Now that Google’s latest update is in full swing, many business owners have either updated their websites to be mobile-friendly or are well on their way to making those changes. But what if you’re in need of an entirely new site? If you’re not design-savvy, chances are you’d just hand over the keys to a third party, but there is a lot more to creating a new company website than slapping on a fresh coat of paint.
There are several moving parts behind the scenes, and if you’re not mindful of that, you could severely damage your site’s SEO and cause your Google ranking to plummet in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Thankfully, that doesn’t have to happen! As long as you (or your website developer) follow the next six steps, your site will be safe from any Google penalties — and maybe even rank better once the site goes live. But, first things first:
1. Follow Google's Lead: Crawl Your Own Site
This is the important first step that you need to take before moving your content over to a new site. Why? Because you need to know where everything is and how Google finds it. If you’ve already been implementing SEO correctly, chances are you have at least a few pages that rank well on the SERPs, and you don’t want to hurt that ranking when your URL structure changes.
Screaming Frog is a wonderful tool that can help you crawl your site and gather all of the relevant data. Once you have your current site’s structure, then you can begin matching up your new site.
2. Re-evaluate Your Website's Tech
Choosing the right platform to host and build your new website is a critical component to SEO.
- Are you currently using a proprietary website platform, straight HTML, WordPress, or something else entirely?
- Do you even know how your website was built?
- When you’re creating the new site, are you staying on the same platform, or are your changing it?
These are important questions you need to ask your web developer before creating a new site, because each platform offers a myriad options. The simple platforms from GoDaddy, Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace or others are great for easy setup, but can be limiting long-term for your SEO efforts. WordPress is a popular choice because it offers a deeper SEO experience thanks to the many choices of third party plugins such as WordPress SEO by Yoast.
BONUS TIP: Make sure your new site has the capability to use 301 redirects, which will help link the content on your old site to your new site — but more about this later.
3. Track and Map All Changes
As you’re creating new pages and filling them with new (and old) content, it’s important to keep tabs on all of the changes you’re making. Basically, this is the step where you break out the spreadsheets! Map out your current pages to their new counterparts, or (if some of your old pages don’t have new versions) map them out to your new home page. All of this will eventually be done with 301 redirects (again, more on this in a bit), but the purpose of this step is simply to keep the process clean and organized.
You’ll avoid missing content when you begin migrating to your new website, and this will help tremendously.
4. Check Your Internal and External Links
One thing that you can’t forget is that your site isn’t the only one being affected when you go through a refresh. If you have a bunch of other sites linking to your amazing content, as soon as you change up your website (whether it’s a completely new domain name, or just a tweak to your URL structure), suddenly all of those great links are broken. Services such as Majestic SEO or Google’s own Webmaster Tools can streamline this process by helping you compile a list of all known external/incoming links. But then what?
A list of links means nothing unless you know what to do with them — which brings us to the step you’ve all been waiting for…
5. Redirects, Redirects, Redirects (301s, to be Exact)
I’ve mentioned this throughout this article, because this is by far the easiest way to ensure that your site’s SEO doesn’t get slammed by Google, but you’d be surprised how many 404s and broken links I’ve run into during my years doing Internet marketing. So let me be 100% clear with you: no matter what, if all else fails, if you only follow one piece of advice from this post, make sure you are redirecting your content when moving to a new site — and even if you’re not completely overhauling your website, redirects are still vital if you’re just shuffling things around.
So, how do you do it? There are several WordPress plugins that do a terrific job, including one called “Redirection.” It makes the process quick and simple. You don’t need to know how to code, all you have to do is type in the page’s old URL, and then tell the plugin the new URL you want the content pushed to. That way, whenever someone clicks on an old link — whether it’s on your site or someone else’s — they will land in the right place, every time. 301 redirects will also pass most of the link authority that your old pages had to their newer counterparts, so your content won’t struggle to show up the SERPs, despite living somewhere else.
BONUS TIP: If your web developer is using 302 redirects, tell them to stop immediately. A 302 redirect means that the move is only temporary, which confuses Google because it doesn’t know if it should continue to index the original page’s location, or replace it with the new one. With 301s, you don’t have this problem, because they tell Google the pages have moved to a new location, permanently.
6. Audit Your New Site
Ideally, you should perform an SEO audit before and after you move your content over to a new site — that way you can track your progress and take note of any positive (or negative) changes moving forward — but it’s especially important to audit your site once you are all settled in your new online location. Doing so will help you be double sure that you didn’t miss anything in the move, and that your on-site SEO efforts are stronger than ever.
If you know all that an SEO audit entails, you can perform one on your own, but I recommend that you seek out a professional who knows exactly what they’re doing and what to look for. It’s the safest way to know whether or not your site is performing well, and what steps you need to take to give it that extra SEO boost.
Final Takeaway: Always Stay Organized
Creating a new site and moving your content can be (and often is) a stressful process, but hopefully these six steps can help you stay organized and give you the peace of mind to know that your SEO efforts aren’t taking any needless hits. And even if you’ve already moved to a new site, this process can still be applied to make sure your site is up to snuff and ready for whatever Google is planning to unleash on us next.
Have you ever moved or re-made your site? What problems did you encounter in terms of SEO? Let us know in the comments.
If you'd like to learn more about this topic, sign up for my Semrush webinar, " Things Organized Neatly: How to Preserve Your Site's Rankings After a Move," May 13 at noon ET.