We’ve all been there. Time to redesign your website. But while you’re redesigning your site, you also don’t want to jeopardize your existing search engine rankings. So how can you ensure your redesign won’t negatively impact your SEO efforts? Here are Search Mojo’s top ten SEO tips to consider when doing a website redesign:
1. Run a benchmark report.
Before your new website goes live, be sure you clearly understand where you currently rank by running a benchmark report for your current keywords and rankings. You’ll use this report after the launch of the newly redesigned website to understand if you’re maintaining your rankings through the redesign launch.
2. Evaluate your technologies and program accordingly.
3. When changing IP addresses, be sure to leave the old and new sites up concurrently for 2-4 weeks.
Why do you have to do this? It seems to take Google (specifically) a little while to catch up with DNS settings — perhaps an issue with all of the various datacenters. Google recommends a timeframe now of 24-48 hours (typical DNS propagation window), but I like to be safe rather than sorry.
4. When changing page filenames, be sure to use 301 redirects.
When you undergo a redesign, you may or may not change page content or page filenames. But if you do end up changing page filenames or where they’re located, be sure to use 301 redirects pointing search engines to the new location of the information. Be sure to use 301 redirects, which are permanent, and not 302, which are considered temporary.
5. Make sure you choose the right content management system (CMS).
Surprisingly, I still come across content management systems that have limitations that affect SEO. On in particular I often see in homegrown CMS is the inability to have a different meta description and/or title on each page. Make sure that your CMS allows you to change the title and meta description to make them unique on each page of your website.
6. When doing page design, be sure that you incorporate CSS in an SEO-friendly way.
I often see this error with web designers. While I love style sheets, sometimes pages are not as optimized as they could be because of CSS style misuse. When creating a headline for your website page, don’t rely on just writing something like <span class=”headline”>. Search engines don’t know that a CSS tag you named “headline” is a very relevant part of the page. Instead, assign styles appropriately to the H tags (H1, H2, etc.). H tags are clear indicators for search engines about what content is important on the page.
7. When creating site structure, consider using subdomains instead of subdirectories, where appropriate.
This argument (use subdomains or subdirectories) is like the age old “Tastes great/Less filling” Miller Lite argument. You can technically go either way, but I personally prefer to use subdomains (ex: blog.search-mojo.com) vs. subdirectories (www.search-mojo.com/blog) because Google will rank more subdomains for a given domain than subdirectories. This helps you “own” more of your own brand results and conquer more terms in search with multiple subdomains (as appropriate).
8. Repurpose the SEO work you’ve already done, where you can.
I recently had a client undergo a redesign, and, even though the content didn’t change much, the web design agency actually threw out all of the SEO work that had been done — forcing us to start over from scratch when there wasn’t a real need to do so. All of the meta descriptions, title tags, and more were gone. Keep what you can, when appropriate. Don’t reinvent the wheel!
9. After launch, monitor your rankings daily for about two weeks.
This is a best practice we follow at Search Mojo, and one that I think is valuable. After you’ve run that benchmark report and launched the site, run rankings every day for about two weeks. Is anything dropping? If so, investigate it. For instance, you might have forgotten one simple 301 redirect. This reporting will help ensure you’re on top of any issues you might have missed.
Want more information and details? Have more questions?
Search Mojo’s Avelyn Austin will be presenting a micro-webinar on this topic with a bit more detail on Thursday, July 29 at 2 p.m. ET, and our Search Mojo #SEO411 Twitter chat on Tuesday, July 27 at 2 p.m. ET will also cover questions around SEO and redesigns.