A website relaunch can be a great opportunity for you to improve your SEO in a long term perspective. If you start developing a new website concept now and if you manage to incorporate the SEO state of the art into it, your on-page optimisation will certainly be ahead of that of your competition once the website is launched.
Nevertheless, the relaunch itself is a big danger to the organic search engine rankings you already have and you risk losing most of your current SEO traffic if you don’t pay attention to some important factors.
In this article, you will learn how to identify important content on your old website. This content should be migrated to your new website. If you delete this content, you will lose the traffic and revenue it is generating for you right now.
Follow these steps to make sure you do not delete important content when relaunching your website:
Find out which of your pages are driving organic traffic to your website
A certain number of pages on your website are driving organic traffic to your business right now. Do you know which ones they are? They might not be that important from your point of view and they might not be a part of your new website concept.
Here’s how to find out which pages are currently attracting search engine users:
Go to the “Landing Pages” report (Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages) in Google Analytics (or the web analytics tool of your choice) and apply the segment “Organic Traffic” to it. Here you see which of your URLs are driving organic traffic right now. You do not want to forget these pages in your new website concept! If your new website structure does not include equivalents of these pages, the traffic you are receiving right now will be gone forever.
Think about how you can incorporate these pages, or equivalents of them, into your new website structure.
Extra: Which of your pages have promising rankings or backlinks?
In addition to the pages that already drive organic traffic, you might also want to have a look at the pages that have promising rankings at the moment, but do not contribute to your organic search traffic yet. You can use ranking analysis tools such as Searchmetrics or Sistrix to identify all pages that rank between, let’s say, position 7 and 15, for keywords with relevant search volume. It might be a good idea to maintain these rankings (by keeping the pages) and to improve them after the relaunch.
You can also use Google Search Console to determine pages that have lots of impressions (but not many clicks). These pages do not drive a lot of traffic to your website right now, but they have a lot of potential in future, if you undertake the right optimisation measures.
Also, you can have a look into which of your pages are linked to from other pages. Sistrix, Searchmetrics, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, and lots of specialised link tools provide great insights on this.
Don’t forget about your traffic-driving non-HTML files
Do you have lots of PDF files with good content on your website? Do your images rank well in Google image search? In this case you should pay special attention to non-HTML files that are driving organic search traffic to your website right now.
PDF files that drive traffic to your website will not appear in your organic search traffic report in Google Analytics, because they do not have their own tracking codes and therefore are not tracked.
For information on traffic-driving PDF files you should consult Google Search Console and ranking tools like Searchmetrics or Sistrix. Here is what I consider the best practice for PDFs: Create a HTML version of each PDF, 301 redirect the old PDF URL to the new HTML URL, create a new PDF URL that you block from search robots, and link to the new PDF from the HTML version.
Your images that rank well in search engines and drive traffic to your website will not show up in your organic search reports either. In fact, a big part of your Google image search traffic will show up as referral traffic coming from google.com/imgres and other sources. Once you have identified all of the images on your site that have good organic rankings, you should make sure to include them on your new website.
Important note: Google will only maintain an image ranking if you 301 redirect the old image URL to the new URL and if the filename of the image (whatever comes after the last slash in the URL) does not change.
Build your new website structure around your most important SEO landing pages
If you cannot keep all of the pages of your old website on your new website, you can export a list of your most important SEO landing pages from Google Analytics, as described above, and have a closer look at the data. In most cases no more than 40% of the URLs that drive organic search traffic are responsible for at least 90% of the traffic. Make a cut where it makes sense to you, but make sure you account for at least 90% of your incoming SEO traffic, otherwise you might regret it later.
Add all pages with promising rankings you identified by using the methods described above. Integrate the new HTML versions of your PDFs into the concept. Remember to include pages for the images that are currently driving traffic to your website.
Now you can use all the important SEO pages you have collected and build your new website structure around them. In the best case, you will not only copy the pages, but improve their content and link them better internally.
Additional tip: Choose your new URL structure wisely
Do you really need a new URL structure? Whenever possible, it is advisable to stick to the old URLs, especially for the pages that are already driving organic search traffic. Lots of people attribute too much importance to the optimization of their URLs. Of course you need a user-friendly, speaking URL, but changing your URLs every six months won’t help you either. Once you have a half-decent URL for a page, stick with it for as long as possible.
Mapping your old URLs to your new URLs: 301 redirects
301 redirects are one of the most abused features in SEO. Here is what they are meant to be used for: When a page changes its URL for some reason (like a website relaunch), the 301 redirect indicates to users and search engines where the page has moved to. This and nothing else is what you should be using them for!
Take a list of all your current URLs that will not survive the relaunch and that currently drive organic traffic, have promising rankings, or are linked to from other websites. Now you map exactly one URL from your new URL structure to every one of the old URLs. Make sure that the content behind the new URL is always an equivalent or, even better, an improved version of the content behind the old URL.
Hint: searchVIU can do this task for you automatically, so you don’t have to go through the pain of matching your URLs manually with Excel or with the help of a pitiful intern 😉
Additional tip: Update your incoming links
Backlinks are still an important ranking factor for Google, so you should also have a look at your link profile when you relaunch your website. A link that points to a URL that redirects to another URL will not pass as much link power to your website as a link that points directly to an existing URL.
Therefore, after your relaunch, you should contact every website owner who is linking to one of your old URLs and ask them to change the link. Of course, this is a lot of work, but it will pay off and it is also a good way of letting more people know that you have a new website.
- Use Google Analytics to identify URLs that are driving organic traffic.
- Use ranking tools to identify URLs with promising rankings.
- Identify URLs that have backlinks.
- Do not forget about non-HTML files like PDFs and images.
- Build your new website structure around the pages you identified.
- For URLs that will change after the relaunch, implement a 301 for every old URL to its equivalent on your new website.
- Update your backlinks.