When a website is getting redesigned or migrated, there are a lot of technical things going on, so it is good to keep a checklist on hand to make sure everything is covered. One aspect of a website people may not think about when developing a new website or migrating it, is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO doesn't always transfer correctly and needs to be updated, especially when you have a new look with new content, new pages, and new photos. At Not Rocket Science, we have your back. Read these tips on how to avoid SEO disaster when you are having a website redesign or website migration.
1. Audit Your Current Website
- Use website crawlers to get a full picture of your site in its current state. There are a few bots out that that you can use, such as Google Bot.
- Take inventory of your website. Crawl your website to get a list of all pages. Export your site list into an Excel document and sort and organize pages to make it easy to read. This is good to do because taking stock of your pages will aid in site planning and redirect mapping down the road.
- Using site command is a great tool to get an idea of which pages the search engines are indexing and how they display those pages. You can go to google.com and type in site:yoururl.com. Make sure that the new pages that were made, get transferred to the new site.
- Assess "Organic Entrances" by using to your Google Analytics account. When you are in Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Segment by "Organic Traffic" look at a year to 2 year period. Then, sort by entrances to see how people are getting to your website by organic search (search engines).
2. Compare the Data
- Compare the data that is on your current website to the new site. It will help your current Search Engine Optimization (SEO) intact and your site users happy. Access the following things: title tags, meta descriptions, anchor text links, and overall content. Those help significantly with SEO.
- Compare the title tags (the page title) on your current and new site and ask the following questions:
- Do the new title tags match the old tags?
- If not, did the content on the page change?
- If content changes were made, are the new ones appropriate?
- Will you lose important rankings in the search engine?
- Are they the appropriate length?
- The ideal guideline for title tags is between 50-55 characters.
- Are the title tags compelling enough to click?
- Do they convey a positive message?
- Are they unique?
- Compare the meta descriptions. Meta description summarizes the page's content and is displayed on search engines.
- Do the meta descriptions describe the page?
- Are they the appropriate length?
- The ideal guideline is 155 characters.
- Are they unique?
- Do they contain a call to action?
- Compare the anchor text links. Anchor text links are the clickable text in a hyperlink.
- Look at both navigational anchor text links and content anchor text links.
- Content links will not be counted in SEO if they are secondary navigational links.
- Compare important keywords for matching parameter data on landing pages (also known as top entrance pages).
- Sort the list by pages and add in entrance data for those pages.
3. Look at Your Inbound Link Profile
- While popularity isn't the goal, you should look at inbound links to help assess which pages are linked to most frequently, which will help with URL and redirect mapping. An inbound link is a hyperlink on a third-party web page that points to a web page on your site.
- Open a tool such as Moz's open site explorer to evaluate all inbound links. Make sure all inbound links are going to the appropriate "new" pages. Use a 301 redirect for any pages that have links that will have new URL paths. Lastly, evaluate anchor text data and see if it still matches the landing page.
4. Audit Domains and Subdomains
- Are you using more than one domain?
- Sub domains are viewed as "separate" in Search Engine Optimization.
- More than one domain that will migrate to one site can cause issues, so make sure you map the pages and add 301 redirects to them.
- If you are breaking out one domain in to multiple domains, consider the internal authority that you will lose.
5. Consider Your Hosting Provider
- Will the new server be able to handle your traffic?
- Slow load times can cause a loss of rankings and frustrated customers.
- Will the new server be able to handle redirect requests, any software you're running, and your CMS platform?
- Is it running on the correct operating system and version?
- Note that we do provide website hosting through our sister company, GoZone Hosting, and use the DNN (DotNetNuke) platform for websites. Contact us to set up a consultation if you are thinking about a website redesign or migration to get your questions answered, before the work starts.
6. Prioritize High Priority Pages
- Always move important pages to the new site if:
- They have high entrances.
- They are important to the funnel.
- They have high authority and link to other important pages.
- You believe users might miss them.
- They represent valuable content.
7. Have a Plan of Action For Your New Site Content
- If your plan is to dramatically reduce your content, be prepared for a big drop on rankings and traffic.
- Move as much content to the new website as you can,
- Don't replace important content with images.
- Consolidating content can also cause issues.
- Use the new website as an opportunity to create and refresh relevant, quality content that users will find helpful.
8. Are Your Important Keywords Accounted For in Your New Content?
- Evaluate where important keywords are used on your site in the content. If your important keyword is represented 100 times on your old website and 10 times on your new site, that is a red flag.
- The new site should have similar or better keyword density for important phrases.
- Anchor text links should help with matching pages, title data, and content.
9. 301 Redirects
- Every page that was on the old site and not on the new site, needs to be redirected. Changes in URLs also need to be redirected.
- Redirects that are permanent should be 301's.
- Don't use 302's.
- Avoid meta redirects.
