Redesign Your Website Without Screwing Over Your SEO Efforts
It’s time. Maybe your website is a dinosaur that looks every year of its age, or your company has decided to set off in a new direction, or your current website’s navigation is so complex that even the Googlebot gets lost. There’s no shortage of valid reasons to redesign your website.
There’s one major caveat: redesign your website, and you could just undo all the effort you’ve put into your SEO. Have you finally made it to the first page of Google results? Built an awesome link profile you put the better part of last year into? Don’t let a new website design mess it up for you. Remember, at least part of the point behind a website redesign should be more traffic, and that means keeping what you already have. Losing traffic means losing prospects, conversions, and money. Ouch. That’s a high price to pay for that snazzy new website.
So instead of plunging blindly into a redesign, approach it with SEO in mind from the very beginning. Engage the whole team – SEO, webmaster, marketer, and designer. Evaluate what’s working for your current site, and make a plan to bring it with you to the new one. Take a look at these six points.
Use an analytics tool to identify your top 50-100 keywords that bring in organic traffic. Record the search volume and organic ranks on those keywords. Now assess the keywords you’re currently targeting for SEO in the same way. Now choose your most valuable keywords (highest ranked, greatest search volume, most traffic) from that list. These are the keywords whose rank and search volume you want to preserve in your new site.
Site Directory Structure / Content Management System
Although switching to a new CMS is sometimes unavoidable, it means taking a hit from an SEO perspective. Your old, established URLs have history and trust with the search engines. All old pages will need to be 301 redirected to the new URLs. It’s possible to switch CMS systems without killing your SEO, but it’s usually a better bet to preserve your old URLs and add new pages as necessary. Update your site map to alert the bots to your new pages.
If you already know who’s linking to what page, you’re in a great position to either re-direct them to the new relevant page or preserve the existing URLs and incorporate them into your new site. Remember, these inbound links are a substantial source of traffic as well as site authority. Don’t neglect your internal links, either: they also carry weight with the search engines and should be updated or redirected as necessary. Customize a helpful, friendly 404 page just in case there are any gaps.
We assume you know better than to build an all-Flash site with no crawlable text. However, now would be a good time to make sure your content is fully crawlable (text is not the same thing as text within image) and images are accurately and helpfully tagged. Using the keywords you picked out earlier, assign keywords to pages by relevance and write compelling yet keyword rich copy. Pay special attention to headings (h1, h2); Google certainly does. Also, redesigning your website shouldn’t involve less content; you want to continue to increase your presence online.
There’s the ongoing debate about whether metadata descriptions do anything for your rank. Our line is that it can’t hurt. And other metadata components certainly do impact how the bots crawl your page: title, keyword, and headings. Use these areas to reflect your targeted keywords.
We’ve saved this one for last because it’s so tempting to just jump in and start designing. New design is sexy; SEO maintenance is not. However, function needs to come before form. Only after doing the legwork to develop a plan that will maintain and improve your SEO standing does the design work begin. Include your designer in all earlier discussions and make it clear that the design will need to accommodate and support these SEO components.