Best Practice When Moving from HTTP to HTTPS

Changing a site from HTTP to HTTPS is considered (by the search engines) to be a site move. Changing the structure of a site at the same time as implementing https is a sure way of losing organic traffic. To implement https, first ensure your HTTP and HTTPS sites are identical.

Implementing HTTPS can be a great business move, but if you try to do too much the search engines will react and you are almost certain to take a major hit.

A site migration will almost always result in a temporary loss of traffic — search engines need time to process the change and update accordingly. A well-implemented migration can minimise traffic fluctuations and in time Google will treat the new site as if it were the original.

Migrating to https offers user security (when filling in forms etc) and there should be a slight SEO gain, but there will be a period of transition.

Never do a site migration without first testing everything on a test server. Verify that the redirects work properly and do all of the checks before going live.

A well-planned and monitored migration shouldn’t permanently affect your traffic, but you should plan for a temporary dip. A move is best performed during a slow time of the year (think bars/restaurants in January!)

Benchmark exactly what you have before the move

Make a copy of your Google Analytics data. You will need this information so that you can quickly identify if any traffic is lost after the migration. Also, information from Search Console for your http property should be downloaded for analysis after the move.

If any traffic is lost, export the Analytics data from your new site and run a side-by-side comparison with the data from your old site, so that you can identify precisely which pages lost the traffic. In many cases, a loss of traffic will be isolated to individual pages, rather than taking place across the entire site.

As mentioned, resist the urge to make any other changes when implementing https. The URL architecture should be identical to the old one. A site migration may seem like the ideal time to make structural changes, but you should be aware that doing so may cause Google to see it as an entirely different site. Also, if you do both at the same time, you will not be able to determine whether any losses in traffic is a result of changing the architecture or https.

Update all internal links

The HTML links on your new site should point to the new https site, not the old one.

This might sound obvious, but as you go through the process, you will quickly realize how tempting it might be to leave the links unchanged, since they will redirect to the new URL anyway. Do not succumb to this temptation. Apart from the server load, which slows down site performance, the redirects may dampen your PageRank.

The ideal way to rewrite the links is by performing a search and replace operation on your database – wordpress has a plug in to make this easy.

Canonicalisation

Canonicalisation tells search engines which web page is the original and should be indexed in the case of having duplicate pages. If you have identical http and https pages (that you will have), make sure the canonical is set to the new version (https) on every page.

In combination with the redirects, this tells Google that the new site is, in fact, the new location of the old site. URL parameters create duplicate content that should always canonicalize to the parameter-free URL.

Duplicate content

If both multiple versions of a URL are published, it results in duplicate content. Canonicalization should take care of the issue, but also set up redirect rules in .htaccess so that only one version of the page is accessible.

Make sure that links are consistent to avoid redirects from internal links.

Verify that only HTTPS or HTTP is used and that only the www or non-www version of the site is accessible. The others should redirect to the proper site.

If your site has a search function, the search result pages should be noindexed.

Update and submit sitemaps

https will need a new property setting up in search console. Do this, update your sitemaps for https and submit for indexing.

Redirection

Use a regex expression in the .htaccess file of your old site to redirect HTTP to https. The regex expression should simply swap out HTTP for HTTPS.

Test your redirects on a test server and verify that this works as expected.

Keep in mind that once the redirects go live, your site has effectively been migrated. The new site should be in pristine condition before setting up the redirects.

Monitor traffic, performance and rankings

Keep a close eye on your search and referral traffic, checking it daily for at least a week after the migration. If there are any shifts in traffic, dive down to the page level and compare traffic on the old site to traffic on the new site to identify which pages have lost traffic. Those pages, in particular, should be inspected for redirect errors. You may want to pursue getting any external links pointing at the old version of the page changed to the new one, if possible.

It is equally important to keep a close eye on your most linked pages, both by authority and by external link count. These pages play the biggest role in your site’s overall ability to rank, so changes in performance here are indicative of your site’s overall performance.

Mark dates in Google Analytics

Use Google Analytics annotations to mark critical dates during the migration. This will help you to identify the cause of any issues you may come across during the process.

Update PPC and all other platforms

Update all of your PPC accounts, social media profiles, bios, other websites you own, forum signatures, and any other platforms you take advantage of, so that the links point to the new site and not the old.

Monitor your indexed page count

Google will not index all of the pages on your new site immediately, but if the indexed page count is not up to the same value as the old site after a month has passed, something has definitely gone wrong.

Conclusion

Keep all of the above in mind if you are planning to migrate your site to https, and it should go off without a (permanent) hitch.

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Optimise a Website – SEO Audit to Improve Performance

Websites that have been around for some time often need a refresh. Find out how to run an SEO Audit and Optimise a Website.

