Website redesign is complicated. Here are some steps to take away before, during, and post-launch to avoid an SEO disaster when redesigning your site.
1. Take inventory of your current site
Before changing anything, you need to take a snapshot of what your site and ranks look like currently. This will be a necessary reference point post-launch when evaluating if everything is indexing and ranking as it should.
Some areas to keep in mind while taking inventory of your site are:
Current SEO rank: Check the current rankings of each page of your website and also make note of the pages that currently rank in Google.
Crawl your current site: This will let you see what your current site looks like and grab the structure, current URLs, meta description, and titles tags so you can match your new site up to the old.
Blocked content: Verify any blocked content with your Robots.txt and/or Google Search Console. It is good to check this list so that you can make sure that these blocked pages continue to be blocked after the redesign.
2. Keep content as close to the same as possible
We all know the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t change a page.
You just need to make sure your development and copy teams know when and what tags need to stay the same. Yes, during a redesign, you may need to make some changes to copy/content, but make sure the changes are small and deliberate.
In order to maintain your current rank, you should aim to keep the title tag, meta description, URL, and the H1 – H6 the same.
These areas are the most commonly crawled and are most important for pages that already rank on Google.
3. Preserve some of the overall site architecture
Yes, some of the ways you organize your navigation and files may change based on your new website strategy and goals, but if possible, try to keep as much of the structure the same as you can.
Search engines already know your current site architecture, so by maintaining it you give yourself a better chance of not affecting your rank.
Keep your existing visitors in mind as well. You don’t want to change your structure and confuse your existing audience when they revisit your website.
4. Create 301 redirects
You also want to make sure you don’t want to remove any pages that are doing well. If you must, make sure you inform the search engines about this change by setting up a 301 redirect. If you don’t implement these 301 redirects you can drastically kill your traffic.
Keeping an organized list of old page URLs vs new page URLs is extremely important and will help you with reorganizing the website.
5. Block your new site from search engines during staging
Once you have a game plan of what your new site architecture is going to look like, it’s time to design and get the new site built.
Make sure your development team sets up the new site on a staging environment or a platform meant for testing that resembles the live environment without launching the pages.
It is important to have a staging environment so that you aren’t messing around with your live site and prematurely set pages live and having search engines index duplicate content.
A very IMPORTANT thing to do once your staging environment is set up is put a “No Index, No Follow” on it.
You don’t want Google finding your staging environment and marking it as duplicate content. This will create a bigger mess to clean up once you take your new site live.
6. Double check everything in staging
When everything is built, run tests on the staging environment to make sure you aren’t missing or have duplicate H1 & H2 tags, title tags, and meta descriptions.
Once everything looks good and you have not only run some SEO tests but also did internal QA (Quality Assurance) to make sure the site is responsive and works in various browsers, it is time to take the site live.
What about post launch?
Even if everything looks great in staging, once you set a site live0 there are several things you need to do to ensure you maintain your SEO.
Here is a quick hit list:
re is a quick hit list:
Remove “No Index, No Follow” – This is a very easy thing to forget to do but it is the #1 item on our post-launch checklist when launching a site to make sure that is removed.
Import your 301 redirects
Check your 301 redirects to make sure if you did redo your highest-ranking pages that they are redirecting where they should go
Make sure schema.org tags are still implemented
Make sure tracking codes are all still up and running
Re-run broken link checker
Re-submit new submit to Google Search Console
You should be monitoring your new site regularly to spot any issues. Check Google Search Console to check on the number of pages indexed in Google to ensure no pages dropped, track impressions and clicks, and track your rankings.
It’s important to monitor these things so that if you did drop in SEO rank you can work on getting it back up quickly, rather than catching it too late.
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