You’ve likely heard the old maxim: “Do it right the first time—it takes less time than having to do it over.” This sentiment rings loud and clear when it comes to your search engine optimization (SEO), and if you’re a website owner who redesigned a site, sent it live, and then decided to learn about SEO, you know firsthand how crucial it is to ensure that your website is optimized properly from the start.
A website redesign can spark fear in the hearts of many a site owner, as search engine spiders need to reacclimate themselves to your new site structure, causing many sites to see a temporary dip in rankings and traffic after a redesign. But with a redesign strategy that includes a series of well-executed steps, you can minimize any negative impact on your rankings and traffic by helping the search engine spiders effectively crawl your revamped website.
Let’s take a look at six of those steps:
Decipher your Web analytics. Every website should utilize a Web analytics program and have the tracking code properly installed on their site. Popular analytics programs include Google Analytics and Yahoo!® Web Analytics, and they should be installed before sending a new website live. If you’ve been tracking your site’s analytics data for some time, you’ll be able to take a look at the most popular pages on your site, pages that have a high bounce (or exit) rate, and the navigation path that visitors take to reach a specific goal, such as the “thank you” page. Use this data to plan your new website, taking note of any navigation features that cause visitors to quickly exit your site as well as those that help to convert visitors into buyers.
Plan your 301 redirect and 404 strategy. If you’re only changing the design of your website, and your domain name and the navigation structure of your site are remaining the same, your chance of encountering a traffic or rankings dip is much smaller than if you’re making sweeping structural changes. However, if you’re putting off a large redesign for a site that is simply not good at converting visitors into buyers, you’re not doing yourself a favor.
Once you’ve mapped out the navigation of your new site by analyzing your Web analytics data, plan your 301 redirect strategy. It’s best to redirect a page that you’ll no longer be utilizing to its complement on your new site. Then, update your 404 error page to include a search box and modified sitemap with your most popular pages on it. That way, in the event that human visitors or search engines hit the 404 “brick wall,” you’ll ensure that they can easily find a path to your new pages.
Prepare your SEO content and meta tags. A well-optimized website includes a number of on-page SEO techniques, which include about two paragraphs of SEO copy on the homepage and category pages, unique product descriptions, and SEO-friendly meta tags on at least the homepage and category pages. Make sure you have the SEO copy and meta tags ready to go on the new site as soon as you hit that “go live” button, which will further help to lessen any dips in rankings or traffic.
Discover who’s linking to your site. If all of the URLs on your website will be remaining the same, you can move to the next paragraph, which emphasizes the importance of having an active link-building campaign. If your URLs are changing, however, you may be at risk of losing some links. Visit SEOmoz.org’s Open Site Explorer, type in your domain name, and see who’s linking to you and which pages they’re linking to. If a page will no longer exist on your new site, contact the site owner and ask them to please update the link. Sure, it’s going to take time and it’s not going to be easy, but this step can go a long way in keeping your traffic and rankings intact.
As I mentioned, it’s important to have an active link-building strategy during your redesign process. If you’re new to link building, hone up on our two-part Website SEO: Link-Building Myths and Illuminating Facts series and then get started. You can work on getting more links in place before you even go live, but make sure they’re pointing to pages that will actually exist on the new site.
Start blogging. You’ll notice that many online stores and websites now have a blog attached to their website. Updating a blog with helpful ideas, interesting tidbits about your industry and products, fun promotions, and more is a great way to build up a regular readership and establish yourself as an industry expert. Although search engines tend to index and rank blog posts fairly quickly, those rankings often fall off just as fast. Yet blogging regularly, especially as you go through a redesign, is a great way to keep search engines visiting your blog and navigating through to your website, potentially helping them to reacclimate themselves to your new website faster.
Keep a watchful eye on your website activity. Once your website has gone live, it can be tempting to just relax and allow the orders to roll in. Not so—we suggest submitting your new, or now updated, sitemap to Google via Google Webmaster Tools and regularly monitoring Google’s crawl frequency within Webmaster Tools. Keep an eye out for any dramatic dips in the number of pages indexed on your site, your site’s traffic, and its rankings. Remember—a temporary rankings and traffic dip is normal.
So . . . if you keep up with your link building and blogging and keep adding fresh content to your website, you’ll be helping search engines get up to speed on your new site in no time.
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