[This is the fifth part of a six part series on projects you should do before you commit to a redesign. To learn why redesigns are expensive and often serve the agency much better than the client, read my introduction.]
Your website today, no matter how crappy you think it is, has a steady stream of people that come to it, and in some percentage, do what you ask. They are some of your best traffic. They came for one of two reasons:
- Because they searched on a topic in a search engine that didn't include your name, found what you had to say compelling, and then gave you their email address or money; or
- Because someone on the net linked to one of your pages, which they came to and found what you had to say compelling, and then gave you their email address or money.
Think about the last redesign you did, or one of your colleagues did. Did anyone spend anytime talking about preserving the incoming link structure? Did anyone prioritize that list by the largest numbers of backlinks, making placeholder pages or 302 directives to redirect people to the new website?
Did anyone say, "Hey, we're ranked in the top 10 for these topics, we better do our homework to preserve our Google rank when we put up the new design" ? Probably not. Many agencies that do redesigns (and the clients that hire them) are concerned with mockups, designs, content management systems, and content migration.
And you paid an agency your hard earned money for this treatment?
How to find and preserve your inbound links through a redesignDuring the redesign process, and preferably at the beginning, you should analyze your site's existing inbound link structure using a tool such as Google Webmaster. Once you get your website setup in Google Webmaster (GW), you will have access to Google's spider data about your website. In short, it will be like Google crawled the entire Internet for you and found everyone that linked to you.
Once you do this, you can download a spreadsheet of all those incoming links From GW. Go to the section "Your Site On The Web" and click "Links To Your Site".
Up will come a spreadsheet showing how many inbound links there are to your website and to what pages. You can also download the list of all links at the bottom.
When you click on the number on the right, it will bring up the detail of where those links are coming from. Once again, you can download that table of links at the bottom.
Wow, that's a lot of links to keep updated! How do I do that?
The easiest thing to do is to have your technical staff maintain the exact page address of anything with an incoming link through the redesign. If this isn't possible, have them replace the page that was at that address with a server side 301 redirect. Despite that sounding complicated and technical, it's actually not that hard for someone who configures webservers for a living.
If all of that doesn't work, then you're stuck using one of the less satisfying alternate methods. There's a discussion of these in the Google Webmaster forums. What you should not do is create duplicate content, though.
A great deal of your traffic comes in from your existing backlink network, and its worth it to preserve as much of it as possible.
How do I find my well-ranked search engine pages before a redesign?These are also important. These are your organic search engine results, and you need to do your best to preserve their rank. There are three steps:
- Identify them;
- Preserve their web address for inbound links; and
- Preserve their Search Engine Optimization-friendly (SEO-friendly) qualities.
Identifying them can be done through any tool, including your analytics product. Just produce a report of your top landing pages generated from organic search results. Preserving their page address is the same process as I describe above for any page with inbound links.
The harder process I can't explain is the preservation of the SEO-friendly qualities of the page. Keyword density, use of keywords, page crafting and other subtleties are part of the ever-changing SEO landscape. Any list I would provide would be incomplete. My advice is to retain a professional for this task if you have well-ranked pages, because if you do, you want to keep them.