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SEO Strategy During A Website Redesign Or Migration
Launching a new version of your website? If so, check out columnist Thomas Stern's basic guide to preserving your SEO equity in the process.
Whether you’ve decided to purchase a new domain or update your existing website, it’s essential to plan ahead to avoid potentially devastating SEO issues. Website relaunches, especially those that involve a change of domain, can dissolve a brand’s digital footprint and negatively impact sales driven from search.
You can protect the search equity you’ve worked hard to build and discover new opportunities for optimization by strategically planning your transition. This resource will cover how to perform the SEO checks needed to help your website maintain — and even improve — its digital dominance.
Below are some of the most important optimization elements to watch, but we recommend a complete SEO analysis to cover the many components of a website redesign.
Know Your Website
During a website update, it is possible that your page URLs may change (even if you aren’t moving to a new domain). If not handled properly, this can result in a loss of individual page rankings, culminating in a loss of overall site visibility in search engines. To avoid rebuilding search authority from scratch, webmasters must inform search engines of these URL changes.
Start by creating a list of all the URLs on your website, and identify any pages that will need to be rerouted with a permanent 301 redirect. Many times, webmasters will skip implementing redirects for pages with minimal traffic; however, I recommend redirecting all existing site pages whose URLs are changing, as these URLs may still provide some value for internal linking and SEO signals.
There are a number of online tools, such as Screaming Frog, that you can use to crawl your website and help create this list. After an automated report, it is important to manually review your list and sync each page with a URL on the new site. If there are fewer pages on your new website, make sure every page on your current site is being directed towards a new, live page. Additionally, be sure to review all subdomains to ensure all URLs are accounted for before migration.
A 1:1 page redirect matches pages from your old site to corresponding pages on the new site. This can result in more work, but gives visitors a more consistent user experience. For pages lacking a page-to-page redirect, match pages with similar content to preserve relevancy to users and value in search.
Test single pages from your current site with a redirect to the new site to see if they are appearing in Google search results. When you’re satisfied that Google acknowledges your updates, you may continue with a complete site update. Avoid downtime and unexpected errors by updating chunks of your website at a time. Additionally, if you have a new domain, add this to Google Webmaster Tools, and submit a sitemap to inform Google your new content is live.
Analyze Inbound Links
Inbound links help develop authority for your pages in search. As URLs change, links that point to your digital content will need to be updated.
Perform an inbound link audit to determine your link profile and create a list of pages that must be reclaimed, then sort results by sites with the highest domain authority and relevance. Direct links are preferred over redirected links because they have less moving parts and provide a faster, clearer path to content.
Ideally, you should contact the webmaster hosting each link pointing to your site and request for them to update the URL. If this is not attainable due to the number of links or webmaster inaccessibility, preserve your link juice by establishing 301 redirects that point old URLs to new ones.
If you are purchasing a new URL that was previously hosting another brand’s site, understand that you will often inherit their backlink profile. Your brand must investigate the source of these backlinks and update them accordingly to preserve or remove connections as needed.
Conduct An SEO Audit
An SEO audit can identify the strengths, weaknesses, risks, and opportunities of your current website. Use this knowledge to construct a road map of what needs to be carried over and what should be left behind. Find where your brand can improve its content and behind-the-scenes optimization, and implement changes with your website update.
What To Look For:
- 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
Live And Breathe Analytics
What To Look For:
- Crawl errors
- Mobile usability
- Broken links (internal and external)
- Link count (internal and external)
- Pages indexed
- Top keywords driving traffic
- Organic search traffic
This migration process can be time consuming and tedious with so many moving pieces to watch, but it is essential for the growth of your brand and its digital visibility.
Be sure to download your backup files to protect your assets in case of an unseen disaster during the relocation. Complete your move before canceling any hosting plan to protect your files and database information. Once you are confident in the transition of your website data, ease back on monitoring data so you can focus on promoting your site and maintaining SEO through content and optimization based on user trends.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.