In a website redesign, you should always maintain (ideally improve) your SEO standings.

Mark  Ryan

August 08, 2010

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When we consult with companies to redesign their web presence, there are often key goals we work towards including increasing leads, increasing sales, improving support, etc. When considering all of these goals, an overarching pillar should not be overlooked: with content re-writes, changing URLs, and updated navigation – ensure that past achievements in organic SEO are not lost. When redesigning a site, to maintain (and ideally improve) your organic SEO traffic, make sure to keep an eye on the following: 

  1. Links: Most SEO experts agree that quality inbound links are the most influential variable in SEO and possibly the most difficult variable to influence. Realizing substantial inbound links with quality linking text is tough work. Make a list (probably a big list) of all inbound links. There are many tools for doing this, and the best tools are free (Google Web Master Tools & Yahoo Site Explorer). We recommend using both – Yahoo will typically provide a more comprehensive list, and Google will provide a more qualified list of links. What you should do: For your most popular links, try to keep the same URL pointing to similar content on your new site. For less popular links, implement a 301 redirect to point to the most similar (relevant) content on your new site. Here are some link stats to be aware of:

• Unique Links: Track the number of unique links into the site (all pages). If you want to be an advanced search manager, you can track the Google PageRank of each page linking to your site. One inbound link with a PageRank of 8 is worth more than 8 inbound links from pages with a Page Rank of 1.
• Linked Domains: Make a comprehensive list of the unique domains (and links per domain) of sites that are linked to yours.

• Linked Pages: The pages that have the highest amount of inbound links are typically your most valuable real estate. Of course, you’ll want to pay close attention to those URLs and the corresponding content.

• Internal Links: Internal links are important for multiple reasons. They help search engine crawlers find all pages on your site. Strong internal links help demonstrate relevance to search engines – it’s intuitive that the pages that you link to the most are the most relevant. What you should do: Make it a goal that you will increase the amount of quality internal links to your top performing pages. You can do this with persistent/global navigation, content navigation, quick links, site maps, etc.

2. Landing Pages: We love landing pages because they typically convert visitors at higher ratios. But obviously they need to serve SEO purposes as well. Tips:

Focus on your top landing pages (that convert)

• Top Search Landing Pages: Within your analytics application, make a list of the top (>1% of traffic) landing pages for organic search, especially for non-branded keyphrases; filter out the company name(s), acquired company names, popular product names, etc.

• Look at the keyphrase density and styling of top landing pages: Look at how well you are targeting specific phrases. We use to do this, but there are a lot of informative tools on the market. Essentially you want the layout and styles of a page to help emphasize relevance of specific phrases. Look at how well you are using titles, headers, links, bold/italic fonts, and more to focus on your keyphrases.

• Search Engine ‘Friendly’: It’s worth using a validation tool (i.e. W3C, SoreSite) to look at how well your landing pages comply with XHTML and CSS standards. Essentially you want to make sure that your new site is either achieves the same level or higher of compliance (fewer errors and fewer warnings).

3. Organic Keyphrases: Keep track of which keyphrases are working now. You shouldn’t have to worry to much about branded phrases. Pay close attention to the non-branded phrases which are drawing a strong amount of traffic and a good amount of conversion (> 2%). What to do: If you have non-branded phrases that are showing good conversion rates – maintain that with similar URLs, similar landing pages, and similar keyphrase targeting. This does not prohibit a content rewrite. Just be mindful of the new site’s affect on keyphrase targeting.

4. Update Sitemap / Redirects: Both Google and Yahoo have some decent tools for informing search engines which pages have new URLs. But your best bet is to create redirects (301/302) for all your high profile URLs and create new site maps (HTML & XML) for the search engines to reference. It used to take months to see index updates in search engines, this now takes days or weeks.

5. Benchmarks, benchmarks, benchmarks: Keep track of monthly data for all the variables discussed in this post. If SEO traffic (or corresponding conversions drop), look to these variables to see a significant variation.

Being aware of these variables when creating new navigation, content, layouts, and styles will help you maintain your SEO standings. Keep in mind, that even if you maintain your quality links, improve your keyphrase targeting, and make everything search engine friendly.