4 Easy-to-Follow Directions for Moving Your Website

“Easy” being, of course, a relative term. One open to interpretation.

Making the decision to move to a new home or office is exciting. Typically, you’re evolving, taking your life or business in new directions. It’s a fresh start, and your thoughts focus on a panoply of new possibilities, not how much your sofa actually weighs.

The physical act of moving, as anyone who’s ever moved will tell you, is never easy, but can usually be measured in degrees of how horrible an experience it was. From underestimating the size of the U-Haul to overestimating your physical capacity and ability to nobly suffer, a million little details (the unforeseen wasps’ nest in the attic; realizing, as you’re about to drive off, that you forgot to empty and defrost the refrigerator; important mail being sent to destinations unknown, etc.) complicate your ability to cleanly transfer your possessions and, yes, your life from one place to another.

But there are a number of things you can do to mitigate the effects of the pesky details.

And, yes, this is a metaphor.

Redesigning and relaunching a website can be much like a physical move. There are a number of crucial details to be concerned about, but these are typically overshadowed by the promise of a brighter tomorrow: a new site, a new design, maybe even a new branding initiative. Moving into the future, taking the web presence to the next level. Exponentially increased revenue.

But did anyone think of the search engines? Who’s going to tell them that you’ve moved?

Think of your website as a store, a destination; think of the search engines as a gravy train, a conveyance loaded with potential customers who, once the driver gets to know your address, know you’re a great place to take people who are interested in what you sell, gets to trust you, will be delivered to your door on a regular basis. Now you’re picking up and moving without even putting a sign in the window?

Now think of yourself sitting in your new, fancy, empty store, thinking, “Oh, yeah. Customers.”

As previously mentioned, there are a number of things you can do to mitigate the loss of traffic, sales, leads, etc., that can accompany the launch of a redesigned site. Here are a few of them:

1. If you can move without changing your URLs, you’re golden.

Not changing URLs during a redesign and relaunch is the equivalent of remodeling and expanding your current brick and mortar location. As long as you haven’t replaced all your previously-indexable content with images and flash (which is becoming increasingly indexable but is still substandard when compared to text), your traffic should still come to your door in a relatively unerring fashion.

2. If your URLs must change, by all means let the search engines know.

Put 301 server-side redirects in place for at least all your top-level pages (directing search engines and visitors to equivalent information at the new address), and, in a best-cases scenario, for every page on your site. This (and I’m asking for just a bit of license here) is akin to hanging a “We’ve Moved!” sign, featuring your new address, on your door.

• To take this one step further, to a best-of-all-possible-worlds scenario, you’ve the luxury to move gradually, a section of your site at a time, providing the search engines a chance to find new pages while still being able to access many of the old, trusted pages.

3. Preserve, with your life, your home page URL.

This, of course, is situation-dependent. If you’re changing domains because you’ve been banned from the search engines, you can ignore this. That said, changing your home page is like moving your store across town while changing its name, plus not telling anyone. Not only can’t your customers find your new store – they can’t even ask for directions. When you change your domain, you’re abandoning any authority you’ve built over the years, your link popularity, etc. The list goes on. If you can help it, if there’s the slightest chance your domain can be preserved, jump on it.

• If you can’t, advertise. Let people know you’re changing. Put an announcement on your home page. Contact folks who link to you. When you move, make absolutely sure your redirects are in place.

4. Prepare for the worst while working toward the best.

Being of Scandinavian descent, I share my forbearers’ sunny negativity. If you’re convinced your U-Haul will be thrown in the ditch by a tornado while you’re driving through Wyoming, chances are you’ll avoid Wyoming. If you can’t, you’ll try to avoid tornado season. If you can’t, not being destroyed by a tornado is a nice surprise. If you are picked up and heaved into a pasture by a tornado, well, at least that’s over with. If you’re changing your domain, expect to lose all your search engine visibility. Expect your customers to go elsewhere. Expect your online revenue stream to dry up like a nightcrawler on a hot sidewalk. Embrace your worst fears, and do everything you can to keep them from becoming realized.

* This is by no means a complete list. Details, like finding out your washing machine is too large for your handtruck, will pop up, unbidden and annoying. Think of your friendly SEO project manager as a moving consultant who’s been through this a million times, who can put the seemingly insurmountable into perspective, who can keep an eye on the details and help you avoid the worst case outcome. Who comes to your door chipper at six a.m. with a cup of coffee in one hand and a fresh roll of packing tape in the other. Who won’t complain about how much junk you have.

And who’ll drive the Wyoming shift.