How to keep your SEO positions if you are moving or updating your site

This is something we come across as an agency surprisingly regularly. And it does appear to be a bit of a knowledge gap for most people, including a lot of “search engine friendly” web site creators. The question we are often asked is: “I am about to switch to a new site, but don’t want to lose any positions in Google” (Actually, sometimes we are just told: “we are switching to a new site” which is even more concerning as they are not aware of the damage that can be done!).

A lot of people think, well it looks better surely it will perform better? Well maybe, but Google doesn’t really care what it looks like so making sure you don’t upset Google is the first step to ensuring an improved performance.

Why can switching sites damage your performance?

Trust.. that is the key word to remember here. Although there are many factors that determine your search engine position in Google, they all really accumulate to trust. The more Google trusts you the higher they will rank you.

Google likes, big, old, frequently updated sites, as it has a history with these sites and almost builds a relationship with them. As a search marketing company we help our clients achieve this, and when updating your site you have to be careful not to break this trust with the big G. Once you have broken that trust it is doubly hard to win it back..just like in personal relationships. We like people who we know and are consistent. Google feels the same about sites, so changing a site means that Google may have to get to know your site all over again, in the mean time dropping your positions until it knows that site is still of value to its users.

So the key….. don’t break the trust with Google. Make sure you handle Google with care as it can be a very unforgiving partner.

Here’s how you can maintain the trust through the turbulent times of change, the main thing to consider is try not to change too much from Google’s point of view.

Steps 1 – 4 should be done before the site goes live and 5 – 7 should be done once the new site is live.

1. Tracking and monitoring

You need to know where you are before you can work out where you are going. Hopefully you have some form of website analytics in place, but if not you need to have:
– Web master tools and Google analytics running.

Web master tools will let you know how Google sees your site from an SEO point of view. There could be some bits that you will want to rectify before you transfer the site such as broken links.

Google Analytics provides a fantastic tool to help you with the site transfer. Firstly, use it to work out what are the most valuable pages on your site. Looking in top content will give you an understanding of what pages are most viewed and have the highest average time on site. It isn’t rocket science to work out that you should probably keep or at least, consider keeping these pages on the new site.

Top content is an important part of the redirection process discussed in step 4 of this article.

2. Page structures

Google doesn’t really care too much for how beautiful your site is. If the structures of the pages are all it cares about. Try to keep the site structure similar from a code perspective. I would however suggest that there are some people who will have a ‘flash’ site and in this instance… the only way is up. If you have well coded, content heavy pages, try not to turn them into frame heavy image laden pages which Google won’t like.

3. Site content

If you have looked into SEO I am sure you have heard the term “Content is King”? Well when transferring sites this is especially important. Don’t chop out all of your content in favour of a new modern look. It is OK to make the page look better, just move the content to a less dominant place on the page.

4. Redirects

Add 301's or you will see a lot of this!
Massively important when transferring to a new site. These tell Google where to find your new site and its pages. I can’t stress enough how important these are. I can’t go into the detail of how to do these as that is a blog post in itself, but just make sure that you have redirects ready before you switch to your new site. If you don’t Google will throw up 404 errors all over the place, which your customers will see. You need to tell Google that the page has moved to a new location using a 301 redirect. This will help pass any SEO juice built up on the page to the new page and help it rank in place of the old page.

5. Site map submission

Once the site is live, make sure that you resubmit or submit a site map through Web Master Tools which you installed in step 1. Create an XML site map and then ensure you tell Google where it is on your domain. Generally we would suggest www.yoursite.co.uk/sitemap.xml is a good place!

By submitting the site, this will help Google pick up all the new URL’s that you have created. This just means that you may start ranking quicker with the new site.

site map submission

6. New content

A great way to draw Google’s attention to your new site is to add more NEW content to the site. Ideally if you have a news section or a blog I would suggest that you put up a series of articles in the days after the transition. Within the blog or news articles put a few links back to the most important pages on your site which you identified in step 1.

Once you have these articles on the site I would strongly recommend that you tweet links back to these articles. This is something that should be done as standard for any blog articles really, but particularly in this case.

7. Links

If you are not doing link building as part of your SEO strategy, again I would suggest this should be part of your ongoing strategy but particularly important in this instance. Get some inbound links back to your site to help Google find the new pages.

If you have particularly high value links from a particular domain, try and get these re pointed to your new page. Although, hopefully it has been redirected in step 4 it is preferable to bypass the redirect and link directly to the new page to ensure all of the link equity is passed to your new site and page.

Finally… good luck!