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Our agency provides both website design and development services along with digital marketing services. This means that we look at a website project not just from creating award winning designs, but we also look that the marketing side of the project and how a new website will impact the marketing effort for our clients.
We talk with a lot of business owners and marketers, every month, that is ready to get rid of an old, stale, and unattractive website and trade it in on a shiny new website. Without exception, every one of these people that we’ve talked with is surprised when we turn the conversation around to search engine optimization (SEO).
Why in the world are we bringing up SEO when they just want to get a new website? Because a significant change like a new website, or even major modifications to an existing site, can have either a vast and detrimental negative SEO impact on your business, or it can have minimal negative SEO impact on your business.
The difference comes down to whether or not you think about SEO as you plan out your new website project.
Chances are high that if your getting ready to start a new website project, you’ve had your current site for a number of years. Over the course of those years, you’ve probably amassed some level of rankings with the pages of your site. Some pages might be showing up on the first page of Google for relevant keyphrase for your company. Some pages may not be on the first page, but they’re on the top 2-3 pages. Plus, you probably have some backlinks coming to your site that is helping your ranking value.
Because of the history that your current site has with the search engines, it’s important to not throw all of that away by building a new website. By taking just a just a little extra time to develop a plan could save all of the rankings that you currently have and just transfer those rankings to the new website.
The first consideration for your new website project is to decide if you really need a new website, or could you just put a new “skin” on your current site? If you’re just tired of the look of your site, but everything else is working well, redesigning the site could be the easiest way to keep all of your rankings intact and get a fresh look of your site, at the same time.
If, however, you’ve decided that you do need a new website, then here are some things that you’ll want to include in your plan so that you can minimize the negative impact on your website’s SEO rankings.
Domain Name: The first step in your plan has to be a determination of your domain name. Are you going to keep your current domain name (yourcompany.com) or are you going to get a new one?
Keeping your existing domain name is without question the best way to go. If, however, you decided that you need to change your domain name, be aware that you are going to have to think this all the way through. You’ll have to make sure that you are setting up all of the redirects that are coming to your old site’s domain name (i.e. www.olddomainname.com) to your new site’s domain name (i.e. www.newdomainname.com). You will probably want to talk with your hosting company, before you start the rebuild project, to get their assistance in setting up any server-side redirects.
Site Structure The next step is to get a detailed view of your website’s structure. You will want to list out every single page that you have on your current site. Even the pages that you’re not planning on recreating. Within this list, you will want to include the page name for every page, links that are on these pages, and any backlinks that are coming to all of the pages as well.
This can be a huge task. I’d recommend getting a site crawling tool like Screaming Frog. This is a really easy to use crawler that will give you a list of every page and all of the linking information to those pages.
XML Sitemap: Make sure to have your old XML sitemap updated to your new site’s page structure. If you don’t do this, Google will have a hard time understanding the new structure of your website and the consequences of this will be diminished rankings for your new site.
Meta Information: Don’t forget to mention to the people that are building your new site to change the meta tags on your new site, as you’re having it developed.
You don’t want the search engines indexing your new site, as it’s being built, while your old site is still online. This will cause a duplicate content issue. Search engines really don’t like duplicate content and, depending on the severity of the issue, take harsh actions against sites that they determine are duplicating the content.
To avoid this issue from happening, every page that gets developed on your new site has to have the noindex directive in the meta tag for your new site’s pages.
Redirects: Redirects tell the search engines where a page has been moved to. There are 2 primary redirects that get used, a 301 redirect and a 302 redirect. The 301 redirect is a permanent redirect while the 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. For building a new site you want to use a 301 redirect for every page from your old site.
If you are not creating pages from your old site, on your new site, you want to have a 301 redirect setup to a page on your new site that has similar information as the page that you’re not going to recreate.
There are 2 reasons that you want to do this. First, this will help the search engine bot, when it shows up on your new site, to know where the information from the old page is on your new site. Secondly, and more importantly, when a person shows up on your site looking for that page that you didn’t recreate, they will automatically be taken to the right page on your new site.
There are a lot of things that have to be managed with a new website project and unfortunately most people don’t think about the SEO impact until it’s too late. By taking just a little extra time and preparation, your next website development project could be a lot smoother and not create a negative impact on your day-to-day business.
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