Retaining SEO Juice When Migrating to a New Church Website

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What’s the #1 most important thing you can do for your website’s SEO when you’re migrating or rebuilding a website? In today’s episode of the Church Communications Podcast, Katie and Kenny discuss the important factors you should be considering when changing your website.
For more information, visit Missional Marketing’s page, and be sure to fill out the form to receive a FREE crawl of your church website that can be used for future 301 redirects!
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Katie Allred:                           Welcome to the Church Communications Podcast. I’m Katie Allred.

Kenny Jahng:                         And I’m Kenny Jahng.

Katie Allred:                           We want to help you become a better church communicator.

Kenny Jahng:                         And this is the place we’re going to talk about strategies and best practices for your church.

Katie Allred:                           Let’s get started.

Kenny Jahng:                         Howdy folks. I feel so special saying howdy. Howdy, Katie Allred. How you doing today?

Katie Allred:                           Howdy. I’m doing well. I actually text people that a lot. Howdy. I don’t know. It makes me feel more Southern for some reason, even though I’m not from Texas. I feel like that’s more a Western thing than a Southern thing.

Kenny Jahng:                         Yes, but it’s a fun thing. Howdy. Howdy. This is Kenny and Katie from the Church Communications Podcast. That should be our official [crosstalk 00:00:52].

Katie Allred:                           Right? KK Cool J in the house.

Kenny Jahng:                         Well, I feel like we’re at a rodeo of some sorts today because today we set ourselves up for a challenge.

Katie Allred:                           Yes.

Kenny Jahng:                         Talking about one of those tricky things that every website should be going through periodically and that is when you are redoing your website.

Katie Allred:                           Right. Which you should do, I think every three years. I think if you’re pushing it past three years, you’re really on the dead end. Because just think about five years ago, it was 2014, the web looked different then than it does today. So it’s hard to keep a website current without updating it every two to three years.

Kenny Jahng:                         Absolutely-

Katie Allred:                           But now we’re… Sorry.

Kenny Jahng:                         That’s what we’re talking about today, right?

Katie Allred:                           Yeah. So today we’re actually in the wild West, going back to the, our wild West days of website migration, and how do we continue keeping our SEO juice, as we move forward with creating a new website. And so we have to do something. It’s called a 301 redirect and Kenny, I know you’re the 301 redirect master. So I’m looking forward to you telling me how this works.

Kenny Jahng:                         Sure. Well let’s just zoom out. Let’s first talk about website migration. What is it? To me it just invokes the pictures of Canadian geese in V formations overhead

Katie Allred:                           Migrating to the South.

Kenny Jahng:                         Yes.

Katie Allred:                           For winter.

Kenny Jahng:                         Well that’s not what upside migration is. So tell us what it is because this is something that is a mammoth project for some. For others, it’s pretty straight forward if you have the right understanding of how to attack the project.

Katie Allred:                           So you’ve got an old website, you’ve got your current website that you’re using right now, it’s been online for several years, a few years, however long it’s been on. So it has established trust with search engines. So that means that several search engines, have come to understand the content and know what people are looking for. And so the robots on the internet have crawled it, they know what it’s looking for, but now you are looking to migrate to move to your new website. So you’re looking to make a new website.

Katie Allred:                           You might have set up this website on a staging area for example. And so you’ve got the staging website. So what you’re trying to do essentially when you’re migrating your website and don’t want to lose your SEO, you’re really, what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to make sure that your links stay the same. Your permalinks, whatever they are, if it’s slash about, it’s still slash about instead of about dash us for example. So you really want to stay very consistent with what your website previously was. So if it was slash contact dash us, you want to stay contact dash us, and not just slash contact. Because first off, those pages might be back linked to other websites, right? Like more authoritative website.

Katie Allred:                           So if you had slash children, you shouldn’t change it to slash children dash ministry, because there are probably other websites with more authority that are linking back to your church website and you don’t want to lose that traffic. Okay? And the SEO will appreciate that you’ve kept these links similar in structure. So if you had slash ministry, slash children, you just got to make sure that you continue linking those directories correctly.

Kenny Jahng:                         Yeah. That’s the ideal world, right? That’s a very less common scenario in which your church is intended to move to pretty much an exact replica of your existing, the new host, a new domain or CMS. And I mean even there, there’s still some SEO implications, and again, every website migration is unique of course, right? But I think that in most website migrations, you’re talking about a bunch of variables. Usually the question is, is there a transition in the domain name or not? So like right now I’m transitioning my church butler service from ww.butler.church, to and I actually got the church butler.com URL. So we’re transitioning from butler.church to church butler, so that’s a change in domain.

Kenny Jahng:                         A change in hosting. We’re moving from DreamHost to SiteGround for another site that we’re transitioning right now for a nonprofit. The design usually is the big thing, right? Of why you’re changing your website. Content usually changes, so sometimes we’ll get right… We are going through project Katie right now, right? We’re upgrading sites with StoryBrand, right? They had just regular copy before. They understand the effectiveness of StoryBrand. They look for certified StoryBrand copywriters like you and myself come to us and say, help us with our new messaging so we can get at the felt needs, the real hook for people to get engaged. So the content changes. CMS changes, for me, I know you are a DV fan. I’ve been checking out [Ellementor 00:00:06:08].

