For most businesses, a website redesign is an incredibly exciting event. Typically, they’ve had the same website for around three years and are ready to put a fresh face on their online hub. They’re also excited for their customers to see this newly reimagined website and expect a decent bump in their online traffic.
Unbeknownst to them, there’s significant danger lurking just around the corner. While many are basking in the glory of a website redesign, they often overlook the SEO implications of launching this new site. In a very short period of time, years of optimization work can be lost and the resulting drop in website traffic can be devastating.
Every website redesign is different and each will have its own unique requirements. However, there are certain steps you can take to help you avoid this danger and ensure that you don’t fall in the search engine rankings. Below are a few of those steps.
Never Take Your Website Down
At no point should you take down your old website. While visitors may not be able to access the site for several minutes when you’re launching the new one, the goal should always be to minimize downtime as much as possible. When potential customers visit your site and find something similar to an “under construction” sign, it immediately hurts your credibility.
Audit Your Existing Website
Conducting an audit of your existing website can help you identify the strengths, weaknesses, risks and opportunities of your current site. Armed with this knowledge, you can construct a road map of what needs to be carried over and what should be left behind.
Here are a few of the common items you should check:
- Missing page titles
- Duplicate page titles
- Page titles over 512 pixels
- Page titles below 200 pixels
- Missing H1 tags
- Duplicate H1 tags
- Multiple H1 tags
- Missing meta descriptions
- Duplicate meta descriptions
- Meta descriptions over 923 pixels
- Canonical tags
- Broken internal/external links
- Structured markup usage (correct tagging, applicable page usage)
- Image alt text
- XML sitemap
- Duplicate content
- Pages indexed by Google
- Site speed and performance
- URL structure
With this knowledge, you will also be able to establish a baseline measurement of how the old site was performing. After the new one launches, you can measure and track it’s success and make any necessary adjustments.
Create a 301 Redirect Map
Creating a 301 redirect map is perhaps the most important step to ensure that launching your new website does not cause you to lose your search engine rankings. In fact, if you only complete one of these tasks — make it this one.
Once a new website launches, you need to apply 301 redirects to the old pages that no longer exist. This means that when visitors try to access the older urls, they will automatically be redirected to the new urls. This redirection should provide a seamless user experience, typically occurring without the visitor even noticing.
By using 301 redirects, most of the SEO value from the old pages is transferred to the new urls. The longer a website has been active, the more domain authority Google gives it. When a website switches to a new url, that url is starting from scratch and all of the previous domain authority is simply thrown away. 301 redirects are a way of alerting Google that the older website is still around but located in a different place. If Google knows this, it will pass that previously earned domain authority to the new location.
A 301 redirect map is your strategy document that outlines where a visitor should be sent when they attempt to access the old urls. This is typically a spreadsheet that contains old urls paired up with the new urls.
Ensure That All Pages Have Meta Data
Launching a new website is a great opportunity to fill in any missing meta data. During the audit of your existing site, you should have identified any pages that are missing title tags or meta descriptions. If those pages are going to exist on the new site, make sure you create those before launching. This should also be done for any new pages that are being created.
Create a Google Search Console Account
If you do not already have one, you should create a Google Search Console account. Formerly called Webmaster Tools, Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site's presence in Google's search results. You’re not required to sign up for Search Console for your site to be included in Google's search results, but doing so can help you understand how Google views your site and optimize its performance in search results.
Submit an Updated Sitemap
After the new website launches, you should submit an updated sitemap to Google. This can be done in your Search Console account.
Submitting a sitemap will help Google determine what pages you have on your website so they can index them. If you don’t submit a sitemap they may not index all of the pages on your website, which means you won’t get as much traffic. This is especially important after you’ve made significant changes to your website, such as launching a redesigned site.