After talking it over with your digital marketing specialists you have come to a decision: you need a new website. Perhaps your current website is driving customers away, or maybe you won our contest and are looking to take advantage of your prize. Whatever the reason, migrating to a new website can be a fresh start, or a shot in the foot. To make sure it is the former rather than the latter, we will be talking about some of the techniques we use to preserve a website’s rankings when transitioning from one design to another.
1) Do Not Wait to Start Implementing SEO
It’s easy to forget that SEO is not some special technical wizardry that you apply to a site after it is live to make it rank better. SEO is an ongoing process that must be a factor from the start of website creation to the end. When having a new site made to replace an existing site, find out what keywords your site is already ranking for and identify which keywords are most important for you (tools like SEMrush are excellent for this), and then make sure that your new site is optimized with those keywords in mind. After all, you want to keep what you have, not lose everything and have to fight from the beginning again.
A new site is a new opportunity, so if you found yourself having to squeeze optimized content or best practices into an existing framework before and hope for the best, you now have the chance to incorporate all of these elements into your new site from the ground up.
2) Keep Mobile in Mind
When doing a redesign, always consider how your site looks on mobile. The old site may have been created with desktop in mind, and that could be part of the reason why it stopped performing as well as it used to. Since Google’s mobile update last year (enthusiastically declared Mobilegeddon), rankings in mobile search have fluctuated drastically, with mobile friendly results being pushed higher and higher to the top.
3) Remember Your Redirects
It is highly unlikely that your new website will have all the same pages and the same URLs. Pages are likely to be merged, deleted, or moved depending on design decisions made throughout the development process. The problem is that, when your site goes live, Google will still attempt to crawl our old URLs, and any links pointing to your old site will be going to those URLs as well. The best way to destroy your rankings in a move is to have all of the authority from external sites point to 404 error pages.
You might be tempted to simply redirect all the invalid URLs to the home page – do not do this. Google classifies this as a ‘soft 404,’ and it is simply a bad user experience. If somebody clicks a link expecting to be presented with a page talking about web design best practices, imagine how they’d respond if that link instead redirected them to the homepage of a company selling web design? True, it’s related, and that company may have hosted the page that was being linked to, but it will look like spam to the user.
Make sure that links are redirected to the relevant new pages on your website. Be careful of redirect chains of course, but ultimately your goal is to make sure when a visitor clicks a link to your website anywhere on the internet, they are directed to the right place. If you no longer have an equivalent page, say because you stopped offering a service, then it is OK to allow a 404 in those cases. In fact, since you are doing a redesign, consider creating a custom 404 page for those visitors who inevitably land on a page that has since been removed entirely and has no equivalent on your new site.
4) Check your robots.txt!
Last, but certainly not least, is to check on your robots.txt file before pushing the site live. This file is used by search engine bots (like Google) to determine what parts of your site they are permitted to crawl and which they are not. It is common for a website hosted on a development server to use this file to prevent bots from crawling the unfinished version of the site. However, since this file is not actively worked with throughout the development process it is easy to forget that it is there when time comes to push the site live. As a consequence, if you forget to modify the robots.txt to allow for crawling, you may find yourself losing rankings overnight!
As such, when pushing a website live, make sure the robots.txt is modified to allow bots to crawl the pages you want displayed in search engines.
These are just a few of the tips for making sure your new website is able to not only build on the foundation of the old one, but soar above it.