Katie Allred:                           Yeah. Me too.

Kenny Jahng:                         Thrive architect has hopped up on my radar recently. Just because they’re so content marketing focused.

Katie Allred:                           I’ve heard too Oxygen. Have you heard of the Oxygen builder? Yeah, I’ve looked at that. So yeah, a lot of different options.

Kenny Jahng:                         And then protocols, right? Although everyone should be using the security certificate, they should be on HTTPS. You might not be on HTTPS now, so all your links out there might be to HTTP, colon, slash, slash. Right? So there’s all these variables in website migration, when you transitioning from an old one to a new one. And most of the times you’ve got changes in website, URL structure and the content, right? Those are the big changes.

Katie Allred:                           Right.

Kenny Jahng:                         So yeah, I think it’s a headache for most people. And I guess maybe we should discuss, what is the ramifications? How can a website migration actually affect your Google rankings and web traffic if you don’t do it well?

Katie Allred:                           So the first thing you really have to do, is get a crawl of your website. Okay? So you can do that by indexing your website, missional marketing offers this service as well, where you can get just the snapshot, this picture of all the pages on your website. This is might be also a site map, right? You can get sitemaps like sitemap.XML from Google as well. You just need to see what are the pages on our website? How many are there? You might be surprised by how many pages your church website has. I know the first time I did this, we ended up having 13, 1500 pages. It was wild. I was like, “Why are we treating so many pages?” I mean, nobody’s going to all of these.

Katie Allred:                           So first off you’re going to find out that you have a lot of content you don’t need, then second off, you’re going to have a great list of things that you can hopefully change URLs and keep them the same and you can redirect correctly. You’ve got to make sure this is part of your plan. Good planning in place ensures that you will have a good future for your website. Your church has spent years building trust with Google, but this trust can be completely broken, when you’re building a new website.

Katie Allred:                           If your church is considering building a new website, now we’re in the future, you need to get a free comprehensive crawl that captures and catalogs your current church’s website.

Kenny Jahng:                         Data from the crawl, right? Can be used now or in the future to direct pages from your old website, to your new one. Right? The process is very important when you’re creating a new church website. So you don’t want to lose the SEO juice or trust as we call it.

Katie Allred:                           Your church can receive a free church website snapshot crawl, from missional marketing today. All you have to do is go to missionalmarketing.com/301. Again, that is missionalmarketing.com/301 and is the number’s 3, 0, 1.

Kenny Jahng:                         You want to maintain the intent, right? So there was some intent finding the pages on your old site and then you want to match that attempt with the new pages on your new website.

Katie Allred:                           Right. 100%.

Kenny Jahng:                         I remember I was involved with the complete rebranding of Princeton Theological seminary and when we were redoing their site, guess how many webpages we found that they had in total?

Katie Allred:                           Too many.

Kenny Jahng:                         Over 400,000.

Katie Allred:                           400,000 pages?

Kenny Jahng:                         Yeah. Well it included the library archives. So it did have a lot. But all of those had to be changing. Our URL structure, the nomenclature actually changed. And so this is a great example where-

Katie Allred:                           Yeah, you can still do it.

Kenny Jahng:                         It’s an institution, they’ve got tons of inbound links for SEO. What do you do in that type of scenario? But whether it’s 400,000 pages or 1500 pages like you talked about, or even 20 pages, it’s really important, right? The penalties that you can accrue basically by not doing this right, is that you basically get a kick off the map, right? And Google is the map of today.

Katie Allred:                           Yeah. And so there’s ways you can do this. There’s some more technical things like creating like an HT access file and pointing those old pages to the new ones. What else can we do to do that?

Kenny Jahng:                         Well, so let’s talk about literally what happens. As search engines like Google, with your old site, they’d crawl the index, they send these box to your old church website. They send their visitors, Google search users to your website. That’s how pages on the site, gains credibility and authority, right? The search engine thing increases the authority, presents it to more people that are relevant for search queries. That allows them to be seen in the search engine more often. We refer to that thing as a ranking value, right? A Patriot. Following a migration. The problem is that page rank, many of the pages probably now exist in new places, or the content itself has shifted a little bit.

Kenny Jahng:                         The question is how does a search engine know what relationship the pages of the old website have to the new pages? Right? You’ve shifted some pages or you moved some pages or how do they know how to assign those ranks for each of the pages? That’s the question. So this is where it’s a very geeky thing, but it’s called a 301 redirect. It’s kind of like the 404 Error that you’ll see on a menu, because you can’t find a page. It’s a geeky thing, it’s a error code 404. Here, it’s called a 301 redirect. There are other types of redirects, but the 301 redirect, is the thing that allows Google and other webs search engines, to really figure out what’s going on.

Kenny Jahng:                         It’s the best way for you to explain to Google, Hey, this is what’s happening. This is what’s going on between the two websites, the old and the new, so that it takes that into consideration and then hopefully minimizes any disruption in terms of what Google does in recommending your church a URL to visitors.

