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.

Tom Shivers
Tom Shivers

I'm a ecommerce SEO consultant and President of Capture Commerce. I've managed digital marketing campaigns for scores of clients since 2000 and found that every business is unique with its own challenges and opportunities. When I see that I have contributed to the success of a business by helping them grow, it makes me feel awesome! That’s the coolest thing and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to do this.

    8 replies to "Website Upgrade – Can That Affect My Search Engine Rankings?"

    • Allan Renn

      Hello, I just found your website while searching around Google as I’m researching some material on engine lifts!. It is a good website so I have bookmarked you and I intend to come back tomorrow to enjoy a proper look when I have more time.

    • tom

      For months now I have been wanting to upgrade my e-commerce software / website and I am very afraid to do so because I rely only on search ranking for which I have top positions and do not want to loose it. Trying to get as much information.

    • Normand Lange

      Good day webmaster I like your blog post

    • Paul

      If I’m keeping my new website on the same dedicated server as my old site, and just switching the old off and new on, is there anything extra I need to take into account?

    • admin

      @Paul As long as your new site URLs are exactly the same as the old site URLs, you won’t have a problem. But, if there is even a minor change to a URL, the search engines won’t know where it is unless you direct them there. Usually a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one will do the trick.

      Here’s a common example: the webmaster decides to upgrade the site from html to php because it’s easier to make site wide changes in php. So, the about page URL just changed from about.html to about.php. Now when the search engine spiders come looking for changes on the about page, they won’t find the new page unless the webmaster has setup a 301 redirect from about.html to about.php.

    • Rich

      Nice article. Look forward to seeing the white paper.

    • Lu

      I have just redesigned my site in CMS and need your help before I publish so that I don’t lose rankings. Would you be kind enough to let me have your white paper?

    • Webfanatix

      Good article. Most people dont think about their rankings when upgrading and just go at it with negative results.

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