In the past week I have spoken with two different people who found out that indeed, transitioning their site from the old design to the new one can result in the loss of good search rank. You would think that the web developer is the one to blame here (and in some cases it is the fault of the web developer), but in reality it is the site owner’s fault.
How can this be? Let’s go back to the initial discussion with the web developer. While establishing requirements for the new design, I’m sure you and your team were excited about all the possibilities for “wowing” your online audience with cool new gadgets and visual enhancements, but did something like “maintaining or enhancing our good search rankings” ever get into the mix of requirements? If so, then your web developer is responsible for your troubled search rank.
Web developers who take on a requirement like this (also known as website migration) must understand how to properly transition a site to the new design so that search rank is maintained. Here are some tips:
- Top ranking pages and URLs of your site must be redirected to the new URLs so that search engines are instructed that the page has been replaced at the time the new design goes live.
- External links to URLs deep within your site must be accounted for again with redirects.
- Title tags, content and other keyword rich areas of the page must be transferred from the old page to the new page.
- A custom 404 error page should be setup in case someone clicks on an old link that hasn’t been accounted for properly. This will help users find something useful on your site rather than getting the default PAGE NOT FOUND error message.
The type of redirect to use depends on the type of server the old and new design is hosted with (Windows vs. Apache server). In most cases you will want to use the 301 or permanent redirect as opposed to the 302 or temporary redirect. The 301 redirect tells the search engine that all links associated with the old URL are now transferred over to the new URL.