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Top SEO Tips for Planning a Website Redesign or Site Migration
Thursday, September 27, 2012
I have helped many clients over the years with their website redesigns.  I've worked with big brands to migrate sites they have acquired into their own web properties.  Heck I have even help some decommission their sites only to start anew.  The one thing that I have learned is that the planning stage is the most critical stage of any website redesign.  Dare we suggest that planning is the key to any success in life?  Work smarter not harder right?

So where do you begin when you are thinking about a site redesign?  Where should your planning efforts begin?  We should mention that you should first weigh the pros and cons of an full website redesign or site migration.  In terms of a redesign, think about why you are needing to redesign your site:

  • to change the aesthetics of your site?
  • based on usability issues or poor functionality
  • for the purposes of re-branding?
  • due to a platform / CMS upgrade?
  • to simply modernize your site?
From a site migration perspective, are you:
  • simply incorporating content from another web property (either your own or a site that you acquired)?
  • consolidating multiple web properties?
  • consolidating smaller micro or local sites?
  • decommissioning an older site
Whatever the reason, keep in mind that any time you decide to redesign or migrate a site, you run the risk of:
  • alienating that site's existing audience/traffic base
  • losing existing traffic from organic search
  • losing exiting keyword placement (rankings)
After you have determined that a website redesign or site migration is truly necessary, the planning stage begins.

Top SEO Tips for Planning a Website Redesign or Site Migration

A lot of the items we previously discussed in our 21 Step Redesign Planning Checklist still holds true today.  Our redesign tips for 2012 are also useful but when it comes down to the initial planning what are the items that you should be focusing on?

  1. Time Frame - a key part of your planning should revolve around identifying the time frame that you have to work with for the site migration or site redesign.  Keep in mind that you will want to launch or migrate during non-peak times.  This is especially important for e-commerce sites in which seasonality plays a role in both online and offline sales.  Give yourself enough time to work with all of the necessary teams to roll out the redesign or launch properly.

  2. Assignment of Resources - understand which teams will need to be involved with the redesign or launch.  These teams may include your online marketing team, your content team and of course your design and IT teams.

  3. Understand your content assets - you need to have a strong understanding of your existing content and of any content that is being migrated.  It is recommended that you take inventory of all URLs from the site that is being redesigned or migrated.  In the case of a migration, you will want to compare this content to the content that you currently feature on your own site.  You should have an understanding of which content on your site is being engaged with and is driving traffic as well you should identify key areas that need improvement.

  4. Pay attention to your existing search visibility - how many times have you heard someone say that they launched a new site only to see their rankings in search plummet.  You ask them why and they respond with "oh well we axed a couple of thousand pages...".  Well did you take the time to evaluate what was working on the site before you launched the new one?  Rankings are important as they can illustrate where your traffic is coming from on a keyword level.  Which leads us to our next item...

  5. Understand your keyword value - review your analytics to see which keywords are driving traffic.  Pay attention to non-branded terms as these are phrases that your site is most likely ranking well for within the search results.  The pages that are ranking and performing well for these phrases are ones that you will want to retain and mitigate traffic loss to.

  6. Identify the KPIs (key performance indicators) that you will want to monitor post launch or post migration.  These KPIs could range from metrics such as pages indexed in a given search engine (i.e. Google), traffic totals to # of keywords driving traffic, bounce rate and of course page views.

  7. Understand your link inventories - take note of your inbound links and of the quality sites that are linking to you, if you do everything properly, the link authority will carry through (well at least 90% of it anyways).  However should you fail to properly move or redirect a page you can lose value links from high quality sources.  From an internal perspective, you'll also want to have an idea of how the old site or site that is being migrated should be interlinked as part of the "new" site.

  8. Establish checklists - if never hurts to establish your own redesign checklists.  The reason?  Well just as you take a list to the grocery store, you don't want to forget that one item or key ingredient for the meal that you are planning to make.  The planning stage is full of moving pieces and timelines.  Having a detailed checklist can ensure that something critical is not missed.

  9. Pay attention to detail - similar to tip #8, as you establish your "planning roadmap", double check that you have everything to proceed with a redesign or site migration.

  10. Plan for the future - you should not need to conduct a redesign every couple of years.  Proper planning will ensure that you address all of the technical, on-page and content issues that may have been issues with the previous version of the site or with the site that is being migrated.

Careful planning is the only way to mitigate risks associated with a site redesign or site migration.  Take your time with the planning portion and do it right the first time.  It is much more difficult to try and retro-fit in all of the fixes after the fact.  The competitiveness of the search results may not offer you a second chance.  

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