There are many reasons to redesign your website, from improving its usability to undergoing a major rebrand. Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of ignoring the SEO technical factors that involve redesigning a website and their business suffers as a result.

Responsive-Web-Design

We understand that redesigning a website is a major investment and following these tips or enlisting the help of an SEO technical specialist will improve your ROi in the long-run.

Whether it’s moving to a new domain or redesigning your own website, it’s important to preserve your highest trafficked web pages to retain your organic rankings, link equity and conversion funnel.

Redesigning a website is a delicate process. For example, failing to place proper 301 redirects in place for old URLs could damage your immediate link equity and creating a responsive site is more critical than ever.

Of course, no business has ever scaled by being too scared of a little risk. Follow these tips to discover strategies and tools that will help you successfully migrate or update an existing website.

Pre-Design

Before designing a new website, decide what aspects of the old site you are looking to change. No matter your objective, every webpage plays an important part in your information architecture and organic ranking.

Conduct an audit of your existing website to determine which web pages retain high domain authority, gather traffic, nurture leads and conform to your keyword focus. Screaming Frog is one of the best tools on the market for analyzing on-site elements and your internal linking structure.

Aside from evaluating the KPI’s each webpage presents, it’s important to monitor many of the on-site factors which affect indexation and user experience. At LSEO, we typically address these on-site concerns when deciding which webpages should be preserved, trashed or fixed for the relaunch:

  • Are there any missing, duplicate or improper meta tag/ header elements?
  • Does my website have existing 301 redirects I will need to direct to the new URL?
  • Are there any broken links present in my internal link structure?
  • Is canonicalisation present?
  • Does any duplicate content exist?
  • Are my webpages optimized for speed?
  • Are images properly compressed / resized?
  • Do my images contain alt-text for indexation?

On-and-Off-Page-SEO

This checklist will be used to audit your test site before relaunch. After checking for these errors, you should consider manually analyzing your XML sitemap to discover which web pages are being prevented from indexation by a robots.txt file. Finally, analyze your URL structure for duplicate content, as well as keyword optimization.

Ideally, you’ll want to keep your existing Google Analytics account to preserve your historical data.

If your website is moving to a new domain or you’re moving your content to new URLs, your website may suffer short term organic consequences:

  • Loss in organic traffic
  • Loss in organic rankings
  • Loss in organic sales/conversions
  • Loss in site wide indexation rates

*Understand these problems can be long-term, but can possibly mitigated by indexing your websites as fast as possible by submitting an updated XML sitemap directly to Google through Google Search Console.

Moving to a New Domain?

If you’re moving to a new domain your website can suffer extended organic problems from the move. Google holds domain age as an important ranking factor for new domains.Moving-Website-to-New-Domain

Even with a proper 301 redirect strategy from an authoritative site in place, your website’s return to high organic rank could take well over six months to unfold.

It’s important to optimize your new URL structure with the proper keywords. Users exhibit domain bias or the propensity to click on URLs with their exact match keyword in the anchor text.

Link Audit

Preserving your website’s link equity through a site migration is paramount to retaining a high organic rank.

Perform an inbound link audit to determine which webpages should be reclaimed during the migration or redesign process. Create an excel sheet to sort your most important webpages by page authority and link relevance.

Remember, direct links pass more equity than redirect links, so mitigating an existing 301 redirect to new URLs diminishes the loss in authority experienced from a site migration. They also present a greater user experience.

If you purchase a URI or domain from another webmaster, analyze their link profile to determine how their authority will impact your website’s authority.

Consider utilizing dynamic links for your new website. While most webmaster’s prefer static links, dynamic links are sometimes ideal for indexation and crawling.

Finally, before beginning the design and launch of your website, it’s quintessential that you password protect your website during the developmental stage. Also, insert nofollow links or a robots.txt file on your webpages to prevent search engines from indexing your website before it’s ready for launch.

Redesign

301 Redirects

Next, we begin redesigning your website. After optimizing your HTML structure or successfully purchasing and setting up your new domain, we must now transfer all of your old content over to the new website.

To accomplish this critical task, many webmasters simply copy and paste old content onto their new test website. In order to direct users to your new URL and retain all of the existing kpi’s from your existing content, we place 301 redirects on those old web pages and point them to your new content pages.

Ideally, maintaining the same URL structure will save you time and money and is generally safer. But if you’re migrating to a new domain then you should redirect each web page one-by-one to protect your user experience and prevent broken links.

