Most companies typically go through a major website redesign initiative every 2-3 years. Larger corporations sometimes every 1-2 years. MediaPost’s Search Insider Blog has outlined some very relevant advice to ensure that a redesign does not destroy current search engine rankings, but hopefully leads to a lift in organic rankings.
Below are some of Search Insider’s primary suggestions by Rob Garner:
- Use site language and messaging that is consistent with the user’s perception of your product or service.
Keywords are the language of your users in search engines. Be sure that your copy not only connects well to the users but also search engines. Writing in the language of the customer will most likely match up to what search engines are looking for, but don’t forget to do some keyword research to reinforce key concepts and consequent keywords to best optimize content relevancy.
- Read your log files (and/or review analytics reports)
Often overlooked by in-house or contract web designers, website analytic reports can provide excellent insight into what pages are garnering the highest levels and/or best converting of search engine traffic for your website. Do not forsake the elements of these top entry pages with web design, but preserve their characteristics so rankings are not lost when a new site is launched.
- Ensure that Rich Internet Technologies are both crawlable and indexable by search engines
New designs will often times seek to incorporate technology (such as Flash or Ajax) that is often times invisible to search engines. While these elements can increase the user experience, they should be intergrated into well structured, search engine friendly pages to preserve the balance of giving the user and search engine crawlers what they want. There are often alternatives to a functionality so do your research so that existing and new pages can be found and thrive in search engines.
- Avoid the creation of URL canonicalization issues
When pages are going to be replaced by new or existing pages at different URL locations, it is imperative that you let the search engines know where that old content has been permanently moved. This is accomplished through the execution of a 301 redirect. A page should only have one URL, not duplicates. Many eCommerce sites have a problem of serving multiple URLs for the same page leading to duplicate content problems and confusion with search engine crawlers. Do your research and make sure canonicalization does not compromise your site’s ability to rank for important landing and product pages.
- Set up a redirection plan
Following up on the previous recommendation, mapping out old URL’s and new URL’s is critical when executing redirects. If a page has moved, it should almost always be redirected by a 301 header response. If it no longer exists, then a custom 404. Plan your work and work your plan with redirects — this should be executed in parallel to the site launch.
- Don’t remove content that supports coveted rankings without assessing risks first
Completely deleting content or old products is the equivalent of throwing away hard work. This is often a mistake we see with online retailers. When products are no longer in inventory or are replaced by newer models, as opposed to completely deleting the page and serving a 404, utilize a 301 redirect to a parent page. This will preserve the page rank and link value a page has established as opposed to completely throwing it away. Otherwise, removing or deleting content that ranks well will decrease traffic and market share; forcing the site to start over in attaining previously secured positions.
- Include search as both a business and technical requirement before planning has even started
Search engine optimization should be a primary discussion point when the website redesign discussion begins, not after. Website owners who evaluate the impact of redesign on search engine rankings, early and often, will not only cover the basics but also address the advanced design, coding and architecture strategies that will influence rank order.
- Ensure that there is a voice for search within the Web site team structure
To champion this cause, there needs to be an advocate with a voice, credibility and peer respect amongst those members of your web design team. This ensures a system of checks and balances and leads to a well planned, well executed website redesign that will help and not hurt your organic search engine rankings. This advocate can be an in-house employee, independent contract, or professional SEO team.
To learn more about challenges your company could face with website redesign and its impact on your future search engine rankings, feel free to contact TDM for information about our SEO Audit services. Not only can this customized road map identify key impediments and gaps in your current SEO efforts, but it can also ensure that you protect your rankings during a website redesign project — our team can have the needed expertise and authoritative search voice to compliment your design team.