How to Launch a Website Redesign Without Killing Your Rankings
So, you’ve managed to get the search engine optimization on your website just right after years of diligent work and research, but now your dilemma is that your website needs a total overhaul. Redesigning a website with strong SEO is quite similar to throwing rocks in a glass house; one wrong move can send your rankings soaring to the bottom of the search results.
Luckily, there are strategies you can use to ensure that redesigning your website isn’t the “deathknell” for your SEO. These are several steps you should work into your redesign process to guarantee your rankings go unaffected.
Stick With The Same URLs if Possible
If you have any say or control over the matter, it’s best that you steer clear of changing your URL or its structure. Your URL is part of your brand; many of your customers can think of it off the top of their heads without having to refer to their browser Favorites list or a scribbled down note. When you decide to change your URL and/or its structure, you are playing with fire. A change of URL has the potential to confuse existing customer and make it incredibly difficult for them to find your website.
However, if you must change your URL structure, there is still hope. You can still retain existing, current traffic by implementing the use of 301 redirects. A 301 redirect is used when you want users to be lead to a page that has relocated to a permanent location. As you would expect, this could work in a situation where a website changes URLs, or even a situation where a website has many different URLs. 301 redirects can be set up and maintained via the .htaccess file on your server.
Research Your Current Analytics
Before you touch or manipulate a single piece of content on your website, your first move should be to research why your website is successful. Why is it higher up in the search results than many of your competitors’ websites? This means you will have to take a look at what keywords are working the most in your favor, and which landing pages are seeing the most traffic. Knowing which words and pages are keeping your website afloat will help you out immensely when the times comes to redesign.
This research won’t only give you an idea of what makes your website so accessible to traffic, but it will also give you a chance to see which areas of your site aren’t performing well and either need chopping or revising. For example, maybe a landing page you designed isn’t doing so well or receiving much traffic. This gives you a chance to study the problem areas and modify them as well. In turn, you can wind up with an even better SEO strategy after the redesign.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of a Sitemap
Along with your website redesign, you will also want to incorporate the use of a sitemap. A sitemap is useful in a handful of ways. If a user has trouble finding something on your website, they can easily use the sitemap to get an overhead of idea of where your various pieces of content are kept on your site. You can think of your sitemap as a table of contents for your visitors.
However, a sitemap is perhaps the most useful for search engines, in that the maps are used to help search engines get an idea of what has changed about your website. Likewise, the search engine can use the sitemap to determine if any content was moved around to new URLs. Once you’ve launched your site redesign, it is imperative that you submit the sitemap to search engines. This will make it incredibly easy for the search engine to crawl the site and locate/index modified, edited, or new content.
Review the New Design’s On-Page Optimization
It probably seems incredibly obvious, but it’s wise to ensure that the new page is compliant with basic SEO practices. As you make changes to your websites, add content, revamp the navigation, and so on, it can be easy to forget that making sure your title tags, META descriptions, and originally used keywords are still important.
If you opted to make changes to your landing pages or keywords, be sure to incorporate these changes into the redesign. Pay attention to title and description tags, and make sure that they’re fully optimized for search engine crawling. You will also want to incorporate more of the basics of optimizing a website by checking for broken links and matching anchor text and its (current or new) keywords up. Editing your anchor text and keyword combinations will depend significantly on the changes you made if you edited your search engine optimization strategy in the beginning.
Lastly, to keep your website amongst the ranks that it originally had before the redesign, it is imperative that you take the time to closely monitor what happens with your rankings and traffic. If you don’t have it already, link a powerful analytics tool to your website to keep track of keyword performance, traffic origins, bounce rates, social media implementation, and much more.
From the day you launch the redesign and on, there are several questions you should continually assess your website with. Determine whether or not the SEO strategy is either helping your website’s performance or hurting it. Are you moving up or down in the search engine rankings for your chosen keywords? Also, keep an eye on the traffic coming to your website. Are you seeing more traffic since your design overhaul, or less? If you added more ways for your users to engage your content, consider whether or not the engagement has increased. If your users aren’t engaging your content, it’s your job to determine why before you allow it to do damage to your site.
Additionally, you will want to pay attention to conversions. That is why your website exists after all. How are conversions holding up now that the site has been redesigned? Are you finding that one landing page is now performing better than another that once did well before the redesign? Keep a close eye on what is and isn’t working on your new website design and edit accordingly. If you find that a keyword or landing page that once performed well isn’t doing diddly-squat now, find out why.
Overall, even if you’re afraid of compromising your search engine rankings, sometimes it’s imperative to overhaul a website. Maybe your website isn’t mobile friendly, or it’s stuck in the past and needs a major revamp. Either way, following these steps gives you the chance to redesign your site without doing any damage to your SEO strategy. In actuality, by taking the time to research your strategy before the revamp, you also have the chance to improve upon the not-so-great parts of your website. As you would expect, this gives you an SEO campaign in the end that can be even more beneficial to you than the last one. This could even mean better ranking and more traffic in the long run. Remember; think smart and always use SEO to determine how you should handle moving and modifying content.
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