Building-New-WebsiteUse Google’s web toolkit to ensure that all internal links are properly redirected. While you may not want to transfer all old content over, it’s ideal to simply copy and then optimize these web pages so you don’t lose any link equity by disavowing a webpage that held valuable link juice.

Use Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO Tools to perform an external link analysis to analyze your existing link portfolio. Prioritize web pages that hold the most authoritative, relevant links and be sure to properly migrate them to a new URL.

Consider that each of your old webpages may have played an important part in indexation and keyword rank. It’s ideal to transfer every single web page over for the time being.

*It will be difficult to determine the effect of removing a content web page from your information architecture until you begin to retain your organic KPIs.

In redesigning your URL structure, place keyword specific anchor text in your internal links to help index and rank your new webpages for user search terms.

Even if you don’t create a new webpage for existing content, place a 301 redirect to a webpage that is relevant to the topic itself. This will ensure you maintain a good user experience.

You’ll want to maintain a 301 redirect structure of web page a to b. Point any existing 301 redirects, from a previous file, to the new website from the original URL source.

Consider creating rules that leverage wildcards and regular expressions, as opposed migrating individual URLs using the configuration file .htaccess. You also want to make sure that your 301 redirects do not accidentally transfer over into 302 redirects.

404 Errors

404-Error

So what happens if you delete an old webpage? Does the URL disappear into thin air? On the contrary, this action creates what is known as a 404 error webpage.

Unfortunately, 404 errors are an inevitable result of any website redesign. These errors may occur from broken links or even a search bar search.

 

Create a custom 404 error page that features links to your homepage and other valuable internal webpages. At a previous TechCrunch, Neil Patel discussed how he used 404 error pages to create auto-generated internal links for up to 50 webpages, which vastly increased his website’s indexation rate.

Conduct an inbound link analysis to discover any broken links on your website and customize your 404 error page with a creative and unique message.  

A custom 404 error web page can be very valuable to your SEO campaign:

  • Increases dwell time
  • Reduces bounce rates and pogo sticking
  • Increases indexation rate
  • Increases sales/conversions long-term
  • Increase your website’s UX

Update the New Sitemap

It’s important to update your sitemap with your new URLs to increase your website’s indexation rate. An XML sitemap will also provide a valued user experience.

You’ll want to phase out old URLs over time after evaluating how they fit into your information architecture. Be sure to to submit your sitemap through the Google Search Console and to place it in your robots.txt file.

Other Considerations

Code-Consequences
The consequences probably won’t be this grave, but why risk it?

Keep all content, meta tags, headers, and images intact during the transition process so your new website can be easily indexed and ranked. Optimize your schema markup for each webpage and maintain a proper, keyword optimized URL structure.

Matt Cutts provides us with a good tip when migrating to a new domain. Don’t go all in at once and consider experimenting with small changes using a subdomain or subfolder and analyzing the effects.

If you’re integrating a CMS into your website, it’s important to do your research first. Conduct an audit on websites that actively use the CMS and talk to customers directly to see how their CMS affected their website’s redesign and organic kpi’s.

Remember, one line of code, whether it be the introduction of a CMS or an update to JavaScript, could have potentially devastating SEO consequences.

Website Audit

So you’ve successfully migrated all of your webpages over to the new site and even installed your code correctly: what’s next?

The final step is to audit the new website to check for cracks. Here I’ll copy over the previously mentioned website audit and add in a few other concerns your website should monitor:

  • Are there any missing, duplicate or improper meta tag/ header elements?
  • Does my website have existing 301 redirects I will need to direct to the new URL?
  • Are there any broken links present on my internal link structure?
  • Is canonicalisation present?
  • Does any duplicate content exist?
  • Are my webpages optimized for a proper pixelization and image size?
  • Do my images contain alt-text for indexation?
  • Was there any loss of links or page authority during the transition?
  • Was Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and Search Console installed correctly?
  • Did I remove my noindex, nofollow, or robots.txt files from the correct URLs?
  • Are my sidebars, drop down menus, and landing pages crawlable?
  • What pages are being indexed by Google and how often?
  • What is my website speed?

Raven Tools and Screaming Frog will help you audit your website for broken links and many of the on-site elements that affect your organic kpi’s. Use Google’s Speed Test to analyze the the speed and performance of your redesigned website.

Build out your top content pages and assess which content was previously important to your information architecture as well as what their traffic pre-launch was and how it’s affected your post-launch traffic by being absent from your website.

I recommend a soft-launch to see if your website’s overall structure is held in place. If successful, the next step is ultimately building out content to supplement your keyword research and scale your business further.

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