Katie Allred:                           Yeah. And so in order to write these 301 redirects, you have to actually create an htaccess file.

Kenny Jahng:                         What?

Katie Allred:                           I know. Yeah. And so actually the access file is even even geekier you probably already have one on your website. You can pull that down and just see what’s in it. Because more than likely, if you have WordPress and stuff, there are already some HT access things you need to leave in there. So your website continues working, but there are some easier ways to do this. You can use htaccess, redirect.net it’s just like a generator for htaccess files, where it’s pretty easy. You can just literally write in your domain name, an old file path, a new file path, the old directory, the new directory and all that kind of information and just kind of make these htaccess files, so that you can redirect these old pages.

Katie Allred:                           If you cannot keep the same permalink structure that you had before, remember permalink structures like these directory slash the page. If you can’t do that, then you’ve got to figure out another way to do it.

Kenny Jahng:                         Yeah, absolutely. And I would say again, this kind of gets complicated and people get weirded about, but that’s basically three major steps, umbrella steps if you want to talk about conceptually, right? So first is like you said, you’ve got to crawl the old site, right? You got to understand where each page is, what’s linked to et cetera, that site map thing. So that that’s your old site. You’ve got to do that before you take down the site. If you take down the site, you’ve lost that value, right? And then you’ve got to map each page with SEO value on that old site, to where it is on the new site, and then you basically got to go in and put in these 301 directs. It’s basically like an instruction or like a directional arrow, right?

Kenny Jahng:                         You go to the old location and says, they’re not here. They’re over there. So these 301 directs have to be installed. And then you basically just have to verify that they’re functional wants the new church website is gone live. So I think personally, it’s a tedious process. I personally like the outsource that you can do it yourself, like you said [inaudible 00:14:54] but this is something that again-

Katie Allred:                           Yeah. It takes a lot of time.

Kenny Jahng:                         I know many churches and many projects they’ve forgone. Forgone, is that the word? They’ve eliminated or they’ve ignored. They put their head in the sand and it’s not just because it feels complicated.

Katie Allred:                           Right.

Kenny Jahng:                         And I guess from us, kind of on a scale of one to 10, Katie, what do you think? How important is it for people to take care of this?

Katie Allred:                           It’s definitely a nine out of 10 for most websites, honestly. Unless you have just not had a website around for very long honestly. And I think too, we forget how important it is. We just say whatever, we’re getting a new website, it’ll figure itself out, which is fine. I mean, it’s fine for some church websites. Like if you’re not a super large church, you haven’t had a website for a long time, I think that’s okay. But honestly, if you’re a mega church, or a largest church at all, I think this is going to be really important for you or you’re going to lose some traction for sure.

Kenny Jahng:                         Yeah, absolutely. So anyway, I think hopefully we’ve shed some of the details on the process and kind of made it easier to swallow basically. Right? It’s kind of you take the mythology out of it and then it just becomes a little bit easier to understand and then try to navigate. If you are going through re-brands, this is definitely something that you should be thinking about. There is some resources that our friends at Missional Marketing have put together. I think it’s something that everyone here should really think about and look at. Again, if you’re in the next year, two years of thinking of going through a revamp of your church’s website, you should be looking at the resources here. Katie, there’s an URL that we have set up there, right?

Katie Allred:                           Yeah, so it is missionalmarketing.com/301. Again, that is missionalmarketing.com/301.

Kenny Jahng:                         Perfect. With that, we are going to cap off this episode. I’m excited we are in the home stretch of this series. Katie, let’s talk about what we’re going to talk about next time. What is the last, well, it’s not the last, well, what is the next and last episode on our run sheet.

Katie Allred:                           Okay, so sermon videos. All right? Sermon videos. How to make your sermon videos work for your church, so that you can grow web traffic and also new visitors.

Kenny Jahng:                         Yeah. I think that’s really interesting, right? People don’t understand that sermon videos is something that [crosstalk 00:17:41] churches produce every seven days, that most other organizations commercial or non-profit, they don’t have this treasure chest. And so how do we use it for good? How do we use it to gain traction? How do we use it in the digital world? We’re going to be checking out that next time here on the Church Communication Podcast.

Kenny Jahng:                         With that, Katie why don’t you to give everybody some pointers. Where else can they find resources across our ecosystem? And yeah, and close out the show for today.

Katie Allred:                           Okay. So if you want to find us, you can go to churchcommunications.com. You can also go to churchcommunications.com/group to join our Facebook group. We’d love to have you. 21,000 other people would also celebrate with you in joining. And you can review our podcast on Apple or wherever you listen to your fine podcast. I’m so happy to have you. Thank you for listening to our podcast. We appreciate you so much just being a part of our group. We hope that you’re not doing ministry alone and we hope you become a better church communicator. We’ll see you next week.

Kenny Jahng:                         If your church is considering a new church website now or in the future, you need to get a snapshot of your present website, so you don’t lose the online trust you’ve spent years building, right? So if you want to receive a free church website snapshot crawl, say that fast, 10 times. Free church website snapshot crawl, go to missionalmarketing.com/301. That’s missionalmarketing.com/301.


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