International Site Migrations: Reducing the Risk
Website migrations can be complex and risky. Adding an international element increases that complexity multi-fold. However, with effective planning and preparation, that risk can be reasonably mitigated.
What are the risks with website migrations?
If key technical SEO considerations are not carefully planned out and correctly implemented, there is a risk that a website migration could have a significant negative impact on ranking performance. This can, in turn, have a long term adverse commercial impact on a business.
What should you do to mitigate the risks of a website migration?
As with a ‘domestic’ website migration, it’s critical to:
- Carefully map out and implement 301 directs from the old page to the corresponding new one
- Carry over any existing optimised content, H1 tags, title tags and meta descriptions
- Update the XML sitemap to list all new pages and submit it to Google (once the new site is live)
- Update all internal links to point to your new pages and content
- Ensure all new pages and content on your website are mobile-friendly
- Ensure your new site performs well in Google page speed insights
- Ensure continuity of your Google Analytics and other performance tracking data
- Following launch, use Google’s change of address tool in GSC (if you are changing domains)
What additional factors should be considered for international website migrations?
When carrying out an international site migration, there are several additional areas that need to be considered on top of the elements outlined above to help ensure a smooth transition:
International URLs and site structure
How is the site going to be split out – at the language level or country-language level? How will these elements sit on the site – via a subfolder, subdomain or different top-level domains (TLDs)?
Generally speaking, you’re likely to find that having the entire site on a singular, top-level domain such as a .com, split out by subfolders is the best option in the long run. This approach preserves authority within a single domain and also reduces the amount of web properties to manage.
Sometimes other factors may dictate which structure you’re required to use – these factors are largely technical and CMS limitation based. As a result, it’s important to integrate your SEO and development teams early on during the planning phase of the migration so these limitations can be discovered and mitigated.
If you aren’t able to take the approach of creating subfolders of a generic TLD, then using different top-level domains or subdomains of a generic TLD can also provide a successful outcome.
This one sends a shiver down the spine of many SEOs and developers alike. A hreflang tag is a reciprocal HTML tag which informs Google how pages are paired together. To explain this a little bit more:
- Your new international website has a /uk-en/category/example-product page for your UK-English speaking customers.
- You also have a /us-en/category/example-product page for your US-English speaking customers.
The content of these is likely identical apart from some localisation. Without hreflang, Google is going to view these pages as duplicate content. You are also likely to find that the pages rank in Google in the wrong country, as Google is unsure which one is the best result to rank.
What does hreflang do?
It pairs together any identical pages targeted to different countries or country-language pairings. This then informs Google that pages aren’t duplicates, but are targeted to different countries/languages, enabling the search engine to rank them correctly in the appropriate version. If you want to learn more about this topic, take a read of our blog that explains how to create hreflang tags.
Geotargeting in Google Search Console
Although the correct implementation of hreflang is probably the best international targeting signal for Google – and is highly recommended for any international SEO campaign – it’s also possible to set a website’s country targeting in Google Search Console. This can sometimes be a simpler short-term fix to implement while hreflang is under development.
It’s important to note that this only allows targeting of sites by country, not language.
A separate Google search console account is needed for each country site’s domain / subdomain / subfolder and geotargeting must then be set individually within each GSC account.
Localisation of content
Oddly, localisation is often overlooked during many international migrations. Localisation is the process of ensuring the text and currency, if appropriate, matches that of the region you’re displaying in.
The impact on a website’s ranking performance by using the correct terminology, for example, “trousers” in the UK vs “pants” in the US, or “trainers” in the UK vs “sneakers” in the US, could be quite important from a search perspective – and this in turn should influence your approach to localised keyword research, on page SEO and content optimisation.
Additionally, it’s likely that the impact of using incorrect terminology will also be felt across your conversions. Using the wrong word or incorrect currency for a given region can degrade the trust the user has for the website, which in turn can negatively impact conversion rates.
When it comes to creating an international website, these pointers are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other elements that come into play which need to be considered, such as:
- International competitor market analysis
- Keyword research in local languages
- Content writing in local languages
- Correctly applying local taxes, customs duties and shipping costs to your orders
- International shipping and logistics
- Managing international returns, refunds and customer services
- Local laws and regulations
As an international SEO agency, we have plenty of experience carrying out site migrations for our clients including Belstaff and Gallagher. Many of these are done in conjunction with our connected web agencies NetConstruct, Statement and Pinpoint.
An international website migration puts a lot at stake from a commercial perspective when carried out incorrectly. When looking to migrate to a new international website, it could be highly worthwhile to utilise the expertise of an international SEO agency.
If you need more information on this process and how to get started, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our SEO consultants.