Understand Your Current SEO
If you want to preserve your SEO, you first have to be clear about how you’re currently ranking. A relatively new site without much traffic, for example, really doesn’t have to worry much about losing SEO when redesigning as there’s not much ground to lose. More established sites, however, should do an inventory using a reliable SEO tool. The simplest way to do this is to identify which keywords you’re ranking for. It’s helpful to preserve crawl data from your old website in case you need it later.
Preserve Site Structure for High-Ranking Pages
If you’re fortunate enough to be ranking on the first page of Google or other search engines, you’ll want to maintain the structure for these pages as much as possible. Keep the same page titles and meta descriptions for any high-ranking pages. Don’t worry about keywords for which you’re not already on the first 3 pages of Google. For these, you may as well begin your SEO strategy from scratch after your redesign is complete.
If You Change Your Domain
One way that a website redesign can disrupt your SEO is when you create new URLs. If you change domains (or subdomains), all of your URLs are going to change. You should, for this reason, think carefully before you move your whole website to a new domain. If you decide to go ahead with a new domain, there are some effective strategies to help you maintain your SEO.
Use Google’s Change of Address Tool
Just as the Post Office has a form to let them know when you change your physical address, Google has a tool for changing your digital address. The Change of Address Tool makes it easier for Google to uphold your SEO from the old site to the new one. In order for this to work, you need to keep the old site up for at least 6 months. Google also includes some caveats about using this tool. For example, don’s use it if you’re upgrading your site from HTTP to HTTPS format. Similarly, don’t use the tool for changes within your existing website (i.e. moving a page from one location to another).
Use 301 Redirects
One of the easiest methods is to use 301 redirects, which inform Google that your content is at a new location. This is an effective strategy even if you only change the URL on the same domain, as when you change the title of a page or post from Mysite.com/old-title to Mysite.com/new-title. Google provides simple instructions for doing a 301 redirect.
301 vs. 302 Redirects
Before you employ redirects, make sure you understand the difference between 301 and 302 redirects. 301 redirects are permanent redirects and are generally better for SEO. However, there are cases when you should use 302 redirects, which are temporary. Only use 302 redirects if you are working on your website and plan to bring the old page online at some point. Thus, you wouldn’t use this type of redirect when changing domains.
Quality backlinks have long been a fundamental aspect of effective search engine optimization. If you make changes to your website, however, it can devalue important backlinks that give your site authority. Because backlinks are links pointing to your website from another website, the only way to preserve them is to have the owners of the other site make changes, or (if those website owners don’t respond) implement 301 redirects for non-existing URLs to newly created URLs so the old backlinks have somewhere to land. It’s worth mentioning that doing 301 redirects to keep SEO “link-juice” will dilute that backlinks power by 15-30%, and in some cases, even more. If you have many backlinks, it can be an arduous process to contact all of the website owners and request that they change the links. You may want to concentrate on your most important links, such as those from authority sites. The other site owners will want to do this for their own sake as well as yours as no one wants broken links on their site.
Once your new site is live, you should submit sitemaps to Google and Bing. It’s actually beneficial to submit both HTML and XML sitemaps. An XML sitemap helps search engines index and rank your new site as quickly as possible. It provides details about each page, such as what type of information it contains and when you created it. An HTML sitemap, on the other hand, is mainly to help visitors find their way around your site. This is also helpful, especially if your site is large. HTML sitemaps may help SEO as well by making your site more user-friendly.
Update Your Robots.txt File
Robots.txt is a file that informs search engines about which pages to index and which to not index. It’s important that this file is updated when you redesign your website. Otherwise, it could prevent some of your pages from getting indexed and, in turn, allow pages you don’t want to be shown in search results to undesirably become indexed. To easily check this file, simply open your website on any browser, then add robots.txt at the end of your homepage (i.e. website.com/robots.txt). If you see an empty file or a 404 error, you know that you need to update the file by editing and submitting a valid robots.txt file.
Check Your New Website
Once your new website is live, it’s important to check it for possible issues. Here’s a checklist to make sure everything’s working smoothly.
- Redirects: Make sure all of your redirects are working as intended and do not allow 404 (page not found) URLs to linger.
- Responsive design: You naturally want your new site to function properly for users on all types of devices. Test it on multiple devices and operating systems and make sure all features work well for everyone.
- Page-loading speed: Check your pages for speed. If anything, you want your site to run faster than it did before. If there are delays, make sure you identify the cause and fix it. You may need to look at plugins (for a WordPress site), images (compress large images), or media files or even contact your hosting provider to have them evaluate how they can improve the speed of the server your website is using.
- Run Google Search Console: This will identify many problems such as broken links.
Make Sure Your Redesign Works in Your Favor
When done correctly, a website redesign can boost your brand. It gives you a chance to deliver a better experience to your visitors. Ideally, it should help rather than harm your SEO. Make sure you keep the above guidelines in mind so that you don’t lose any of the hard work you’ve already put into your website in terms of SEO health and business growth potential on the internet.
If you’re ready to redesign your website and want to make sure it’s all done in an SEO-friendly manner, Brooklyn web design with Vigor Seorchers can help.