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Sunday, 21 September 2014
Website Redesign – SEO Considerations
All websites will undergo redesign at some point of time during their virtual existence. It is inevitable and has to be carried out due to many factors like aesthetics, changes in technology, been too long with the same design, change in brand image, not doing well in search, for better usability, and many other such factors. Whatever your reason may be for a website redesign, it goes without saying that redesigning a new or relatively unknown site is much easier than the decision to redesign or revamp a site that is doing well in SEO. My other article here discusses a few points for considering a website redesign which may interest you: 5 Strong Indicators That You Should Redesign Your Website
Risk Of Dip In Rankings After Website Redesign
The reasons are clear of course, as any website redesign brings with it the danger of dropping considerably in rankings if certain points are not followed or observed. The chances of making a mistake or oversee certain points is high, therefore it is important to be attentive and take into consideration all points possible to minimize the risk. Though I personally believe that after a redesign, it is certain that there will be a dip in the rankings, however small, for a certain amount of time. The precautions are just a means to minimize that. I have seen sites that have not been updated for years. I suppose they are scared of the dip if they do something stupid to their site by accident. I know, freshness of content is important. For this I believe we should generally divide websites into two types.
Typical blog or an article site: For an article site, freshness of content is very important and it should be updated regularly for better rankings.
Websites selling products or services: These website are typically self advertising in nature and usually consist of two parts, Static or informational pages and a blog. Informational page, I believe should not be updated if not absolutely necessary. You should not simply update those pages on a regular interval for the sake of freshness only. You may do yourself more harm that way. Rather, update the blog as often you can which will take care of the “freshness of content” part.
This is to show how minimal changes can also affect rankings. Given below are some points that one should keep in mind during a redesign. Though redesigns can be of many types, from minor updates to major ones; from the point of view of writing this article, I am considering major changes to sites that are doing well in organic search results.
Duplication Of Content
During a website redesign, the temporary site or files are usually hosted on a separate domain or sub domain. And typically one would redesign the whole site here and test it before moving it to the production server or to your actual domain. It is important to take care that you block search engine spiders to crawl the temporary domain or files by using robots.txt file. Otherwise, you will end up with search engines indexing the temporary files causing unwanted duplicate content issues.
Change in URLs
It is recommended to keep the URLs same and not to change them. However, a major redesign may involve structural changes and moving of files from one folder to another causing your URLs to change. You may voluntarily want to change the URLs sometimes, like making them shorter for better readability; or perhaps removing unwanted characters or keywords to make them look less spammy. Though changing the URL and folder structure may make it better in the long run, you run a huge risk of losing the traffic for that particular page. If you do decide to change the URL for a particular page, do not forget to 301 redirect the old page to the new one. Also, if some pages have been permanently deleted, do not 301 redirect that page to the homepage of the website. It may do you more harm than good. However, if you have a very similar or related page, then it might not be a bad idea to 301 redirect to the related page instead.
Changes In Content
Again it will be helpful if too much content changes are not carried out on any of the pages. Try to keep the placement of the content, as much similar to the existing site, as possible. Take extra care of the h1 tags and other heading tags. Make sure you include any images or videos that exist on that particular page. The idea is to minimize the change in HTML as much as possible.
Page Title & Descriptions
Page Titles are very important and only change them if absolutely necessary. The same goes for Description. The Title as well as the Description contain your primary keyword or key phrase for the page and should not be changed unless you are targeting a new keyword now.
Final Check Before Going Live
When the new site is ready, it is important to go over the details again and again to make sure that everything is in place and that you have not missed anything. As I have said in the beginning, these considerations may not be important for a new site. But for a site that dependents on search engines for traffic and business, these considerations are of prime importance.