A redesign can be an exciting and tumultuous time in the lifecycle of a website. Whether you are just updating the visual layout or you are upgrading to the latest web technologies, a redesign can breathe new life into a site for years to come. However, when planning for the future of your brand’s web presence, it is important to not forget about your site’s past.
Even though the previous version of your site will soon be gone forever, properly planning for the transition from old to new is critical for a redesigned site to successfully perform in search engines. Over time, your domain will have accumulated links and other critical search engine optimization (SEO) quality signals that may not transfer over without proper configuration.
As a result, launching a website redesign without a proper plan in place can lead to loss of search rankings and could result in a poor user experience for your visitors. Fortunately, site owners can take just a few simple steps to ensure the switch is a breeze.
Next time you are planning for a website refresh, use these tactics before you flip the switch to ensure a worry-free changeover.
Redirect... Early and Often
Creating a plan for redirects is the single most important step website owners can take before launching a redesign -- period. A redirect is a web function that automatically sends a user from a specific old URL to a new URL.
More often than not, during a redesign some of your old site’s URLs will be different on your new site. That’s okay, and it is necessary to improve performance in many cases. However, neither search engines nor your users will be able to detect when a URL has changed.
This means that users (including Google’s search crawlers) who try to visit a page on your old site will be greeted with an error message if redirects are not created. This can lead to a few bad things:
Rankings and Traffic Bottom Out
If search engines suddenly can no longer find key pages on your site, they may no longer display your domain in search results. Expect to see big losses in organic visitors and search rankings.
Poor User Experience
Visitors to your old site who may have bookmarked familiar links from your old site will be shown an error message when they try to visit you again. Instead of trying to figure out the new link, they may visit a competitor. Redirects ensure old links properly send users to their new version.
Loss of SEO Authority
Also called “link juice,” authority is driven by the number of links from other sites pointing to your site. If pages with a large amount of external links aren’t redirected, expect your SEO value to diminish.
The way to set up a redirect is different depending on your CMS, but they typically take a short amount of time to configure depending on the size of your site.
Start by obtaining a list of all the URLs on your old site. Tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider can create this list in just a few minutes. Once you have the old URLs, simply identify the most relevant page on your new site that matches the old page. In some cases, you may need to redirect several URLs into one new page. Put yourself in your user's shoes. What URL on the new site would you want to be shown?
Bonus Tip: You should always use a permanent “301” redirect as this is the preferred redirect type for Google and other major search engines.
Perform Some Basic Site Optimization
A few simple additions to your site before launch can make a significant impact to your search engine rankings. If you are new to SEO or haven’t taken a look at your optimization in several years, a website refresh provides the perfect opportunity to get started.
Before launching a redesign, use these basic SEO tactics to make sure your site is competitive in Google from the start.
Title Tag Optimization
One of the most important factors in the ranking of a page is its title. More often than not, new sites will have standard titles like “Home” or “Services.” Instead, use more detailed names that describe the functions of your business and the content of the page. Still stumped on what to title your pages? Check out the sites of competitors in your space and see how they approach title tags.
Meta Descriptions are the block of text that appear underneath search results in Google and Bing. Each page of your site should have a unique, 165-character-or-less description that entices the user to visit the page. It’s important to write a new description for each page as Google discourages duplicate meta descriptions on the same site.
While this is more of an advanced tactic, making your site as fast as possible is one of the most important steps for SEO in 2017. Use Google’s site speed testing tool to see what could be slowing your site down before launch.
Bonus Tip: Typically, site speed is as easy as compressing a few images. If you are using MacOS, imageoptim is an excellent free tool that does the work for you.
Make Sure You Have the Right Tools in Place
Finally, it’s important to make sure you have the right tools installed to track the performance of your site to see where future improvements can made. Google offers an array of free services that can report on site traffic, your domain’s placement in search results and beyond.
Google Search Console and Google Analytics are two essential tools that should be a part of every redesign launch. Both are totally free and take less than ten minutes to install on your site.
is the most widely used platform for tracking activity on the web. It’s the best tool available for not only understanding how many users are visiting your site, but where they are coming from and how the interact with your brand. If your previous domain already has Google Analytics installed, simply copy and paste the tracking tag into new site. Keeping the same Google Analytics account active for both profiles will prevent loss of data.
Google Search Console
is critical for making sure your site is performing at top level in search results. This is the only direct source of data from Google showing what keywords users searched to find your site. You will also be able to submit a sitemap directly to Google, which can help your new URLs be properly indexed.
Bonus Tip: Once Google Analytics is installed, be sure to set up goals. Goals allow site owners to track important steps and user actions on the site that help drive ROI.
So, you’ve planned your redirects, performed an initial optimization and you are ready to track performance with Google Analytics and Search Console. Now what?
Immediately after launch, start by checking Google Analytics to make sure data is recording. Use the “Real Time” reporting to see a minute-by-minute account of active visitors.
Keep an eye out for any issues listed in Crawl Errors in Google Search Console. This report will notify you if you may have missed a few pages in your redirect plan.
Perform a few test searches for your brand name in Google. Did your site drop in rankings dramatically or is it gone altogether? This may be a symptom of a larger issues. Go back and verify that redirects were properly put in place.
After 90 days, you will want to perform another site review to make sure all is in place. By then, all new pages should be indexed in Google and recording traffic. If you have followed these steps, you rankings should stay consistent after launch.
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