Migrations and site redesigns are times of peril for your website’s organic search performance. Following a specific set of search engine optimization (SEO) guidelines, however, can minimize the changes in your analytics … and to your bottom line.
In a migration or redesign, three areas impact organic search performance most heavily no matter what platform you’re on: URLs, navigation, and the text used on each page. Sure, there are settings on each platform that can make life easier or more difficult for SEO, but these are the three keys to a smooth transition to your new site.
Keep the Same URLs (or Redirect Them)
Don’t change your URLs if you can at all avoid it. If you have to change a few because categories are being merged or split, only change those and leave the rest alone.
When you’re migrating to a new platform, often the default URLs will change to add a “page” directory here or a “us” directory there. Any URL can be rewritten from its default format and wording. It may be difficult, but weigh the pros and cons of time spent rewriting default URLs to match your current site’s URLs versus the potential for change in organic search performance.
Why do URLs matter so much? Everything the search engines know about your site is saved at the URL level. Each page has a specific history, relevance, and authority, and that information is stored for algorithmic reference by URL.
Imagine if everything the search engines knew about your site disappeared overnight. Changing a URL is tantamount to moving without leaving a forwarding address. Changing every URL on your site is like moving an entire city.
If you must change URLs — and sometimes that’s required based on resources or any number of variables — then you must 301 redirect the URLs from your old site to their new counterparts on your redesigned or migrated site. 301 redirects are your forwarding address. They tell the search engines three important things:
- This old page moved to this new page, so go there;
- Please crawl and index this new page;
- Please deindex the old page.
Your 301 redirects are all that stand between you and a post-launch organic search drop. Take them very seriously and manage them well.
Don’t Touch Navigation (or Make It Better)
If the URLs are the addresses for your site, the navigation is like the roads that get you to the addresses. If you suddenly remove roads, making it harder to get to some addresses, those addresses will get less traffic. It’s the same with SEO — removing links from the navigation degrades the value of the pages that had been linked to.
Each link is like a small vote of value. The more votes you get from other pages that also have value, the better chance your page has of ranking.
Although most votes need to come in the form of backlinks from other sites, even internal links cast algorithmic votes that search engines equate to value or authority. That makes your navigation the only source of votes that you can control.
Wield that power wisely. Make sure you’re linking to the pages that you need to rank as closely as possible. And when you redesign or migrate, if your navigation must change, make sure that it changes for the better for SEO.
Leave Text Alone (or Optimize It)
The words on your pages determine what you’re eligible to rank for — and when combined with your navigation, what you currently rank for. Changing the amount, meaning, or context of the text on your site could change what you can and can’t rank for.
When you redesign, make sure you leave room on every page for descriptive copy. If there’s already copy on the page, don’t remove it when you redesign. If you’re rebranding or changing your marketing messages as you redesign or migrate, be careful to manage the keyword theme for each page to ensure that you’re as optimized — or better optimized — post-launch.
When you’re planning a redesign or migration, keep these three keys in mind to safeguard your SEO performance. Botching any one or all of them can have a disastrous effect on your ability to rank, as well as drive traffic, leads, and sales.