crawls you will do (and easily compare them) after making the relevant SEO implementations to fix the spotted issues and see if you’re improving as expected.
2. Identify how the URLs changed for the top terms with drops
Another handy functionality can be found in the “URL Changes” report from Sistrix, that allows you to compare the rankings (along filters to select specific positions) between two dates (you can select the ones before and after the redesign/migration/change) as well as show the ranked URLs in these two different dates, with the option to prioritize based on the ranked queries search volume and position changes.
This can highly facilitate you to spot:
- Which are the terms that were ranking better before that have dropped the most prioritizing those with the highest search volume
- Which are the URLs ranking now vs. before for the high searched queries that have dropped the most
3. Verify if there are backlinks pointing to non-301 redirected pages
Sistrix has also another very useful and easy to use report, the “broken links” under the Links section, where they show any links going to pages showing an error status, or with temporary redirects, or redirects chains that end up in error pages.
This is report highly facilitates to spot those old pages that haven’t been properly redirected that are getting external links and need to be prioritized to be fixed. These might be very old pages, or orphan pages that might not even be ranking but getting referral traffic and link popularity through these links, and therefore important to properly redirect to provide a good user experience and pass the old pages link popularity.
4. Compare the before and after of the old top pages content and main technical configuration
If the site that you’re analyzing has not only gone through a URL structure migration but also a redesign, or you’re concerned about technical and content changes that the Website might have gone through during the migration or redesign but you don’t have access to directly check the old Website version -sometimes there are no copies of the old site version to easily check or no way to recover it for validation purposes-, then you can use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to compare the old top URLs with the new ones, especially those that have suffered from rankings drops or are particularly important from a search, user and conversion perspective.
You can check which of your URLs are in the Internet Archive by adding your domain, going to the “Summary” page and selecting “Explore your domain URLs” option, which will give you a list of the URLs as well as the dates from when they were grabbed and number of captures.
You can then select the desired URL to verify and choose the date previous the migration/redesign, to verify how it looked then, the included content, check the HTML and verify the old metadata, canonicalization, meta robots, internal links, etc. and compare them with the ones of the new page version.
You can also make use of the relatively new “Changes” feature to select two dates and visually compare how they look through the Wayback machine interface directly.
You can do this in bulk too with a list crawl of the old URLs in the Internet Archive site along their new URLs versions in your own site and compare both versions main SEO related configuration much more easily.
5. Compare your top keywords SERPs to check your previous and current competitors and SERP features
You might want to check the SERPs for your top terms before vs. now -especially for those for which you have experienced a rankings or CTR drop- to better understand if there might have been other rankings changes besides your own drop, and which were your old competitors vs. the new ones.
You can do this even if you hadn’t been specifically tracking the terms by using the “Keyword Overview” report in SEMrush, where you can select any date and see up to the top 100 ranked pages whether in mobile or desktop for any query, which you can use to check the the before and after SERPs for your top dropped terms.
Besides checking the specific rankings and competitors change in your top terms SERPs you can also compare the SERP features before and after, from which you were previously included and which were these pages and compare with the ones you are being shown with at the moment to identify any gap that might be negatively affecting your pages search results visibility and CTR, to prioritize your new pages optimization accordingly, for example to implement structured data.
6. Monitor the migration rankings evolution for any of your top terms and old vs. new pages
You can also use Google Data Studio along Google Search Console for free with the “Blended Data” option (about which I’ve written in the past here) but in this case to integrate and easily compare the previous vs. the new site versions after a migration. Simon Cox published a great step by step post here sharing how to integrate and compare both versions by visualizing the impressions, clicks and average position data through charts, as well as to integrate Google Analytics data in them.
What I’ve found particularly useful to also do is to use the “filter controls” to have more control to not only compare impressions, clicks and average positions at a site level, but also per query, page or a group of them, as well as segment per devices, as can be seen below, in order to more easily spot specific changes in a group of important terms or areas of the site.
You can additionally use the table charts to show side by side the new vs old ranked pages along their queries and their related metrics to facilitate their comparison, and identify top old URLs that are still ranking and receiving more impressions/clicks than the new ones, and see if it’s because of redirects issues, relevance/cannibalization problems of new pages, etc.
7. Put your before and after organic search visibility evolution in context vs your competitors
I can’t finish without mentioning a functionality that I find particularly useful when doing a migration or structural Web change: the Sistrix “Visibility Index”, which is probably the best I’ve found to put into context the evolution of the old vs. new site versions organic search visibility, to better understand the impact of the migration/redesign by comparing the old and new sites along the competition too. I really like how this comparison functionality it’s so flexible, allowing to compare the mobile or desktop visibility evolution of up to 4 URL paths, subdomains or root domains too (I used it a lot when doing http to https migrations too) for any of their supported countries.
This visual comparison will allow you to better assess the impact of the changes through the visibility trend and share vs other players, as well as to more easily identify the previous vs. current existing rankings gaps vs. specific competitors, also allowing you to go more granular in the analysis by comparing specific paths of your site, in order to prioritize your SEO action plan accordingly and easily report about the overall rankings evolution after the migration/redesign.
Bonus: Be notified from SEO related configuration changes in real time by using an SEO monitoring and alerts system
Although sometimes is not possible for you to avoid post Web migrations and redesigns changes from which you hadn’t been notified of in the first place, that make the analysis process more stressful and time restrictive (for which I hope the above mentioned functionalities will particularly help), you can minimize these scenarios with the clients you work with at an ongoing basis by using an SEO monitoring and alerts systems, such as Little Warden or ContentKing.
You can use these monitoring tools to set up alerts to be notified whenever:
- The robots.txt, canonical tags, http headers, meta robots, hreflang or metadata of selected pages or areas of the site are changed.
- The old redirecting URLs are not redirecting anymore to their new relevant pages.
- Your development/test environment becomes crawlable.
You can additional set the alerts to not only be sent via email, but also to slack or integrations with Zapier or custom Webhooks notifications, so you can get easily receive and manage the notification along your team to take action fast.
Besides setting an SEO alerts systems, you will definitely want to start monitoring the evolution of the site rankings (vs. the ones of your competition too) for those particular queries that are much more important for your site business, to see how they evolve after taking the relevant SEO implementation steps, for which I use SEOmonitor, my go-to rank tracker that has a built-in functionality for Web migrations. For more about this topic you might want to check my How to monitor Web migrations post too.
I hope that all these functionalities can help you to analyze faster, recover quicker and avoid any SEO issues and drops caused by structural Web changes, migrations and redesigns as they have helped me!