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Website re-design is important in an effort to keep improving site navigation, and overall customer experience. If you feel change is in order, beware that redesigning your website can have consequences for your website’s SEO value and rankings unless you prepare accordingly.
Remember, your old site’s rankings which are derived from a variety of factors, notably the on-site content (principally the text used), and the links which have been built to your traditional web pages. If you redesign the site, you must do all you can to preserve the SEO value of the old site, and transfer it to the new.
With that in mind, following are RankPay’s top SEO tips for a site redesign:
Preserve the URL Structure
Wherever possible maintain the same URL structure as the old site. If you have a URL which looks like, http://www.mydomain.com/product, but you then change the URL for the new site to http://www.mydomain.com/widget, then all the links built to the original URL are not going to support the new URL.
In addition, Google in particular does not like change in URL structure, so try to maintain the same URLs as far as you possibly can.
Use 301 Redirects
A 301 redirect is a way to tell the search engines that a page has been permanently moved to another page (for “page” read “URL”). This will ensure that the search engine will not use the “old” page in the SERPs.
Be warned that you are not guaranteed that the search engines will accept your 301-redirect as the new page which should be ranked (which is why you should preserve your URL structure as much as possible in the first instance).
Ensure Only One Version of Your Site Exists – the Canonical Issue
This is confusing to many site owners, but you can do this for yourself – input www.google.com into a browser and then input google.com (without the www.) Each time look at what the browser bar shows – in both cases it is http://www.google.com whether you use the www. Prefix or not.
The problem is search engines look at www.my domain.com and domain.com as 2 different websites, so links built to the www.versions are not counted towards the non-www version.
This is known as a canonical issue, and you need to tell the search engines which version of your website is the one you wish to consider as original. Whichever one you decide on, that is the site you build links to.
Search engines cannot watch a video or look at an image – they can only interpret text. This means you need words as the leading search engine content element on your site, and remember the old content is what has been valued and ranked by the search engines, so any modification of that content should be undertaken with great care.
Loading your site with Flash, slow loading graphics and video will also impact your rankings because page load speed is a factor in ranking a page. Your designer may be steering you down this path because it looks good, but it’s no use if your SERPs are destroyed before they get to see it.
Ensure all graphics are compressed, that your website code is as clean as possible and your page load speeds are accelerated.
Delete the Old Site
If you are hosting on the same server, always delete the old site because while you may call it “old”, the web crawlers may not view it that way. Make a copy and delete it to be safe (even if you are using 301-redirects).
Developers/Designers May Not Be Aware of SEO Implications
Sad but true – and in any event you should never let the person who designs/develops your site audit their own work. Get your in-house or external SEO Partner to perform a site audit to make sure everything is as it should be.
This will ensure that /admin and /dev sections are not indexed, which frequently leads to a dilution of your website SERP power. It’s better to have this installed prior to launch as it is easier to keep a page out of SERPs rather than try to get it removed later.
Use an XML Sitemap
Always create a XML Sitemap when you launch the site: this will speed up indexing.
Make sure you remove the old XML Sitemap from Google’s Webmaster Tools (and Bing’s Webmaster Central), and delete it from the hosting server BEFORE you install the new one.
Other SEO Design Issues
As you can see, there are a host of SEO issues stemming from a site redesign, but these are universally applicable whether you are starting from scratch or performing virtual plastic surgery on a site. We’ve written on this topic on a few other occasions… please use the list of resources below that may help address other questions: which you should consider before you pull the plug on your old site:
On-Site SEO Techniques for your Site:
Common SEO Mistakes:
Using Rich Media & SEO:
Please note: if you’re a current RankPay customer or potential future client… we would welcome the opportunity to work with you through your Site Re-design consideration process.