The Only Nonprofit Site Migration Guide You Need
I love working with nonprofits because they’re in a remarkable position to succeed with SEO. Your website is your lifeblood and whether you use it to rebrand your organization, communicate with the world, collect donations or spread more good, a proper website furthers your nonprofit’s mission.
Eventually, your organization—and your website—will change. You may need to update your domain name, switch to a new content management system (CMS) or do both simultaneously to better your web presence. A site migration can be a fantastic way to rebrand your nonprofit, speed up your site and improve user experience.
But if you adjust your URL or CMS in a rush, your organization could face some serious ramifications. Below I offer tips on how you can incorporate SEO best practices to help your nonprofit site migration go smoothly and keep your ranking high.
Preserving SEO for Your Nonprofit Site
A new domain name changes your digital address. If you suddenly change your address without telling search engines, your SEO ranking will drop considerably because, while your original address is indexed, your new one will appear unauthenticated.
As a result, you’ll see less organic traffic to your site while crawlers try to verify everything. Your site could even lose its backlinks, which could negatively impact your brand awareness and fundraising.
A CMS migration can also affect your SEO ranking by compromising critical back-end data that helped you rank for high-quality keywords. Without this data, your search engine index could disappear, and your site will rank lower on a results page.
SEO’s purpose for nonprofit and for-profit organizations is essentially the same: to bring donors or customers to your site from search engines.
Organic traffic is critical to your success, and unfortunately, some of the biggest losses in organic traffic come from improper site migration. That’s why a nonprofit should never take major site changes, like a new CMS or a domain name change, lightly.
A bad CMS migration can destroy the content, video and images that were helping your site rank higher on a results page. And changing domain names without a proper URL redirect plan can cause your site to disappear from search engine indexes.
You can lose a lot of traffic and search rankings with the slightest slip-up, so you should focus your site migration on losing as little organic visibility as possible. Partner with a reputable SEO professional to ensure your migrated nonprofit site makes your organization shine.
5 Tips for Your Nonprofit Site Migration
An improvement to your site can mean more donations and more good work in the world. These five essential tips can help you make intuitive adjustments and avoid potential issues during your site migration.
1. Set Goals
All site migrations cause fluctuations in your organic traffic; the question is how much the migration will affect your rankings and for how long. Before you dive headfirst into changing your domain name or CMS, set achievable goals so the process impacts your nonprofit positively.
For example, if you’re moving to a new CMS, set goals to help you understand why the change is necessary, what content you could lose after the switch and how you can prevent negative side effects.
A well-done site migration can greatly benefit your brand, user experience, volunteers and employees.
2. Test and Keep Testing
Testing is a critical part of SEO. Once you’ve changed your domain name or CMS, test your new website in a protected, private environment called a sandbox.
In the sandbox, you can play with new ideas, experiment with every page and check for bugs before officially launching your new site. You can even look for bad links and other on-page elements critical to your SEO ranking.
Even after you’ve launched your site, you should still test it regularly to ensure it’s performing optimally and ranking well on results pages.
3. Back Everything Up
Your website is a key source of revenue for your nonprofit. If your migration somehow deletes or destroys your previous data, your website won’t function properly and you can’t reach new donors or collect donations or fulfill your mission.
To avoid any issues during and after your migration, back up every bit of your existing website. Compile all your current images, content and URLs. If something goes awry, you can recover this information and help your nonprofit site migration go more smoothly.
4. Watch Your Analytics and SEO
Analytics are your first line of defense against errors, so make a copy of your website analytics before migrating your site. This way, you can compare your old and new sites side-by-side and check for any anomalies that might indicate a problem with your updated website.
You should also monitor your SEO rankings, and tools like STAT show the natural ebb and flow of your ranking over time. You can expect small changes, but if your SEO or analytics teams notice any big dips, investigate the cause.
5. Redirect Wisely
Redirects tell search engines that your site’s domain name has changed. A 301 redirect, specifically, shows search engines that your site has permanently moved to a new URL.
You’ll also need to use 301 redirects for each page on your old site so everything gets moved to your new site. When used correctly, these redirects help you avoid 404 errors that can result in your site disappearing from results pages completely. Build a spreadsheet that lists every URL on your current site with the corresponding redirected links so you can ensure every web page has been given a new URL.
The Bottom Line
Remember to approach any site changes strategically and with caution. And always partner with a professional SEO to prevent your website from disappearing from search engine results.
Caleb Cosper is an SEO strategist at Portent—a Clearlink Digital Agency in Seattle, WA. He earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Oklahoma (Boomer!) and has turned his passion for all things data-driven and scientific into passion for SEO. Outside of Portent, his life consists of games (video and board), food (at-home and in-restaurant), and craft beer (any and all).