- Check redirects using an HTTPS header check.
10. Which Pages Need to be Redirected?
- Get a list of all your old pages from your initial site audit or from analytics.
- Check each page to make sure it has a replacement on the new site.
- If there isn't an exact replacement, redirect it.
- Double check your external links to fill in the gaps for any additional redirect needs. You can also contact the site with the link and ask them to change the URL to the new page, if appropriate.
- If you are changing your domain name or your file extensions are changing (ex: .php to .aspx), all of your URLs will need to be 301 redirected.
11. Will the New URL Structure be SEO Friendly?
- URLs should be short and to the point.
- If keywords are represented in a URL and you rank for that keyword, the URL will be bold in the results of a search engine.
- URLs should make sense from a user perspective.
- Avoid too many special characters, such as question marks and percentage signs.
12. Mobile Friendly Sites
- Mobile friendly websites have an advantage with SEO.
- Make sure mobile redirects are setup correctly if you have a separate mobile site.
- Never redirect a desktop page to a different mobile page.
- Search engines have been known to drop all mobile rankings when mobile redirects are not setup properly.
- Test to see if your site is mobile friendly by going to: www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
- Evaluate your old site to see if Robots.txt is present. Robots.txt is a standard used by the website to communicate with web crawlers and other web robots. It tells them which areas of the website should not be scanned.
- Go to: yoururl.com/robots.txt
- If Robots.txt is present, compare to the new site and make sure it is still appropriate to use.
- Disallow everything first because your website may look like duplicate content. When the site goes live, then allow it.
14. No Index, No Follow Tags
- Keep your website hidden from the public and search engines until launch time.
- Use no index and no follow tags on all development sites.
- A duplicate site can be indexed if not used.
- Robots.txt is ideal for blocking and indexing.
- Meta tags can also be used, but are easy to forget about.
- Make sure the remove those tags when you go live. Forgetting to remove the tags will cause your site to disappear from search results.
15. Page Load Speed
- A slow website can hurt more than just your users. It could lead to lower search engine rankings.
- Test your new site's load speed.
- Test internal pages while under load.
- Use a crawler to emulate high load.
- Evaluate your old site's time load in Google Analytics under "Load."
- How to test conversions and engagement on your new site:
- Make sure forms, checkout, etc. are all functions.
- You can also use per connection classified (PPC) to teat engagement, funnels, and overall site experience with a new site before it goes live.
- Set Robots.txt to block the site.
- Put the site on a sub domain.
- Direct PPC ads to the new site to test it.
16. Structured Data
- Adding structured data can help with search engine rankings and engagements.
- Canonical tags tell the search engines which page they should rank and prevent your site from getting penalized for duplicate content. Make sure canonical tags are present for search engines. Use <link ref="canonical" href="page-all.html">
17. XML Site Maps
- If your pages are not getting indexed, an XML site map can help. You have to make sure all of the pages on your website are represented. You can load the site map in to Google's Search Console, and Bing's. Update the XML site map with any new pages that are not in the box.
18. Paginated Content
- If you have pages that use "next," or "1, 2, 3, etc" to help users see paginated content, you can indicate this to Google. This helps Google understand to rank the first page in the series. In your HTML, use the rel="next" and rel-"prev" tags. This article is helpful on how to use the HTML attributes.
19. Alt Tags For Images
- Alt tags help describe images to people who are visually disabled. Thus, they can help with section 508 compliance. Make sure that they accurately describe the image and aren't keyword stuffed.
20. Heading Tags
- Compare the old site and new site. Are header tags represented? Do they accurately represent important keywords? Are they reinforcing the content on the page? Do they match title and anchor data?
21. Broken Links
- Use a website crawler such as Xenu to look for broken links on your website. Ideally, all broken links should be fixed in the source code. Any broken links that can't be fixed, should be 301 redirected to the appropriate page.
22. Site Structure
- Is your linking structure or site structure going to change? If it changes too much, you could lose internal link authority and see a drop in rankings. You can draw out your own map and see if linking structure is dramatically different. However, a different linking structure isn't always bad because you can always improve upon your old website.
23. Be Prepared Before Launching
- Consider the right day and time to migrate. The domain name service (DNS) can take 24-48 hours to fully propagate.
- Problems can happen, so make sure that your web development team is ready.
- Try to migrate when customer traffic is low.
24. Have a Post-Launch Checklist
- Is the new site getting indexed?
- Use the Google Search Console and check every single aspect is possible.
- For analytics, look at organic traffic. Not the exact time and date the site went live, evaluate goals and revenue tracking, you can setup automated reports, and can also setup alerts for traffic drops or either KPI drops.
While this post was lengthy, we hope that it has helped your understanding of things to look out for before launching a new website, to help ensure a good SEO status. This post is for informational purposes only. We strongly recommend you seek professional help before attempting these tips on your own.