It has been some time since I’ve thought about SEO tactics so let me see if I can’t come up with the 5th most important thing to consider about SEO….
Oh yea… Don’t change anything!
Okay, not exactly. More literally, do not redesign your site without a plan for natural search engines. When you redesign a site (move content, rename links, and create new pages or remove old), search engines still have the old site indexed and will, until they re-crawl. Customers will search for things, finding broken links and 404 errors, and you’ve lost a customer. More than that, users’ bookmarks, which don’t update over time like an engine no longer work leaving an already loyal customer lost.
So how do you combat the challenge of static bookmarks and engine indexing without putting a freeze on site development?
Most importantly, learn about the 301 Redirect, love it, live it. All old URLs need to be setup to redirect to the new page; anytime you change the address of a page, set up a 301.
Did you know that you can also change error pages to catch those changes that slip through the cracks? Do some reading about 404 error pages and customize them so that when your audience finds a broken link (and they will), they aren’t met with the bland, standard error page but a user friendly, branded experience telling them that you made a mistake and sent them to the wrong place.
Also prep your sitemap and ensure it remains up to date during the change.
Don’t have a sitemap you say!? Drop what you are doing and read this and create XML site maps to submit to Google, Yahoo Paid Inclusion (now Search Submit) and MSN to update them of the new addresses.
But if those things can be thought of ways to minimize the impact of things you miss, how can you better prepare to eliminate problems before they occur?
- Consider keeping the file structure and names the same so that you don’t need 301 redirects acting as a crossing guard for people and bookmarks that fail
- Educate everyone of these possibilities to keep a sharp eye out for broken links that might come from navigation changes
- Though you are doing a redesign and that implies change, keep the copy of you page, the content, as consistent as possible. Help the engines recognize the new page from the old.
- Bookmarks and your positions in natural search are associated with page titles. Keep them the same during the transition or, if you want to change them, make sure to optimize them and do it right.
- Reach out to other sites that link to you now, prep the change, share with them new URLs, timing, and expectations. They link to you for a reason, they don’t want broken links either
- Also, inform your customers, readers, and audience, at least through an announcement on the site if not more pro actively through an email. If other sites don’t want broken links to you, well, I’m sure you’ve figured out what happens if your customers can’t find you.