Websites get stale. Even ours did- which is why we needed a redesign, stat! Aside from any ulterior motives you may have behind redesigning your website, the simple fact is: it should be done to keep up on changing technologies and trends. What many companies (and web development companies, for that matter!) don’t know is that a redesign can wreak havoc on your search engine rankings.
But, they don’t have to. There are ways to redesign your website to try to avoid major drops in the search results.
How To Maintain Your Ranking With a New Website Redesign
SEO Requirement: Search Engine Friendly Navigation
Examine your site using a text only browser, or by viewing the “text-only” version of the webpage. Easiest way to do this is to view the cache version of the webpage, and then go to “text-only version.”
If you don’t have search friendly navigation, text links in the footer of your webpage may help you. Create the footer with HTML links and point them to the deeper pages within your website. The footer should be carried onto every page of your site.
SEO Requirement: Fresh Content
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: “Content is King.” Part of how your website is ranked is determined by the content on your site. Deleting your content could be detrimental to your search rankings. Instead of deleting the content, update it! If you need to create new pages, make sure you’ve internally linked to them as well.
When keeping existing content doesn’t make sense (when products or services have been deleted or completely revamped), don’t delete the page. Implement a 301 redirect from the old page to the new page on the redesigned site.
SEO Requirement: 301 Redirects & URL Structure
This is a biggie. 301 redirects are really the only permanent redirects you should be using. These type of redirects carry over the most authority and “link juice.” Don’t redirect every page from your old site to the main page on your newly redesigned site, because that’s not user-friendly. Take the time to redirect each individual page to it’s new home on the site.
Maintaining URL structure is important, but not an end-all-be-all. I recommend keeping your URLs when possible, but as you’ve read in our post about our website redesign, I wanted to change our URLs to create consistency. It was more important to me to have SEO friendly URLs that are consistent throughout the site, than to keep our old ones. If your URLs aren’t ranking, and aren’t SEO friendly- why not change them now, during your redesign process, and then you’ll have SEO friendly URLs forever! If you change your URLs, make sure you implement 301 redirects from the old URL to the new URL.
SEO Requirement: Internal Linking & 404 Error Page
During the redesign process, pages usually get added and deleted which most likely changes your internal linking architecture. After the redesign, right before go-live, go through all your internal links carefully. You don’t want to send visitors to a wrong URL or dead page (404 error page)- as they might not come back! If you correctly implement 301 redirects (which should be tested, too!) or maintain your URL structure you shouldn’t experience many problems.
Make sure you register your website on Google Webmaster Tools after your website has gone live to monitor 404 errors and internal links issues visitors and search engines are experiencing.
SEO Requirement: Updating Analytics Code
Another must. If you have a Google Analytics code on your current website, make sure you place that same code with the same web analytics ID on your redesigned site. You currently cannot carry analytics data and history across profiles or accounts.
Also, update your code to the newest version of Google Analytics: the Asynchronous code which is placed in the <head> section of a website instead of the <body> section.
SEO Requirement: Update your Robots.txt File
During development, a robots.txt file should have been placed on your website so search engine spiders don’t crawl the site in development and index those pages. Make sure once your site is live to update the file to allow all spiders to crawl your site.
Here’s a robots.txt file you don’t want.
To check your robots.txt file, view my tips in this post.
Unfortunately when going through a website redesign, there are no guarantees about maintaining your search engine rankings. Follow these six tips and you’ll have a good shot at maintaining your rankings. Who knows, after you give Google a couple months to fully acclimate with your new website- your rankings could increase!