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Website redesign - 10 tips to avoid an SEO disaster

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Website redesign - 10 tips to avoid an SEO disaster

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A beginners guide to avoiding SEO disasters when having a web site redesigned or when making fundamental changes to a website - a presentation for small to medium sized businesses attending the Digital Tourism Exhibition at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea on 3rd November 2014.

A beginners guide to avoiding SEO disasters when having a web site redesigned or when making fundamental changes to a website - a presentation for small to medium sized businesses attending the Digital Tourism Exhibition at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea on 3rd November 2014.


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Website redesign - 10 tips to avoid an SEO disaster

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Editor's Notes

  • Who am I? Chartered marketer, 15 years experience of working with SMBs and public sector in Wales and beyond, Generalist tourism marketing background, but last 8 years have focused on digital marketing, and SEO in particular.
  • Helpful for anyone with a website!
    Big change – like a small business changing CMS from frontpage to Wordpress
    Small change – adding and removing pages. Like a campsite that had a page about touring caravans, can no longer meet the needs of these customers, but want to add new pages about their glamping in tipis and yurts.
  • It can be a technical area – depends on the size and complexity of your site and the website changes that you are planning on making to your website.

    Might become enthused and passionate about SEO and how it can be used to benefit the organisation and to help your achieve your business objectives.
  • Just a quick reminder….read the definition.

    So, if we’d typed ‘self catering accommodation Snowdonia’ into the search box the organic results will be all of the ones listed underneath the paid listing. These are the results we’re looking to influence via SEO.
  • This presentation isn’t a beginners guide to SEO – if you want to learn the fundamentals of SEO, or you want to refresh your existing knowledge – this is the seminal guide to SEO for beginners and will teach you pretty much everything that you’ll need to know for starters.
  • What? It’s when something happens that means that your organic visibility takes a big dive. So, where before your website was visible in the search engine results pages for lots of keyphrases that are relevant to your business or organisation – this is no longer the case.

    Look? 60% less visitors, 60% less enquiries. 60% less sales. How would this affect your organisation?

    Why? They failed to take stock of which content on their website was driving valuable organic traffic which in turn was driving enquiries and sales. They left this content off of their new website – so they lost visibility in the search engines result pages for their high priority keyphrases but also a wide range of keyphrases that were relevant to their business. They also failed to implement redirects from their old URLs (web addresses) to their new pages, so they lost the value of the external links PLUS the visitors from these links.

  • Performing a website redesign without considering the SEO implications and taking these steps would be like…..
    Take stock of your existing assets, resources etc.
  • BEFORE you make any changes
  • This is also one of the most common mistakes that I see – changes are made without checking on the SEO implications, and once the changes are made it becomes much more costly to make the changes required to reverse engineer the changes that have been made to the website that are affecting the SEO success of your site.
    Who is ‘your SEO team’?
    For a micro business – it might be you and only you.
    A larger business might have a marketing manager that needs to contribute to the process
    Your web developer, particularly if you’re working with a full service digital agency with digital marketing specialists
    Or an independent SEO and digital specialist that can bridge the gap between the technical development, your SEO requirements and your marketing objectives, and has a special interest in making sure your website visibility is maintained and improved upon.
  • Taking stock of the strengths (and weaknesses) of your existing website
  • This is like a mini audit of your existing website. You want to identify the strengths, so you can make sure none of these are lost or negated when you make your site changes. You’re also looking to establish a benchmark against which you can judge the success of the changes.
    GA for basic metrics, Other KPIs that you have already established – for example the number of ‘contact us’ requests you get via your site, the number of online sales, the number of brochure downloads. Make a note of all of these.
    What KPs do you already rank for that send valuable traffic to your website? And what pages on your website do they land on? If you’ve already done some SEO work on your site you’ll know which keyphrases you are targeting, where you rank for them, and which pages on your website are optimised for that keyphrase.. For example, if you are an activity provider offering ‘sea kayaking’ experiences in west wales, you might rank for ‘sea kayaking in Pembrokeshire’ and you’ll have optimised your sea kayaking page for that keyphrase.
    Revisit your online strategy and to make sure that the changes you are proposing match up with your business and marketing objectives.
  • An audit of your existing content.
  • Before you start with any changes make sure you have a backup of all of your existing content / pages on your website.
    You don’t want to be in a position (like the SEO disaster I illustrated earlier on) where at some point later down the line you realise that you need to reinstate lots of the pages that you decided to remove, and you have no record of those pages or what they actually contained!
    Ask your web developer to do this, or whoever looks after your website for you. If you have a small website, say for example 20 or 30 pages, you could do this yourself and copy and paste the content over into a word document. This is a great opportunity to re-familiarise yourself with the pages and content you have – how often do we revisit our content, and what we say and how we say it to our potential customers online? What pages and content already exist on my website? Which of my audiences is the content for? What does the content actually ‘do’? Does it encourage them to sign up for a newsletter, make an enquiry, download a brochure?

