Every few weeks I talk with a client about the potential impact redesigning a website could have on their business, both in the long and short-term. Inevitably, the website redesign will in the long-term have an objective to increase conversions and improve business. But many web agencies often over-look the impact in the immediate future following a redesign, that of potentially loosing rankings and website traffic. But this doesn't need to be the case, you can mitigate this potential loss and that is what I want to talk about in the post.
The task of retaining traffic and rankings following a redesign or restructuring of a website is one of the biggest challenges faced by an SEO. Time and time again I head about the process going wrong or not being completed and organisations loosing money as their traffic and rankings drop. ~ Andy Kinsey, SEOAndy
When writing this post, and there have been a few drafts, I wanted to answer a few questions:
- Should this set of tasks be part of a wider picture?
- What is the process before the new site goes live?
- What if the structure changes at the same time?
- What happens once the new website is live?
- Is there a redesign launch checklist that can be put in place?
Where does SEO fit into a Website Redesign?
I am a firm believer that SEO should be part of the process of any website redesign. Ultimately, you are redesigning because you want a better website that converts more (in most cases), so it simply makes sense that from the very start you ask an SEO and Digital Marketing expert to help you and your designer plan a better website all-round.
Also having an SEO as part of your website redesign team means that they can plan and carry out tasks during the website build process, such as to ensure you don't have a last minute rush and potentially miss important steps. Rushing a website launch is a sure way to mess something up.
What is the process before the new site goes live?
The process for each redesign launch should broadly be the same for each website, if you scroll to the Free Redesign Launch SEO Checklist section below you can download my checklist / task list. However, here is my basic process (the checklist below has a deeper look at these tasks).
- Know Your Current Website Crawl your site using a tool such as Zenu Link Sleuth or Majestic SEO - with this you can then review your current link strucutre. Using the later you can also perform a content review. With both of these you can look at how you can improve going forward.
- Perform an Inbound Link Analysis Inbound links are hugely important part of SEO and rankings, performing a link analysis / link audit means that you can ensure all required links to your old website are redirected correctly. It also means you can perform some outreach to ask website managers to change those links where relevant (eg if your category urls are linked to and these are changing). You can do this using AHREFs or Majestic SEO. This is an area you could lose taffic and ranking.
- Consider Your Keyword Strategy
- A redesign is a great time to renew your content, you may not be able to do it all but you can look at what you doing going forward and your current static pages. Take a look at your organic search traffic and high converting PPC and consider which keywords are worth targetting moving forward and how you can embed these in your redesigned website.
- Consider Your URL Structure In most cases I would advise the url structure of a website remain the same following a redesign. However, there are a large number of reasons this may not be the case, or indeed possible - such as moving from one platform to another as a recent RedStar client Swifty Scooters has in moving from Shopify to Magento. The important thing to remember is that anything you do change will need redirecting, also it will need to be reindexed by Google as they like your latest and live urls to show in rankings - this means you could lose traffic and ranking in this area.
- Create a comprehensive 301 URL redirect mapping document This sounds tricky but its fairly easy if you've completed steps 1, 2 and 4. You can't do this until you have done these - don't even try it. Ultimately this is a spreadsheet (grab the free redesign checklist and you'll get my template for this for free) which contains all old website urls and external link landing-page locations (where other sites link to) and an accompanying list of pages which are the urls from the new website - remember to update this if one of your pages gets updated. This spreadsheet in some cases (including for Magento) can be imported to the CMS to create the redirects easily for you, in other cases with a simple trick you can turn it into a part of a working .htaccess file for your website. Creating a full list is imperitive as this again is somewhere you can and will lose traffic and ranking if done incorrectly.
- Create an awesome 404 page on your new website It sounds odd if you are creating a huge list of redirects (above) but actually there is always one link that will end up broken, or you will decide not to repoint a link (for example if it's a spammy link you don't want to have related to your site) ... so a 404 page is really important. An effective 404 page can be fun and informal, its about getting people where they want - you could have a search box on that page or a list of your most visited pages.
- Do Your Normal SEO-ing NOW (before go live) Basically, if you are planning to implement Microformats or Upgrade to Universal Analytics now is the time. Updating and completing Meta Tags, and adding social tags etc - now is the time. Do not wait until you are live to do this, hit the floor running. (Though don't activate the analytics code on your site until you are going live, it could scew your analytics reports).
- Go Live - Just Do It! If you have a new website you may consider going into a "beta" mode where a certain set of customer see one site or another. This is fine for sites with a large audience but if you are less than a few thousand a day, just flip the switch - honestly it's for the best. Dealing with two systems can be a pain in the backside at the best of times, for smaller operations its easier and nicer to just switch over. There are 2 things to remeber to do though... 1) ensure you unblock search engines from your robots.txt 2) submit your new sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools.
- Move into Post-Launch Checks Post-launch for a few days don't announce it, do a soft launch for a week or so and then promote the site (once you know there are no bugs). For the first few weeks use Google Webmaster Tools to check the index status, check for crawl errors and use Google analytics to monitor your traffic coming to the new site, watch for any huge changes in aquisiton of traffic and ensure the behaviour flow of users is as you desire. This part is huge in ensuring that you do NOT lose traffic or rankings, if you don't notice a crawl error you will find yourself sinking in some rankings potentially - watch out for these warning signs.
Is there a Redesign SEO Checklist for this process?
Having searched the web, until this point the answer is pretty much "no".
However, you can now download a free pdf with this website redesign seo checklist by clicking the download link below.
As an extra bonus we'll send you a series of exclusive emails with extra help and advice for relaunching your website!