All too often developing a comprehensive strategy to ensure search rankings are maintained during a website redesign fall to the backburner. There are so many technical, creative, and branding considerations to make, technical SEO elements can fall to the end of a project, after the web strategy has been set. SEO specialists are then expected to make it work without the opportunity to combat potential issues before they become ingrained in your website’s structure and functionality.
To avoid these potentially disastrous oversights, consider these three quick tips to avoid destroying your search rankings during a website rebuild.
Develop a URL Strategy at the Onset:
Massive URL changes during a website redesign can cause confusion to the search engine algorithms. Asking them to relearn the purpose of each piece of content is a tall task and can take several weeks or months for rankings to return.
While some drop in rankings is inevitable, you can work to mitigate the negative impact on your organic traffic by first taking stock of your current URL structure. If there is room for improvement, now is a good time to take on that challenge by developing and implementing a new strategy.
If your URL structure is already solid, try to avoid making any drastic changes. It is, however, sometimes impossible to avoid massive URL changes, most notably when replatforming a website with tens of thousands of URLs like large ecommerce or reference sites. In these cases, be thoughtful about how you structure families and categories. Developing a logical product flow that is intuitive for users to navigate will ensure the search engines can understand them too.
Lastly, make sure to note every URL that will no longer exist upon launch of your new website. Ensure each page is 301 redirected to the associated content in the new URL structure. Avoid bulk or rule-based 301 redirects without careful analysis first. You need to make sure your rules account for complete continuity of content from the old website to the new one.
Repoint Your Backlinks Post Launch:
Once your sunsetted URLs are intuitively redirected to the new website, your job is not quite finished. You need to make sure all of your search engine authority is passed along with the visitor.
During a 301 redirect, a portion of the search engine authority is lost. While this may not have a major impact with one redirect, multiplying this by several hundred or thousand can have a potentially devastating impact on your search rankings.
Work to mitigate this as much as possible by repointing your backlinks to the new URLs. Reach out to the webmaster of the sites linking to your pages and ask them to repoint their link to your new URLs.
Remember, they are probably just as busy as you are and you’re asking them for a favor, so giving them the paint-by-numbers instructions will go a long way to achieving success. Provide them with the specific URL on their website and highlight the area within the content that the link exists. List both the old URL and new URL to be sure there is zero confusion.
It’s highly unlikely you will get every backlink repointed (at least not anytime soon), so focus first on the sites with the highest Domain Authority to get the most impactful backlinks working around those 301 redirects.
Have an SEO Specialist Consult During the Design Process:
While designers can create aesthetically-pleasing websites with intuitive user experience and flow, it is important to have an SEO resource involved with this phase of the project to keep search engine considerations top of mind.
Similar to how your corporate marketing team will provide your design team with brand standards, colors, imagery, etc., an SEO specialist will provide the designers with a detailed summary of the elements that need to be incorporated into the designs to achieve search success. These include elements such as navigation, content location, and page structure.
Incorporating these elements into the “ground rules” will enable your designers to create a powerful design that eloquently combines your brand image/guidelines with SEO best practices.
These are just a few of the dozens of topics you should be considering to avoid destroying your search rankings during a website redesign, but they represent a solid foundation to start from. If you have questions about your SEO strategy, give me a call or drop us a line. I am always happy to geek out about an SEO redesign.