Jack Goldsmith
Jack Goldsmith Senior SEO Strategist

What to consider when rebuilding a website

Jack Goldsmith
Jack Goldsmith Senior SEO Strategist

Site migrations and re-designs can become complex, problematic and lead to a loss in organic visibility, traffic and conversions when not implemented correctly.

The following guide outlines key areas to focus on and how to protect your SEO presence once your new website has launched. Most of these actions should help you improve the core SEO foundations of your website, making it Google ‘compliant’ and in a position to rank well for your target keywords. Let’s begin with the importance of a good URL structure.

Importance of a clean URL structure

The URL structure plays a pivotal role which lays the foundations for your site to grow. To ensure clarity, it’s fundamental that they are readable for humans and search engines.

User perspective

Applying a clean and efficient structure enables the user to have a better understanding of what the site offers.

Search engine perspective

Depending on the query, search engines are sophisticated enough to understand which type of content to serve. By having an informative and targeted URL structure, more relevant results are returned to users.

A good example of how URLs can affect the two parties from a previous Moz post has been included below:

Source: Moz

Things to avoid

A URL structure can become cumbersome and unnatural. This is due to complex content management systems (CMS) and various plugins being installed, resulting in problematic structures which inevitably hinders organic visibility..

Some key areas to avoid have been included below:

  • Capitalisation
  • Unusual characters such as colones, underscores etc.etc.

Think keyword targeting

Including your target keywords in your URLs still remains one of the strongest signals to Google when trying to rank for a specific keyword.

This is particularly helpful when rebuilding your site as your keyword research will identify the best set of keywords to optimise your pages around, thus helping you devise a keyword rich URL structure.

Canonicalise where you can

Canonicalisation is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. This is a common issue on ecommerce sites as new products are uploaded and removed constantly, resulting in duplicate content issues on a large scale.

An example of a duplicate content issue can be seen below:

https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf/

https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf-1/    

https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf-2/  

https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf-3/  

The best solution for the above issue to canonicalise to the most authoritative version, in this case it will be – https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf/

How do you canonicalise a page?

The answer is really simple – you insert a canonical tag on your duplicated page which points to the most authoritative. See the solution below:

https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf-1/  

Canonical tag:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf/” /

https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf-2/

Canonical tag:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf/” /

https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf-3/  

Canonical tag:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.example.com/clothing/purple-scarf/” /

Lastly, make sure every page contains a self-referencing canonical tag for crawlers to access and index the correct version of a page.

Redirect issues and solutions

A redirect is a way to send both users and search engines to a different URL from the URL they originally requested. Redirects play an important role in SEO and when used correctly, can greatly improve a sites’ user experience and crawlability.

However, when mismanaged, redirects can cause crawling issues, lengthy page speed and negatively impact crawl demand (Google’s ‘demand’ to crawl your pages).

Don’t forget your 301 redirect map

It’s critical that permanent redirects are implemented from the old website URL structure to the new. This is commonly known as a 301 redirect map. This is the process of transferring all your link equity from your old website to the new.

If implemented correctly, this will help protect your current site’ visibility and help Google better understand the relation between both sites. Essentially, this is the last piece of the puzzle but the most crucial.

Internal redirect issues

When one URL changes to another, the appropriate action would be to implement a permanent 301 redirect. This ensures users are directed to the latest working version whilst transferring link authority from the old URL to the new.

However, one step that is often forgotten is amending redirected internal links. This is a common issue on most sites and occurs when redirects are implemented but their internal links haven’t been fixed. See the example below:

https://www.example.com/contact/

This page is 301 redirected and becomes

https://www.example.com/contact-us/

However, all your internal links on your site point to the older version, i.e.https://www.example.com/contact/ , resulting in users and crawlers experiencing a redirect and lengthening load time.

A common example would be redirected internal links positioned in the top navigation:

Ultimately, redirected internal links should be part of your post-launch checks once your website has migrated. Being proactive and clearing these issues up will reduce the amount of redirects on the site which can really benefit your organic performance.

Look after your sitemaps

Sitemaps are important for SEO because they make it easier for Google to find your site’s content. The two most popular sitemap files that you should consider incorporating onto your site are XML and HTML. They both do different things but are both essential to how Google and users discover your pages.

XML sitemap can be accessed by search engines to determine which pages to rank in the search results. This file will be constantly re-visited by search engines to assess if any changes have been made on your site.

HTML sitemap contains a list of pages on the site for users to access. It’s great for user journey and improves link equity.  These are less common nowadays but are hugely underrated.

Few rules when creating your sitemap

  • Make sure all pages are working
  • Canonicalised and broken pages are prohibited
  • Try and include all of your primary pages and remove any low-priority ones, such as thank you pages, i.e. – https://distinctly.co/thank-you/
  • Submit your XML sitemap to Search Console once you’ve gone live for Google to re-crawl the site.

Respect the robots.txt file

The robots.txt is a file which acts as the intermediary between your site and Google. The file contains specific directives to instruct crawlers on which parts of the site should be disallowed from their crawling journey. This is an efficient way of making sure Google spends time accessing your most important pages and therefore ranking them accordingly. An example of robots.txt format can be seen below:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /wp-admin/

User agent: * – this means that the following directives applies to all crawl bots who access the site.

Disallow: /wp-admin/ – this informs crawlers to ignore any URLs that contain ‘wp-admin’

Notably, the robots.txt file is one of the most crawled resources on websites and therefore it’s vital for all directives to be accurate. Rogue directives can be left in the robots.txt file following a migration and have resulted in blocking Google from crawling the site. As expected, this can damage visibility and organic traffic for your new website so please be aware before going live to run some final checks!

