Adrian Sweeney - Digital Marketing Lead
Above: Aoife Ward, Adrian Sweeney and Gemma Murphy, HSE Digital team.
Our mission to combine over 85 separate websites and microsites into 2 is a huge challenge any way you look at it. But it presents a specific set of complications from a search engine optimisation (SEO) and URL (web address) migration perspective.
78% of all visits to HSE.ie are from people using search engines like Google and then clicking on a HSE link on the results page. With the vast majority of people using search engines to find information about health and the health service, it’s vital that we make our content easy to find this way.
To do this, we plan how we will redirect users from old to new content. We call this migration planning. We also work to improve the technical elements of our website that impact search results. Finally, we analyse search related metrics to see if our plan is working or if there are any problems we need to fix.
Mapping old and new web addresses (URLs)
Every piece of content on the new HSE.ie is put through our content design process before being published. This means key elements of our content change, like page titles and web addresses. We also end up with less content than we began with by removing content that doesn’t meet a clear user need. These changes are good but we have to make sure we don’t create lots of broken links in the process of changing or removing content. This could present our users with ‘Page not found’ error messages.
To avoid any problems, we use a combination of tools to create a list of all URLs on old websites that are migrating to new content on HSE.ie. We take this list and assign a corresponding URL to the new site. The old page should redirect to the most relevant new page.
If there is no relevant new page, we unpublish the old page and redirect it to a 404 error page. We request that the old page is removed from Google’s search results using the Google Search Console tool.
As soon as new content goes live, we activate our redirects to make sure users get through to the new web page. We also check for any technical issues we need to fix so that Google can index it properly.
Throughout migration, we continuously carry out technical SEO works on the website. This makes it easier for Google to display our website in their results pages.
Technical SEO refers to website and web server optimisations that help search engine spiders crawl and index a site more effectively. It includes:
- optimising the sitemap
- working to reduce the time it takes for web pages to load
- making sure proper redirects are in place
- optimising URL structure - for example, consistently using lowercase and hyphens in our web addresses
As part of this technical phase, we also give a canonical tag to every page. A canonical tag tells search engines which page they should display in search results. This means that if you have two pages with similar or duplicate content, adding a canonical tag will tell the search engine which page is the master copy and which is the duplicate. Users should see the master copy.
Before and after comparison
We gather search-related data, before and after content migration. This helps us to establish a benchmark we can compare our performance against over time.
This involves analysing which keywords the HSE currently appear in Google for and where we appear on the search results page. Our aim is to make sure our information continues to perform well on Google and the right content is reaching people when they need it.
Mental health content: the 3-month review
In October 2018, we migrated from the old, separate website yourmentalhealth.ie to new mental health content, integrated with the new HSE.ie website.
In the 3 months after migration, organic visits from Google increased by 81%. Organic visits are ones that are earned, not paid for. This accounts for 66,881 organic visits to the new content, compared to 36,762 organic visits to yourmentalhealth.ie in the previous period.
This means more people are seeing our information about mental health when they go to Google looking for support. A fantastic result!
Position zero on Google
Lots of our new content now features in position zero at the top of Google’s search results for a number of topics. Google detects the pages most likely to answer a user’s question based on the keywords they enter into Google.
Some pages we reach position zero with include:
These pages appear in top place as a featured snippet in the search results. The featured snippet contains the URL and page title along with a piece of the page’s content, to answer the searcher’s query directly on the search results page.
This draws the user’s attention and provides them with answers quickly. We see that the CTR (click-through rate) significantly increases for our web pages too. Here’s an example of one of our snippets for a Google search on how to get a birth certificate.
Featured snippets also improve the credibility of our website. It tells users that search engines rate our website as a high-quality source of information. It also ensures we are the result returned in a voice search.
Listen to our voice search test here
To reach this top position, our content has to be clearly written, well-structured and answer the user’s question. The relevant page must perform well in the search results, with other users clicking on it.
Our objective is to increase visibility in the featured snippet positions and appear in more voice searches. It’s predicted that the use of voice search will continue to grow.
As we continue to work our way through the websites, microsites and content on our digital roadmap, we will follow this same process to make sure people can easily find our information when they need it.