We recently hosted an informational happy hour here at the Momentic office in Milwaukee’s Third Ward where we talked about how important it is to incorporate SEO strategies when building a new site, redesigning an old site or migrating platforms.
Being an SEO-centric agency, we’ve been contacted by a good number of potential clients after their new websites have launched. One of the first things we do before putting together a proposal is look at their Google Analytics data – and it’s very sad when their organic traffic looks like this:
The note in this graphic is when this website launched its redesign.
It’s sad because they’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort on building a beautiful new website, but its performance in organic search isn’t living up to expectations. Even worse – organic traffic is going downhill.
Not only was the happy hour’s purpose to explain that it’s important to incorporate SEO strategies into a website redesign or new build, it was – at a high level – to show how to incorporate these strategies.
Benefits of Integrating SEO
Before digging into the details, let’s list the benefits of spending the extra time, effort and budget on integrating SEO strategies into your redesign or new build process:
You’ll know more about what your audience is looking for and how they’re looking for it.
You’ll make sure your users find their way to your new site.
You’ll maximize ROI. A new website costs a lot of money, so you’ll want to incorporate SEO strategies to maximize its ROI.
I’ll use the same metaphor in this post as I did in the presentation, because it’s simple to understand and visualize each step. Below are 14 steps of a website redesign or new build and 6 of them are SEO strategies that help make an otherwise treacherous bridge a solid one.
14 Steps to Your New Website With SEO
There are 14 steps below needed to build a solid bridge from your old website (or no website) to your new website.
(By the way, before any part of the website starts getting built, make sure you lock down your staging server. You don’t want search engines crawling and indexing those URLs.)
As one of the most important parts of marketing your business, branding takes place before everything else. All marketing strategies must first align with the branding you’ve established. This may have already been done if you are redesigning your website, but it’s always the first step.
2. Keyword Research
Keyword Research is the first SEO strategy you’ll want to incorporate. Additionally, it’s always the strategy that our clients get the most excited about. It helps you answer the following questions (with data!):
What are your users interested in?
How are they searching for it?
What pages should exist on your website?
Do your wireframes satisfy your users’ needs?
Here’s a very high-level roadmap of the best way to approach keyword research:
To start, you can get data from Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Google AdWords (If you’ve run ads in the past).
After that, it’s a good idea to check out what your competitors are discussing and targeting on their websites.
And to make sure you get all available data, you can check out keyword suggestion tools – like SEMrush, Keywords Everywhere and Google Trends.
Once you have the data available from all sources, the first step is to prioritize keywords by sorting them into primary and secondary topics. There’s more information about this under “Content Planning” below.
Next, you’ll map the primary topics to specific pages. This helps make the following Sitemap and Wireframes steps more data-driven.
Creating a sitemap is something you or your designer may do. It helps you visualize the information architecture and structure of your website. This is an important step in that it helps you figure out the pages that are necessary on your new website.
By completing the Keyword Research before this step, you can make decisions on what pages need to exist on the website based on the data you find!
Once you’ve finalized the structure of your new website, you’ll likely put together a wireframe in efforts to map out your users’ journeys. Again, the Keyword Research you have in hand can help you identify gaps in your wireframes.
5. Content Planning
The second SEO strategy in this process (but the fifth step) is Content Planning.
You already have a sitemap, keyword research and wireframes in your back pocket, so now it’s a good idea to plan what shape the content will take. Each of these will help inform the content planning process.
For proper and efficient content planning, use your Sitemap, Keyword Research and Wireframes.
Typically, this is what our content planning process usually looks like:
Start with a list of all the pages on your website. Use your sitemap from step 3 for this.
Choose a primary topic for each page. Next, you’ll choose a primary topic/keyword for each page based on the data you’ve collected and prioritized in the keyword research phase.
Map closely-related secondary topics/keywords to each page. Now, you’ll reference your keyword research again to see what additional topics (related to the primary topic of each page) should exist on each page. For example, if you have a page on your website about oranges, it might be a good idea to discuss orange trees, Florida oranges, California oranges and so on. Additionally, we like to search the primary topic (oranges in this case) on Google to see what subtopics other websites are discussing on their pages.
