I know, I know, who doesn’t love the sound of a majestic beast, galloping through the plains? But seriously, it’s time to move into the modern age with your website. Before you do, however, have you thought about your plan of action on how to best transition without losing any of that precious search engine optimization or ranking?
Have you paid attention to your current site rank? The first thing you should do is take a look at where your site shows up in search engines related to the most important keywords in your industry and target market. It will be difficult to get any kind of idea as to how your site is performing after being rebuilt if you don’t have a starting point. There are many resources available to check your location on the search engine results pages (or SERPs) but a few that we like are Pro Rank Tracker and SerpFox – both have free versions but are affordable if you’re tracking a good number of keywords. Use these to track your current position and your trends after your new site launch. This will help you quickly identify problems with various keywords that you may have been ranking for with your old site.
What platform are you building your site on? There are so many factors involved in this one, but we’ll keep it short. Choose your site platform based on long-term functionality, ease-of-use, flexibility, site speed, and search engine friendliness. Sure, that Flash site looks pretty darn cool, but can search engines actually read the content? (Answer: No, they can’t.) Alternatively, building the site in Photoshop and then slicing it and creating HTML files may seem like the way to go, but it makes your site virtually impossible to properly manage, as well as text-on-images being a bad idea for SEO. We recommend a CMS for your site build – WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, DotNetNuke, ModX… we won’t argue the benefits of one over the other (though we use WordPress and Joomla, depending on the complexity of the project), but all of these systems have the capability to be optimized for search engines. CMSes in general are popular choices for a reason… they work.
Don’t Lose Your Link Structure! If you have good link structure on your old site, keep it. An example of good link structure would be buffaloflanksteaksrus.com/why-buffalo/ and an example of poor link structure would be buffaloflanksteaksrus.com/home/page/content/4573/index.php?r=429874757-buffalo-tastes-gewd-84829.html. But either way, you don’t want to lose SEO when you rebuild and improve it. If Google has the crappy link ranking well, but you want to fix it on your new site, institute a 301 redirect. This is like forwarding your incoming mail at the post office when you move – don’t lose any traffic coming your way. Nobody likes to see a pesky 404 page. If you have a small number of pages, you can do this one-by-one using your .htaccess file. If you have a site with hundreds or thousands of pages, well, first you have too many, and second, forward the pages with the best rank or find a good plugin to automatically detect and redirect broken links.
Don’t write content and then hope for rank, write your content around your keywords. Most people don’t even consider search engines when they’re developing content for their website. They write pages about how buffalo flank steaks are superior to other cow-type meats, while their target market, uninformed of the product, is searching for “healthy alternatives to beef.” So there’s a missing connection between the people asking a question and the person providing the answer, since neither are speaking the same language. A good tool to research keywords would be the Google AdWords Keyword Planner (you can use it without actually running ad campaigns and here’s a good guide on how to use it). You can input your keywords and get new ideas, as well as how often various terms are searched for. Find the best words, then plan your content around them. Of course, your other content that may not match many popular keywords can still be a great way to naturally find opportunity for long-tail keywords (we’ll talk about those another time).
But after all of that technological mumbo-jumbo, don’t forget to be human. On a technical level, search engines are becoming more and more complex in an effort to identify quality sites and content based on what actual people would find most relevant. The days when you could “game the system” by building fake sites, links, etc. are ending, while sites that are trusted, talked about and actually useful are being bolstered in rankings. Google released its first version of its Panda algorithm in 2011, and it gets more and more efficient with every revision. On a personal level, even if you drove millions of visitors to your website, if the site itself isn’t easy to use, informative, active and respectable, your conversions will be minimal. Is it better to drive ten people to your site who are ready to buy and find your site compelling, or a thousand people who are turned away as soon as they see the spammy home page? Quality over quantity, and all that jazz.
That’s a lot to consider in SEO and website redesign, and there are probably twenty more things that come to mind, but it’s a good start to make sure you don’t have a disaster when you rebuild your website. Search engine optimization is as important as ever, as a majority of the population uses the internet to research products and services before they commit to buy. So whatever you do, make sure you can be found by the people looking for what you are selling.