How to Increase – Not Lose – Visitors when Updating Your Business Website
Marketing expert Caroline Betts explains how small businesses can keep their search engine rankings during a website redesign
Redesigning a website is like buying a house: it’s exciting but it often leaves the owner desperately figuring out how to fit old stuff into a new space.
In particular, progress you’ve made with keywords related to your business can be difficult to maintain from one iteration of your website to another: while changes to layout and architecture might improve how your website looks, they can also lead to a fall in your search engine rankings if you’re not careful.
But it doesn’t have to be this way: the most common reason for plunging SEO value is that the overhauled website simply wasn’t built for it. Designers and developers want to concentrate on design and development; they are not expected to be well-versed in traffic, rankings, and analytics. But a few simple rules will help you maintain your site’s SEO performance.
Lay the proper SEO foundations
Before you do anything else, make sure you have a search engine-friendly structure in place. The number of sites that forgo a simple, well-siloed filing system is mind-boggling. Categorise everything sensibly, use breadcrumbs to make finding your way around simpler, ensure pages are linked to each other internally (to help Google move between them) and your URLs contain the keywords you want to rank for.
If the redesign includes a new content management system (WordPress and Joomla are two of the most popular) get acquainted with it as soon as possible. Someone in your business should draft a best practice document for others to follow. This should include guidelines for uploading, editing, and removing content.
Manage your old business URLs correctly
There’s a lot of confusion around URLs, most of it originating from one common misconception, that they – and their content – can be ‘moved’.
This is not the case. Changing a URL doesn’t relocate the page content, it creates a new page. Ignorance of this leaves ill-informed webmasters stumped when every link pointing to the old page no longer works.
If it’s possible to keep the old URL, do so – it’s the easiest solution. If you can’t do this because you’re changing domain, you’re going to have to manually set up permanent 301 redirects from the old page to the new page: unlike temporary redirects, these will carry the majority of any SEO juice you’ve built up in the past through to the new site.
The importance of Google Analytics
If your new website has an entirely new domain you’ll need to import your Google Analytics code: it’ll guarantee there are no gaps in your reporting, and it will let you evaluate the performance of your new site against your old one. If you don’t have Google Analytics, then get it! It’s free, easy to implement and will mean you get access to a range of great information including the amount of website visitors, the channels that drive them to your site, and the most popular pages on your site.
Utilise your old website content
Many designers and developers take the wrong approach to a new website by removing all of the old content – regardless of how effective it was. This is a huge mistake. If it performed well for you in the past, it could continue to perform well into the future. Great blogs for example accumulate more links the longer they’re accessible.
Use the free Open Site Explorer to determine the number of links pointing at your old site and make sure you redirect (301) each page with an external ‘followed’ link pointing at it. This is one of the most important things you can do to maintain valuable search engine rankings.
Finishing touches and routine website maintenance
Changes don’t always display in search engines immediately. Generate an XML sitemap (a list of pages on your site that Google looks at when it arrives) using one of the many tools available online. These tell Google about the substance of your website, and can be generated quickly and easily. Once this is done, get your website developer to upload it to the site and submit it via your Google Webmaster Tools (another free tool that gives you loads of interesting data on your site’s performance).
Even once that’s done, your job isn’t over. SEO is an ongoing process and some tasks must be performed regularly to ensure continued success. Monitor duplicate content, HTML errors, and keywords using Webmaster Tools; fix broken links as they appear; analyse your organic traffic. What’s working? What isn’t? But don’t despair – get into good habits early and you’ll be sure to profit in the long term!
By Caroline Betts, Head of Marketing at Access Self Storage