Here at AppNet, we just launched the newly, redesigned www.appnet.com website. This week (February 17-21, 2014) I have literally had the opportunity to speak with three different clients (one new and two long-term) about this very subject – that is launching a redesigned website.
In all three cases when the subject of “budget” came up, I had to “tap dance” around what I felt (feel) was (is) the most important aspect of any such project. In two of the cases this week, the client had already communicated with additional design firms and in each and every case, the other agency’s “bids” or proposals came in substantially less than I had quoted each. However in every single case, the other firms had simply quoted my prospective new and redesign clients WITH NO REGARD to protecting the rankings and traffic that each of these client’s websites had built up over years of successfully growing content.
One of the client’s websites was averaging over 80,000 unique visitors per month and on the foundation of more than 890 top ten rankings on Google alone. However, when this client consulted the other firms about a redesign, the firms in question only quoted what it would take to create the new website based solely on the “wish lists” of pages and construct of the new website. NO mention was made over recreating old content and handling any redirects, relinking, etc.
We Won in the Long Run…and so will these clients.
As it turned out, once I SHOWED just how well ranked the old content was AND how much adverse effect that losing that content and rankings would be on their traffic – they opted to award us with their business.
Coincidentally we have been going through the process of a new, redesign for our AppNet.com and just launched the new version today. We’ll let you know how things go with Google, Yahoo and Bing – however suffice to say that we saved the old PHP pages and rewrote many…and in every case, took measures to tell Google where our old pages had “moved” to on the new website.
That’s vital to insuring that you don’t lose any traction from an existing, well-ranked website. I’ll update you guys in a couple of weeks about how the work has gone…and how Google, Yahoo and Bing has worked with us. In the meantime I thought I’d share some tips or pointers in what YOU should think about when it comes to a redesign.
So have it at and check back soon for updates.
So, Do You Already Have Some SEO Juice?
You have a great website and it shows up in search engines for your most important key-phrases. This has worked for you since you originally launched your site. But your site is starting to look a bit tired. You see your competition launching redesigned websites and yours is starting to look “worn”….really worn.
So you make the decision to do a website makeover. You SHOULD take steps to protect your “juice” In website terms – JUICE – is the productivity that your website has in rankings and traffic. You don’t want to lose that, right?
If You Redesign Your Website, Will it Hurt Your Search Engine Rankings?
The answer is yes – at least for a bit…even if you take steps to protect your website. However if you just create a new website without regard to the old content, rankings and such…your rankings WILL DIE. You can’t just put up a new, beautiful website and expect it to rank the same or better. You have to “do it right” and by “right” I mean that you have to be certain to include the content pages from your old site (recreated with the new look) AND either keep the same page names – OR if your new platform doesn’t allow that you have to do redirects properly.
What do You Have to Lose?
A LOT if you are not careful to protect that ranking. The best approach is to use a ranking monitor to find all the phrases you rank for and determine the associated pages that are creating those rankings.That can be a tedious task and should probably be performed by an SEO expert – however IF you’re going to do it you should set goals and use your analytics and good old Excel to make the best decisions.
I did this recently by simply exporting Google Analytics data into an Excel spreadsheet. Be sure to export your most visited pages over a long period – and not just for the last month or so. Also sort by PAGES and also by KEYWORDS so that you can cross-reference and KNOW what your most important pages are…and by “MOST IMPORTANT” I mean most important to your rankings, traffic, etc.
Know Which Pages Really Work.
Sometimes you can get so caught up in what YOU feel like are the most important pages of your website, that you don’t actually know which pages are most important to your customers. When I was researching the “juice” that I wanted to push over to the new website that we were working on, I was surprised to see that some of the pages that I would have probably left off the new website – were actual well visited and ranked. If someone can still find that old page from your old website (on Google) then you’ll want to make sure that they can find it on the new one – even if that means that you need to recreate it in your new design platform (like WordPress, etc) and then redirect the old PHP or HTML page to the new spot on the new website. That was kind of “all over the place” but I think you get my drift.
In short, your newly redesigned site needs to have a corresponding page for each high ranking page on the old site, and ideally a page for every page in Google’s index.