The primary goal when optimising a website is to add value. Changes will need to improve performance for both the short-term and the long-term.

Outsource Your Audit

Online Customer Solutions deliver high-value, low-cost SEO services for small and medium size business. Fill out our quick contact form for more information.

What you need to Audit Your Website

Access to:
Google Analytics (or other third-party analytics).
Google Search Console
FTP Website Access
Crawling and Indexing Software

Duplicate Content

Check for Duplicate content. Make it a top priority to rewrite these pages. In the meantime, add the <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”> tag to the duplicate pages.

Some common duplicate content errors include : Duplicate meta titles and meta descriptions, duplicate body content, multiple or sub domains.

Use a canonical tag to let Google know which is the original and preferred URL is. Use the robots.txt to block pages you don’t want indexes. Re-write the content.

Pagination often causes duplicate content, use the robots file again to block the duplicates. Search Console will highlight any meta-data duplication.

What is Your Website Made Of?

There are many tools available to crawl your site – these work in a similar way to search engine robots. Enter your home page and the software bots will visit every page and element (image etc) on your website and catalogue useful information like H1, H2 tags, broken links and other metadata.

The best software tools will highlight if any pages are missing information, for example, Analytics code. They will also report how many pages the site has (compare this with Search Console) and if the site uses Flash (that is not recommended due to speed issues).

You can use these reports to fix heading issues, image alt text and more. Make sure your website follows the basic SEO guidelines.

Robots.txt

Check that your robots.txt file is not blocking pages from being indexed that you want to be included.

Identify and fix broken links.

URL format

If the URL has characters like ? or & it’s a dynamic URL which can cause duplicate content if not optimised. Make sure nothing is being reported in the consoles.

Keep the URLs as short and simple as possible while also removing any extra slashes.

Preferred URL domain name

Check that in the search console you have selected what your preferred domain URL is, for example, HTTP://www.test versus HTTP://test.

Backlinks

Check the number of backlinks to the site from anyone website page. Clean up anything that looks spammy.

Use your disavow list (don’t want to remove valuable links)

Sitemaps

Make sure your sitemap is accurate and submitted to the search engines. Don’t include parameter URLs in your sitemap or any non-indexable pages. If the site has different subdomains for mobile and desktop, add the rel=”alternate” tag to the sitemap.

Crawl Errors

These annoy users and search engines. HTTP Error Response Codes include:

301 — These are okay as long as there are only one redirect and no redirect loop.
302 — These are okay, but change them to 301s if they are permanent.
400 — Users can’t get to the page.
403 — Users are unauthorised to access the page.
404 — Page not found
500 — Internal server error- Turn it off and on again.

Fix errors using the proper redirect or if there is a technical error investigate further.

Structured Data Errors

Make sure if you are using a Schema that it is configured accurately. Again, here Search Console is your friend.

Check Your Index Results

Compare the numbers from Google Search Console with the numbers from Google Analytics, if the numbers are widely different, then you know that even though the pages are getting indexed only a fraction are getting organic traffic.

If the homepage isn’t appearing as the first result, perform a manual check of the website to see what it’s missing.

Cross-check the number of organic landing pages in Google Analytics to see if it matches the number of search results you saw in the search engine. This can help you determine what pages the search engines see as valuable.

Caching

Run a quick check to see if pages are being cached by Google. For example type : cache:www.onlinecustomersolutions.com. Google uses these cached pages to connect content with search queries.

Campaign Tagging

Tag your URLs with campaign information. For example:
https://www.onlinecustomersolutions.com/?utm_medium=blog&utm_source=ocs&utm_campaign=Nov2016

Google Analytics will report this in the Acquisition -> Campaigns Tab

Event Tracking

Set up event tracking and measure form completions, sales, conversion etc. Otherwise, how do you know if you are winning?

Keywords

Use Google Search Console to gain insight into keywords being used to find your site. You can use this to refine the landing pages and focus on building links with the right anchor text.

Top Level Domain

Sort of goes without saying, don’t use .es if your site is targeting the UK. Really only applicable to large multinational sites.

HTTPS: Essential for sites that take payment details, less so for others but is rumoured to have more than security advantages – search engines like it too.

Mobility

Search Console will let you know of any Mobile Useability problems. You site needs to be usable on mobile devices just as easy as a desktop. This is also important to your users – most of which will be primarily using mobile to browse the internet.

Site architecture

Using the Search console, report on how your site is linked together. Do the right pages have the most links? Is the content connected together using relevant keywords? If something looks wrong, you need to deep dive and investigate.

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SEO website audit

Site speed

Use PageSpeed Tools to report on the speed of your site. This tool will also let you know how to improve it.

Find out more

Contact us today.

Based in Manchester, Online Customer Solutions provide SEO services to a range of business and specialise in helping small businesses grow.

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