Moving or Redesigning You Site
SEO & Linking Considerations
Your web site is going to move to a new server, or be involved in a site redesign at some point. Often this transition is simultaneous. The prospect of expanding your web presence can be exciting, and help boost your bottom line if done correctly. If done incorrectly, you can wipe out a huge portion of your past work and customer base, as well as destroying your rankings in the search engines. A failure to plan your move is a sure-fire plan for failure!
Are the URLs of your site going to change? Most likely, the answer is yes. Reasons for generating a new URL structure could be that you are moving from a static site to a dynamic site like adding a content management system, upgrading to a different server technology, like moving from .php to .asp or ColdFusion, or implementing a rewrite process to make your URLs more Search Engine Friendly.
Your web page URLs are your addresses from the internet to your site. If you change your address without notifying inbound requests, people will not see your website, but instead a blank page with the error message, “The page cannot be found.” This can be devastating if the request is made from a search engine trying to spider your site!
In addition, if you have been developing a comprehensive SEO program for your site, you will have deep links – inbound links to the interior pages of your site. You will lose a large portion of your inbound link inventory if you don’t plan your move.
Here are the steps your web design team needs to take to make the move as smooth as possible.
Migrate Meta: Migrate all of the content in your Title tags and the Meta Description fields. This will help you retain your search engine ranking positions. If you paid an SEO company this is a large portion of what you paid for.
301 Redirects: Research – pull an inventory of your natural search engine results (in Google use the site: command) and match it up to your most powerful page urls by comparing your statistics. Make sure that you implement a 301 redirect for every indexed page and point requests to the new page location. This needs to be done before moving day.
Custom 404 Page: Realize up front that there are going to be some loose ends. Design a custom 404 “not found” page that is inside the structure of your site and offers a clear menu of options for the human searcher. This will help them engage with your site. Make sure that the site has a clear text link to your sitemap so that search engine spiders can learn about the structure of your site. NEVER automatically redirect bad requests to the home page.
Sitemaps: Make sure you launch the site with a complete sitemap in place so that the search engines can spider your new structure. In addition, you will need to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google increase the speed at which your new site is indexed.
Pay Per Click: Consider increasing your PPC budget for core terms that drive your business. There is always a natural short term drop in search engine results when you make a change. Don’t forget to adjust your PPC campaign landing pages. Google Adwords will not follow your 301 redirects.
Backlink Check: Pull your inventory of incoming links. Change any links that will point to URLs that will become obsolete where possible. Use Google Webmaster Tools to detect broken backlinks. A proper 301 redirect plan should take care of most of these issues.
Outbound Links: Do you have a list of resources or links on your site, or reciprocal link agreements? If so, make sure you have a plan to reinstall them in the new site, and there is a clear way to get to them.
Robots.txt File: Move and update the robots.txt exclusions file to reflect your site structure change. If your private data, images, or testing area has changed locations, make sure to add a line in the file to account for it.
Hosting: If your move involves a hosting / server change make sure your new IP address is not black listed. Some IP ranges get recycled, and may have been previously used in an activity that got them banned. Check how many other sites will be sharing your server if not dedicated the lower the number the better.
Timing: If you have a seasonal site or known high / low traffic periods plan your move during the slow season.
Build Links: Obtain high value back-links pointing toward your critical interior landing pages just after the site is moved. This will help get your site re-indexed quickly.
It is important to consult your SEO firm prior to making any changes in your site design. This way you can avoid turning your shining star into black hole.
Play Safe! Link-a-Billy Dave