How To Protect Your SEO After A Website Redesign

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

constructionHere at Avatar we see this happen again and again – a new site gets designed but all the on-page search engine optimisation (SEO) work gets wiped out by the new designer who is more fixated on how cool the new site looks.

Many web designers don’t know much about SEO at all, or it’s simply not a main part of their business so they don’t include it in their site revamp processes. SEO is something that takes time to build up, so this can throw away months or even years of hard work.

Over the years, we have had a number of S.O.S. calls where a site has dropped like a stone down the rankings after being redesigned, which isn’t fun for anyone. It’s much better to gracefully upgrade your site with SEO in mind, rather than try to desperately recover Google rankings and lost traffic. Rankings can take from days to months to recover, and if the new site design is particularly jarring for Google, then large traffic volumes will be completely lost.

Here are some checklist points to consider:

  • Retain title tags. The title tag on each of your pages is an essential part of on-page SEO, and it helps you retain the keyword focus of each page. Your homepage is particularly important.
  • Crawl your old site. Crawling your site forms a complete picture of your pages, title tags, meta data and URLs.
  • Noindex your test site. By setting up No Follow robots code, you can discourage search engines from indexing your site and ending up with duplicate content down the line.
  • Retain meta descriptions. A unique meta description on each page makes a significant difference to SEO. If the purpose of the pages has changed slightly, re-write them.
  • Keep content intact. Ideally, don’t change more than 20% of your site’s content in any update, so that Google doesn’t sandbox your site. Changing too much at once can flag your site within the Google algorithm as having something suspicious going on.
  • Identify your top performing 10 or 20 pages before you swap and give them extra special attention. Make sure the keywords, titles and meta tags are all in tact.
  • Copy over analytics code and conversions code. Keeping a consistent Google Analytics record is hugely important for keeping track of how your design change has affected your site. Make sure that your Analytics code is included in the new coding.
  • 301 redirects of page URLs. If you have old page names (URLs) that are now obsolete, rather than letting them sit around and become stale, simply set up a 301 redirect to a new equivalent page.
  • Add a sitemap and a sitemap.xml for sites over 50 pages. This will help search engine crawler robots find all the pages of your website and add them to their search index.
  • Use the Wayback Machine to find previous copies of your pages. This is a lifesaver if you accidentally lose content, or want to revert certain pages. However the Wayback Machine doesn’t keep a perfect archive, merely snapshots – so definitely try to make a separate backup before you switch over.
  • Rank check. Before and after making major changes, it’s best to keep track of any rank changes so you can quickly damage control any major losses.
  • Revisit your SEO. A site redesign can also be a great time to give your SEO an overhaul. Rather than merely transferring, see if you can improve the optimisations you have on your website.

Though form and design is important, it’s usually the function of a website that makes it commercially successful. When making a major web site design change, make sure all your hard SEO work doesn’t get thrown out with the old code.

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Katie is a lover of words and art, born and raised in Christchurch. With a BA in English and Japanese, she’s happiest tapping away at her keyboard writing copy or articles, or else working on the latest illustration. To balance the creative side, Katie is also very motivated and a bit of a perfectionist, which helps with her SEO duties. Although her hobbies could probably be described as art, art and more art, she also enjoys long walks, good friends and travel.

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