Website Redesign? Be Sure to Plan Ahead
At some point in time, every service provider takes a look at his or her website and decides it's time for a redesign.
And, to be perfectly honest, a website redesign can be more difficult and time-consuming than building a completely new site from the ground up. Not only is there a need to create a new design, but you will also be dealing with moving and renaming pages and other files, which puts traffic and page rank at risk.
That's why it's extremely important to have a solid plan in place before the redesign process takes place.
Start by analyzing what you have.
The first thing we need to do is review each and every file at the current site. Depending on the age and size of the current site, this step can often take several weeks.
We catalog each piece of content at the site, which includes pages, articles, posts, comments, images, videos, audios, free reports, digital downloads, forms, scripts, products, autoresponders, newsletters, plug-ins, etc. We simply list every asset at the site.
Next, decide what you'll do with it all.
Now that the list of assets has been created, it's time to come up with a plan for what stays and what goes. Look at every item and decide if it will be added to the new site? Will it be moved to a different directory? Will the URL change? Will the asset be renamed? Do any of the pages require new Meta tags?
Pay special attention to your scripts and forms, do they refer to a certain asset that you wanted to discard? Does a form point to a certain thank you page? Make a notation of what will stay and what will go.
Thirdly, list all of your exceptions.
Before completely eliminating an item, you'll want to investigate your off-site assets. Are any of your active PPC campaigns referring to a particular landing page? Are your linking partners linking to a page that will get renamed?
Take a look at your traffic analytics to determine which off-site sources are driving traffic and exactly where they're sending that traffic. You might want to keep these pages as-is, disallow them in your robots text file to avoid any duplicate content issues, and contact your traffic sources about the change. Keep the items live until you are 100% sure there is no traffic being directed to them.
And finally, create your redirects.
As your new pages are being created, be sure to replace the old page with a 301 redirect. This will notify the search engines that the asset has been permanently moved. Eventually, they will no longer refer to the original link but instead, they will pass its ranking to the new page.
The way you execute your 301 redirect will depend on the changes you've made and the hosting platform you use. If you've moved your entire website, as-is, to a new url, the easiest redirect is through your htaccess file. As long as you've kept the site structure intact, simply replace the htaccess file at the original site with a 301 redirect to the new site.
In the case of a redesign that uses the same URL, you will need to redirect each page individually. For that, you would add a separate line for each page into your htaccess file.
If you don't see your htaccess file, make sure your ftp program is set up to view hidden files. And if you definitely don't have an htaccess, simply create one in your text editor, like notepad. (Do not use a word publisher like Microsoft Word to create your htaccess file.) When you save the file, be sure to name it DOT htaccess and not htaccess DOT txt.
Personally, I prefer a page-side redirect using PHP. In this case, you would replace the original html file with a file containing the redirect code in its header.
Save this with the old file name and ftp in ascii mode to the same directory the original file was in. Then ftp the new file to the new directory. Anyone who tries to access the original page will be immediately taken to the new page, and the search engines will be notified that any "points" awarded to the original page should now be passed to the new page.
But there is a caveat. If the new page doesn't "deserve" the points of the old page, it will not automatically be favored with a great SE ranking forever and ever simply because you used a 301 redirect. You will need to continually maintain your new pages just as you did your original pages.
You can also use ASP to create your redirects by adding the ASP code to your original file's header, similar to the PHP redirect. And again, save this as the original file and ftp it to your server.
It's true that when you make changes to your website, especially a major change like an entire site redesign, you should expect some changes to your traffic and rankings. But if you plan ahead and map out your process, you can keep these changes to a minimum.