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Wordpress 3-site migration to one new - traffic loss and other things

     
3:43 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi,

Firstly, apologies if you've seen this post on the Google category. I was asked to post it here as it is essentially a Wordpress site migration.

I've been trying to get some advice from anyone who knows anything about domain migrations but there's a lot of people out there who have advice but few who have actually been through it. I stumbled upon this place actually and after reading through quite a bit of stuff, seems like there's some people on here that may be able to help.

Almost 3 months ago I migrated 3 sites into one new domain, about 250 articles. I did my research beforehand and believe I migrated in the 'correct' way, using 301 redirects via htaccess and informing Google via the old GSC. The urls didn't change apart from the actual domain and all domains were https. After the migration, I performed all the usual tests and there weren't any 404's, all the old urls forwarded to new with no problems. I've had no manual actions on the new domain since. The canonicals are all good and I've submitted the sitemap, although not sure that does much anyway.

Organic traffic dropped by about 60% overnight, I knew I'd get a hit but didn't quite think it would be that much. Although some of my articles that were in the snippet previously are also in the same position in the new domain, the vast majority aren't. It seems totally random. The majority of articles are out of the SERP totally, literally not in the top 300. Another thing I notice is that when I used to manually index an article it would rank within a few minutes and be in the SERP somewhere. Now, it can take up to around 5 days to index. Also, sometimes the new article I post will index (visible via site:url) but then disappear a few hours later, why does it disappear? Organic traffic has not recovered and actually continues to drop week on week. None of the ~40 articles I've written since the migration are anywhere to be found in the SERP (although most are now indexed according to the GSC).

I've tried all kinds of things to 'fix' this. Creating a lot of new content, primarily. I've even employed SEO 'experts' who couldn't find anything wrong with the site or how I performed the migration.

I've read a lot of 'stuff' about migrations but not been able to speak to anyone who has been through this as yet.

Does anyone have any experience or thoughts about this? Is it just because the new domain has a lot less authority than the old ones? Doesn't explain why most posts aren't ranking though? Do I need to give it more time or is there a big secret level I can pull which will make everything okay again? :)

I wasn't sure whether posting the actual website details related to this was a good idea or not - if you think it would help then let me know but didn't want the post to appear spammy.

Thanks,

Matt
5:10 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Actually we do not discuss any existing domains here in the public forums, so thanks for being thoughtful ;)

Because of the way WordPress works it has some unique situations for migration. As it is one truly important aspect of the migration which had been asked in the Google thread [webmasterworld.com] but is better addressed here: have the internal "WordPress Address" and "Site Address" settings been changed to their new URLs? That is under the Settings > General section of each WP site. Without those actual migration to their new URLs you would not have migrated the content - and having that in two places is going to give you a big obstacle to indexing that content somewhere else.

Each of the old domains had its own .sql database, were these combined for the new domain or are they maintained separately for the new domain? Do the old domains still exist?
6:16 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi and thanks for the reply not2easy, appreciated.

I did not change the WP address and site address of the old sites within Wordpress. How I got the content into the new site was by using the WP Export/Import functionality straight into the new site's db. Once all the content was on the new site (with media) and all the internal links were correct I then enabled the 301 wildcard redirects from the htaccess file. So, each url remained the same, apart from the domain name changing. I also informed Google via the old GSC of the sites changing url.

The old sites are still all up and running, I have only enabled access to the wp-admin section via the htaccess file. If anyone tries to access any of the old urls on any of the old sites they get correctly routed to the new site with no probs.

Thanks,

Matt
7:33 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I would suggest (if possible) to use a browser tool to check the header responses when those old domain URLs are requested. You can determine the same information from examining the access logs for those domains, but it is faster and simpler to check with a browser tool. Ideally, the old sites should have only a .htaccess file in their root because otherwise - if they are up and running - they can generate the appearance of duplicate content. They may end up on the new domain but after a series of "200" server responses on the old domain.

Like any migration it is better to end up with a single response and not have anything but a 301 from the old domain.
7:48 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hi, yes - there are tools I have that do this in bulk. It formed part of my post-migration process but I do check them occasionally now. All the previous domain urls get a 301 as expected and the new ones get a 200.
8:34 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Then the only file on those old domains is your root htaccess file for each domain, is that correct? The access logs do not show any other URLs being accessed? That is what you should see which is why you should remove the WP installation from the old domains. It is excess baggage that without maintenance can become vulnerable.
9:02 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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No, the old sites are still all there - just the htaccess doesn't allow access to the content as it forwards everything onto the new. Unless my understanding is wrong, which is totally possible, I don't see how anyone or any bots etc. could actually get to anything on the old sites if the htaccess files are redirecting all connections that come in to the new site? Or is my understanding wrong?

I can see hits in the access logs on the old sites but they are all 301 redirecting to the new site.

Don't get me wrong, I'm desperate to find a root cause but don't understand how removing my old sites files could help - other migration docs I've seen said keep the hosting of the old sites for as long as possible. Although I would remove the lot if I thought it would help!

Can you help me understand how having the files still there could cause problems if everything is being redirected?

Really appreciate your time, I've spent money on SEO 'experts' trying to get to the bottom of this but no-one has been able to find something wrong...so far.

Cheers,

Matt
9:22 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Some elements of WP try to auto update - more so if plugins are involved. These could cause you problems and no reason at all to hang on to them. Yes, you should hang on to the old domains but that does not mean all their content is good to collect. Back it up if you like and download it for reference but there is no reason to keep hosting it. A domain needs only an index page to exist, it can be blank if you are sending all requests to another domain. WP has too much baggage and it is best to let it go away once it is not being actively used.
9:46 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Ok, cool - well I'll certainly do that. Might be a little late but I'll move the old installations apart from the htaccess to one side, thanks for the suggestion.

Do you think that all the new content that we're producing is taking a long time to get indexed (and ranked somewhere decent) just because Google sees the new site as actually new? I was originally hoping that domain authority would come over with the 301's but perhaps not as much as I thought, if at all!

cheers,

Matt
10:05 pm on Oct 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator not2easy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Authority from the old domains? At some point, but not until it is 'digested'. Authority from old inbound links? That should help the new domain but again, it is data to be sorted and understood before it matters a lot. If major publications are linking to your content, then you may see some faster attention, but generally a new domain is a new domain until its roots and branches are familiar enough to the bots that they can replace the old domain(s). That isn't as fast as it once was.