SEO for a Redesign (Part 1) – How to Save Your Search Engine Traffic

Topics: SEO

As FINE specializes in digital web design, we’ve worked on our fair share of SEO implementations during a redesign. Sadly, website redesigns are notorious for causing sites to seemingly drop off the face of Google. (Note to self: must stop referring to the searchable Internet as Google).

So how does FINE accomplish things like launching, for example, a brand-new website for famed Napa Valley resort Auberge du Soleil without losing traffic? Very carefully. It can be done, but there are lots of things to keep track of and balance as you move through the redesign.

COMMON REASONS WHY TRAFFIC DROPS AFTER A REDESIGN (Part 1):

1. You deleted pages or entire sections from your website.

“What?!” you may object. “I deleted nothing important. You mean those old press releases? Those outdated blog posts? I swear, no one even read those. They weren’t worth carrying over.”

deleted-seo-contentSearch engines may disagree. Deleting “old” pages can cause a sharp decline in traffic. Think of this this way: Search Engines used to see 200 pages – potentially all with inlinks. Now they see 150. You really must not have as much to say anymore.

Think long and hard about content deletions. If content must be removed, try to find alternate ways to add other content back in.

When we help FINE clients through a redesign, our starting point isn’t even necessarily your new website. It’s your old one. Ideally, your new site will not need to delete content, but will create opportunities for adding even MORE.

2. You deleted copy from your website.

Yeah… I’m not quite done harping on copy. Why? Because deleting “copy” doesn’t always mean deleting “pages” or “sections”.

For example: see how well your traffic fares after you remove 1/2 of your text content from the homepage. See how your relevance improves if category pages remove text and add in snazzy graphics instead. Thinking replacing text with Flash? Be sure to degrade your new content or the “text” will be invisible.

It’s not only about # of pages- it’s about the amount of overall content and copy on the site in general. You need to keep it. You need to add to it. You need to do anything other than delete or replace it.

3. Title & Description Tags: You Didn’t Carry Them Over

changing-urlMigrating content also includes paying attention to your site metadata. Yes, on every page! Every page. If you forget to migrate over descriptive website Title Tags or Meta Description Tags, your relevance and visibility will suffer.

4. URLS: You Renamed Them. Did you have to?

When you rename a URL, you delete the page that used to position. Ouch!

Even if a server extension changes from .php to .htm, this causes a complete reset as far as search engines are concerned. Ideally, you are able to migrate content over without renaming URLs.

Case in point? We’re helping a current client migrate their wordpress blog to a completely new design… changing as few URLs as possible. This is trickier than it sounds especially since we’re combining two separate blogs into one, but – we’re mapping out the URL structure, and we’re getting it done.

5. URLS: You Renamed Them. To Something Ugly.

ugly-rename-urlsIf you have to rename URLs, then please rename them to something reasonable. Whatever you do, don’t pull something where you take a url like this:

www.yoursite.com/directory/short-n-sweet

and rename it to something like this:

www.yoursite.com/directory/dynamic?3#*%#gibberish/?omgisthisaparameter?Waitaminute**ooohgoogleisnotgoingto#_%*#%@likethis?yuckeewwyuck#%_O#IJRnotgonnaposition

URLs should be short, concise, and keyword-based. Bonus points if you use dashes to separate terms. For many FINE clients, we custom-name URLs on a page-by-page basis, with a keyword list close at hand.

6. URLS: You Renamed or Deleted Them. Did You 301 Them?

Anytime you rename or delete a page, you need to 301 Redirect the page. On a page-by-page level. We like tools such as Xenu’s Link Sleuth and Screaming Frog to aid in URL mapping.

Do NOT 301 everything to www.yourhomepage.com. This will take all of the link equity of your internal pages and point it to your home page, instead of to your new URLs that really, really, really need that link love and authority.

7. URLs: Your new site spews out tons of them and is rife with duplicate content.
Sorry, not done with URLs yet. I’ve seen sites move from simple to complex navigation structures rife with canonicalization issues, almost always for the worse unless precautions are taken. For example – let’s say you have a product in five different categories. The URL should always be:

www.yoursite.com/product
not
www.yoursite.com/category1/product
www.yoursite.com/category2/product
www.yoursite.com/category3/product

This is just one example of how duplicate content can crop up, but if you switch to a new site with lots of complex URL variations, sorting parameters, etc, this will cause a serious dilution of internal link equity. If it’s not possible to clean up internal link structure, then consider rel=canonical tags to help consolidate your page authority.

So that you really understand your new website’s navigation and URL structure, do a URL linking report of both the old website and your staging site, using either Xenu’s Link Sleuth and Screaming Frog. (Yup, same tools as mentioned above. I can’t get enough of ‘em.) This is an absolutely critical step of any redesign. If you don’t have a firm understanding of how many pages you have, what your URLs look like, or how everything links together, then you’re guilty of not paying attention.

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Want more? Head on over to SEO for a Redesign Part 2 for more advanced SEO tactics to help your new website success.

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