Rebuild Your Site Without Demolishing Your Search Ranking

Like a lot of marketers, you keep an eye on your analytics and user flows. And, you’ve probably spotted some inefficiencies in your site. So you might be itching to start a redesign project or you might even be in the middle of an overhaul. Let's do it right.

We’ve all been there: we launch a redesigned website, then suffer through weeks (if not months) of tanked rankings while the search engines try to figure everything out. Page URLs get changed and forwarded while content gets shuffled around and rewritten. The result seems to be a lull in every expected metric. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

For example, we launched a new site for KAYAK on Christmas Eve, 2015 and forced all connections to it through HTTPS. We axed two dozen pages, reduced our on-page copy, and simplified almost every aspect of the site. Yet we didn’t notice a slip or a blip in any of our metrics. Were we just lucky? Nope. We were prepared.

This is the first in a series of three articles that will explain how we managed to preserve our rankings in the wake of a site overhaul:

Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Typically, site redesigns and relaunches are singular events. New pages get launched. Old pages get removed. Redirects are put in place. And all this happens in a single day. Seems efficient. But it can be quite a shock to search engines. How many people would recognize you if you lost 40 pounds in a single day, got a haircut and a face transplant? Not many.

A better way to approach your website rebuild is to execute your new site in stages. If you’re changing URLs this is especially important, even if you’re planning on redirecting pages at launch.

Stay on PAR. (Prepare. Align. Roll out in stages.)

In the weeks leading up to launch, you and your team should decide on what your new page URLs will be. Then, change the existing page URLs to the new addresses – one-by-one – and add 301 redirects where appropriate. This allows search engines to get acquainted with your new site structure.

Next, make sure the topic of each new page is similar to the topic of the page it is replacing.

For example, one of the pages on our prior site spoke about our website design approach. This page had the URL slug /better-business-marketing-websites. It was going to be replaced by a page with a similar topic. First we changed the URL slug to /website-design-and-development about a month before the launch of our redesigned site. Then we slotted the redesigned page into the new address on the day of the launch.

Optimize Your Templates and Pages

You’re not relaunching your site to make it worse, so take this opportunity to optimize everything. Templates should be well-structured and pages should be built with best practices in mind. (If you’re unsure about what best practices are, we wrote an article about that, too.)

Launch, Verify, and Continue Updating

After launching your new site, update your XML sitemap and submit it to Google’s Search Console for a re-crawl. Google will automatically crawl your site again without this being done, but a manual submission will speed up the process. You should also submit high-value pages — especially those that you changed — such as your About page or your Products or Services page.

Run a broken link checker on your website to catch any problematic links. But know that there’s no automated tool that will catch as much as a human can. So test everything yourself. And then test it again.

There are so many things to be aware of when relaunching or migrating a website (to another domain or even HTTPS). The next post in this series will address how you can smoothly enable HTTPS on your website. Be sure to subscribe to the KAYAK blog to be notified when we publish that post.

In the meantime, you’ll want to know how to structure your pages and website for a more effective user experience and better search rankings. We’ve built a short slide deck that has been viewed over 10,000 times, and we think you’ll find it useful for planning your new site.

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