Holding on to SEO Ranking Through a Website Redesign
Posted by drew on July 14, 2014, 6 p.m.
SEO is important to us as a company, obviously, or we wouldn’t make it one of our prime services. One of the most common issues regarding SEO is maintaining existing ranking during a website redesign. Often, site owners are worried about making any changes to pages that are doing well, but there are ways to improve the design without losing your search engine rankings.
As Fusionbox prepares to launch a new version of our own site, I thought I’d touch on the various tasks I do to ensure that a site maintains ranking.
1. Know Where You Stand
By this, I mean you should be looking into what is currently working on your site and what isnt.
- What pages on your site are currently ranking?
- What keywords are most successful for you?
- What pages are not ranking, and not getting much traffic?
This is a perfect opportunity to reexamine which pages on your site might not be entirely necessary on your new version. You should know the lay of the land entirely before preparing to make changes to your site. This usually involves a complete site audit, but that’s a story for another post.
2. New Keyword Research
A simple search on Google Trends will show you that keyword popularity changes over time. This could mean that the keywords you are ranking for are no longer bringing in the traffic they once were. Perhaps you are missing opportunities by failing to target the more popular keywords.
Redoing your keyword research is important, because it will guide your optimization of your new web pages. If you are ranking for a popular keyword, you will be making fewer changes to the content of that page, whereas a less successful page might start to target a new keyword.
3. Establish a 301 Redirect plan
301 redirects are necessary whenever a page’s URL is changing. It is very common during site redesigns for an entire URL structure to change because navigation and sitemaps are changing as well. Studies have shown that Google understands a 301 redirect to mean that a page has entirely moved locations, so all potential ranking authority should be passed to the new page.
Perform a complete crawl of your old site, and compare it with the content on your new site. Pages with the same topic or similar content should be redirected to preserve the SEO value from the old pages.
It is important that you take the time to think about which pages on the old and new site should be matched together with a 301 redirect. Redirecting a URL to a new page, but changing the topic, content, and keyword targeting will ultimately confuse the search engine, and you will lose rank. In addition, redirecting all of your old pages to your new homepage provides a poor user experience and confuses search engines.
4. Optimize Your Pages and Content
Optimizing a page is, once again, a topic for another post entirely, but a redesign is the perfect opportunity to think about the quality of your content, and the consistency of your keyword targeting from the title tag, meta description, header tags, content, image alt tags, etc.
Take this time to think about user intentions,and which pages need more revisions than others. I also want to warn against keyword cannibalization, which is when many of your pages are optimized for the same keyword, and end up beating each other out of the competition by diluting any ranking potential your domain has for that keyword.
5. Create a sitemap.xml and Submit it to Webmaster Tools for the Search Engines
When you launch a new site, Google will first see that the old site has been removed, and then they will see the new site. The gap between these two events can be one day, or it can be several weeks. During this time, effectively won’t exist on Google search, and your traffic will reflect that.
There is something you can do, however, to encourage Google to find and index your site quickly, and that’s submitting a new sitemap.xml file to Google Webmaster Tools. (You have an account there, don’t you? If not, go get one now.) There will almost always be a drop in ranking and traffic for a short period of time after the launch of a new design, but this technique can make that period as short as possible.
This is a very basic overviews of the intricacies of implementing a redesigned website with a focus on SEO. I did not detail how to conduct a site audit, implement 301 redirects, create and submit a sitemap.xml, or optimize a page for a keyword. Regardless, this post gives you the basic framework to start thinking about how to manage big changes to your website.