How To Avoid an SEO Disaster After a Website Redesign
Is your website bulletproof for a relaunch? After months of website design revisions your beautiful new, redesigned website is ready to be launched. You’re excited of course. You give the green light and you shout about the relaunch from the office rooftop.
But what’s this? The phone has stopped ringing after a few days. Enquiries via your website have dried up. There must be an issue surely? Someone in the office makes a suggestion to check if the website is still ranking on page one for your key search terms. So you run to your desk, fire up your browser and run some searches. Uh-oh! The website is no longer ranking highly for your key search terms.
How can this be? You ask yourself.
It’s incredibly easy to think that once your website has been redesigned and your content finely tuned that everything will be just fine. Think again.
There are some essential to-do items that must be checked off your list before a website relaunch. If you don’t bulletproof your website before doing so, there is a high risk that you’ll lose your organic search engine results by a huge 25-50%. That could mean seeing your website fall from page one of Google right down to page three or four. Or worse.
In our latest article, we provide an essential checklist of items we recommend you tick off before hitting the relaunch button.
#1 Try To Maintain Existing URL Structures
Where possible, try to maintain your existing URL structure. So for example, if your ‘about us’ page follows this structure – www.yourdomain.com/about – then rather than name your newly designed about page something different like, www.yourdomain.com/about-us – try to keep it the same.
These pages have built up ‘SEO juice’ over the years, not to mention the many backlinks which refer to them, so you’ll want to ensure that any existing backlinks or referrals still come to these same URLs.
If the URLs must change for one reason or the other then out next item will protect the original URLs and avoid any 404 page errors occurring from existing backlinks.
#2 Setup 301 Redirects
It’s possible that your existing URL structure will have to change for various reasons. Perhaps you’re using a CMS which organises pages into various different directories according to subject or category? Perhaps it’s just down to the interpretation of your chosen web developer and he/she has opted for a different page name, causing a change in URL. But either way, setting up 301 page redirects will go a long way towards protecting your indexed and well established web pages.
By setting up a 301 page redirect, what you’re essentially doing is informing the search engines that ‘hey, this page has moved elsewhere but can be found here under this new name’. Search engines will love you for that. There is nothing worse than a ‘404 page not found error’, and search engines will be ticked off about this. It’s true. After a short period of time, the new URLs will replace the old URLs and years of building up page authority will be preserved.
What happens if you don’t do this? When 301 redirects are not implemented, search engines such as Google will reset the value on the new pages and the old pages will drop out of the rankings. Resulting in a loss in rankings or of traffic.
#3 Website architecture
Website architecture is effectively how your pages are organised and how they are linked together. A search engine such as Google will pass value from one page to another. How your web pages are linked internally and where they are located adds SEO value.
Generally speaking, pages that are linked in close proximity to key pages such as your home page will receive more value than those that are between 3-5 clicks away and deep seeded within the site architecture.
So why is it important to protect your website architecture? Wiping the architecture slate clean, you run the risk of highly valued pages losing their ‘link juice’. With no ‘link juice’ your pages lose their authority and will rank lower than the previous version, or worst still, will rank lower than your competitors.
#4 Be Careful With Your Content
We’re assuming that your previous website ranked pretty well, or at the very least ‘did ok’. There’s many factors or ‘signals’ that contribute to a website ranking well. One huge factor is content.
Content really is king. We have talked before about this subject matter and provided 5 reasons why great web copy is important. One of the reasons is SEO. If your website is providing users with great content then you improve the chances of your website ranking higher than your competitors. Relevant and useful content, which is worth sharing and distributed amongst various social media platforms can be the difference between ranking highly or being lost on page two of Google forever.
So it’s worth keeping this in mind. It can be very tempting to wipe the slate clean and go for a complete overhaul of content. Our recommendation would be to gradually change your content over time if the page it sits on is performing well. Keeping content fresh and updated is just as important. So it can be a fine line.
