When we upgrade or redesign our websites, we find that our rankings may suffer if we don’t implement the website migration and URL redirection correctly. That is most likely because when things change drastically the search engines say “this must be a different site” and they start ranking you as if you are a new site. Not fun when you’ve worked so hard in previous years to optimize your search engine rankings, and then see all your efforts go by the wayside with the new site. So there are some important guidelines to adhere to when redirecting your old site to a new site successfully without losing your SEO ranking.
- If changing the domain you need to use Google Webmaster Tools to indicate this change to Google. Also make sure any businesses listings or citations change the website address as well for consistency.
- Try to retain the existing URL structure of all old URLs with the new URLs whenever possible. This basically means keep your page URLs/permalinks the same. If you’re migrating from one platform to another and the old site URLs are setup with .html or .php extensions and the new site doesn’t use extensions, then you may want to consider implementing extensions – see this video Add any Extension (.html, .htm, .php) in WordPress Post and Pages Permalinks.
If getting rid of any pages with redesign, check Google Analytics and make sure the pages you are removing don’t currently drive a bunch of traffic to the site or have higher rankings under certain terms. Pairing down your content too much and getting rid of higher rankings pages can hurt your overall rankings.
- Setup 301 (permanent) redirects from old pages to a similar page on new site. Do NOT redirect everything to the homepage. It creates a bad user experience and can bump your bounce rate!
- Clean up internal links so that they link to the new URLs vs. having to go through a redirect loop.
- Make sure you have 404 page that has a consistent title tag of “Page not found” or “Nothing found for…” so you can check for 404s in Google Analytics.
- Check for 404s in Google Analytics after the site is made live. Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, click on Page Title text link next to “Primary Dimension:” and enter that beginning of your title tag in the search text box and hit search. See screenshot.
- Compare pre- and post-rollout traffic for top pages; if there are big drops, figure out why.
- When you go live, use Google Webmaster Tools to Fetch the new site and submit an XML sitemap.
So basically the main takeaway from all this is change as little as possible, especially in terms of site structure, menus and content, atleast until rankings have settled down after the move. Then implement those changes gradually.