SEO AND WEBSITE REDESIGN

Matthew Carter
Hello friends, my name is Matthew Carter. I’m a professional link builder for a large SEO agency in New York City.

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PORTFOLIO

We’ve experienced all of the situations below! You don’t have to tell us if you’re planning on changing your website but it’s kind of a good idea if you do … 🙂 And the earlier you tell us, the more we can protect your website traffic from disappearing.

Sometimes 301s are set up for the main pages but others are missed, meaning that PageRank is thrown away and broken links created. Typical loss of traffic 10%.

Not telling us about the other sites you’ve launched. They may be separate websites but they may be having a major impact on each other in Google, so we really need to know about them before you launch them. If you launched them long ago, we need to know about them even more quickly!

Home page completely replaced without telling us.

Website moved to new servers. The website developer (same one as above) assured my client that a change of servers wouldn’t affect SEO so there was no need to tell me. But what he forgot to do was remove the ‘disallow all agents’ command from the robots.txt file after setting up the site on the new server, thereby blocking Google’s access to the site. The site sank without trace – even for brand searches – before the MD called me in a desperate panic.

The web developer didn’t know how this happened but it did happen and it took me a whole day to find the root of the problem. The issue only came to light because rankings and traffic both took a nose dive.

This is one of the most common pitfalls overlooked. A surefire way to throw your traffic away is to throw large volumes of content away. In the rush to create a radically new site with completely different design from the old one, new pages were created and the site was built from scratch. When the old site was taken down lots of content was dropped. Nobody thought it was important that large sections of useful and productive content would not be carried across to the new site. In fact, nobody even asked the question because the design agency didn’t appreciate that this was a risk. Your content is an asset which took you years of painstaking hard work to create . It provided lots of useful information to your users, generated lots of useful traffic by appearing in search engines but it was ditched by your design agency, without consulting you , quicker than you could hear the phones stop ringing.

Unbelievable. The website developer told our client it wouldn’t affect SEO so there was no need to tell us. He also omitted to replace the Google Analytics tracking code and lost the SEO tags. Luckily I had them in a spreadsheet. I always keep an audit trail. 🙂

Website visits crashed after website redesign.

Website visits eroded by neglecting SEO during repeated website modifications.

Website completely replaced without telling us.

Changing URLs means 301s have to be set up resulting in drop in rankings. If you change the URLs unnecessarily , this is throwing PageRank down the drain. An example might be changing www.example.com/ blog /any-old-blog-post-title/ to www.example.com/any-old-blog-post-title/.

What would Google say about SEO for website redesigns? Well, Google says “If you’re thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you’re considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site.” See our blog post about When to Start SEO.

Site redesigns carry major risks so they’re a big decision that should be carefully planned with your SEO provider. Even if you’re thinking of switching provider (but we hope you won’t), it’s still best to share your plans so that we can help you with the handover and/or migration.

Website visits crashed after website redesign.

SEO settings not carried across.

If you didn’t tell us about your new site but have kept these somewhere safe, you can recover from this situation quite quickly. If aware of the redesign plans, we always run a crawl report of the old site to tabulate this data just in case. If you haven’t recorded these settings and your rankings dive, we’re not going to say “told you so”! Well, we might.

Look before you leap. Could there be some issues and risks of which you or even your web developer might not be aware?

The website developer assured my client that a change of home page wouldn’t affect SEO so there was no need to tell me despite it being a radically different design.

In this situation we really have no idea whether you have any visitors or not! And there will remain a black hole in your data for the period of time until the tracking code is reinstated because the data cannot be recovered retrospectively.

If you’re contemplating a website redesign, upgrade or makeover, the sooner you get an SEO involved, the better your chances are of emerging unscathed. Contact us as soon as possible to discuss your redesign.

Changing the site’s main navigation system – for example, converting your menu to Javascript image based pull downs, fancy hover or flash navigation – can cause your website to look completely different to search engines if they are unable to see and follow the dynamic links. This happens much more frequently than people realize if the work is not spider checked.

You can’t just “do your own thing” with web publishing and still get noticed like you can with print publishing. Internet publishing means out-algorithming the competition to get their spot in the rankings to meet the most basic criteria of even being seen!

Google’s guidelines are also very clear that image alternative text – the text in a webpages coding that describes for search engine spiders and the blind the content of images – must be short, accurate and descriptive. This is not the place for keyword stuffing! Keyword stuffing image alts is a beginner’s mistake that only fools humans who don’t see the code – not spiders. It pulls penalties affecting the entire site when detected.

You want to track your search engine rankings closely before the new site goes live so you have a clear baseline for comparison with your rankings after the site launch. Checking your rankings in the first 18 hours after a major change on the site is crucial as Google will give you a temporary boost in the rankings that you are doing something right that is a transient algorithm, may or may not last past the 18 hours period, but is important to know that Google has given you a “Heads up” you have done something right.

These 301’s need to be put in place immediately after going live before the spiders show up. 301 redirects are the only redirect that conveys the PageRank of the previous page.

7) Be sure to keep spiders off the work-in-progress site.

Whether a page is thin content is defined by what the competition is doing you have to jump over to get their spot in the rankings. All other things being equal, Google rewards information rich sites and web pages with more relevant and on-topic text content will outrank thin content with fewer words on a page.

