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SEO Best Practices for a Site Redesign

The following goes over some best practices you should be, well, practicing if you’re involved in a site refresh (redesign) project. We hit on some steps to take to make sure your rankings carry over to your new site as well as measures to take to ensure that your ‘beta’ site doesn’t work against you. Then we hit on some quick “lessons learned” items that you should go over before you finally flip the switch.

301 Redirects

When performing a site redesign, you want to make sure all of your old pages have a 301 redirect in place to its URL on your new site. It should be on a page-by-page basis; you do not want to just do a blanket 301 redirect for all pages to go to your root domain. If the page URL is staying the same, you do not need to use a 301 redirect. If you are planning on not having a page you had on your previous version of your site on the new version of your site, then you should set up a 301 redirect for that old page to go to the home page.

The Wrong Way

Your old red widgets product page redirects to your new home page:

http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/redwidgets/ >> 301s to >> http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/

Your old widget resources page redirects to your new home page:

http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/resources/ >> 301s to >> http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/

The Right Way

Your old red widgets product page redirects to your new red widgets product page:

http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/redwidgets/ >> 301s to >> http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/products/red-widgets/

Your old widget resources page redirects to your new widget resources page:

http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/resources/ >> 301s to >> http://www.widgetwarehouse.com/widget-resources/

Block Search Spiders From Your Beta Site

The beta version of your new site should be blocked from any search spiders so they can’t spider that content. If search spiders are able to access your beta site and spider that content, this could become a huge problem with search engines displaying incorrect results and could potentially hurt your rankings.

You can implement several different measures to ensure spiders do not spider your beta site:

A robots.txt File

A robots.txt file is a text file that’s placed on your root domain that tells search spiders which directories they should not spider. You can disallow specific pages or entire subfolders. A robots.txt file that is disallowing several different elements looks like this:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /features_terms_service.php
Disallow: /temp/
Disallow: /beta/

As you can see, each specific page or entire subfolder call-out needs to be on a new line. You can create a robots.txt file with the help of Google in your Google Webmaster Central account.

A Robots Meta Tag

On each beta site page, you can include a meta tag that tells search spiders to not index the content on the page and to not follow any links on the page. This meta tag is placed in the code right along with any other meta tags in the section for the page.

Each beta site page needs to have this robots meta tag. The specific tag to use is:

<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW">

We recommend adding this meta tag on every page of the beta site just to be sure robots aren’t spidering any of that content.

Lessons Learned

A couple of things go over before you flip the switch for the new site:

  • Make sure all of your new pages do not have a robots META tag. It’s easy to keep this tag in place and forget about it when you’re moving your beta content over to the new website
  • Update your robots.txt file
  • Flip the switch during an “off” time. This typically means you would want to make your site transition in the late evening Pacific time / early morning Eastern
  • Pump some extra money in your “Branded” PPC campaign just in case there are any snafus
  • Keep an attentive eye on your analytics to see if there is an influx of visits to your 404 error page. If there is, dig deeper to see where these visits are coming from (an internal page or external) and fix the problem
  • Create a custom 404 error page with a “mini site map” that points to the major sections of your site

What To Expect

Expect your search results to just be a bit funky the first six weeks after flipping the switch. It takes time for search engines to spider all of your new content and get rid of your old data. During this time, you’ll see some irregularities with your search rankings; old results will show up for a search and the next might yield a result for your new site.

Resources

Robots.txt File http://www.robotstxt.org/robotstxt.html
Robots Meta Tag – http://www.robotstxt.org/meta.html
301 Redirects – http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=93633

About Christian Bullock