Migration SEO Tips Series - Part 2 - Monitoring Your Migrated Site's Health
So, if you followed my tips in Part 1 of this series, you’ve hopefully carefully planned out your migration strategy, identified all the links you need to migrate, created your redirects, and at some point, you’re ready to push the button and migrate your site. Before you do this, and for a period of time after the new site launches, you’ll need to make sure you monitor your website traffic in case you missed anything, or ended up with problems such as redirect loops or drops in conversion rate. This article will focus on how you can ensure you are monitoring your website appropriately using Joomla and other tools so that you quickly pick up on developing problems in the few weeks and months following a migration.
If you don’t measure, you don’t know
One of the most common things I come across when I work with clients is that they have ‘an idea’ of the traffic coming through their sites, but they have no clue what proportion comes from organic search (somebody typing in words to a search engine and landing on your site without you having paid for the link they clicked on), paid advertising (pay per click or sponsored advertising), social media marketing, email campaigns and so forth.
They also often can’t tell me the proportion of visitors who then go on to actually do something they want to happen (which we call a ‘conversion’), for example buy a product, sign up to a newsletter, watch a video, browse more than three pages.
These are key business intelligence metrics which are absolutely fundamental to understanding your return on investment for any kind of time spent in marketing, and can be critical decision-making factors when identifying where to invest your time, money and energy in the future.
The take-home point here is, if you are not measuring the data, you can’t know. I would possibly expand on that to say, if you’re not analysing and understanding the data (or having someone else analyse it and explain it who you trust) then you are basically running your business blind.
Monitoring after a migration is compulsory
Migrating a website and walking away without monitoring the health of your site is a disaster waiting to happen. No matter how much work you put into analysing your links, redirecting traffic and so forth, there will ALWAYS be some kind of problem after a migration. I have literally never known a migration that did not require some kind of tweaking due to problems with redirects, reduced conversion rates, problems with user experience and so forth.
The monitoring I’m about to show you takes literally seconds to set up, and can be done by anybody. Just do it, even if you set it up and walk away, do it!
Monitoring for errors
Error pages are the most common thing to monitor for, and they are often an early warning sign of stormy waters ahead - 404 errors occur if content no longer exists, and any time there is an increase in 404 errors, you want to know about it quickly.
Using Joomla to find and fix broken links
In Joomla 2.5.x and above, there is a core component – com_redirect – which allows you to identify and deal with people visiting your sites and landing on a 404 page. To use this system you need to enable the plugin via Plugin Manager – find more information on how to use the component on the help screens, also available via the Joomla Documentation at http://docs.joomla.org/Help33:Components_Redirect_Manager.
Using 3rd Party Components to find and fix broken links
There are a number of 3rd Party Components which you can use to fix broken links, however if you are planning to use Joomla’s SEF features (and not a 3rd party SEF provider) I would recommend using a plugin which simply does the redirect and/or suggests appropriate URLs that the visitor might be looking for. A great example I use is Dynamic404 from Yireo (note this cannot be used in conjunction with SEF extensions).
Setting up alerts in Google Analytics
Sometimes it’s helpful to get alerted when there is a problem rather than wait for you to log in and check the redirect logs. There’s a simple and quick way to do this, we can create an alert in Google Analytics based on what we know about a 404 error.
It’s really simple to set up an alert in Google Analytics to warn you about 404 errors, but first you need to know what happens if you land on a page which is not available. For example, visit www.yoursite.com/blah and assuming that /blah does not exist, you’ll experience what anybody landing on a page which is no longer available will see.
I’ll be writing a bit more about how you can optimise your error pages in the next article, but for now, take a look at what is in the page title – showing in the title bar, or by viewing the source of the page and looking at what’s in the <title></title> tags. For the purposes of this example, I’m assuming you’ve got the word ‘404’ in the title tag.
Open up your Analytics profile, and click on ‘Admin’ in the top bar. Then click on “Custom Alerts”, near the bottom of the third column.
Click on ‘New Alert’ to start creating your custom alert. Give it a title of ‘Increase in 404’s’, and if you want to apply this alert to multiple analytics pages you can do this via the drop-down box.
Choose whether you want to be alerted daily, weekly or monthly (at the beginning I would suggest daily so that you pick things up quickly, but you could change this to weekly or even monthly once the dust has settled).
You have the option to be alerted by Email and SMS when the alert is triggered, it’s up to you which you prefer.
Finally, to set up the alert, choose ‘Page Title’ in the green box, then choose ‘matches regular expression’ in the condition box. Enter ‘404’ in the final box of this row, this will trigger if ‘404’ is in the page title.
To set the alert conditions, set the blue box to show ‘Page Title’, then set the drop-down box to ‘% increases by more than’ and choose the % increase in 404 at which point you wish to be alerted.
You might want to start this out quite low, perhaps 5%, and then adjust the value as time goes on.
In the final drop-down, select what time period you want to consider, previous day, same day in the previous week, same day in the previous year. You might want to set up multiple alerts, for example to alert you if it increases based on the past day, the same day last week, and the same day last year, just repeat the process.
You can also set up this kind of alert for other terms. For example, if you have a page which displays when the user does not have permission to access a resource, or if there is a specific page you want to monitor more closely. Have a play around, and see what works for you!
Setting up alerts in Google Webmaster Tools
Another great tool for getting an early warning of developing problems is Webmaster Tools. It’s super simple to set up your site on Webmaster Tools, and it’s free. You can even authenticate it without having to upload a file if you have the Analytics property under the same account.
When you log into Webmaster Tools, click on the settings cog, and go to ‘Webmaster Tools Preferences’. Make sure you tick the box which says ‘Enable email notifications’ and choose what kind of notifications you want to receive. Generally it’s recommended to get all notifications, but you may wish to drop this down to ‘top site issues’ if you’re getting flooded with messages!
Depending on your settings, you will now get a message if there are problems with the sites you have in Webmaster Tools.
Monitoring changes in conversion rates
All websites should have goals set up: actions that you want your site visitors to achieve. If you don’t have goals set up then you should! I’ll be writing an article on how to do this later in the series.
Conversions are what happens when a site visitor successfully carries out an action - a goal - on your website. This might be something along the lines of purchasing a product, browsing different areas of the site, watching a video or signing up to a mailing list.
Using the same method above, we can set up an alert to tell us when a goal conversion rate decreases (or increases!). Simply choose the appropriate goal in the blue drop-down box, while setting the green box to ‘All Traffic’, and set your threshold.
To conclude, there are several ways of monitoring your website after you have migrated, but you must monitor it in some way. The key take-home points are:
You must measure the data to be able to analyse it
It is essential to actively monitor traffic after conducting a migration
You can use Joomla or 3rd party extensions to find and fix broken links
You can quickly set up alerts in Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to proactively warn you of emerging problems
In the next article of this series, we will be focusing on what to do if you find problems developing, and how to set up goals to monitor conversions.