Extreme makeover: Five tips for organic search rankings after a site redesign

Your company anticipated the launch of a new and improved corporate Web site like expectant parents. A teamáworked on the project for almost a year to ensure a successful delivery. Finally, the new Web site was born, and shortly thereafter the company’s outside SEO vendor noticed a drastic dip in search-engine traffic.

Unfortunately, even small, overlooked details can derail your organic search-engine results. If your company is planning a Web site redesign, don’t forget a strategy to preserve your organic search-engine positions.

Here are five frequent mistakes companies make when redesigning their Web sites and solutions to keep your page rank and your organic results healthy.

Lack of communication: Often this is first mistake that creates a domino effect of errors. Web site redesign should include your IT team or developer, marketing department and search team. Leaving one in the dark could lead to a preventable train wreck later. Engage these teams early, communicate your goals and apply their best practices to your strategy.

A new domain: Search algorithms favor older domains. Avoid changing your URL at all costs. Your new domain will have no history and will not have link popularity, which is essential to your organic strategy. If you must change domains, this step will save you: Set up a 301 redirect to tell the search engines that your content has permanently moved.

Lost optimization: Search marketers swap horror stories about how optimization that they worked on for years was wiped out overnight. Make it a requirement of your design team to transfer over file names, titles, metatags, headlines and body copy when possible.

Lost content: Some of your search-engine success may be based on optimized pages rich with valuable copy and relevant keywords. With a redesign, however, some content is eliminated from one version to the next. Evaluate your search-engine positions by page, and make sure that the content of your top-ranking pages is carried over to the new site, preserving the page’s title, metatags and body content if at all possible.

Orphaned pages: In a redesign, inside pages usually move or disappear and file names can change, causing search traffic to land on dead pages with 404 errors. And just like sending notices to relatives when you move, you need to send a similar notice to the search engines through redirects. Carefully map out the content and structure of your new and old Web sites. Give your IT department a spreadsheet showing where the two match up, and ask them to plan 301 redirects from the old pages to the new. Make sure there’s a custom 404 error page to catch traffic from pages that no longer exist. Even with good planning, you can expect the changes to get sorted out in the search engines in 30 to 90 days.

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