Plan out the structure and other important elements. After you determine all of the secondary topics that will exist on each page, use them to help plan out the content’s structure. Are some topics more relevant and more important than others? If so, those should exist closer to the top of the page. A good rule of thumb is to write website content like a newspaper article – with the most important information first.
Note that we usually recommend that the primary topic is used in the Meta Title, Meta Descriptions, H1 Tag, throughout the body copy and in Image ALT Tags if possible.
Determine a target word count. The best way to decide how long your content should be is to search the primary topic on Google to see how long the top-ranking content is. The best way to the top of search engines is to write better (and more in depth) content than competitors.
Determine internal linking structure. Lastly, you’ll want to reference your wireframe to determine what internal pages you need to link to from each page. Generally, in-text links carry more weight (than navigation or footer links) for search engines because they are unique references to internal pages.
Content planning helps make the Content Development phase simple.
In summary, your sitemap will help you list out all of the pages you’ll need content for. Your keyword research will help you determine the primary and secondary topics for each of your pages. Your wireframes will help you plan out your internal linking strategy between pages on your website. This process helps make the content development phase more straightforward.
6. Content Development
Because you’ve done such a great job planning for content, you can now write the content with confidence that it will be exactly what your target audience is looking for.
7. Technical Build
All this while, behind the scenes your web developers have been working hard on building the website. Buy them a coffee, beer or send them a note about how much you appreciate them, because you’ll need their help (and good spirits) later!
8. Content Import
Once the website has been built, content starts getting uploaded to the website. Hard work starts taking shape into something tangible and your new website is nearing the finish line.
Redirects are so important, and they will be put in place to literally bridge users from your old content to your new content. It’s my dream that everyone involved in website redesigns understands the incredible power of redirects, because a lot of times this step gets overlooked.
Good news! If you’re building a new website from scratch, you don’t have to worry about this one.
More times than not, URLs change during a website redesign, so 1-to-1 permanent redirects are one of the most important aspects to shore up before your website launches. Your old URLs should have a 1-to-1 counterpart on the new website, so set up permanent redirects to map the old URLs to the new URLs.
2 Benefits of Implementing Redirects (Correctly)
They’ll help users land on the correct page if they click a link, bookmark or search engine result that references an old URL.
Redirects help transfer the credibility your website has built up over the years. Two of the factors in how search engines determine credibility is:
The age of your website and
The quality and quantity of links from other websites pointing to yours.
What redirects do is tell search engines, “Hey, this new page here replaces that old page I used to have over there”.
5 Really Important Redirect-Related Notes:
Make sure you have a list of all URLs that exist on your website. If you have an eCommerce or large website, it’s almost always the case that there are far more URLs that exist than you think. Most times a correctly configured Screaming Frog website crawl will give you a trusted list of URLs.
Bulk redirects to the homepage or another page. These can be considered “soft 404” errors and search engines will know that you’re not providing the best experience for your users. Google has said if you redirect pages that don’t have a 1-to-1 relationship, Google will treat them as 404s anyway.
Be on the lookout for temporary redirects, as these won’t send the right signals to search engines. What you’re trying to do is replace the old URL in Google’s index with the new URL and a permanent redirect will help do this.
Watch out for redirect chains. Redirect chains are URLs that pass through two or more redirects before resolving at the final URL. It’s bad user experience and it’s against best practices.
By this point, the developers have finished building the website, your new content has been imported and redirects have been installed. It’s time to move on to the site review and pre-launch audit.
Along with your normal website review, there are some things from an SEO point-of-view to check.
2 Things to Look Out For
Internal Redirects – the most common culprit is when old content is imported to the website. Make sure you check all links on the website, including ones that exist in body copy. A wonderful paid tool we use here at Momentic is called Screaming Frog; it will identify bad links throughout your website in one fell swoop. However, there are some free browser extensions that will help you review one page at a time.
