Your website is several years old now and rather than tinker around the edges by adding a page here or updating your logo image there, you decide to go for a total re-design. This is often the right choice for many reasons, a few might be: your existing site no longer communicates your organization’s brand, you’ve added new product lines, or maybe, you’d like to update your business model to include an ecommerce platform. In these and in many other cases, a wholesale re-design of your site is definitely the way to go.
Likewise, if your site suffers from a persistently poor showing in the search engine results pages (SERPs), a SEO friendly re-design might be the only solution. For example, if your site uses an ugly URL structure with numbers and other strange characters, is difficult to navigate, has page titles and content that lacks relevant keywords, or obscures important information from the search engines by hiding it in flash and images, it will never rank well in the SERPs. Having your site re-worked so that it makes sense to both your customers and the search engines, is the only way to solve this problem.
But, what if your current site occupies an attractive position in the SERPs? How do you design and launch a new site that meets the needs of your evolving business, while maintaining your current ranking in the SERPs? Here are the top 10 SEO considerations for re-designing and launching your new website:
Know Your Most Important Keywords
Use Google Analytics or a similar application to identify the keywords that your site’s visitors use the most. Be sure to optimize your new site for these keywords, using them in the architecture if possible.
Know Your Most Important Pages
Google Analytics will also reveal the pages that are most often used to enter your site. Make sure these important pages are part of the new site design, and consider keeping their URL the same and performing a mod rewrite.
Use 301 Redirects
A 301 redirect tells the search engines that the page has been permanently moved to a new location. By 301 redirecting all of your old pages to their new counterparts, you’ll help your visitor find what they are looking for, while helping the search engine to index the new page. As a bonus, you’ll also transfer the old page’s search ranking to the new page.
Create a Custom 404 Page
When someone looks for a page on your site that doesn’t exist, by default, your web server displays a mostly blank page containing only the message “404 Error – Page Not Found”. By creating a custom 404 page with links to the main content categories of your new website, you’ll inform your visitors and the search engines that the page they are looking for doesn’t exist, and help them find the new page on your site.
Inform Your Link Partners
Identify your most important links by typing link: www.youurl.com into Google and Bing. Then, ask these Webmasters to update their links to the new pages. Of course, be sure to notify all of your dealers and affiliates as well.
Update Your Important Directory Listings
Revise all of the social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc.), web 2.0 sites (Hub Pages, Squidoo., etc.), local directories (Google Places, YP.com, etc.), and review sites (Yelp, City Search, etc.) that you can edit. Create new listings where none currently exist.
Market Your New Site
Plan to mitigate any drop in traffic by conducting a marketing blitz around the launch of your new site as if you were releasing a new product. Issue a press release, and do some high quality blog posts to spread the word and get new links.
Submit a New Sitemap
Submit a new XML Sitemap to Google, Yahoo, and Bing to help them crawl and index the new site.
Track the Performance of Your New Site
Update Google Webmaster Tools and Analytics so that you can track the performance of your new site and quickly remedy any issues that may arise.
Be Mindful of Seasonality
Consider the seasonality of your organization and plan to re-launch your website during a time when it will cause the smallest interruption.
Organizations that have either outgrown their existing websites, or suffer from persistently low search traffic, should definitely be thinking about designing and launching a new website. Often however, owners of established sites that rank well in the SERPs are hesitant to make the necessary improvements for fear of loosing search traffic. Although some drop in traffic is possible in the short term, a new, well-designed and optimized site will largely outperform over the medium to long term. Following these 10 steps will minimize disruptions and ensure that the re-launch of your website is a huge success!