Last week I presented at The New Jersey Communications, Advertising and Marketing Association (NJ CAMA) about how to avoid SEO disaster during a website redesign. Specifically, I covered how to avoid losing a majority of your rankings and organic search traffic when redesigning a website or migrating to a new CMS. During my career, I’ve unfortunately had to help companies who didn’t take the necessary precautions before redesigning their sites, and ended up paying a heavy price. For example, some companies lost 60-70% of their natural search traffic after a redesign or migration. After the presentation, I received a lot of questions about the subject overall, but there were several topics that stood out (and seemed to strike a nerve).
That got me thinking about how many other people were also confused and concerned about those hot topics. So, I decided to write this post to cover some of the top things you should be doing SEO-wise when redesigning your website. Since I can’t cover everything that was in my presentation (it was 61 slides), I decided to focus on the topics I received the most questions about from members of the audience.
You Want Scary? I’ve Got Scary.
Before I begin, let’s take a look at a few graphs that will scare the daylights out of any digital marketer. These are actual graphs from companies I’ve helped after redesigns impacted SEO. They unfortunately didn’t foresee the massive impact a redesign or CMS migration could have on their search engine rankings and subsequent traffic. It’s not pretty when this happens.
Website Redesigns and SEO – 9 Hot Topics for Marketers (based on my presentation):
Without further ado, here are nine things you should be doing when working on a website redesign or CMS migration that can save your search engine power, rankings, and traffic. Again, this subset of topics is based on the top questions I received after my NJ CAMA presentation.
1. Crawl Your Site. Know Your Site.
When you redesign your website, there’s a good chance that URL’s will change. If URL’s change, you absolutely have to inform the engines where those older URL’s have moved to. If you don’t, you can destroy your SEO power. All of the equity those old URL’s have built up can be wiped out. And when that happens, your rankings drop, organic search traffic drops, sales drop, revenue drops, and heads roll. That’s why understanding all of your current URL’s is critically important.
The good news is that there are several ways to understand your current URL’s. I highly recommend you crawl your own site, which can reveal many of your current URL’s. I’ve covered Xenu Link Sleuth in the past here on Search Engine Journal, and it’s a great (and free) tool for completing this step. You can also use Screaming Frog to crawl your site, which is a paid solution. Once you crawl your site, export those reports and make sure everyone involved understands the website structure and the URL’s that need to be migrated (or redirected).
Quick Tip: Don’t forget your subdomains. I once performed an audit and found a subdomain with over 500 pages and over 1000 inbound links. Nobody involved in the project even knew the subdomain was active, and it would have gotten nuked during the migration. Crawling Your Site Using Xenu Link Sleuth:
2. Perform an Inbound Link Analysis
Inbound links are incredibly important for building SEO power. And, there’s a huge risk in losing those powerful inbound links if you change your URL structure. I highly recommend performing an inbound link analysis to fully understand your link profile. Know the pages linking to you, and where they are linking. Then make sure your developers understand that those pages must be migrated. And make sure you utilize 301 redirects when pointing your old URL’s to your new ones. More on 301’s in the next section of this post. There are several tools you can use to perform an inbound link analysis, including Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO Tools. Get familiar with them, and don’t skip this step during a redesign or migration.
3. The 301 Redirection Plan
This is the heart of your migration from an SEO standpoint. If there is one thing you need to get right during the redesign, it’s this step. As I’ve explained already, you need to make sure all of your older pages 301 redirect to their newer counterparts. 301 redirects will safely pass PageRank from your older pages to the newer ones, and will enable you to maintain your Search Equity. If you fail at this stage, your trending could very well look like the graphs I included earlier. Don’t botch the 301 redirection plan. You will pay dearly.