Internal links that point to pages that don’t exist – or 404 errors. If you do come across some of these, look back at your redirect list just to make sure you have all old URLs accounted for.
Make sure your XML sitemap(s) are set up correctly. Simply put, an XML sitemap is a list of URLs on your site that you want indexed by search engines. You’ll want to make sure your XML sitemap references all of the URLs you want indexed and doesn’t reference URLs you don’t want indexed by search engines.
Make sure your images are only as big as you need them. I always recommend compressing them as well – before they’re uploaded into the CMS. Compressor.io is a wonderful free tool.
Additionally, if you’re aware of any issues with website structure, image hosting or something else that may get pulled over to the new website, now is the perfect time to address them.
Set Up Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager
If it’s not done already, get your Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager accounts set up.
It’s Worth It.
It’s much easier to launch a clean website than to go back and clean it up after launch. We find it normally takes just a couple days to identify the issues above and fix them.
After you’ve fixed the issues you identified in the Review and Pre-Launch Audit phase, you launch the website. You’re very excited to see all of the hard work turn into something the whole world can see and you really want to celebrate. But wait…
There are some Post-Launch things to take care of first.
12. Post-Launch Push
It’s a good idea to check to make sure that the website launched as you expected it to. This phase is going to be called the “Post Launch Push”.
6 Things to Check/Do
Robots.txt file. Make sure your robots.txt file is updated to allow search engines to find and crawl the site. A robots.txt file is a set of guidelines that search engine crawlers look at before crawling a website. Typically, when a website is in development, your developers will put an instruction in this file to tell search engines not to crawl or index your content. You’ll want to make sure this instruction is removed after the site is live.
Next, run quick site speed and mobile usability reports. Google has good tools for these.
Submit XML sitemaps to search engines. Use Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to submit the sitemap locations to Search Engines.
Track goals. Set up event tracking in Google Tag Manager and e-commerce or goal tracking in Google Analytics.
Monitor Google’s index to see if the changes to your pages get indexed. Sometimes you’ll see these changes on Google in a couple days; other times it takes a couple months.
Double-check all internal links to make sure they are pointing where they should be.
13. Post-Launch Advertising
After the site goes live, you can get to work on advertising including traditional media, social media channels, paid ads, etc.
14. Links & Local SEO
The last phase to bridge the gap from your old website to your new website is ensuring links from other websites and business listings are pointing to the right version of your website. (High quality links are an important part of what’s going to get your site to page one of Google or keep it there, so it’s good to update the important ones.)
6 Things to Do
Set up/update your Google My Business listing if you have a physical storefront.
Set up/update social profiles to make sure they point to the correct version of your website.
Research your own link profile (I use SEMrush) to see if there are any strong links that need to be updated. If so, reach out to the people that run those sites.
Look at competitor link profiles for strategies and opportunities. Build an outreach strategy from this. I use SEMrush for this as well.
Once you’ve put together an outreach strategy, build relationships with the people that run the blogs, industry websites, etc. that’d you want a link from.
It’s very important to create new, high-quality content regularly and to spend time marketing it. You can’t get good links without good content!
There’s a TON of information above, so here’s a recap of the 6 SEO Strategies we’ve covered:
Keyword Research. It helps you understand what users are searching for and how they’re searching for it. It also helps make sitemap development more straightforward.
Content Planning. It uses the sitemap, wireframes and keyword research. The goal of content planning is to make content development a breeze.
Redirects. They help users find their way if they try to access an old URL. They also ensure your new site gets the historical “credit” that the old website had with search engines.
Pre-Launch Audit. This is important to do because it’s so much easier to launch a clean website than to go back and fix issues later.
Post-Launch Push. Make sure everything launched as expected.
Links and Local SEO. The first benefit of this is to offer an additional way for users to find you. The second benefit is that it can help build trust with search engines – ultimately helping your site rank higher for target queries.
Using SEO strategies during your website redesign or new build will help you avoid organic traffic drops.
Looking for an SEO partner for your new website build or redesign? Contact us today!