A total site redesign can be a tricky thing. At some point, you must redesign you website to keep it fresh and interesting for visitors. When you do redesign, you also run the risk of your traffic dropping off too. Redesigning a website is one of the biggest SEO challenges that a company can face.
So, what’s going to happen once the site is officially launched? What will happen with any 404s? How will the site perform in the search engines? What about existing links to nonexistent pages?
If your company is currently in the process of redesigning your site or planning on it in the future, here’s what you should know:
The 2 Big Ideas About Redesigning a Site
This article is all about keeping your existing traffic, and not so much of any design specific advice. So here are two big ideas to help you out:
SEO should be apart of the redesign process: Designers, developers, and SEOs should regularly interact with each other during a site revamp. SEOs often see things from a traffic perspective that an information developer or designer might miss.
Don’t rush the launch: Just because you’ve set a deadline doesn’t mean you should quickly rush to meet the deadline. Don’t miss crucial SEO steps just because you’re trying to meet the desired deadline. If the deadline is more important than maintaining search traffic, then there’s something wrong with the deadline.
What Should You Do During the Redesign Process?
While you are redesigning your site, you should keep a few things in mind. Some of these things may not seem important to you, but leaving any of them out is an easy way to cause a big traffic drop.
Never Take Down Your Site
At no point should you pull your old site offline unless it needs to go under for a few minutes as you launch the new design. When visitors encounter a website that says “Sorry, we’re under construction” for several weeks, traffic declines before the new site even goes live.
Reexamine Your Keyword Strategy
A site redesign is the perfect time to evaluate your existing keyword strategy. Take a look at your organic keyword traffic, and find out if your site could be gaining traffic from any new long tail keywords. If so, then you should roll this research into the new site redesign. You may want to create new categories based on those keywords.
Optimize All Content
You should also be reviewing content on each page prior to your site redesign. Sometimes things can get changed in the process. Titles are altered; meta descriptions are dropped; and SEO gets marginalized. Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, pay close attention to optimizing all content on all pages.
One reason why sites lose massive amounts of traffic after a redesign is because their content has been deoptimized. This is the opposite of what should be happening. Instead, focus on optimization — adding content, fine-tuning page titles, and improving everything you can.
Maintain the Same URL Structure as Much as Possible
If you can, keep your URL structure the same. Whenever you change a site’s URL structure, you lose vast amounts of traffic from inbound links.
In some cases, you will want to change your URL structure. If any of the following is true, a URL structure change is right for you:
— You are using a new platform or CMS that requires a different structure. Often, switching to a new system for website administration and content creation is a great choice. If you do, you may have to change your URL structure.
— You are completely reconfiguring your entire sales or search approach. Sometimes, a site redesign is called for because your business is changing its strategy. Maybe you’re adding a new product line, acquiring a new business, or rebranding entirely.
— Your existing URL structure is downright bad. This is probably the most common reason for a URL structural change. One of the best ways to restructure your URLs is to do it according to organic query patterns.
Create a Comprehensive 301 URL Redirect Mapping Strategy
Nearly every site redesign will have some pages that will be mapped to a new location. It’s important to have a complete plan in place for redirecting every such page. Every single written URL must have a 301 permanent redirect
Create an Effective Customized 404 Error Page
Since the new site will probably experience a few 404s, you should have an optimized 404 page in place. What many developers don’t realize that a 404 page can be a great tool for marketing and keeping users on your site.
Create New Sitemaps (HTML & XML)
You should always have an up-to-date sitemap, but it’s especially important for a site launch or redesign. If any content has moved to new URLs, the sitemap can help the search engine discover these new locations.
As you launch your new website, you need to do two important things before celebrating such as:
Remove all indexing restrictions (robot.txt) on the dev site: adjust your robots.txt to allow your new site to be crawled. Make sure you’ve specified the location of your sitemap in your robots.txt.
Submit your new sitemap to Google in Google Webmaster Tools: Go to Google Webmaster Tools > Crawl > Sitemaps. Add to your new sitemap to allow for the indexing of the new site to begin.
Post Launch: Monitoring Your Traffic
Once the launch in complete, you enter a new, very important page: watching your traffic and rankings. Keep a careful eye on your analytics during this time. Your goal is the find any unusual traffic drops, sudden 404 spikes, or keyword ranking losses.
If you follow the instructions in this post, your site redesign will allow you to sustain at least 95% or more of your site’s existing traffic. A big drop does not have to happen. If your site if rolled out successfully and your new design is better, then you’ll see your traffic rise.