Your website is most definitely not the Field of Dreams: you can build it, but that does not mean they will come. You have to help the search engines help you, particularly because rankings can take a hit during a website redesign.
You’ve probably heard of SEO, or search engine optimization. SEO is a huge, complex, rapidly changing field, but for today's purposes, we’re only focusing on on-site optimization issues that come up during a redesign.
Here are three SEO strategies that can help prevent damage to your rankings:
1. Know Your Most Valuable Content
We’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating. You really need to know which of your existing pages get the most traffic, have the most links pointing to them, and have the best keyword rankings. In SEO, the history of a page is important, and protecting your assets is essential to preventing a drop in your search engine rankings.
Frankly, it's not just the top-performing pages and posts that need attention; you need to make a plan for every single page on your website (don't freak out—you won't have to do anything to most of them). If you want to get rid of a page, so be it—but you'd better plan where you're redirecting that page to. Speaking of which...
2. Plan 301 Redirects Ahead of Time
If you need to move any of your website pages from their current URLs or even eliminate a page, you need to create 301 redirects. A redirect is just what it sounds like: a redirect of a current internet URL to a new internet URL. The 301 redirect tells all web traffic that "you typed in x, but need to go to y, and I'm sending you there now." End users don't get a notice, a banner, or any type of warning; the redirection just happens.
You do this to make sure that search engines can find the page’s new location and you get credit for the page’s prior traffic. If you eliminate a page, you can redirect traffic to a related page that you're keeping. One of the best ways to plan your redirects is a simple Excel spreadsheet with all of your site's pages in one column, with columns for the "from" URL and "to" URL for any pages that need to be redirected. Easy peasy.
For more information, read our post "What Are 301 Redirects and Why Do You Need Them?"
3. Be Strategic with Keywords and Links
Keyword research—looking up what terms your ideal customers are using to find products or services like yours—can be overwhelming, but having a keyword strategy will make your SEO efforts much more effective.
Start with the basic terms that best describe your business or your unique value proposition. Ours are "inbound marketing" and "web design." Create a site page for each of those keywords (they probably overlap with your services), and then use them as the foundation of your link structure.
Next, look at related keywords and long-tail keyword variations. You can use these terms to optimize the pages that support and drive traffic to your core pages, and be sure to include a link to the "target" page in the first few paragraphs of the page or post.
Once you've optimized your key pages and posts to create a beneficial link structure, it's time to pay attention to your other content. It, too, supports the structure you're creating to funnel link value to your most important pages.
To that end, add a link to the most relevant core page in the first few paragraphs of your pages and posts (keeping in mind that search engines give the most weight to the first link in a piece of content). Then, do some keyword research on the topic of the page, and optimize the page around that keyword or keyword group.
If you're going to do a content overhaul, you may want to start by fixing anything that's actively harming your SEO prior to the redesign, then roll out updates and other changes over time after the redesign. Search engines will give you more credit for keeping your content fresh and updated if you make changes progressively.
Learn more about SEO using our 5-Day Plan.
Quick reminder—if you've missed the other parts of this series, here you go:
Website Redesign, Step 1: Benchmark Current Performance
Website Redesign, Step 2: Clarify Your Goals
Website Redesign, Step 3: Inventory Your Assets
Website Redesign, Step 4: Analyze the Competition
Website Redesign, Step 5: Incorporate Your UVP
Website Redesign, Step 6: Design for Your Ideal Customer
Website Redesign, Step 8: Plan Your CTAs
Or, go ahead and read about the whole process at one time in our ebook on THIS VERY TOPIC! What a coincidence.