Migrating a website is one hell of a job. It’s a nerve-wracking process that starts with high hopes but can easily turn into tears and despair. However, with sound processes and attention to detail, you can make it successful.
When people talk about a website migration, they’re usually referring to the texts on that website while neglecting one crucial element—images. And that’s a mistake you may deeply regret.
Not only do they provide the visual face of your content, but images also play a significant role in your overall SEO. Firstly, they heavily impact page load time, which is considered one of the crucial metrics for success in SEO today.
Secondly, image properties are vital for your search engine rankings. Images’ alt-tag descriptions give search engines context about the image, and images may have backlinks from authoritative websites.
On top of that, experts say that in 2019, Google Images accounted for 21.51 percent of all searches on the internet. And that is some number!
Of course, it varies niche-to-niche. But stock photo sites, for example, get a lot of traffic from image searches due to being mainly focused on visuals, and the same goes for eCommerce stores and real estate businesses. Seriously, lots of potential customers start their customer journey in Google Images search.
As images play such a significant role in your overall performance, it would be a pity to make them forget their lines during the website migration process.
How to migrate images headache-free
Website migrations come in many shapes and forms. The task ranges in difficulty from a simple switch between a HTTP and an HTTPs version, to shortening URLs, to a complete website redesign or a switch to a different CMS.
But with an in-depth website migration checklist, you can ace this mission. To succeed in image migration without losing your mind, follow these six steps:
1. Do an image inventory and audit
List all the images you currently have on your website, including:
- Alt tags
- URLs to @2x versions
- The pages where they’re embedded
This will help you to keep what you’ve built up.
Keep in mind that website migrations offer a great opportunity to run a thorough audit of your images. Looking at the inventory list you’ve made, ask yourself: am I using proper alt tags? Can I compress the images? Can I come up with a far better URL structure? All these little tweaks could help you boost your SEO even further.
2. Create a redirect map
Using the inventory list you created in the previous step, produce a redirect map so that you don’t forget to redirect any images. Setting up 301 redirects from your old image URLs to their new URLs enables you to leverage the SEO value that the images accumulated over time.
Use tools such as Majestic or Ahrefs to find out which images have backlinks. Handle these images with care, as they add a lot of “SEO value” to your website. Even though you should certainly redirect every image, you should pay special attention to the ones that perform the best, so you can avoid losing their value by mistake.
3. CDN services
You need to take a different approach if you’re using a CDN service. If you are using a CDN on a subdomain, such as `cdn.domain.com`, and you change your website’s domain name, you’ll have to update from which subdomain your CDN services content too: from `https://cdn.olddomain.com` to `https://cdn.newdomain.com`.
If you’re not using a CDN subdomain, and your images’ URLs don’t change during the migration, you don’t need to do anything here.
4. Schema and Product feeds
If you’re using Schema markup for images on your website to give search engines more context, don’t forget to update the image references there too—you want to make it as easy and quick as possible for search engines to understand your content.
And if you’re running an eCommerce store, don’t forget to update your product feeds too! Google and Amazon are very strict about the quality of your product feeds and will quickly reject them if they contain references to pages that don’t exist or images that don’t exist or redirect. If you’re not familiar with the best practices surrounding Google Shopping images, read up on them here.
5. Generate an Image XML Sitemap
XML sitemaps are a great way to tell search engines about all of your website content that you want them to crawl and index. And this applies to images as well.
Generating a new Image XML Sitemap for your migrated website will make it easier for Google to quickly crawl and index the images with new URLs.
Pro-tip: Keep the old Image XML Sitemap containing the old URLs live until your new website version has been properly indexed.
6. Double and triple-check everything
Nothing fits better here than the old saying: “Look before you leap.”
A mishandled website migration can reduce your hard-earned SEO value to ashes. That’s why you should monitor and test everything within it—images included.
It’s important to make all the needed site checks on a staging server before you pull the trigger. Check if the redirects are set up correctly in the staging environment. Look for redirect chains or loops, and avoid redirecting to the homepage, so that your image URL doesn’t end as a soft 404.
Then go on and make the same checks once the new version is live—and submit the new XML sitemap to Google Search Console.
Don’t forget to check if images are crawlable and indexable. Double or even triple-check your robots.txt file and meta robot tags to see if anything is blocking search engines from crawling and indexing your website. Check that image URLs are included in the Image XML Sitemap. And then of course continue with ongoing monitoring of the performance of your migrated website
Pro-tip: Images on pages that contain a `meta robots noindex` tag will not be indexed.
Website migration is a complex process that requires paying attention to detail and monitoring every step thoroughly. And people do. However, during this process, they sometimes neglect an important part of the website—images.
As Google Images accounts for around 22 percent of the whole search market share, images can play a huge role in generating organic traffic. If you’re migrating your website, be sure to redirect all the old image URLs properly so that you can leverage the value they gained over time. With a proper checklist and measures in place, you will ace the process
About the author
Ondrej is veteran Content Marketing Specialist. At real-time monitoring platform ContentKing, he writes about all things SEO and is responsible for maintaining the ContentKing Academy and Blog. His secret weapon is his background in journalism, allowing him to craft not-your-usual SEO content but content that really resonates.