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April 19, 2011

Website Redesign Best Practices – Part 1

web-design-history

Website redesign proposal checklists should take careful account of the current status of the existing website. Rather than just rush headlong into the web redesign / rebuild process, an assessment of the good and bad elements of the original site should be made. Include consideration of SEO aspects. All too often, the website makeover results in a dramatic downturn in search engine rankings! Don’t underestimate the value of the existing indexed pages… or the benefits of current organic SERPs. Run the rebuild idea past an SEO consultant.

The Risks to Current Rankings

Be aware that existing search engine rankings can all too easily go down the toilet! Why? Well, that’s the consequence of not planning and executing strategies to cover the threats.

Page Redirection

Without a trail of breadcrumbs to find out where the old content went, all search engines are left bewildered and floundering in a sea of 404 Page Not Found errors.

1. Top-Ranking Pages: Should be identified, preserved and enhanced.

2. 301 Redirects: Old page URLs should be rerouted to the corresponding new page names. If that’s not done, all indexed and well-ranked internal pages will suddenly generate 404 Page Not Found errors and will eventually be purged from all search engine indexes! All internal Page Rank will be lost, as will all client’s Bookmarked page links and all “deep links” to internal content.

3. Optimized On-Page Content: Previously optimized “good page content” should be moved to the corresponding new pages.

4. Image Alt text: Old alt text should be copied to the replacement images.

5. Meta-tags: Titles, descriptions and keywords should be copied to the corresponding new pages.

6. Sitemaps: Provision should be made for XML or HTML Sitemaps.

If you fail to do the above, Google’s search engine spiders and bots will be forced to start from zero! If they are forced to reassess the intent and purpose of the site, and you haven’t preserved the good elements, a drop in rankings is inevitable.

Rebranding

I don’t have a problem with branding per se. However, while branding consultants have great expertise in their sphere of interest, they usually have minimal understanding of the issues inherent in attaining top search engine rankings. Branding consultants have no respect for your 10 year old domain. Any recommendation to drop your aged / mature domain name in favor of a new “trendy” business name is a severe risk to your online presence.

Domain Redirection makes it possible to redirect all traffic from the old domain to the new domain. You can couple that with individual page redirection. However, that still leaves you with all your old links pointing to a ‘dead’ domain and at risk of removal. Don’t underestimate the value of an aged domain with lots of links! As an example, I just reviewed a rebuild proposal that involved moving content from a 1999 registered domain with 2900+ incoming links (including 100+ links from domains with a +7 PR!) to a 2008-registered domain with 35 links.

The Rebuilders

Ok, so you’re going to rebuild a mature site that’s generating business, but needs a more modern look and feel. Make sure you choose a designer / developer who comprehends the importance of the old content and understands the SEO aspects. Make sure the fundamental SEO elements are included in the design architecture.

I repeatedly see website design output from designers that amazes me such as the following:

1. An SEO module was loaded but not activated – so zero meta-tag content on any page!

2. A WordPress CMS with the Admin / Privacy settings set to “I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors”

3. JavaScript main menus that SE’s cannot penetrate, meaning no internal pages indexed!

4. Flash main menu that SE’s cannot penetrate, meaning no internal pages indexed!

5. Splash / Intro pages with 1 link to the home page only, and Flash content – meaning zero Home page content!

6. No sitemaps, just to make it even more difficult to find internal content!

If you are deliberately setting out to kill off a website, these are very effective ways of doing so. There’s a lesson here! If you are going to rebuild your website yourself, or pay someone else to do it, you’d best ensure that the person responsible for the changes has a plan that includes at least the basics! Failing to plan is planning to fail, as these examples clearly show!

Do You Need Google?

While there are people out there who say that you don’t, you may rest assured that they are, in the main, not knowledgeable on the subject. Unless (or until) you are a household brand name, you are going to need search engines to deliver potential clients to you. To get an increasing flow of visitors from search engines, you’ll have to play by their rules, not yours. Whenever you cannot change the global reality to fit your own perception, you must adapt… or you’ll simply be irrelevant!

New Site SEO Requirements

For maximum SEO benefits, there are some overall goals to aim for…

* Search Engine Friendly URLs: Page File Names should be explicit, and keyword-rich, independent of Titles or Headings.

* Off-Page Titles: Independent and unique page Titles are essential. Dynamic, with manual override will work fine.

* Description Tag: Independent and unique page Descriptions are essential. Dynamic with manual override is okay.

* Keyword Tag: Independent and unique page Keywords. Dynamic with manual override is okay.

* Image File Names: Imported image file names should be preserved, allowing keyword-rich image names.

* Image ALT Text: Dynamic based on file name with manual override is okay. Keyword rich image file names are important supporting elements of page content.

* Menu Item Names: Controllable, independent of page Headings, with manual set hyperlink titles.

* Page Headings: Formatted in H1, H2, H3 HTML tags, independent of menu name.

Make sure that the BASIC files are in place;

* Robots.txt: with a link to the XML sitemap
* Sitemap: XML, plus HTML
* Custom 404 Error Page: standard page template, full menu etc.

Make sure that the BASIC Hosting issues are sorted;

* www vs. non-www: Always use full canonical domain name, and prevent duplicate content being indexed.
* Hosting: Correct country TLD – or correct country hosting.


Ben Kemp, a search engine optimization consultant since 1997, is a specialist in website redesign, and a veteran of 25-plus years of experience in the IT industry.

Web: www.ComAuth.co.nz + www.Website-Redesign-Company.co

7 Responses to “Website Redesign Best Practices – Part 1

    Good to know all these…Thanx

    avatar Cms Buffet says:

    It is safer to use, on the new site the same URL as the old site.
    if the current web site about us page is about-us.cfm try to build your new web site with the same name; IE about-us.cfm (build the site or use a CMS that can do that).

    avatar Tony says:

    With reference to canonical domain names, Google has this to say:

    “…if you don’t indicate a canonical URL, we’ll identify what we think is the best version…”

    I can’t seem to find an official word from Google about them indexing www and non-www as two sites; in fact I think that would be more work for them.

    I think this might be a well propagated myth…

    Although I always .htaccess our sites to deal with this anyway, just in case Lol!

    What concerns Google more is duplicate content caused by querystrings etc.

    avatar About Web says:

    Yeah and if you will use WordPress as a CMS, set your tags and archives to “nofollow”.

    Ben

    I couldn’t agree more, excellent article. Especially relevant the final 3 bullet points:

    Make sure that the BASIC files are in place;
    * Robots.txt: with a link to the XML sitemap
    * Sitemap: XML, plus HTML
    * Custom 404 Error Page: standard page template, full menu etc.

    I’m still surprised how many SEOs &c still deny the effectiveness of the use of these.

    It’s a good article.
    Existing search engine rankings can all too easily go down by the redesigning the site.Then let me know how to plan and execute strategies to cover these threats.
    Thanks for this article.

    Very useful post, exactly what I’ve been looking for, I’m applying this in my small project, thanks.

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