One of the main reasons to redesign your website is to improve it. The last thing you want to happen in the process, therefore, is losing search engine rankings. Unfortunately, this is very easy to do. In fact, all top SEO companies will tell you that without careful planning, losing search rankings after a website redesign is almost inevitable.
So, if you are redesigning your website this year, SEO planning for 2019 must take equal priority as you need to do both at the same time.
How do you make sure you don’t lose search rankings when you redesign your website?
The five tips below will ensure Google understands your new website and how it relates to the old one.
1. Crawl Your Existing Website
Before jumping into planning out and redesigning your new website, you need to spend time doing a crawl of your existing site. This is an essential step because you need to fully understand your current site’s structure.
In particular, you need to find out all the URLs on your existing website.
There are free tools on the internet that will help you with this. One of the most popular is Screaming Frog.
Once you have this list of URLs, you need to match them up with the pages you plan to have on your new website. You must also identify pages that will change as well as pages you think you don’t need anymore.
2. Page to Page 301 Redirect
A 301 redirect tells Google that a URL that previously existed has now been permanently redirected to a different website page. This is important as Google will pass on to the new page most of the benefits generated by the old page’s backlinks.
In addition, 301 redirects are important for improving the user experience. This is because users will automatically be redirected to the new URL when they click on a link for the old one.
Therefore, if you plan to make any changes to the URLs on your new website compared to the old site, you need to 301 redirect the old URLs.
3. What to do with Deleted Pages
What about deleted pages, i.e. pages on your old website you don’t think you need any longer?
Firstly, consider very carefully before you delete anything from the structure of your website. Even old blogs that you think no longer have relevance might be helping your SEO, even in a small way.
That said, there are lots of legitimate reasons for deciding a page on your old website is no longer needed on the new website. You shouldn’t just abandon those old URLs, though. Instead, you should add a 301 redirect to those old URLs that redirect Google and your website’s users to a different, related page on your website.
If you don’t do this, the old URL will return a 404 error when Google or users try to access it. Not only is that not a good user experience, but Google will quickly (although not immediately) remove the URL returning a 404 from its index, and you’ll lose all the backlink benefits along with it.
4. Handling 404s
Staying on the topic of 404s, it’s a good idea to identify pages returning a 404 error when doing the crawl of your existing website, as explained in tip one. You can also check your website in Google Search Console as this will tell you the 404 pages on your website that Google has found.
Once you identify a list of 404 pages, you should apply 301 redirects to these URLs too, ensuring the old, non-working URL redirects a page on your new website that is working.
Additionally, you need to monitor 404 pages after you launch your new website. In fact, it’s advisable to do this for at least six months. In other words, monitor Google Search Console regularly and if you see that Google has found new 404s, fix them quickly by adding a new 301 redirect.
5. Changes in Content
You also need to take great care if you are changing the content on your new website. This is common, but you need to ensure the new content doesn’t lose any keyword optimisation.
In fact, you should take the opportunity presented by redesigning your website to freshen up your content and ensure it is as optimised for Google as possible.
There are three important points to remember:
- Make sure there is a target keyword for every page
- Ensure the new website uses header tags properly and that keywords are included in them
- Ensure the pages on your new website all have optimised page titles and meta descriptions
Getting it Right from the Start
The above tips will all take time to action, but they are essential if you don’t want to lose rankings in Google. Remember, losing rankings in Google results in lost traffic and, potentially, lost revenue. Spending the time is worth it.