By George Asplaud
Following these simple steps could help improve the immediate impact on search results for a new website, and help avoid the often significant reduction in search traffic after a website is re-launched.
Website owners often wait until after their site is redesigned and launched before getting a SEO expert involved. Unfortunately, this can lead to expensive site design changes that could have been easily implemented during the design process.
Sometimes, it’s difficult or impossible to correct issues after a website is launched without essentially rebuilding the site again.
In addition, traffic from search engines can be severely reduced for months after a site is redesigned and launched. This impact can be minimized by taking the proper steps during the redesign process.
Here are 8 search engine optimization steps you should consider during a website redesign.
1. SEO Site Audit
Having a search engine friendly website means designing a site with no barriers to the search engines. This is critical for success with “organic” search engine results. The best time to ensure a search engine friendly site is during a site design.
If you have an existing website, consider performing some level of a site review or more extensive audit on it. In a site audit, a SEO consultant or agency examines the current website to look for problems with the site design or other limitations that might impede organic search engine results, so that the issues can be addressed during the design of the new site.
See How To Improve Organic Search Results With A Simple Site Audit for some steps you can take to flush out most issues with a small to midsize website.
2. Design Reviews To Develop A Search Engine Friendly Website
During the site design, an SEO should examine wireframes or storyboards and site prototypes or development test sites at various stages in the design and development process to ensure search engine friendless.
3. Determining Important Keyword Phrases
It’s very helpful to have an understanding of what the important keyword phrases (search terms) are for your website in the design process. This understanding can come from a few sources:
Determine what phrases people are searching on to find your products and services as well as related topics in the major search engines.
If you have run a search engine advertising campaign (a PPC campaign such as Google AdWords for example) 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) 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.
If you have Google’s Webmaster Tools running, you can get a fair amount of information about the keyword phrases for which your site is being found such as impressions (how many times a page on your site appeared in a search result for a keyword phrase) and click-throughs (Webmaster Tools / Your Site on the web / Search queries).
A cautionary note regarding relying on analytics and site reports only:
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 keyword opportunities. Your site may not have the relevant content or the link popularity to have attracted search traffic for many important keywords, especially competitive keywords.
In some cases, it may be advisable to consider delaying a 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 that convert.
4. 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 from within the territory you cover, here’s how to use the data:
- Are enough people searching on your target 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 to indicate whether 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.
- Do you need to 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 website more useful and to help get those web pages found by people searching for that information. During the site design process and after the site is launched, work on ways to get theses visitors interested in your products and services.
- Optimize pages for target keywords.
It may make sense to optimize most site pages during the site development process, for the best chance at appearing in search results for your important keywords when the site is launch. In many cases, optimization of specific pages can be enhanced after the site is launched, and often has to be because of time constraints or in the case of bringing in an SEO after the fact.
- Develop relevant tags.
Develop a short list of keywords to focus on. Use them to develop the important tags, such as HTML Page Title tags and Meta Description tags for most (if not all) the web pages, ideally before the site is launched. Again, as long as you have developed a search engine friendly site, you can do more specific optimization after the site is launched.
5. 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.
Give some thought to organizing your site around important keyword themes which can help improve search engine rankings. (Internal site linking also affects search rankings.)
However, remember that your visitors come first. The site must be designed so that visitors can find what they are looking for and be designed 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.
For example, I was the SEO consultant on a large e-commerce B2B site design. They sold toner and ink worldwide and they weren’t sure how to organize the site, perhaps by type of machine (printers, copiers, faxes, etc) or by type of product (Cartridges, Ribbons, etc).
The keyword research clearly showed that people almost always searched for toner and ink by manufacturer such as “hp toner” or more specifically with model numbers (e.g. Brother ic61 ink cartridges). Therefore, we designed the site with manufacturers as the main categories leading to an internal linking structure based on how people typically search.
6. Determine Which Pages Bring Traffic To The Live Site For Important Keyword Phrases
Using a combination of website analytics (Top Landing pages: keyword in Google Analytics), Google’s Webmaster Tools (Your Site on the web / Search queries /Pages), or manual searches, determine which pages on your current website are appearing near the top of search engine results.
Determine whether those are bringing significant traffic for the keywords that are important to your website, and whether it is traffic that is engaged and converts.
For these pages you’ll want to consider the following:
- Reuse important content.
If possible, reuse much of the content on pages of the new site, ideally using the same URL structure if possible.
- Minimize the impact of URL changes.
If the URL structure must change, it could 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. 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.
7. Review Incoming Links To The Site From Other Websites
Determine which links to your site from other webpages on the Internet are bringing targeted traffic to the site, and which links in particular may be helping the pages of your website reach higher positions in search engine results.
If any of these incoming links point to inner pages of your current website and the URL’s to those pages will be changed, then you need to apply 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 website owners if you don’t already have an ongoing relationship).
- Important note about links to the home page.
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.
8. Ensure That An Effective 404 Error Page Is Setup Before Launch
Don’t forget to set up 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 relaunched becuase 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 and accompanying article.
Related reading on the Web
- Basics of Search Engine Friendly Web Site Design for Web Designers & Developers. A guide that you can download and give to your designers and developers.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.