When we think about migrating a website, we dream of achieving better brand awareness, authority, and visibility. Unfortunately, a website redesign can erode the SEO equity we’ve built over years, especially if it’s not planned well.
Sadly, most website owners are oblivious to the impact a site makeover has on search engine rankings. While there are many ways and means of reviving SEO, it’s better to prevent any issues in the first place.
For budgeted startups, small companies, and nonprofits that rely on organic traffic for leads and sales, a rank drop can be catastrophic. I don’t need to remind you how hard it is to rank in organic searches in this hyper-competitive world.
If you’re planning to move your website content, and want to do so without harming your SEO, this post is for you.
I’m going to tell you the issues to expect during a website redesign and simple hacks to overcome them. But before that, you need to step back and analyze your current SEO position.
Understand Your Current SEO Position
A website redesign is an opportunity to improve your SEO position.
If you’re running organic campaigns, you already know your high-performing content and keywords, quality backlinks, traffic volumes, and domain authority. If not, you can use tools to audit your SEO, like SEMrush and Moz’s Site Crawl.
Apart from these insights, these tools can dig into your SEO weaknesses as well. This way, you can not only maintain, but also improve your search rankings through a website makeover.
After you know the good and bad of your SEO, it’s time to plan for the big migration. It pays to be prepared by understanding the issues that can crop up. Here they are:
- Content can disappear, modify, or change site hierarchy.
- New content may be added, with new internal links and backlinks.
- Page URLs and meta descriptions can change.
- Internal link structure of the site can change.
- New site sections may be added.
- Page-level optimization can change.
- Domain and subdomain names may change.
If you introduce too many variables simultaneously (for example, move content + change URL), there will be multiple issues to handle. You won’t be able to pinpoint the root cause of SEO changes. So, it’s always better to migrate your site in phases and deal with one problematic area at a time.
An SEO Checklist for a Trouble-Free Website Redesign
Whether you are an SEO expert or have an agency to handle your SEO needs, it’s important that you gain a basic understanding of what SEO is all about. This way, you can predict the impact of your website overhaul and take remedial actions proactively.
After that, follow this website redesign checklist to ensure that your SEO is preserved:
- Keep Your Old Site Live: If possible, keep your old site live till all of your new pages are indexed. You can also make a website backup which can be referred to when you hit a snag.
Even if you don’t do that, a part of your site will always exist in web archives, but it’s always better to have the whole deal for reference. Ensure that the temporary site can’t be accessed by crawlers.
- Save Crawl Data: Use tools like Screaming Frog to save a crawl of your old site, even if it exists on a temp URL. You can always upload the site crawl for analysis and comparison.
- On-Page Optimization: From your site crawl, export all of your on-page elements, including page titles, meta tags, and meta descriptions. Try not to tamper with them, unless absolutely necessary.
- Use 301 Redirects: Redirect your old URLs to the new ones and try to keep content at the same location. If your website is built on WordPress, you can use one of their SEO plugins to maintain the same permalink structure. For other sites, you can create a spreadsheet with old and new URLs and check your 301 redirects one by one.
- Content: Try to minimize changes to your best-performing pages. There will be plenty of opportunities to update content after it is crawled and indexed correctly. But to reduce variables of change, it’s best not to modify your premium content.
- Preserve Your Backlinks: If you have high-authority websites linking back to you, you certainly don’t want to lose them during a website redesign. Have your 301 redirects in place and reach out to the webmasters of those sites with fresh links to replace the outdated ones.
Updating your backlinks is a good sign for Google crawlers and helps them index your pages accurately.
- Rebuild Your Internal Links: If you’ve designed your site well, your pages will likely be linked to one another. Changing your site architecture and content might upset your internal link structure. Refer to your site crawl and rebuild your internal links so that your traffic is not impacted.
- XML Sitemap: Submit your updated XML sitemap to Google and Bing as soon as you can. When you do that, you align your 301 redirects, navigation, sitemap, and page structure so that crawlers can make sense of the changes easily.
- Technical Site Audit: Use one of the SEO tools I mentioned earlier to identify technical SEO issues. Using the log files generated by these tools, you can get to the root of new technical issues as soon as they crop up.
While you are migrating your content, keep a close watch on how your rankings and traffic fluctuate. Don’t be taken aback if you notice a sharp dip, but things should level back maximum in a month or two. If it takes longer, investigate the reasons thoroughly and find the resolutions. For larger sites, Google spiders can take more time to recrawl deeper pages.
Want a pro tip?
Google Search Console is a treasure trove of information about clicks, impressions, average positions, and click-through rates (CTR). Just follow the path “Search Traffic > Search Analytics” and track your 301s and 404s in real-time. The tool also provides diagnostic information to iron out the kinks.
Website redesigns can be unavoidable. But there’s no reason why you can’t make the transition without hurting your SEO. With a bit of preplanning and the right set of tools, you should be able to maintain (or even improve) your online presence.
Do you have any questions related to SEO or digital marketing? Leave them in the comments below. I’ll be happy to answer them.