Yesterday, I spoke to a marketing communication manager who said, “We are just about to build a new website, so we don’t need SEO at this time…”
I have heard this sentence too many times lately, and I think it’s about time to write an answer.
Anyway, that company has a great website. It has 300 pages, 2,500 unique visitors per month, and it is in the top 20s on Google SERPs. It has PR5, and 35 incoming links from websites in their industry. The only problem they have is that “their website is ugly”. I think they are right. I’m not sure if ugly is the word, but it looks old fashioned and definitely needs a face lift. So they have decided to put it down and build a new one.
How clever is that? Putting it down and building a new site is a huge mistake. HUGE.
It is very simple. The day they kill the old website and Google web crawler gets error code 404 (Page Not Found) on their 300 pages site, all their ranking will go kaput. The 2500 unique visitors they have today will go down to 0, and the keywords they managed to bring to top20, will disappear.
And now, they have a new website to start everything from the beginning… How cool is that?
There is a right way to do it, rebuilding websites is a legitimate marketing need and can be done easily without loosing traffic, or ranking.
The first thing to do is research. We need to find which pages perform the best and which keywords have good ranking on our old site. Finding these keywords and pages is the key to make the transition smooth.
Now, for every page in the old site, we’ll find it’s equivalent in the new site, and we’ll add a permanent redirect (301) to that page so that the search engines understand which page in the old site is replaced by a new page.
The new pages should have a similar content to the content of the old page to maintain the same traffic. It doesn’t have to look the same. The colors or graphics are meaningless. The text, images, titles, url and other factors are important, but not the graphics.
Now that our main traffic sources are forwarded to the new site, we need to take care of all the other pages. The only easy way to handle a large amount of redirects is htaccess. Here are a few htaccess examples , but as usually happens with examples, it is very likely that the one you need isn’t there… htaccess should be used only if you really know how to do it, because if you don’t, your whole site might stop working.
Only when we see that the search engines have updated the 301 redirections to the new pages and the traffic is going directly to the new site, can old pages be removed.
In fact, sometimes it is recommended to keep the old pages in place, since other sites may link to internal pages or people may bookmark pages and look for them sometime in the future.
At the end of the process, every URL on the old site should lead to a URL on the new site. You should monitor your logs and verify that there is no 404 errors. If there are 404 errors on some URLs, rebuild those URLs or add a 301 permanent redirect to htaccess.
There are many more issues that should be take care of when rebuilding your website and the most important one is the structure of the new site, URLs, titles and links. But this is a topic for a new thread.