  • What is metadata?
  • Meta data on a simple level is the meta descriptions and title tags of your existing pages.
    Why do you need this? If you’re changing CMS it might not be automatically transferred. You also might want to improve upon those that already exists. These are the nuts and bolts of SEO.
    You can download a programme called screaming frog, it’s free, and it will ‘crawl’ your website to get details of the meta descriptions, title tags and meta data on your website. It’s free for up to 500 pages. Download the lot and keep it in case you or someone else needs to refer to it!
  • You might already know that backlinks, or other sites that link to pages on your website, are an important part of Google’s algorithm, and they will strongly influence where you will rank for your keyphrases. Before you start chopping and changing your website it is important to know who links to you, and which page on your website they link to.
    Say for example you are an accommodation provider who put together a wonderful romantic break for a Valentine’s day offering and you’ve made a page on your website outlining that offer and what it includes, you include some funny and quirky photos and included those too. Everyone loves it, VisitWales link to it from a Valentine’s round up blog post, you even get a mention in the Guardian Travel section online!
     The following year when you redevelop your website you decide that you no longer want this page in it’s current format – you’re going to change the product and the details of the offer, and so you decide you need a new page for this. If you fail to redirect this page (we’ll come to what that means in a moment) you risk a) losing any of the potential customers that arrive on your website via that link, and b) the value of that link as a ‘vote’ in Google’s algorithm.

  • Free tools to do this include GA and GWMT which will tell you which sites refer traffic to which pages on your website – but they won’t tell you the ‘authority’ of that site in terms of how important that link is likely to be judged to be by Google.

    Some links are more valuable or ‘authoritative’ in this sense than others – for example a link from the BBC would trump a link from The Western Telegraph in terms of authority.

    You might need some help with this part…SEO’s and digital marketing professionals will normally have access to a suite of paid tools that make this process much, much easier.
  • These are like ‘changes of address’ when you move house. They let the postman (or woman) know where to deliver your letters and parcels
  • This is the example I gave earlier of the accommodation provider that had the links from VisitWales and the Guardian. This is the web address of the page that they linked to. They decide that they need a new page that will detail the Valentines offer for 2015 – they decide to change the web address of the page so that it is evergreen, and also so it reflects the keyphrase they are targeting with this page – ‘romantic breaks in Wales’.
    They implement a 301 redirect to make sure that people that click on the link from VisitWales or the Guardian get to the new and relevant page and this also transfers over the equity or value of those external links in the eyes of Google.
  • Make sure you or your web developer uses 301 redirects and not 302’s as the value of the link in the eyes of Google isn’t transferred with a 302. Redirect to the most relevant page, this will mean a better user experience for someone that follows the link from an external site.
    Here is a very small section of the mapping of redirects implemented for the new visitpembrokeshire website.
    Without redirects the visitor following a link is likely to get a 404 error page – lost traffic and lost link value for your website, visitor is likely to bounce back to the search results or to the site that they just came from.
  • Often with a website redesign there is a change in the way your web addresses (URLs) of your pages will look, particularly with a new CMS.
  • Your staging site is the environment where your new site will be built and tested before it goes live on your domain. If you imagine it to be like a building site for your new home – you wouldn’t want to show people round and invite them in until it’s finished! It’s the same with Google and your new site as it’s being built, tweaked and populated. Keep it out of Google’s index until you are ready to invite people in!
  • This might look technical – just forward it to your web developers and they should be able to implement it. The best bet is to put the development site behind a log in, where it definitely won’t get indexed by the search engines!
  • It’s the flip side of the coin, imagine you’ve put a big NO ENTRY sign on your house while it was being built – now you’re ready to welcome in your guests but you’ve accidentally left the sign up. Make sure the search engine spiders can access your site, crawl the content and then serve it up in the search engine results pages.
  • Ask your web developer to make sure they do the following, and (advanced level) you can also check some of these elements yourself by crawling your new site with screaming frog.
  • Number 10 – housekeeping – we’re nearly there
  • make sure you’ve got your Google analytics code across all pages of your website. If you don’t, the data you see in Google analytics won’t reflect what’s truly happening on your website with regard to how visitors are finding your site and what they are doing once they are there.
     Make a note of when the site goes live, so that you can work out of any changes you are seeing in your analytics might be as a result of the new site design
     Encourage important sites that link to you to update the links to your new URLs. Again, this is good practise in SEO, it keeps the web tidy (good housekeeping), will transfer more value of the external link to your site.
     Html and xml sitemaps – ask your web developer to put these in place, or these are easy to add in wordpress using plug ins. Will help your content get indexed more fully and faster by Google.
     Monitor 404 errors using Google analytics and Google webmaster tools. Remember those broken links that we spoke about? This will help you identify any additional external links you didn’t identify first time around – you can then add them to your schedule of redirect and redirect them to the new most relevant URL.
  • A quick case study
    Lots of new pages, lots of new content included a blog and lots of ‘evergreen’ content features
    Lots of additional functionality
  • A big increase in site visits via organic search – up 129% so they have more than doubled on the same period in 2013!

    This has led to them performing really well on their key performance indicators such as clicks through to provider levels sites (accommodation, activities and attraction providers in pembrokeshire), brochure downloads, and email newsletter sign ups.

  • Thanks for listening!

    Hope you have found some value in those points and illustrations…if the primary learning point you take a way from this is an awareness that it will pay to consider SEO before you jump into a site redesign that’s a great start!