Think about your page speed

At the start of the year, Google announced that page speed will become a key focus in its algorithm and such sites should look to improve on this metric.

Even though page speed is more of an indicator than a factor, websites should try and reduce load times and aid their user experience as much as possible. With regards to rebuilds and launching a website, page speed can be forgotten about, resulting in a considerably slower site.

The recommended load time for a website should be <5s – this should be the target. Furthermore, please be aware that some site speed tools present mixed results, so it’s important to test thoroughly so you can diagnose any issues that need repairing.

If your new website has a lengthy load time, then you may need to inspect the following areas:

  • Hosting – make sure you invest in a good hosting platform.
  • Large images – compressing images is one of the most effective ways of reducing load times.
  • CMS plugins – some plugins carry a lot of weight and seriously lower your page speed.
  • Theme and widgets – appearance over practicality can have a damaging effect on page speed performance.

Improving loading times by a fraction can have a positive impact on user experience, ranking performance and conversions. These checks should be carried out throughout the build of your new website and after.

Make sure your mobile version is responsive

The mobile landscape has dramatically advanced over the last decade with more and more people using their devices on a daily basis. However, many websites are still not designed to accommodate mobile users, mainly due to incorrect viewport sizes, increasing load times and a poor design. These are vital elements to consider when launching a new website as you may negatively impacting a large chunk of your current audience.

Depending on the service you offer and industry you operate in, you may discover most of your visitors arrive on mobile devices. Mobile users tend to be impatient and easily distracted, so delivering accurate information quickly is the ideal solution, otherwise users may bounce off your site and visit a competitor.

Key mobile design issues to be aware of have been included below:

  • Clickable elements – these can be your main call to action buttons or menu options. Please make sure these are large enough for users to click and not too close to other key elements on your site.
  • Content width – this is where content doesn’t always fit inside the viewport and can result in horizontal scrolling. This provides a poor user experience as this is essentially a desktop site displayed on a mobile device.
  • Prioritise above-the-fold content – this is where your content is immediately displayed for mobile users and not pushed down by other features.

Most importantly, you need to ensure your mobile version is accessible to search engine bots. There are many scenarios where new websites have launched and the mobile version has been neglected, damaging organic visibility in the process. Moreover, as mobile first indexing is slowly being rolled out, Google is prioritising the performance of mobile over desktop which will determine where your site ranks for its target keywords.

Track the impact

In order to benchmark organic traffic pre and post migration, you need to ensure the correct tracking codes have been installed on your site. We recommend controlling all your traffic and conversion devices through Google Tag Manager. This is a user-friendly platform that doesn’t involve manually inserting raw JavaScript files or HTML codes which may result in breaking the site.

Also, if you have improved your design work and have introduced enticing call to actions, then it’s essential to set up tracking and capture any conversion improvements.

As many businesses invest in rebuilding their website, ensure you have a collection of data in your arsenal to justify the move and continue to learn from mistakes made throughout the process.

Below is a snapshot of organic traffic YOY following a launch of a new website:

If Google Analytics wasn’t installed on this site, then this would be impossible to record and learn from.

Schema markup deployment

Depending on the services you offer, incorporating schema markup will benefit your new website build. This tells search engines what your data means, thus producing more informative results for the user. There are different types of schema markups you can deploy on your site, such as;  product, organisation and local business markup.

For example, if you are recruitment firm with a large number of job listing pages on your site, you would need to add a schema markup type called JobPosting to support these job listing pages. Also, with Google Jobs being introduced into the UK search results last summer, it’s imperative that you deploy schema markup to help users find your job listings via this source.

A full list of schema markup types can be found via the following link below:

https://developers.google.com/search/reference/overview

It’s worth conducting your own research into schema plugins as a lot of these tools cater for all markup types. Alternatively, your developer will advise the deployment of schema and the capabilities of your content management system (CMS). Ultimately, you need to markup your content to help search engines clearly understand your offering.

Don’t overcomplicate your design

Re-designing your site or migrating to a new content management system (CMS) can be time consuming and involves a lot of planning. Furthermore, re-designs tend to prioritise the visuals and appearance of a site and tend to forget about the SEO implications, which can set the website up for failure.

A key focus when undertaking a re-design should always be centred around your business goals and what you aim to improve following the re-launch. This may include user experience improvements or just a general push for SEO, every case will be different. Nonetheless, it’s vital that you take the necessary SEO precautions before building or designing anything.

Organise your content

Content and information architecture are two elements which are critical to SEO success. Usually, the top performing services will be the focal part of the new site build as these are the pages you want Google to crawl and rank highly. Also, remember the latest keyword research will identify any new opportunities in the market that you need to consider in the re-build.

By the end, you should have a list of finalised pages with an optimised URL structure that you can incorporate into a sitemap. This will definitely provide more clarity and from this, you can assess any areas that may need tweaking.

Design to convert

One of the main reasons businesses push for a redesign is to improve conversion rates. Despite this being the main goal, new websites often deliver a complex user journey and damage chances of conversion. For example, intrusive pop ups and poor mobile responsiveness are common errors where users may become frustrated and inevitably leave your site so this is something to bear in mind.

Lastly, ensure all call to action devices are visible and do not bombard and force users into a sell – this is a major flaw and may not help the situation. We recommend including call to actions in the site-wide header and naturally within content as a way of helping or guiding users into converting. This is a smoother process and should be adopted throughout.

 

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