This article helps you and your website designer in avoiding situations where 3 days prior to launch, you call upon the SEO expert to check the implementations of the newly redesigned site from an SEO perspective or worst yet, after the launch has been done.
This article throws light on some of the important points to be followed from the start itself so that your website redesign doesn’t equates to loss of traffic with the slick design that your website designer did for you:
For most of the sites, about 60% of the traffic is from search engines, so a cool home page with 90% of content in flash or the ultra geeky AJAX driven navigation menus may sound hip, but it may interfere with the natural rankings and search visibility of the website. Your web designer should tell you this and if you absolutely want it, ask for provisioning alternate navigation mechanisms and XML sitemaps. However, this would cost extra for your website redesign.
Changing the URL structure– This is a cardinal sin if proper redirection is not set up properly. The SEO expert should be asked to set up a Webmaster tools account and should see the top pages from external links quantity and quality perspective. If the URL structures are changing, the SEO expert should make a document of all the old URLs and where the new ones should point. This SHOULD be done using .htaccess on Apache or the Microsoft URL Rewrite Module 2.0 on IIS 7.
Personally, we recommend to keep the URL structure same for the existing content.
Decision making on content accessibility of login protected regions–This is a bit tricky and is usually applied only when there is premium content on the site. As the website owner it is you who needs to decide how this content should be indexed? Should it be a bait or should it be fully accessible to ONLY search engines? These questions need to be asked and communicated to the SEO expert so that an appropriate content accession strategy is worked out.
Content Management system URL output – Always emphasize the importance of Clean URLs without parameters or IDs. Anything which cannot be construed and indexed properly by search engines should be avoided at any cost. Since we use Drupal most of the times, this isn’t a problem when we do a website redesign for our clients. However if your site is designed using a custom CMS, URL architecture is something you will have to monitor closely.
Proper content transcribing along with the meta tags and title tags – This is the easiest portion but should duly happen.
Consistent internal linking – The internal pages should properly link to the sectional indexes and the sectional pages should link to the home page. If the www version is used, always use it, if it is the other way round, decide to maintain the consistency.
Alt attributes for images – This is like delving into the free SEO territory but is always a good thing to do. A small alt tag for the images on a page goes a long way in stabilizing the rankings after the site redesign. Your website designer doesn’t needs to undertake an extensive keyword research, but just should read the content and put up the attributes appropriately and concisely.
Proper placements of Google Analytics code – Your web design firm needs to ensure that if the site previously carried Google Analytics code then it should be present on the newly designed site as well. In case you were not analyzing your website previously, you always should and Google Analytics is the best free tool to do this.
Fixing outgoing links – Usually a website redesign has two main issues with respect to outgoing links. The first issue is about the broken outbound links. If your website designer uses content from your existing site, it should be thoroughly checked for proper outgoing links. It may be possible that links in the content point to non-existent URLs. A proper outbound URL check is needed and Xenu is the best tool to use. http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html.
The second issue is the linkage to social media and profile sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Almost everyone has grown fond of these social sites and you would wish to link to these profile sites. Remember that these sites in themselves are like black holes of SEO. These sites absorb your website’s link popularity and don’t ever reciprocate (since all their links carry the dreaded “nofollow” attribute). It is thus essential that a rel=nofollow is used when linking out to these sites from your website.
Showing respect for the Robots Exclusion Protocol – The site administrators give directives to the search engine crawlers using the robots.txt file that resides on the root level of your website server. Scripts, login protected regions, membership content folders and test sub domains should be protected by this file. It is important that your website designers respect this file and protect the barricaded sections on the new site too. In case any such sections exist on the new site (and were not there previously on the older site), it is important to consult the SEO expert so that selective content access could be enabled.
These SEO techniques can help you reduce the loss of traffic upon website release. Remember that any redesign effort will always be accompanied with traffic loss, but if the above mentioned best practices are followed, the loss would be minimal and recovered quickly.