Redesigning a site is always a challenge, especially if you have pages that are ranking well in the search engines. With any site redesign, you are in danger of damaging any optimization that has been done as well as in danger of losing inbound links. However redesigning a site is sometimes required, especially if there is a required software upgrade or the site itself if being redesigned to address concerns over current SEO.
Regardless of teh reason, when redesigning a site, there must be careful consideration given to the task at hand. It isn’t something that can be done without considering the implications on traffic and ranking. With this in mind, one must ask the question – When redesigning a site, what is the best approach?
Personally, I have tackled the issue of redesign on several sites that I run. One was required to switch from an outdated content management system that was full of security holes and the other was to change the entire business model of one site. There wasn’t a single best way to redesign a site, but there were some things that I did that made things a little easier.
Changing the structure of site will change things such as file names. This means that ultimately the URLs to content will change and this will have the biggest impact on inbound links and on ranking in the search engines. Fortunately, 301-redirects allows webmasters to modify the structure of their sites and redirect visitors to the location containing the new content. A 301-redirect will tell the search engines and the visitors coming from an old link that a page has been permanently moved. This is great for search engine traffic because in theory, it means that any ranking obtained at the old URL will eventually pass to the new URL.
Redesigning a site becomes one of the best times to examine your SEO efforts, especially things that you have direct control over such as navigation, file structure (ie names and paths) and more importantly – content. During a recent redesign I was amazed at how poorly the SEO efforts were on several articles I had written. Several articles had a keyword density of under 2 percent, contained no relevant keywords in the titles and lacked description and keyword tags. I was amazed that this content ranked as well as it had in the search engines.
Redesigning this site gave me the perfect opportunity to examine the content, optimize the content for the desired keywords and republish at a new URL. Using a 301-redirect the old URL was pointed to the new location. It was no surprise that the revised articles received better traffic from being newly optimized than it did from the old URL which meant approximately a 30 percent increase in traffic for those particular articles.
The navigation of the sites has to be closely examined when redesigning a site. Ensuring that the content can be found at the new location and that it properly allows the search engines to index the new URLS is essential. Taking time to design a well optimized navigation scheme prior to a redesign will pay dividends in the future.
One last aspect that has to be examined during a redesign is minimizing the amount of duplicate content across a site. If content is published to new URLS, remember to use proper 301-redirects and never leave the old content in place. Many novice webmasters will think this will give them 2 sources of traffic. However, sites doing this will be penalized at best and completely de-indexed from the search engines if this is seen as an attempt to manipulate ranking. As well, if there are options to produce printed versions of the article or something similar, ensure that these links contain the “NoFollow” attribute. Otherwise this content could potentially be seen as duplicate content.
Ensure that all RSS feeds are adjusted accordingly. People who have syndicated your content via RSS and who receive your updates via RSS will want to find the new content. Forgetting this element could have a major impact on traffic and ranking.
Yes, redesigning a site is often a daunting task. Approach it systematically and verify things both before and after the redesign. If approached in such as manner, transitioning will go much easier.