If you must change your content, then try to give priority to existing and well ranking keywords which sit in various areas of the page structure (title tag, header tags, body copy, alt text). By ignoring this you will run the risk of your keyword relevancy score dropping, and in return rankings and traffic will follow.
#5 Have Your Web Developer Check Everything
When a new site launches, it may do so on the back of a new CMS (Content Management System). Some relaunches are coupled with a change of web server/hosting too. So it’s essential that your web developer carries out checks to make sure that nothing stops your pages being reindexed.
So for example, some systems will replace your existing robot.txt file. During a testing phase it could be that this little file which sits in your web root directory is telling search engines to ignore these pages until you’re ready. So can you imagine the scenario where your new site launches and this server file is telling key search engines ‘hey you, nothing to see here. Move along’. Eventually your web pages will be ignored and they will no longer rank.
It’s also important that your web developer takes the time to understand the existing site architecture and shows it some respect. Where possible, to maintain it as mentioned in point #3 above.
It’s vital too, that correct page descriptions and page titles are provided for each page. Where possible try to maintain and keep the ones that were working for you from an SEO point of view before the relaunch.
#6 Business As Usual During The Redesign Process
Under no circumstances should you take your existing website be taken down during the redesign phase. Nor should it be taken down during the development phase. It should be business as usual until you’re ready to relaunch.
What you should do during the above phases, is re-evaluate your keyword strategy. What’s working and what’s not. Use tools such as Open Site Explorer and HREFS to analyse and examine your existing site content. Look to see which content is pulling in the most visitors.
By doing this, you’re safeguarding your most valuable assets. Once you have done this you can look at implementing these assets into your redesign.
It’s crucial that SEO is be part of the redesign process. Web designers and web developers should communicate openly with SEOs during a site redesign. It’s very common for SEOs to view a website from a traffic point of view, and it’s not something that a web designer or web developer may even consider.
#7 Create a New Sitemap
If your existing website doesn’t use an HTML or XML sitemap, then it should!
A sitemap is nothing more than a list of pages which make up your website. A sitemap provides an up to date list of all your pages to search engines and where they can be located. It can also recommend how frequently each page should be revisited by the search engine bots to be reindexed.
We recommend having an HTML sitemap on our clients websites for users to easily find and thus allowing them to access any of their pages quickly. We also recommend that an XML sitemap is uploaded to the hosting server so that pages can be found and crawled effectively by the search engines.
Make good use of tools such as Google Webmaster Tools to submit your new sitemap to Google. This will speed up the process of it being found after a relaunch.
There is no downside of using a sitemap and by having one can improve your overall SEO. So it’s a definite one to tick off your relaunch list.
#8 Pay Close Attention After Launch
Once you have carried out the above tasks and relaunched, use tools such Google Search Console and Google Analytics to monitor traffic and site performance.
Traffic is good indicator on how the relaunch is performing. If you see a sudden drop in traffic then you may have unforeseen issues. If this is the case, then we would recommend checking for any crawl errors.
You can do this using Google Search Console. If you’re seeing errors then you will need to see which pages are causing these and get them fixed. It could be that old pages that no longer exist haven’t been redirected causing the error.
If a huge loss of traffic occurs and your website ranking falls after a redesign and relaunch, do not panic. Stay calm and plan accordingly. Google can be very forgiving if you’re prepared to put the effort in to resolving the issues.
So even if you have recently relaunched your site and an SEO disaster has occurred there is a good chance for a full recovery. Follow the above steps and you should be fine or at least give yourself a fighting chance of regaining your organic search rankings. But by planning ahead, you will retain your rankings, or better still, improve them.
Planning is key. Do not rush a relaunch, no matter how great the design concepts look. Take care of your website and your website will take good care of you. In return, search engines will take care of you both.
If you would like discuss your website performance from an SEO perspective or you’re planning on a redesign and relaunch, feel free to drop us a line. We’ll talk you through the process and provide cracking cuppa at the same time. Call us on Milton Keynes – 01908 967359.