You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Or, maybe you’ve just been around for a long time, and accidentally stumbled into some good SEO for your market.
But your website is showing its age. Maybe it’s not mobile responsive, which means your rankings are falling precipitously. Or it’s just an outdated design that doesn’t fit your needs or the needs of users, and engagement is down. Either way, it’s time to say goodbye and move forward into the future. This can be scary, especially if you aren’t quite sure what you’ve managed to do RIGHT when it comes to your SEO.
Here are some tips for redesigning your website while preserving your existing SEO equity.
Know your traffic data
Know where you are starting from – what do your current traffic numbers look like? If you haven’t been running Google Analytics, install it now so that you can be collecting SOME data during the design process. Even a month’s worth of data can be instructive to see how things are faring on the other side, and to learn what needs handling with kid gloves. We like to use the MonsterInsights plugin to add Google Analytics tracking to our WordPress websites.
Make sure your link structure is preserved – or redirected.
Visit one of the inside pages on your website to see what your link structure looks like. (Not your home page). For example, your “about me” page might look like this on a WordPress site: http://mydomain.com/about-me. If you have an old-school HTML site, however, it could look like this: http://mydomain.com/about.html. Or, it could end in .net, or some other suffix.
When you’re moving your website to a different platform, your links may all need to be redirected to make sure that all that hard work you did getting backlinks to your site doesn’t result in the dreaded “404 not found” error. There’s a plugin called Redirection that we like to use for this, and depending on your host, there are other methods for doing so as well.
Know your existing sitemap – pages can be hiding from you!
For HTML sites, pages can often end up hidden deep within your website with no obvious navigation to them, and it can be easy to forget they even exist, and abandon them in your redesign project. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to make sure you find ALL of those sneaky pages on your website.
Don’t abandon your babies.
Don’t leave pages or blog posts behind on the old site, or delete them because they are no longer relevant, without a new place for the old link to land. Ideally there is a new page that addresses that topic, and if there isn’t? At least redirect that page to your home page (top-level domain). Google is not a fan of 404 – not found errors, and if you have too many, they can start to affect your rankings negatively.
Don’t change your domain name for no good reason! If you do have a good reason to do something so drastic, make sure you set up a redirect from the old domain to the new one.
Create a custom, friendly 404 page.
Despite your best efforts, visitors may STILL find themselves trapped in the “not found” cul-de-sac on your website. Help them break out of it with a friendly message and some suggested pages or blog posts they might check out on your site. Remember – your job, once they have arrived at your online home, is to KEEP them there. But not…in a creepy way. Break out the cocktails and crudités for the wanderers.
Maintain brand continuity.
Google tracks this thing called “engagement,” which is what users do once they arrive at your site. Do they leave immediately (bounce)? Do they visit multiple pages? Which ones? How long do they STAY on those pages? If your branding is already well-established, find innovative ways to carry it over so that loyal visitors feel comfortable when they arrive. This can be as simple as carrying over the old color scheme in a whole new way, while completely revamping the architecture, look, and feel of the website.
Don’t fix what ain’t broke.
Be aware of your most-visited pages or posts.
Don’t mess with what works – if you have certain pages of content that are ranking highly for your desired keywords? Let them be, as much as possible, without overly re-writing them just for the sake of doing so. Just make sure you don’t break the linkages to them.
Make sure all your existing meta descriptions get moved over and stay the same – unless they were (a) not working, (b) in violation of Google’s guidelines (too long, etc.) – if so, take this opportunity to sculpt them and make them better.
Unlock the front door at launch time!
Don’t forget to make sure the new site is being indexed! Especially if you’re on WordPress, most developers use a “staging site” that the public isn’t intended to see – just you and them. So they have search indexing turned OFF. A key component of launching a website is to make sure you STOP blocking the search engines when you make it live. There’s a checkbox for this.
Overwhelmed? Hire a trusted professional.
While a lot of this is common sense, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the technical aspects. If you’re thinking about redesigning your website and the thought of being in charge of all this makes your hair stand on end, we can help take that off your mind so you can go back to doing that thing you do. Let’s talk about it.