Far too often I see brands migrating over to a new web design or new domain name without considering their current SEO standing, and therefore completely undermining all their previous efforts which helped them become an authority figure in their industry.
There is a lot of pre-planning and execution needed from an SEO perspective to ensure a website retains the keyword rankings and organic traffic you have built up in the past.
Using the SearchMetrics compare tool, you can see over time how successful a redesign or rebrand is, an example of a poorly executed domain switch, would look like this:
(brand name excluded, as I don’t want to name & shame!)
This is not what you want, this brand launched on a new domain, as part of their re-brand. As you can see they have not maintained all of their keyword rankings.
Ideally, when re-branding or changing the structure of the website, you want to maintain or even grow your search visibility, a good example of this is:
To prevent keyword losses & organic drops, see below for common mistakes to avoid when rebranding/redesigning your website.
Alternatively download our checklist on the Zazzle Media website (registration required) to help you with your redesign/rebrand.
First things first, how are you going to measure the success of your redesign/rebrand if you don’t benchmark your current performance within search? I would recommend getting the following data before launching:
You can then compare these figures over the coming months once launched to track performance accurately.
It is so important you have a clear structure of the new website early on. This is so you can estimate if you are going to lose any organic traffic based on any landing pages you are going to get rid of, so it is not a surprise when you relaunch.
If you are planning on removing any sections of your website on the redesign/rebrand, you can view how much traffic you could potentially lose by looking in Google Analytics:
Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages
If you get the average sessions and users over 12 months for the section you are going to remove, then subtract this figure from the previous benchmarking figures, you can then forecast organic traffic figures when launching.
Once you have a clear view of how the new website will look, you need to map out the old website to the new website, a clear way to do this, is to set this out in an excel spreadsheet.
In our checklist, we have created an apache server redirect file template, which will generate the code needed to put in your htaccess file when launching, all you need to do is input the old URL & where it should redirect to & the code will be generated in the end column.
Important: Do not redirect everything to the homepage, make the redirects, as relevant as possible, this will help pass previous page rank & rankings more effectively.
Avoid redirect chains, for example when you crawl the website using screaming frog, download the redirect chain report, for example:
This will allow you redirect each URL to the correct place to eliminate Google spending time crawling through all the URLs to find the final one.
Another problem that often occurs is that when a brand launches a new website, all the previous keyword optimisation on the title tags, header tags, content, alt tags and meta descriptions are removed.
Ensure you have a clear keyword mapping strategy in place when relaunching, you should know which pages you want to rank for which keywords.
You can use your previous benchmarking export of SEMRush to help you understand your keyword priorities.
Then you can use your previous Screaming Frog export to see all of the necessary meta data that needed to be transferred to the new page.
Use the same GA code on your new website, as you need to compare data when launching. Instead of creating a new Google Analytics profile update the address when you launch, by going to admin > property settings:
So you have a redirect & keyword strategy in place for the new website, you have done development testing and everything is good to go, now it is time to launch onto the live website! Here are some tasks to do to ensure nothing falls through the cracks:
First of all, run the old Screaming Frog crawl make sure all of the redirects are working as expected.
Then run a crawl on live website, to find any internal 404 errors that might need updating, you can do this by going to: Bulk Export > Response Codes > Client Error (4XX) Inlinks
To ensure Google can crawl the website correctly, I would recommend doing a fetch & render on each type of page on your website, for example homepage, category page, sub category page and product page.
You do this by going to Search Console > Crawl > Fetch As Google
You can check the fetching tab for more information on the rendering, Google will tell you if there are any obvious issues like a noindex tag or x-robots tag blocking your website.
Once the website is launched, to pick up any errors straight away, you can use Google Real Time to find 404 errors your users are finding, you do this by going on:
Real Time > Content > Page Views (Last 30 mins)
Next, submit the new sitemap within Search Console, by going to:
Crawl > Sitemaps > Add/Test Sitemap
Once you are happy with the launch and fixed all of the initial bugs which are bound to happen, you should submit a change of Address in Google: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/83106?hl=en
Finally, put an annotation within Google analytics when you launch, so you can easily see when you switched over to a new domain or new design.
Taking these steps will give you the best chances to retain all of your rankings and organic traffic when changing your website or domain name. I hope this has given you some tips to include when you are relaunching a website, download our checklist to help further.