Site Structure and Internal Links
Since I just hinted at website structure…let me throw that ingredient into this recipe for redesigning.
If your domain has juice, keep it.The worst mistake that some newbies make is to make the decision that since we’re working on a new website, MAYBE it’s time for a new domain name. OH MY GOODNESS! You can do all of the Google Webmaster “tooling” you want to tell Google that you want them to give you ranking “credit” from the old domain to the new – but Google does “weight” old domain names and new ones can take a bit of time to be respected by the search engines – enough to rank well. (I know I will get some argument on that statement, but I’m right.)
So, let’s assume we’re redesigning your website on the same domain name. For sites that have some real history and good ranking, the rule of thumb is; don’t change your URL and don’t change the URLs for the most important pages. Unfortunately, that is often easier said than done, since the goal of the redesign may be to upgrade your site platform and improve the URL structure. If the URLs must change, it is crucial to take additional steps to protect those pages and the rankings that come with them.
Don’t Forget to Redirect Your Back Links
Back links are one of the most important tools for improving your SEO. Knowing where your back links are coming from will help you create redirects to the newly create pages on your new site. You won’t be able to update links on other websites, but you can make sure they aren’t broken. Use a back link checker to list out the pages on your site others are linking to.
Research your indexed pages. Use something like Google Webmaster Tools to see all the pages that are indexed by Google, not just the ones that rank high – don’t forget those.
Now that you have a list you can create redirects to send visitors and the search engines to the corresponding new pages. Use a “permanent 301” redirect for each to new or similar page on the redesigned site. This process will help.
Prepare For The Indexing
Create a new sitemap.xml file. Sitemap files help the search engines find pages on your new site. If you are using a CMS like WordPress, there are great plugins that will create a sitemap for you. Also remember to update your robots.txt file. If you’ve added any additional functionality your new robots.txt file will be a bit different, especially if you have switched to a new CMS, added a login area etc. The robots.txt file lets search engines know what not to index.
BE A GOOD TOUR GUIDE…
Many SEO gurus will tell you to be sure to link from this page to that page and string a bunch of links all over your website and even some of the best SEO plugins will direct you to be very “matchy” on pages. Match your title to your keyword and include the keywords in your META titles and H1 tags and content and ALT tags, etc, etc, etc.
LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE PULLING OUT ONTO THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY!
I’m going to advise you to keep keywords in mind in the sense that you need to make sure that the subject of each page is evident. However don’t write ANYTHING for Google, Yahoo and Bing. Write for your customers. Speak to them with your titles, content, etc. If you speak to your customers…you will get the rankings that your website deserves
…and another thing! Data tells us that we’re only going to get about 4-6-8 pages and maybe 4-8 minutes per visitor on a website. So DIRECT your visitors to the 4-6 pages that YOU want them to see. By linking all over the place you allow your visitors to drive the bus wherever they want to go on your website.
When you are redesigning your website, give thought to where YOU want their focus to be and create the NAV such that they really can’t GET anywhere except where you want them to go. You can thank me later.
It’s Launch Time
Once you launch the new website, your work has JUST really begun. Now you will need to LIVE on Google analytics to check for crawl errors. Use your web tools to check for 404 errors (page not found!). Also, make sure the XML sitemap is functioning properly.
Redesigning your website does not have to be painful. It only needs to be thoughtful. Search engines and people like fresh content and thoughtfully redesigned websites. So, have no fear of redesigning your website, just keep your focus on SEO and functionality during the process. When in doubt, talk to an expert.
If you’re thinking about a redesign, whether you’re going to do it yourself or contract with a developer to handle that task for you – talk with an expert. We’d be happy to talk with you, regardless of whether you contract with us or not. After all, we’re all in this together, right?
We invite you to read MORE about Search Engine Ranking.
Editor’s Note: AppNet ranks NUMBER TWO on Google for top ten search engine ranking as well as thousands of other search terms and our clients enjoy high rankings as well. So we have a little history of success and hope these redesign a website steps post can help you on your next website redesign.