A lot of businesses will wait until the development of the redesigned website has been completed to hire an SEO expert. Although it’s best to bring them in at the beginning of a website redesign project, bringing them on once the site has been developed doesn’t hurt.
If you have a serious, established business your SEO work should be performed by a team that knows what they’re doing. It’s very easy to make mistakes that can hurt your website’s ability to drive new business.
Organizing the URL Structure
One of the most important items for an SEO expert to look at is your URL structure. In general, when you redesign a website you want to keep your URLs the same unless there’s a great reason to change them. This is because changing your URLs has a huge impact on how search engines index your web pages.
Google will store the original URL of a page in their search engine results cache. But, if you change the URL, Google will think it’s a completely different page. That can lead to a lot of problems, such as duplicate content and broken links.
If you do change your URLs, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. For example, if you’re wanting to change your URLs in order to stuff them with keywords, you may want to re-think that. This has been confirmed as a poor tactic for ranking and should be avoided.
Valid reasons for changing your URLs include:
- The URLs are extremely long
- The URLs are filled with spammy words
- The existing content structure or platform creates confusing and strange looking URLs
In addition, cleaning up and shortening your URLs can help you create a more logical structure for all the content on your site.
Let’s say you have a URL that looks like this:
That URL could be shortened to:
In this instance, the URL is easier to read which increases the likelihood of a person clicking it in search results. Remember, at the end of the day you want people clicking your results and coming to your site, not robots.
The Importance of Keeping Backlinks Intact
A backlink is a link pointing to your website from another website. They’re really important for your website’s search engine rankings. If you have quality links pointing to your website then you will have a greater chance of outranking websites that don’t have quality links.
But, the thing is, backlinks are tied directly to your URLs. That means when you change the URL of one of your web pages, it’s going to break the backlink because the website linking to your website will still be pointing to the page’s old link which no longer exists. That’s where redirects come in.
How to Set Up Redirects for Your URLs
If you want to change a URL to send users to a new page that’s similar to an old page, you want to use something called a 301 redirect. You’re able to modify this through an .htaccess file. Or, if you’re using a content management system, you can typically set up 301 redirects in the settings.
On the other hand, if you’re getting rid of a page because you want to remove the content entirely from your site, and it does not have any quality links to it, t’s OK to let that page display a 404 error message. If you choose not to redirect a URL, a page will automatically display a 404 error.
Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions and Schema Markup
The meta title is how your page title is displayed in a browser tab. The title is a really important component of getting a page to rank.
A meta title is accompanied by a meta description, which is a brief phrase describing a page that shows up in search engine results.
These two elements, combined with your website URL, are the strongest factors for getting people to click through to your website.
Another key piece of your site’s SEO is schema markup. Not all websites use it, but a lot do. It’s essentially a piece of code that relays details about a particular page to search engines. Schema is especially useful for local SEO because it can confirm store hours, addresses and phone numbers. Unfortunately, meta titles, meta descriptions and schema are often deleted during the redesign process, which means your pages will no longer be optimized for search engines.
That’s why it’s important to bring in an experienced SEO after the development phase is complete, but before the site launches. After all, someone has to rewrite the meta titles and meta descriptions and make sure they’re optimized and add schema markup to your pages.
How to Format Content for SEO
Formatting is the process of using heading tags, such as H1, H2, H3 and H4 in HTML to format a document. It’s very similar to a table of contents: there’s part A and then there’s the subsection, part B underneath that, and so on.
Each heading tag serves a specific purpose. The H1 tag tells a search engine, “this is what the page is about;” the H2 tag tells a search engine, “this is a specific section on the page,” and an H3 tag tells a search engine, “this is a subsection of the H2 section.”
Formatting is one of the criterion search engines use to rank pages, so it’s important the structure and the hierarchy of information on a page is very clear.
How Click Depth Affects Search Rankings
Somewhat self-explanatory, the click depth measures how many clicks it takes for users to get to a specific page on a website.
Generally speaking, You want users to be able to get to your most important information in as few clicks as possible. Information is considered buried on the website if it takes four or more clicks to get to.
And, because that information is buried so deep on the website, it’s going to be harder for search engine robots to crawl and find it.
Migrating and Maintaining Internal Links
Internal links take users from one page to another on your website. Although the primary purpose of internal links is to make it easier for users to navigate and find content on your site, they also make it easier for search engines to crawl your site and find related content.
But, during a website redesign, the internal links don’t always get carried over when you migrate your content to the new site or between content management systems.
If those links don’t get carried over to the new site, the SEO expert you hire will need to recreate them. But once that’s done it’s important you maintain them by creating any necessary future redirects, and improve them by adding interlinks to any new content you add to the site.
Common Post-development SEO Issues
Common issues we’ll see during the post-development SEO phase including:
- Failing to put redirects in place when a URL is changed, which breaks the links pointing to those URLs.
- Not optimizing the meta title and meta description information for search engines, which will cause your rankings to drop.
- Information, such as schema markup, not getting carried over to the redesigned site.
- Formatting errors, such as using the H1 tag to style text instead of using it to tell the search engine robots what’s important on a page.
- Important content gets buried deep within the website and it takes way too many clicks to it.
- Broken internal links or internal links that have been removed altogether.
- Large image and video files that aren’t compressed.
However, if you follow the steps outlined in this guide, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your website optimized for search engines before it launches.
Just remember, on-boarding a knowledgeable team that knows SEO inside and out is extremely valuable, and it will help ensure you avoid all the issues mentioned above.