How to Optimize Your Website for Organic Search During a Redesign

In the words of Kenny Rogers, "You gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em." When it comes to a website redesign, it’s often a similar game to play. Throughout the entire process, it is important to consider the organic search visibility of your domain and make sure you keep what’s good and update what’s not. Typically, when we’re brought in after website redesigns, we often find a drop in visits and conversions.

Site traffic after an improperly handled redesign from an SEO perspective

This guide will help you through the search engine optimization basics for maintaining your site’s authority throughout a redesign. While these are the basics for maintaining your search engine rankings, there are many more SEO tips that include every step covered during a redesign. There are several ways webmasters can influence their positioning using many different types of SEO best practices. Additionally, ongoing SEO optimization is the key to maintaining lasting organic visibility for any website.

Know what you’ve got: Index Your URLs

Before anything, you first have to know what your hand, or your website’s information architecture in this case, looks like. Working with your analytics group, catalog your URLs so that you know where your traffic currently lands when they enter your site. Unlike poker, this is the time to stack your hand with the best cards you have. Once you can identify your best pages, you know what content your users want the most. This hand may be full of URLs of pages, PDFs, images or even complex code like JS files. However, for this guide’s purpose, you’ll want to focus on top entry page URLs for implementing redirects. Without these redirects, your user will have no way of connecting the old and new site pages. Depending on the amount of resources you have, create a shortlist of the top pages so you can show your strongest hand in the search results.

While you’re gathering the top URLs by traffic, go ahead and pull down relevant data about your top metrics so that you can gauge your improvement after your launch. From an organic search visibility perspective, metrics such as page authority, total links pointing to the URL, and on-site engagement metrics will allow you to show improvement in 3-6 months after the launch. Keeping the data and the redirects together is a helpful reference guide when you need to do YoY and MoM comparisons as well.

Know when to hold 'em: Catalog Your Content

Content is good. In fact, some say content is king. But if you want to throw a royal flush, you’ll need an ace up your sleeve (note: we don’t condone hiding aces during a real poker game). If you’ve worked on optimizing things in the past, make sure those alignments are carried over to the new design’s landing page. Create a map of your URLs – if not all of them, at least your navigation’s URLs, aka "your royal flush pages" — and identify the target keyword for each page. Then use keyword research tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner or SEMRush’s keyword tool to identify if that phrase is the most popular searched. If your keyword isn’t the top, what more frequently searched for phrases can you use instead or along with your target keyword?

Stack your hand: Add New Content

Control the deal and improve the rest of your hand through content gap analysis, then map these keywords back to every page. Build guides of popular keywords and related terms for content writers and editors along with PR, social media, and other link building teams to utilize during webmaster outreach programs. This "surround sound" built by all of the marketing channels ultimately boosts the page’s authority and visibility in organic search results.

Know when to fold ‘em: Implement Redirects

It’s rare to get a perfect hand dealt to you off the bat in a poker game. During a redesign, businesses have the perfect opportunity to review their cards and take out the least beneficial ones. Sometimes making a new URL will significantly impact your organic visibility, sometimes it won’t. Because you have the data for your top URLs, you can figure out which pages require a one-to-one redirect and which can be redirected en masse to a more general, top-level landing page. Basically, use your site’s data to find the pattern in your traffic and then hang on to the best performing pages and discard the rest. By taking some time to find the best redirect path possible for the user on these best pages, webmasters can maximize the SEO value around page authority that has built up over time to their domain. If possible, work with regular expressions to drive folder paths of URLs over to the most logical landing pages available. While not all servers support regular expressions, they can help speed up the redirect process for all teams in the long run.

There are a variety of redirect types, but essentially they all act as duct tape, something to hold the user experience together and preserve earned authority from the old to new site pages. When a user calls one URL in their browser, the redirect identifies the call and answers with the more appropriate landing page URL. The user is then directed to that page and sees a minimal blip in their experience. Getting a little technical, 301 redirects are most frequently the best type of redirects to maintain domain authority during a redesign.

Show your cards: Re-Launch

Without knowing the rules of the game, it can be a daunting thought to re-launch your website. After years of "getting used to it" and "having other priorities," 2015 is the year to step up to the table and understand how your website experience is impacting your search visibility. If you own a website, you’re already sitting at the World Series of Search table, so stay calm, keep your tells at bay, and build the strongest hand you can. You already have the potential for a great hand that can win when it comes to what feels like the gamble of organic search.

Strategic Takeaways

The game plan is simple:

The Gambler

  1. Determine what hand you need to win
  2. Identify the cards in your hand
  3. Hold your strongest cards
  4. Build your best hand with new cards

The SEO

  1. Learn what your users want to do via natural search
  2. Know your site's current status
  3. Map and redirect current URLs to future URLs
  4. Update your site to facilitate the business goals

Follow these simple steps and you’ll be holding the royal flush you need to win in the search results.

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