How to re-design a website and not ruin your SEO

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how to re-design a website and not ruin seoRe-designing a website may seem like a great idea, who wouldn’t want a nicely designed new website that’s SEO friendly and meets current web standard. But you have to be careful, a re-design means messing with the structure of your website, it’s important to make sure you don’t destroy all the important SEO value Google and the other search engines have applied to your site.

The post will explain what will happen if you mess it up, and how to avoid messing it up in the first place. Now lets look at the scary part first:

What can happen when you do it wrong!!

There are a few scenarios that could take place when you re-design a website, we’ll look at the worst case scenario and why it has happened:

Worst case scenario

You have a thriving website that looks a bit out dated, so decide it’s time for a change. You hire a web designer to create your new website. In the process of changing the site, you re-write much of your content, change your URL structures and page titles.
Everything looks great, you’re delighted with your re-designed website. Your web designer completes the changes by replacing the old site with the re-designed version.
Everything is fine for the first week, then you notice a gradual decline in the amount of traffic and sales coming from your website, as the weeks go by this becomes worse and worse. Your just hoping that one day it will all sort it’s self out, but that day never comes. Fast forward 6 months and your business has been ruined, and all because of a website re-design.

What went wrong?

So here’s what happened, the Google spider came to your old website and indexed your content over many years, this gave the content value and authority. Then you re-designed the site, this time around Google comes to your site and all that content it had applied value and authority to has gone, it might not be gone completely but the URL’s and page titles are now different, so from Google perspective this is new content with no value or authority. And content with no value or authority drops from the search results.

This sort of thing happens all to often, and it’s so easy to do if you don’t know what you’re doing. But likewise it’s easy to avoid as well.

How to re-design a website and not ruin your SEO.

A website re-design is about changing the look of the site and not the content. You’ve seen what can happen when it’s done wrong.

Before you start to make any changes make sure all parties involved in the re-design understand the consequences. If you have a web designer, developer and marketing team they all need to be working together to ensure a smooth transition.

What you should consider before re-designing a website:

  • If your old website is lacking a SEO friendly design now would be a great time to re-structure your website.
  • Don’t change your website domain name unless you have little or no traffic.
  • Try to keep your URL structure the same if you site is already SEO friendly.
  • If you old site uses ugly URLs with extensions, a re-design would be a good time to change these.

The next two points are essential when re-designing a website if you don’t want to ruin your SEO:

  • Do your best to keep Headers, Titles, Content, Meta-Tags, Alt-Tags the same during the re-design. If you need to make any changes to these do it gradually after your website re-design is complete.
  • And most importantly,  if there are any URL changes you point the old URLs to the new ones using a 301 redirect. How to achieve this is explained below.

Be prepared for some fluctuations in your rankings after the re-design, this should all settle down though, as long as you have followed the points above.

What is a 301 re-direct

Rather that try to explain how a 301-redirect works, here’s a great picture showing it in action. From www.elliance.com.

301-redirect

How to create a 301 redirect from an old URL to a new one

Using a 301 redirect can vary depending on how your website handles URLs. If your URL structure has an address followed by a ?.
e.g. – http://www.example.com/post.php?id=7
you are using dynamic URLs otherwise your URLs will be static. In most cases 301 redirects will be done in your websites .htaccess file.

Accessing and working with your .htaccess file

The .htaccess file is where you’ll have to make any 301 redirects, It needs to be accesses using a FTP client and will be found in the root of your web directory. For a guide to using a FTP client Click Here

  • If you don’t have a .htaccess file in your web directory you can create one using a text editor and name it .htaccess. Then upload it to the root of your website using your FTP client. When saving your new file make sure it’s not saved with the extension .txt at the end, the file should be .htaccess with no extension.
  • If you find your .htaccess file you can edit it by using notepad or a similar text edit, don’t use Microsoft word though it will add hidden formatting to the file that will corrupt it.
  • Lastly if your .htaccess file already has some code on it, do not delete it. Add any changes to the bottom of the file.

Creating 301 Redirects for Static URLs

Redirect 301 /oldpage http://www.mysite.co.uk/newpage
above is the code you’ll have to add to your .htaccess if you have static URLs, let look at an example using this website, Vertus Digital.

We want to redirect our old contact page which was found at:
https://www.vertusdigital.co.uk/contactpage.php
to our new page found at:
https://www.vertusdigital.co.uk/contact-us
the 301 redirect would be as follows:

Redirect 301 /contactpage.php https://www.vertusdigital.co.uk/contact-us

Just repeat this for each URL you need to redirect.

Dynamic URLs

These are a little tricker and involve a few more lines of code. Below is an example using the URL structure we had above
http://www.example.com/post.php?id=7
A 301 redirect for the above URL would look like this:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} ^id=7$
RewriteRule ^$ http://www.example.com/newpost? [L,R=301]

Where you see id=7 in the example above you’ll have to change this to the query string found after the ? on the old URL you are trying to redirect. post.php is the name of the page you are you are redirecting from before the just before the ?.

Make sure to add the ? after the new domain name.

301 Redirects & WordPress

You can perform a 301 redirect in WordPress using the exact same methods detailed above.

But if the thought of editing the .htaccess file and setting up an FTP client seem a bit daunting for you there’s another solution specific to WordPress.

Redirection – is a WordPress plugin that creates all the 301 redirects, without you having to delve into the code of your website.



Thats it for this post, I hope you’ve found something of value in it.

I’d also love to hear anything you do to make a website re-design transition as smooth as possible, leave your ideas in the comments below.

Comments

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