Are you thinking about redesigning your site? Read this first
Getting a new site or a site redesign is something most businesses will do at some point and while it can be a boost to a companys’ success it can also lead to a drop in traffic if it’s not done the right way. I constantly come across websites which have lost a big chunk of their traffic due to site transfers that have been badly executed. Let’s look at a scenario. Your company has a website and it’s been online for years. It ranks well in Google and it gets a lot of traffic and sales. It’s looking a bit outdated or you need to switch to a different content management system so you have a new site designed and built, you set it live on the internet and your site drops in the rankings like a stone.
If you get most of your traffic from Google you will need to jump through some hoops when updating your URL structure. If it’s possible to keep all of your URLs the same you can save yourself a lot of work. In fact if you can keep your URL structure the same you’ll just need to ensure that your titles and content are fairly similar to maintain rankings.
Where problems arise is when the URL structure needs to change. Google has a record of all of the URLs of your old site which you should think of as maps to your content. Google also knows which sites link to specific pages. You may have a page that’s very popular and pulls in lots of traffic. Let’s say it’s called Berts Car Insurance and it’s located at www.bertsinsurance.com/premiums.php. The page has lots of content about different insurance deals. This page has been mentioned in a number of blog posts about insurance, tweeted and is linked to from multiple pages on your site. All is well, Google ranks the page highly and it gets lots of traffic.
So when you create your new site you may decide to change the content a bit and the URL so it’s now at www.bertsinsurance.com/insurancepremiums/. Now when Google crawls your site it will be looking for the content that was there before. It’ll think that the /premiums.php page is gone and that the /insurancepremiums/ page is brand new. Because the links pointing to the old page now link to a non existent one your site now misses out on the strength from those links. The end result is that you have a new page that doesn’t have the strength of the old one and won’t be able to rank as high in Google. Now imagine you have 100 pages like the old one and you can see that you could be in for a significant drop in traffic.
The good news
This can all be avoided and it can be possible to structure your new site in a way that improves traffic. Here’s the process we go through when updating a site. 1. Take stock of the sites assets
You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. First of all we put together a list of every page on the site that is currently indexed by Google using the site command.
Next we need to find out which pages have been responsible for bringing in traffic. We would check the sites Analytics account and look at traffic for the last 12 months. We'd get a list of all of the keywords which are responsible for bringing in traffic and find out which pages rank for each one. 2. Create a keyword map
This leaves us with a list of keywords responsible for bringing in traffic. The next job is to find out the search amounts for each one using the Google keyword tool so we can prioritise multiple keywords that need to rank on a single page. We create keyword maps for every site we work on. This is basically assigning groups of keywords to particular pages. When creating a keyword map it's important to keep in mind which of the current pages are ranking. Ideally we want to get as many of the internal pages ranking for big terms as possible but that’s not always possible. If the home page is the only place on a site with the strength to rank for a tough term it can be best sticking with that. 3. Align the old with the new
Once we have the keyword map complete we will be able to ensure that there are corresponding pages on the new site. We will create 301 redirects for every old to new URL to transfer strength.
Once the 301 redirects are in place and the site has been tested the big green go button can be pressed to set the new site live. The first thing we do once a new site is live is to run Screaming Frog SEO Spider over it. This is a great tool which gives a detailed list of each URL on a site so we can check for broken links, correct 301 redirects, headers, titles, the lot. Once we're happy that there’s no bugs we go to webmaster tools and get Google to fetch and index the pages and all linked URLs. We will also submit a new sitemap so Google has a definitive list of URLs. Watch closely
Once the site has been crawled by Google we will keep an eye on webmaster tools (WMT). If it comes across anything we need to know about it’ll get flagged up in there. We use webmaster tools to keep track of any 404s that may crop up due to the site change and deal with them accordingly. WMT will show where these errors are linked from so we can figure out how to fix them.
What about sites that aren’t doing well?
In this situation we need to first find out if a site has any strength that is worth transferring to the new site. We would take a note of every page that is indexed in Google. Then find out the pagerank for each one and if there are any links pointing to them. We would use Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs or Majestic SEO to find this out. If there are any links of worth pointing to the pages we'd create 301 redirects for the old pages to the new.
Once all the your bases are covered the rankings should survive the ordeal. When we’ve used this process in the past we’ve always seen improvements in traffic. Without this process we always see traffic drop significantly. If you’re looking for an SEO company to take care of all this for you then get in touch through the form above.