This guest post is by Aleh Barysevich of Link-Assistant.Com
Have you ever considered your site’s redesign?
If you want to keep up with current web trends and technologies, you definitely have.
On the surface, improved layout and usability should attract more visitors. However, in reality webmasters often report post-redesign dramatic traffic drops.
To avoid losing search traffic after redesigning your site, follow these simple rules.
1. Cut down on major changes if you want to brush up just the appearance
With web design tendencies changing so fast, the majority of people do redesign merely to make sure their sites don’t look as if from the 1990s.
If making your site appear modern and fresh is your major reason for redesign too, stick with your goal and avoid:
These actions make sense only if you’re really unhappy with your site’s structure, navigation, user- and SEO friendliness. However, if your site is relatively good on the structure and navigation level, and better layout is the only thing you have in mind, don’t go beyond changing the layout. Thus, you’ll avoid good-for-nothing search traffic sacrifices.
2. Preserve URLs if possible
If you move your old site to a CMS, or migrate between different content management systems, you might encounter a problem of handling different URL patterns.
Say, you’re moving from an HTML website to WordPress. As you may know, by default WordPress pages have no extensions.
One solution is to make a 301 redirect from http://yoursite.com/page.html to http://yoursite.com/page/ for all pages of your site. However, it will mean considerable changes to the URL structure, likely to cause temporarily ranking drops: indexing new pages takes time.
A smarter solution is using plugins like Dot HTML,php,xml etc pages or similar. It will let you preserve your HTML URLs even within a WordPress CMS – as the plugin name implies, same will work for php and xml extensions.
If you’re into changing URLs, make them concise and keyword-based. Do 301 redirects from your old URLs to their updated matches and verify them link by link.
Make a list of your top-priority pages before the redirect campaign: top ranking and traffic-generating pages, top linked-to pages. Don’t miss the pages that rank for your long-tail keywords and old deep pages that consistently bring traffic.
For our site, such old deep page is the list of Google stop word – a tiny piece of content that has been attracting users for years.
So, your task is to spot your “lists of Google stop words”, redirect them, thus making sure they’ll continue working to your benefit.
Verify your redirects for these pages first and foremost.
To sum it up, your redesign case might not be the one described, but whatever it is, do a research of available ways of preserving the URLs.
4. Minimize exposure of low-priority pages
Identify these pages at the redesign stage and make sure you protect them with robots.txt.
5. Do site audit to see what’s holding the site back
Common on page issues include
Discuss these issues with your design and development team not to bring them back to your renovated web project.
Site audit will also let you spot duplicate URLs, for example, http://yoursite.com/category/color/product1/ and http://yoursite.com/product1/ and canonicalize them during the redesign.
Last but not least, you’ll get a complete list of your site’s pages – thus making it easier to verify 301 redirects.
6. Fine-tune the site structure
Go an extra mile and double-check that the structure of your renovated site is straightforward and easily navigated.
Make sure the internal link system provides access to important deep pages.
Spend time analyzing and optimizing your conversion funnel – perhaps you’ll be able to improve spots where people get stuck, which prevents conversion from being achieved.
7. Speed up your renovated site
8. Update XML sitemap
That will speed up indexation of your refreshed website.
9. Make use of schema.org tagging
Reduce the aftermath of post-redesign ranking drop with rich snippets. This way, you’ll increase your CTR and regain some search traffic.
10. Don’t panic if the changed URLs don’t show up in search results
After redesign, it might turn out that your changed URLs won’t show up in search results. Don’t be alarmed: in a month or so your positions are likely to be back. In the meanwhile, check that 301 redirects are valid and keep to your SEO strategy.
11. Most important: stick to a steady redesign plan
Before any redesign campaign, watch these two GoogleWebmasterHelp videos:
They communicate a very important idea of doing one redesign tweak at a time to know for sure what caused the traffic drop, for example, whether it was a redirect or a change to the HTML layout. Also a great way to go is to bring changes to separate site sections to see if that will cause rankings to drop at all.
When you do redesign bit by bit, you’ll be able to test what exactly has a negative impact on your rankings and come up with a viable solution for fixing that.
Preventing post-redesign search traffic drops isn’t easy. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the negative impact. Apply SEO-safe practices listed above, make one change at a time and let rankings take their time to be back to normal – this way you’ll maximize the potential of your relaunched website.
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