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6 SEO steps for a website redesign

Many companies wait till after a web site is redesigned and launched before getting a search engine optimization expert (SEO) involved. Unfortunately this can lead to expensive site design changes that could have been more easily implemented during the initial design process.  

Sometimes it’s impossible to correct issues after a site is designed and launched without essentially rebuilding the site again.  

In addition traffic from search engines can be severely reduced for months after a redesign. This impact can be reduced by taking the proper steps.  

Here are some search engine optimization steps you should consider during a site redesign.  Some of these steps you can perform yourself. However many of these steps will require someone experienced in SEO.  (Some of these steps also apply when designing a brand new web site.)   

1: Site Audit: Develop a Search Engine Friendly Web Site
Having a search engine friendly site, a web site with no barriers to the search engines, a site designed to help improve search engine results is critical to success with “organic” search engine results. The best time to ensure a search engine friendly site is during a site design or redesign.  

If you have an existing web site perform some level of a Site Audit on it. In a Site Audit an SEO examines the current web site. They’ll point out problems with the site design or other limitations that might impede organic search engine results so that they can be addressed during the design of the new site, including:   

  • Site Navigation, Link Structure, Page Layout – Effective site navigation and link structure as well as page layout for search engine friendliness.
  • Dynamic Site Elements – If there are any dynamic pages (such as pages generated by a Content Management System, dynamically generated product pages, etc) that ideally should be search engine friendly a SEO can consult on the best way to accomplish this.
  • Design reviews – An SEO should examine wire frames or storyboards and site prototypes or development test sites at various stages in the design and development process to ensure search engine friendless etc.
  • Duplicate content issues – Having essentially the same content on multiple pages within your site, your vendors’ sites, or your resellers and affiliates’ sites can lead to problems. An SEO can consult on duplicate content issues that are common in ecommerce and affiliate sites. 

2: Determine important keyword phrases
It’s very helpful to have an understanding of what the important keyword phrases (search terms) are for your web site in the design process. This understanding can come from a few sources:  

Keyword Research – In Keyword Research a SEO determines what phrases people are searching on to find your products and services as well as related topics in the major search engines.  

Search Engine Advertising – If you have run a search engine advertising campaign (a PPC campaign such as Google AdWords) an SEO can examine the campaign results to see what keyword phrases brought significant targeted traffic to the site and more importantly which phrases resulted in engaged visitors (as measured by metrics such as Time on Site, Page Views, Bounce Rate, Views of key pages, etc) and conversions (signups, leads, sales etc).  

Keyword phrases that pay off in a search engine advertising campaign are ideal candidates for improvement in organic search results.  

Web Site Analytics / Reports – Using web site analytics (such as Google Analytics or ClickTracks) you should be able to determine what keyword phrases brought significant targeted traffic to the site by keyword and again, more importantly, which phrases resulted in “engaged” visitors and conversions.  

If advanced analytics are not available you may have site reports that will at least show you what keyword phrases are bringing significant traffic to the site.  

Important Note about relying only on analytics and site reports If you only use analytics or site reports to determine what keyword phrases reached the site in the past you may be missing many important keywords. You site may not have the relevant content or the link popularity to have attracted search traffic for many important keywords, especially competitive keywords.  

We’d recommend considering delaying the site redesign if possible in order to perform keyword research and possibly run a search engine advertising campaign for a number of months to determine which keywords bring engaged visitors to the site.  

Of course you may be redesigning the site because it does a horrible job of engaging and converting visitors in which case getting some of these metrics from a search engine advertising campaign on the current site may be difficult or impossible.   

3: Use important keyword phrases in the site design
Once you’ve determined the important keywords for your site and the approximate numbers of people searching on them in the major search engines, in the territory your cover, here’s how to use the data:  

Are enough people searching on your keyword phrases? If this hasn’t already been determined in the past then use the keyword data to help you estimate if there are enough people searching within your anticipated territory so that search marketing might become an important marketing channel for you. This will help you decide how much effort to put into search marketing during and after a site design.   

