Are you re-doing your website, but concerned about your rankings? When redesigning a website, SEO marketing experts “think like Google.”
Here’s a high-level view of how Google works:
- Google “crawls” your website – scanning every page, paying attention to URLs, meta titles, meta descriptions, headers, markups, tags and content.
- Google creates an “index” for your site – logs keyword strings and information about each page and stores it on its network for quick reference.
- The index maintains keyword rankings for billions of web pages, which factor in traffic, site longevity, content growth and more.
- When a user types a phrase into search, Google refers to its own index and shows the most relevant, best-ranked pages and sites at the top.
Your existing website already has a Google index, with page and site rankings that you’ve earned over time. Those rankings are essential to maintaining your search engine optimization (SEO) during a website redesign.
It’s important to note: a redesign that’s graphic only – with a new look and feel but the same underlying sitemap and content – does not normally impact SEO unless you’re adding or deleting content.
URLs: Maintain or Restructure?
Each page on your website has a unique URL. If you change the URL of an existing page, Google sees that as a new page, not an old page with a new URL.
When planning a website redesign, start with a conceptual site map of changes to the high-level structure. How much will be added, deleted and re-named? Are you keeping most existing pages, or are you overhauling structure from the ground up?
Maintaining existing URLs is the best approach. When the new site goes live, Google can easily re-index content changes if URLs are all the same.
Changing URLs: Rules to Follow
If you’re doing a content overhaul that involves changing the URLs of individual pages, here are a few steps that will minimize the adverse impact on rankings.
301 redirects – when deleting pages or changing URLs (perhaps for services you no longer offer or to simplify your site) use 301 redirects for those decommissioned URLs. This allows you to send traffic and search value for that deleted URL traffic to another page. Be sure to point to pages relevant to the original URL’s keywords. This approach won’t maintain the SEO perfectly, however it will transfer most of the keyword rankings for the deleted URL over to a live page.
Google Search Console – once your website rebuild goes live, use Google Search Console to crawl errors, find broken links and 404 page-not-found errors etc. Monitoring Google Search Console will help you find issues like overlooked redirects. We recommend monitoring regularly after launching the new site, then optimizing SEO as errors arise.
XML Sitemap – once you have launched and error-checked the rebuild, create a new XML Sitemap and submit it to search engines. Submit to Google using their Search Console, and submit to Bing using Bing Webmaster Tools. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress or Joomla, there are plugins designed to create dynamic sitemaps.
Metadata – Optimizing Titles, Descriptions & Content
Title tags and descriptions – every page should have a title tag and a meta description, plus all the page content. Google crawls, ranks and indexes all that data.
Optimize your meta titles and meta descriptions for relevant SEO keywords – Good meta titles are 60 characters or less, meta descriptions 155 characters or less. Both should contain top keywords and variants. Best practice is to carry over the metadata and content to the new site.
Google likes fresh content. If you absolutely have to change or delete content — maybe your business has changed or you no longer offer a certain service — be aware that it could negatively affect your SEO. If you’re drastically reducing your content, be sure to adjust your expectations accordingly. Best-case scenario for a redesign? All of the content remains same and then additional content is added.
Indexing & the Google Crawl
Going live – remember to “think like Google” when you’re ready to publish your updated website. It’s essential that Google indexes the new site. On your testing server, you might have dropped a “noindex” tag into your dev build to prevent Google from accidentally indexing the new site before it’s complete.
If you neglect to remove that tag on launch, then it’s still there behind the scenes. Google crawls the site and sees the noindex tag, which tells Google, “you can crawl the site, just don’t index it” – and that destroys your rankings.
This can create long-lasting problems. We’ve seen situations where new clients came to us and we found out that they had the noindex tag on the website for months. That means no index, no rankings, no organic traffic. The damage can persist for a long time and sometimes, your website can never fully recover.
Summary and Highlights
Your website is the public face of your business, even if you run a brick-and-mortar operation. SEO for B2B companies puts even greater dependence on a strong web presence, since consumer factors like foot traffic and viral popularity are less important.
Maintaining SEO value after a rebuild is tricky business. Keeping these concepts in mind will pay off in with minimized reductions in your rankings, and can even increase rankings for fresh content:
- Understand SEO and “think like Google”
- Work with a conceptual site map and error-check URLs and links
- Minimize changes to URL structure
- Use 301 redirects when decommissioning or changing URLs
- Use Google Search Console to monitor and optimize your site
- Create and maintain up-to-date XML sitemap
- Optimize meta titles and meta descriptions – carrying over metadata is ideal
- Remove the noindex tag from the dev instance before going live
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I'm the Director of Digital Services and Partner at Ballantine, a family-owned and operated direct mail & digital marketing company based in New Jersey. and started in 1966 by my great uncle!