This is something a website owner dreads more than almost anything else, the task of revamping a website without disrupting the delicate balance of a business’ internet presence. The risks of losing customers, losing website information, and losing the very important search results rankings are very real and can do long-term damage to the bottom line of the business. However, there are some things you can do to mitigate any possible damage to your business.
Do Not Work on a Live Website
This is the single most important thing to remember when making changes to your website. Do not do any kind of redesign to your website while it is live. Either disable the website while you’re making improvements (not recommended, because people who attempt to visit the website will be frustrated), or set up the new website on a separate domain and swap it with the original when ready (this is the recommended method). When you make changes to a website, it’s often a long process, and mistakes are bound to be made, so it’s easier to not have to deal with the issues of working on a live website.
Match The Structures of the Old and New Websites
Customers like familiarity, so it’s not a good idea to dramatically change the structure of your website when you redesign it. Before you get started on a new design, user a crawler to map out your existing website, how things are laid out, so that you can match the new website with it. Once you’re finished with the redesigned website, crawl the new site to compare its structure to the original site.
Save The Original Website Information
To keep similarity between the old and new websites, create a list of all the pages from the old website. If the URL is going to change for pages in the new website, you need to notify search engines about these changes by using 301 redirects. Failure to do this will damage your rankings and trust with customers, and you will lose organic traffic to your website. You should also save your sitemap of the original website to a text file, for reference later.
Use a Temporary URL for the New Website
This is how you avoid disruption in the transition from the old website to the new one. Set up the new website on a temporary URL, copying your old website to the temporary URL. Then make whatever changes you want. Make sure that you noindex this temporary URL, because you don’t want it to appear in search engine results until you’re ready to make the new website live. Once you’re finished with the new website, you can just switch the domain, and take the new website live.
If you are changing domains with your new website, there are two steps to that process. First, move the old website to the new domain, with 301 redirects. Create your new website, and then launch it on the new domain, with 301 redirects from the old website.
Use 301 Redirections
You must use 301 redirects for every single page in your old website. The 301 redirect tells search engines that the URL of a particular page has changed, and ensures that website visitors can find what they’re looking for. The 301 redirect also ensures that all bookmarks and social media links to the original website will still be working when the new website goes live. When you set up the 301 redirects, make sure each page’s 301 redirect points to the same content on the new website. If that’s not possible for every single page, at least make sure that the content pointed to is similar. Do not just make a general redirect that redirects all the old pages to the new website’s home page. This will just frustrate website visitors.
Use Good 404 Pages
The 404 page not found message is a necessary part of any website redesign, because sometimes pages just get lost in the shuffle or links don’t work. A good 404 page will help the users and search engines find their way back to either the information they’re looking for, or another place within your website. You can make the 404 page both user friendly and search engine friendly by putting a search engine box on the page, along with keeping the menu of the website on the 404 page.
Keep Track of Backlinks
This is something that every website owner fears, losing all those links that they’ve earned. You can collect usage stats of your backlinks, and the ideal way to move those backlinks to your new website is to contact the owners of the most popular backlinks and ask them to change the links so that they point to the new pages. If that’s not possible, then make sure the pages with the rest of your accumulated backlinks have 301 redirects.
Details to Fix Before Going Live
Once you’ve completed the redesign of your website, there are still more details to finish before you can go live. Optimize the new images for SEO, using meta descriptions and compressing images for faster loading. Check the robots.txt to ensure that it’s configured correctly, to allow access for search engine crawlers. If it’s not correctly configured, crawlers can’t read your website. Check the new website for broken links.
Log in to the Google Webmaster tools and make sure the new website is verified. Then use FETCH AS GOOGLE to verify that the new website can be properly read. Use FETCH AND RENDER, then resubmit the website and all its linked URLs to Google through SUBMIT TO INDEX. You should also use a web crawler to map the structure of the new website, to compare it to the original website. The sitemap of your redesigned website should be submitted to search engines, which will help search engines index the new website more quickly.
After the New Website Goes Live
Once the redesigned website is live, you should compare your bounce rates before and after the redesign. An increase in the bounce rate means that users are unhappy about something with the redesign, so you may need to make changes. Continue to monitor your rankings in search results, to look for any improvement or decline. Google suggests a transition period of at least 180 days, during which time you should also keep your old domain name, with 301 redirects.
It’s always difficult to make the transition from your original website to a redesigned version. However, following these suggestions can make the process easier, and can minimize disruption to your business.