Add content to the site? You should consider adding content to the site to better focus on important keyword phrases if needed. In addition, do you see people searching for related topics? It may make sense to include that content on the web site to make the web site more useful and to help get the web pages found by people searching for that information. Then during the site design and after the site is launched work on ways to get theses visitors interested in your products and services.  

Optimize pages – It may make sense to optimize some site pages to improve search results for some important keywords during the site development process. In many cases optimization of specific pages can be performed after the site is launched, and often has to be because of time constraints, as long as you’ve developed a search engine friendly web site.  

Develop Tags – Develop a short list of keywords to focus on to develop tags, such as HTML Page Title tags and Meta Description tags for web pages that you may not be completely optimizing until after the site is launched, if ever.  

4: Develop the navigation and linking structure
Once you’ve determined the content for the site you can develop a navigation structure that allows site visitors to easily navigate through the site.  

In addition give some thought to organizing your site around important keyword themes which can help improve search engine rankings. (Internal site linking also affects search positions).  

For more about organizing your site around important keyword themes, also called Siloing, see this article on Bruce Clay’s site.  

However, remember that your visitors come first. The site must be designed so that visitors can find what they are looking for and so that the site effectively engages these visitors and persuades them to move along to a conversion. Thinking about keyword themes can help you accomplish this and improve search engine rankings at the same time.  

5: Determine which pages of the live site bring traffic for important keyword phrases
Using web site analytics or manual searches determine what pages on your current web site are reaching high positions in search engine results and bringing significant traffic for many of the keywords that are important to your web site, i.e. traffic that is engaged and converts.  

 For these pages you’ll want to consider one of the following:  

  • Reuse Important Content – If possible reuse much of the content from these pages on the new site pages, ideally using the same URL structure if possible.
  • Minimize the Impact of URL changes – If the URL structure must change it can impact your search results for months after the site is relaunched as the search engines need to recrawl the site to find the new pages etc. You can minimize the impact of changes to URL’s for important pages by applying 301 redirects to as many of these pages as possible.

6: Determine the incoming links to the site from other web sites
An SEO can examine the links to your web site from other web pages on the Internet to see which ones are bringing targeted traffic to the site and which ones may be helping the pages on your web site reach higher positions in the search engine results.  

If any of these incoming links point to inner pages of your current web site and the URL’s to those pages will be changed they can suggest the correct course of action from among a few options. Usually they’ll suggest applying 301 redirects to these pages so that they redirect to the most appropriate page on the new site.  

You’ll want to try to contact as many of these site owners as possible after the new site is launched to ask them to update their links (this also gives you a way to start a relationship with these sites if you don’t already have an ongoing relationship).  

Important note about links to the home page. Some incoming links to home pages may include the complete URL, http://www.domainname.com/index.asp rather than just http://www.domainname.com for example.  If the URL to the home page will change when the site is relaunched, for example from http://www.domainname.com/index.asp to http://www.domainname.com/index.php, you’ll want to apply a 301 redirect in this case too. Then, after the new site is launched, contact any site owners whose incoming links point to the old home page URL and ask them to update their links.  

Extra Tip – Don’t forget to setup an effective custom page not found error page (404 error page) before launching the redesigned site. This is very important to have in place as the site is launched as many people may be clicking on search results that link to pages on the site that have just been moved or deleted. Learn much more about an effective custom page not found error page in this Video/Text article. 

  

For More Information  

“Basics of Search Engine Friendly Web Site Design for Web Designers & Developers”  A Guide we put together that you can download  

Mark Johnson’s “Redesigning Your Web Site? Don’t Neglect SEO” article in SE Watch  

Jill Whalen’s “6 Website Redesign SEO Secrets Your Developer May Not Know” covering site architecture, avoiding duplicate content, changing page URL’s, navigation systems, custom HTML elements, and tracking (such as Session IDs)  

Jill’s Whalen’s Best SEO Practices During A Website Redesign. Jill’s tips for a site design inclduing changing URL’s, Flash, adding/changing content and tags  

An article in Search Engine Watch about “SEO During E-Commerce Application Development.”  

For more about organizing your site around important keyword themes, also called Siloing, see this article on Bruce Clay’s site.   


     

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