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Site Re-Design? Call Your SEO Expert First!

Posted on May 1st, 2008
Written by Lee Odden
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    It’s a near nightmare situation really. A client sends an email on Friday saying, “We’re launching a new web site on Monday, can you take a look at it to make sure our site optimization is ok?”.

    The Account Manager asks for a URL and upon receiving, clicks to find a “pretty” home page with 90% images and/or Flash, “cool web 2.0” navigation using Ajax and as a result of a new content management system, a URL syntax that is completely different than before. Oh, and all title/meta descriptions are now hard coded and there are 50% less pages because the VP of Marketing heard at an executive marketing seminar that “less is more”.

    First and foremost, such a blindside situation for a site’s SEO should never happen if Account Management is on top of things. As an advocate and consultant, the AM should have a rapport for information sharing, such as, “Our new VP is having a new site built and has no idea about the 60% of site traffic that comes from natural search. What should we do?”.

    With proper communications, the SEO or online marketing agency can advise the client on the cost/benefit of incorporating SEO during the site re-design or after. I can assure you, it is much more expensive if done after.

    Mockups, wire frames and site maps for the new site should be shared with the SEO team so recommendations can be made from the start. As the new site is designed, the site structure, content management system, categorization and category labels, internal links, text content, media (images, videos, audio, interactive), navigation and meta data can all be considered for SEO implications as well as usability, branding and maintenance.

    The impact of external links to pages on the site are considered as well so redirects that are both user and search engine friendly can be planned.

    Not including the SEO consultant during the site re-design can result in the scenario above where all the “equity” of on-page site optimization is lost. Having to make major changes to a content management system is not cheap. Taking SEO into account from the start can save a company substantial costs and better enable the site to generate revenue more quickly after the new site is launched.

    When a company does have the foresight to take usability, branding, maintenance AND SEO into account, all the relevant audiences and users of the site can be accommodated: prospects, content managers and search engines.

    The process to facilitate SEO for a site redesign or change in content management system calls for a migration plan. In a migration plan, all the web site’s current content and digital assets are inventoried and a matrix of old to new is created. For each change, dependencies are noted as well as what actions must be taken to make the transition smooth for all audiences. Naming conventions for categories, link URLs and anchor text are considered.

    If the site changes URLs, ex webpage.htm to webpage-keyword.aspx then a system of 301 redirects must be put in place. Looking at web analytics to see what external link sources drive the most referral traffic is also important so measures can be taken to ensure as smooth an experience for consumers clicking on those links to be delivered to the right content as possible.

    Content optimization training of content managers and producers that is specific to the new content management system can be very helpful to empower the site owner in producing continued search friendly web pages. Informing PR, marketing and sales about external web sites that link to outdated URLs can help the effort towards having other web sites change their links over to the new web pages.

    An updated HTML (web page) site map can help search engines find the new content. Providing search engines with a XML sitemap can also facilitate the natural crawl of new content.

    After the new site goes live, close attention is paid to crawls of the new content and any effects. Patience is a virtue in these situations.

    When there are major changes to a web site’s design, content and URL structure, there is no avoiding an effect in search visibility 100%. However, if the SEO professional is involved from the start, key insights can be incorporated into the overall process, mitigating major ill effects both in terms of avoiding short term costs for redeveloping content management systems and long term effects from uncrawlable content, lost links and lost traffic.