What frequently happens during site redesigns in which the images are made larger, and the amount of text on a page is reduced is that on a purely statistical basis, it will compete for a fewer number of searches. Reducing the amount of text and keywords on a page usually results in reducing the number of keywords the page can compete for and, ultimately, web traffic.

At the time the website redesign goes live, begin checking your Google cache to make sure the site is crawled properly. This is critical because you can never assume it is crawlable by spiders with human eyeballs alone until the work is actually crawled and appears in Google’s index.

Whenever text is being dropped from an important entrance page for an existing site you should always first do a keyword audit, counting your keywords to see exactly what is being lost. It is a major SEO website redesign mistake to remove keywords that current rankings are dependent upon without first counting them – or you are working blind.

The crucial SEO element to grasp is that PageRank is finite and keep links from the homepage to a reasonable number. Increasing the number of links in the main menu decreases the amount of PageRank each link receives – which can inadvertently decrease rankings of your main entrance pages.

Check loading speeds across a wide range of platforms including satellite as many loading speed problems multiply hugely at slower speeds when many people are accessing the server at a given moment that we have no control over. Check your website’s average loading speed under “Performance” in Google Webmaster Console. Google strongly recommends webmasters monitor site performance using Page Speed, YSlow, and WebPagetest.

For “SEO Siloing” – which is focusing your PageRank vertically instead of spreading it too thin horizontally – link pages of primary importance from the homepage. Link pages of secondary importance from secondary pages. This is to prevent spreading your PageRank too thin via the links from the homepage across secondary pages that don’t need it because they are not competing for rankings.

Trying to make up for thin content with duplicate content is a major SEO mistake.

Too often, people mistakenly believe their search engine rankings are much more automatic than they actually are. In fact, SEO can be a “One strike you’re out” environment! You can do a hundred things right – but get one crucial element wrong and it can undo everything else you do.

1) People tend to take their Google rankings for granted until they lose them.

Best whenever possible to keep former top content pages the same URL. Because website redesigns don’t always go as expected on Google and any type of problem solving always involves isolating the variables, it is always best, if possible. to make changes in URL structure separate from changes in content, and/or changes in IP addresses a separate step. When too many things change all at once, it can make it extremely difficult to assess the source of problems when they occur.

That’s an understatement! It feels like a penalty when a page you ranked for is lost because a duplicate content page with no links pointing to it is mistakenly chosen instead.

Google usually does do a good job displaying the most important version, but not always. As long as duplicate content is on a site, it is simply impossible to get professional, predictable rankings because it becomes a roll of the dice which version Google selects.

You always want to get an SEO involved at the earliest stages of a site redesign to make sure it is search engine friendly from the bottom up. Never forget Google always has the last say whether people view the website redesign as being optimized and building traffic – or devalued and losing traffic.

This steep fall off in click through rates can make your Google Analytics traffic reports look like your traffic has driven off a cliff if certain key ranking elements are lost in the site redesign – and you inadvertently move backwards in search results.

Another common SEO website redesign problem is homepage link inflation which results from expanding the number or pages the homepage links to. How many pages of the site the homepage links to can impact the rankings of the subpages as a result of how Google PageRank – which primarily resides in the homepage as a result of the links pointing to it – is dispersed from the homepage to subpages of the site via these links.

6) Loading Speed Time.

Don’t forget to transfer your existing Google Analytics code to your new site to maintain the historical continuity of your traffic data. Google Analytics is one of your most important SEO tools because it’s the only tracking code that tells you how Google sees your site. Together with Google Console that provides you your site’s diagnostics and how it is appearing on Google, these are invaluable for figuring out what happened if you overlooked anything on this checklist and find your site redesign has resulted in a serious loss of rankings and traffic.

The results can be disastrous with rankings wiped out overnight.

Google’s Matt Cutts says regarding how many links per page, “So how might Google treat pages with well over a hundred links? If you end up with hundreds of links on a page, Google might choose not to follow or to index all those links. At any rate, you’re dividing the PageRank of that page between hundreds of links, so each link is only going to pass along a minuscule amount of PageRank anyway.”

The “Domain Forwarding” feature in Google Console can help you buy time by maintaining the integrity of your link strength in the short term. However, once site owners realize that links on their site are redirecting to a different domain than what appears in the link text on their site – or if the links become dead because the former domain is no longer redirecting – the best websites put spiders on their site to check for redirecting or dead links and when they find them, they pull them from their site.

This means taking into consideration page titles, body text keyword densities, number of words on the page – as well as more behind the scenes elements like headline designations and image alternative text.

If a page is filled with substantially duplicate content seen on other URLs or domains, the odds are it will be filtered from search results, as Google doesn’t want its search results filled with duplicate content. This may not happen immediately upon publication, but over time as Google’s algorithms more fully compute the page’s quality score.

Often, information that is keyword targeted and crucial for rankings gets buried on a secondary “About” subpage. This subpage doesn’t have links pointing to it from other sites to compete like the homepage does. A fundamentally different way humans experience websites for ranking than spiders for ranking are that humans click to other pages – spiders crawl and rank you for the most part one page at a time.

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