Optimizing your website takes a lot of time and energy, so it’s important that you don’t let all of your efforts go to waste when it comes time to revamp the layout and design of your site.
Just because you want things to look nicer does not mean you want to start over when it comes to Google rankings, so you have to follow a few precautions to save yourself the headache.
Unfortunately, many companies and blogs are quick to change the design of a website with the assumption that SEO will transfer over. In some cases it might, but in other cases you have to manually make sure that your SEO is surviving.
This leads to that inevitable question: When thinking about SEO, how do I know what to keep and what to let go when it comes to a redesign?
Top Things to Consider When It Comes to SEO and a Re-Design
Keeping your SEO from the old site in place for the new site is actually very easy when it comes down to it.
Simply consider all aspects of SEO and determine what needs to stay (pages and content with a high CTR) and what needs to go (pages cluttering up the site). A few suggestions of things to consider include:
301 Redirect Backlinks
This is the most important aspect of SEO and re-designs. You want to make sure you set up 301 redirects for all of your pages because it not only directs users to your new pages, it passes PageRank as well. This is, of course, only necessary if the URL structure is going to change from that of your old website.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that there is such a thing as a 302 redirect; however, this lets Google know that your page is only temporarily moved. A 301 redirect lets Google know you’re permanently moving all of your pages to that new URL and you want Google to index your new pages instead of your old page.
You can get started with a 301 redirect manually by going into your .htaccess file, but I always recommend using a WordPress plugin. It’s an easier option and helps you get into your .htaccess file without any hassle.
In the past I have used WordPress SEO by Yoast. I click “edit files” and then redirect. I recommend visiting this article to learn more.
So what about the canonical attribute?
A lot of people get confused about when to use a 301 redirect and when to use a canonical attribute. You can learn more about the specifics here, but in short, this tag means that you have multiple pages out there for a reason and you only want Google to index one (otherwise you’ll have duplicate content issues). It’s slightly different than a 301 tag, so the difference matters.
Inbound Link Check
By checking to see which pages have inbound links associated with them, you can double check to make sure that those links are being passed to your new website. A 301 redirect should ensure that this happens, but it’s always good to do a check beforehand in case something goes wrong.
For those who are unfamiliar, an inbound link is a link pointing back to your website. For example, a website might reference an article you wrote on one of your webpages, so if you’re redirecting that page that is referenced you want to make sure that that inbound link is not lost.
There are many different tools you can use to find these inbound links, such as Moz Open Site Explorer, Raven Tools, Ahrefs, and Google Analytics.
You want to make sure that the Google bots can crawl and index your site, and the way to do this is to create a sitemap .xml file. WordPress offers some great plugins that I have used in the past that will help you get started.
This is a step that a lot of websites miss because, technically, a 301 redirect is enough to tell Google to index your new site. However, a Sitemap can give Google even more information and give you more control.
Creating a Sitemap is a way for you to tell Google even more specifically how your site is structured, so it helps the bots find pages they may not have found otherwise. This is a great move if you have dynamic content, pages featuring rich images and, of course, if your site is newer and isn’t well-linked.
Now it’s time to let Google know by using the Change of Address tool in Webmaster Tools.
There is actually a section of Google Webmaster Tools, which you can learn more about here, which allows you to give the search engine a heads up that you’re completing a redesign.
If you’re moving domains, let Google know in order to avoid any unnecessary conflicts. The tool is called the Change of Address tool and the changes you specify will remain in effect for 180 days (after that your new site should be indexed).
You can find the Change of Address tool by going to your Webmaster Tools and clicking the little gear icon. Your site should appear in the Select a Site list, but if it doesn’t you may need to go back and verify your site.
In the end, it’s all about 301 redirecting your pages and then tracking your SEO in Webmaster Tools from your old site to your new site.
If you can make these things happen and really pay attention to the changes that occurred in your SEO, you should be good to go. It’s important to realize that Google doesn’t want you to lose your SEO successes, so there are things in place to help make sure that doesn’t happen.
Do you have a story about your SEO suffering when re-designing your site? Any tips for those looking to avoid an SEO loss? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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