Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and search engines are no exception. After all, the goal of a search engine is to provide users with the best results possible. Websites that fail to keep up with these trends will see diminished search rankings/visibility. So, when you rebuild your website to adapt to these functional changes how will your traffic and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) be affected? The harsh reality is that your traffic and search rankings are almost guaranteed to drop in the immediate short term. However, with the right planning and technical processes put in place via an SEO strategy, a website can largely retain and pass off search rankings to the new webpages.
Check out some of ASTOUNDZ most recent website rebuild/migration SEO clients:
The Difference Between a Website Rebuild vs. Redesign
Before going into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to define what a website rebuild is. A rebuild should only be done when a website is failing to meet the functional goals of a business. This applies to both the front and backend of the site. This can often be confused with a website redesign, where the look and feel is in need of updating. Make sure you understand what your website really needs, as rebuilds are much more costly than redesigns.
Why Rebuild a Successful Website?
First, why even look at rebuilding a site that’s performing well? Success for a website can be defined in many ways, and is always subject to change depending on user trends, analytics, and available technology (for both users and website developers). Any major change in one of these variables can result in the need to rebuild a site. Just in the past 5-10 years, key technological advancements have been made such as:
- Responsive Web Design
- Mobile-First Indexing
- Social Media Marketing
- E-Commerce and Website Security
- CMS Capabilities (WordPress & SquareSpace)
All of these advancements came with major impacts on how search engines work. A website’s inability to adapt will result in reduced organic visibility and traffic over time. For example, if you have a site with a mobile sub-domain (m.Domain.com), you will run into issues with search engines crawling and indexing the mobile version of your site. This is because you would have TWO websites, one for mobile and one for non-mobile users. This would require a total rebuild on a responsive CMS, like WordPress, to become optimized for search engines.
What Questions Need to Be Asked for SEO During Website Rebuilds?
So, let’s say that after weeks of back and forth meetings it’s finally decided: ‘Our website must be rebuilt’. This should be an exciting time! You’ll be guaranteed a highly impressive website that users will love (plus, you’ll get to show off to everyone you know!). However, website rebuilds don’t come without specific pain points. You’ll be forced to assess your website from the ground up. At some point, important questions need to be addressed and answered, like:
- What pages of content need to be kept in place?
- What pages of content do we not need?
- Do we need to move any specific content?
- Why do we need to move content?
- What are the analytics for the pages in question?
- Are there any pages that are driving traffic we don’t know about?
Depending on the size of your site, answering questions like the one’s above can be extremely difficult and time consuming. For smaller sites, admittedly, this process is extremely straightforward. If you have website analytics (such as Google Analytics), you’ll be able to easily find the pages driving the most quality traffic. It’s only for bigger websites that answers become a lot muddier.
We’re Rebuilding Our Site – What Do We Risk Losing?
Rebuilding a website will always come with risks and unique challenges. Depending on how drastic a rebuild is, a site could be looking at a total reset on search engines. Not only that, but if a website’s URL structure is being changed, all backlinks (a link from one site to yours) risk triggering a 404 and being lost. Here are the key risks to acknowledge when rebuilding a site:
- Loss in Traffic
- Loss in Search Rankings
- Loss in Backlinks
These risks are unavoidable, and as a result, it’s highly recommended to create a custom 404 page during a rebuild that offers the best experience possible for users.
How to Limit SEO Losses from a Website Rebuild
SEO is a long-term digital marketing strategy, and requires a very stable and static environment to succeed. In other words, a website rebuild can be an SEO nightmare. Because of this, it’s incredibly important to recognize that there are search rankings that will be lost/decline post-website rebuild. However, certain processes exist to make sure all the SEO work is carried over to minimize losses:
-Traffic Audit. Identify the key pages that drive traffic and make sure all relevant pages and the content is migrated over. You can use tools such as Google Analytics to find this data.
-Backlink Audit. Run a backlink audit for your website with tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs, and make sure pages that have gained quality links are migrated over.
-Search Rankings Audit. Identify key search rankings using tools like Google Search Console and SEMRush. Make sure the pages ranking well on search are migrated over if the rankings are still relevant for your business’ website. Ideally, all three of these audits are done before the website is rebuilt. This is because of key insights these audits can provide, revealing how users engage with your site and what your site is known for on search.
Transferring ‘SEO Juice’ Off to a Rebuilt Site
If the time was spent to both audit your site and organize sitemap structure, it should be clear how URLs are changing. If a URL is changed, a page is effectively being removed from search engine indexes. Only by putting in place the proper URL redirections can a webpage’s value for search rankings be passed off to the new URL.
While there is some debate as to which redirects are best, ASTOUNDZ looks to the 301 (permanent redirect) for website rebuilds. We do this because while Google is King, it’s not the only search engine. One of the most common mistakes we see is when all search engines not starting with the letter G are disregarded. Other major search engines, like Bing or DuckDuckGo, may look at redirection protocols more literally, and not provide the redirection flexibility that Google does.
Need An SEO Strategy for Your Website Rebuild?
Not all website rebuilds are made equal. The larger site you have, the more at risk it is for losing search rankings, traffic, and backlinks post-rebuild. In some cases, this is years of work that can be compromised! It’s incredibly important you consult with an SEO Agency, like the experts here at ASTOUNDZ. We’d be glad to chat about how we can help you navigate a website rebuild and to build any strategy you may need.