Maybe you’ve updated your brand, or you’re looking to roll out a new product line. Maybe you haven’t updated your website since 2004 and it’s time for a major change. Whatever the reason and whatever the scope, you’ve decided to update your website and if you’re going to be successful, you’ll need to pay careful attention to your SEO throughout the process. Updating the infrastructure of your website leaves it especially vulnerable to changes in domain authority and search engine indexing.
There are many good reasons for updating a website, and because of the rapid evolution of technology, you’ll need to update multiple times over the course of your company’s development. When you update your website, you’re bound to experience some SEO shakeups — even if you’re extra careful, at least a handful of keyword ranking movements will be inevitable. Try not to let that reality intimidate you. Instead, take efforts to prevent the SEO damages you can, and consider it an opportunity to improve your SEO for the long-term, even if there are short-term bumps along the way.
Inconsistent URL Structures
One of the most common problems is dissonance between your old website’s URL structure and your new website’s structure. This dissonance is responsible for a number of issues, so you might be tempted to simply keep your URL structure exactly the way it is—unfortunately, this would defeat the purpose of updating your website in the first place.
The big problem here is that Google factors history and consistency into its evaluation of domain authority. It scours the Web for the URL structures of various sites, and indexes that information as part of its understanding of the broader Web. When it crawls your site, it expects to find those historical URLs as a base structure, with new pages regularly popping up in the expected areas (such as the blog and news section). If Google crawls your new site and finds that your old URLs are no longer present, it triggers a red flag, which could directly compromise your SEO. If your entire URL structure changed, it could be equivalent to starting a new site from the ground up, leaving you with almost zero residual authority, if you fail to properly 301-redirect all the old URLs to their new locations.
Changes in your URL structure affect more than just your domain authority. There’s also a potential problem with the integrity of your external inbound links. Whether you’ve manually built the links or not, there are likely hundreds of offsite links pointing back to various pages under your domain. If the URLs associated with those pages suddenly change without proper redirection, those links will no longer point to a relevant destination. Not only can this cause your rankings to plummet, it can significantly decrease the amount of inbound traffic you get from referral sources.
How to Prevent Disaster
In order to keep Google happy and preserve the integrity of your external links without exactly copying your existing URL structure, you’ll need to set up 301 redirects. These are simple commands that instruct Web traffic — including Google bots — to a new destination when an old URL is reached. You can start the process by logging into your Webmaster Tools account and crawling your current site. This will generate a list of all your current URLs, including those found on your sub-domains, which you can use as a basis for comparison.
When structuring your new site, you can save time by keeping your original URL structure as similar as possible. Take note of any changes or discrepancies, and for each URL that’s no longer active, set up a 301 redirect. Google offers some simple instructions on how to do this, and here’s an article that goes more in-depth, called “Your Guide to 301 Redirects for SEO.”
Websites are built with a number of different teams working together, which sometimes leads to conflicting goals. While your goals as a search marketer will be focused on preserving and increasing your domain authority and search rankings, your design team’s goals will be on making the site as innovative and visually dynamic as possible. Unfortunately, visually appealing design choices aren’t always in line with SEO best practices.
For example, many modern designers prefer a minimalistic feel to their websites. Rather than loading a page down with written text, they’ll use powerful images to convey ideas and leave the rest to itself. While this can be a compelling strategy that instantly draws a user’s eye, it also drastically reduces the amount of crawlable text on your website and can interfere with your SEO goals.
How to Prevent Disaster
The easiest way to prevent these design oversights is to work directly with the design team to find compromises that allow for innovative visuals without blinding the search engine bots. Chances are, it will be nearly impossible to perfect either approach, but you can find a balance that fits the best of both worlds.
While updating your website, you may also consider upgrading or changing your CMS platform. There are dozens of high-quality platforms available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, but not all of them have appropriate or reliable SEO capabilities. For example, WordPress is an open CMS that allows ample SEO functionality, but there are other platforms that don’t let you alter meta tags and descriptions without fundamentally changing the structure of the back end.
How to Prevent Disaster
If you’ve found success with a CMS in the past, in many cases it’s best to just stick with what you know. However, if you’re planning on changing your CMS for any reason, do your research ahead of time. Don’t just look at the features as they are described on the company’s site — find real business owners who have used the CMS in the past and get their honest opinions about how it’s worked for them.
Failing to Update Your Strategy
Updating your website is a big change, and it gives you the opportunity to fix a lot of the problems you may have neglected or forgotten over the course of your old website’s life. It’s the perfect chance to make adjustments to your onsite structure and tweaks to your long-term strategies. Failing to update your strategy in any way at this crossroads is a mistake that could significantly reduce your long-term potential.
How to Prevent Disaster
Of all the dangers I’ve listed here, this is the easiest to prevent. During the planning process, perform an onsite audit of your current SEO structure and efforts, and note areas where you can improve. Incorporate those changes into the structure and life of your new site, and start a new era for your SEO campaign like you’ve started a new era for your online brand.
Despite the possibilities for your domain authority to significantly drop, don’t forget that your website update is an opportunity for growth. It’s a strategy to be excited about, not an obstacle to overcome. And remember, even if you’re proactive and you prevent these SEO dangers entirely, you’re still likely to see some ranking volatility in the first few weeks after launch. As long as you haven’t completely neglected these strategies, no SEO drop you face will be devastating. With a solid ongoing SEO strategy in place, you’ll have no problem recovering in a reasonable amount of time.
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