5 Steps to Keep Your Search Engine Rankings After a Web Redesign

In 2013, many businesses are looking at their websites are realizing that they’re just not good enough. Whether it’s a site built completely in flash (making it unfindable on search engines,) or that “Copyright 2005” notice on the bottom that you just can’t figure out how to get rid of – there are a lot of reasons you may decide to relaunch your site. So what are the essential steps you need to take to make sure your website designers’ new ideas won’t hurt your search engine rankings?

Step 1. Create a Site Map of the Old Site

This is absolutely crucial. If you’re not familiar with your old site’s structure, there is no way to ensure that all of the old links are going to the correct places on the new website. So take the time to find every part of your website that you can.

Even if you have a sitemap already existing, it is still useful to run a tool to double-check that everything is found: We recommend Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider. For sites with under 500 pages, it’s free. For sites with more than 500 pages, it’s a useful investment. Also be sure to ask around the office to check that there aren’t any forgotten sub-directories missing!

Step 2. Plan Out The New Site

Every good project starts out with a plan, and websites are no different. A clear map of every necessary webpage should be decided upon at the beginning with your designer. Make sure that every webpage that used exist on your old website either has a corresponding page on the new site, or has been declared unnecessary

Step 3. Set up 301 Redirects

This is absolutely crucial. Create a spreadsheet with a list of all of your old webpages, along with information on what they were. If the URLs were written well-enough, that may be all you need. If necessary, include page titles and meta-descriptions. For some, it might just be easier to have a computer in front of them when planning this out.

It’s now your job to figure out – if a user (or link) was attempting to get information from this old web page on our site in the past, where would we like to connect them to now? Make sure it’s a relevant page! One, so visitors who follow old links aren’t thrown off track. And two, so that search engines don’t think you’re trying to pull the ol’ switcheroo on them. You’d be surprised how smart they can be!

Once your 301 map is complete, ensure that your web designer takes the time to actually implement the redirects on the new website. If they’re using a CMS (Content Management System,) this is most likely as easy as downloading a plug-in or extension and filling in the necessary information. If they’re not using a CMS, and you’re spending less than $5,000 on your website – well, then they should be. For your own sake, since you’re going to want to be able to manage your own website, don’t you? But we’ll cover that in a future blog post.

Step 4. Notify Search Engines About the Switch

Sometimes, as a Search Engine Optimization agency, there is so much talk about how to “game” search engines that we forget that they’re (at least occasionally) on our team. After all, as an SEO, we help websites become easier to read by search engines’ spiders. And to that point, the major search engines provide tools to help you as you make the switch to a new website.

Google’s Webmaster tools will allow you to submit the new sitemap once you make the switch over, to ensure that all your new webpages are being tracked. In addition, they also have a Change of Address tool should your entire domain change.

Bing, however, one ups them by providing tools for notifying Bing directly about the massive amount of 301 redirects your website is all of a sudden going to have. Their new site move tool is essential for making sure that your successful relaunch doesn’t hurt your Bing / Yahoo rankings (which do, many forget, account for around 1/4 of all U.S. searches.)

Step 5. Watch Your Analytics!

All the prep in the world can only do so much. Once you switch over, though, the job id definitely not complete. Make sure you have a friendly and consistent relationship with your web designer, and ask that they check your analytics for at least a week or two after the site launch to see that everything is going smoothly. Organic traffic should stay at least consistent in the short term, as should the amount of time and pages spent on the website per visitor – ideally, though, these would go up. That was the point of your relaunch, after all! Also be sure to check your content analytics, to see if your new website navigation may be causing old content to become a lot more popular. It may be time to consider getting more links to it again!

The key to all of these steps? Having a good relationship with your website designer. They should be available to you and ready to discuss all of these steps right from the beginning. It’s one of the key parts of our Web Design services here at Online Optimism!

If you’re interested in learning about how we’ve done website redesigns, you can learn more at our WTCNO case study.