Preserving Your Search Rankings When Launching A New Site: Content Migration Secrets

April 29, 2011

When working on a site redesign, one of the main questions site owners often have is how to make sure that months and years of careful SEO work, often building to #1 rankings in the search engines, can be preserved when the new site launches. We’ve all heard of site relaunches in which a company dropped from page one in Google to page 20, or disappeared for weeks altogether. Then there are complaints from users who had a specific page bookmarked, only to find it gone when they visit the site. These concerns are especially top of mind when deploying a new CMS. Fortunately, with good content migration practices, all of these issues can be averted, and a site can maintain its top rankings.

For the purposes of SEO, migrating content over depends on first determining which pages have value, and then migrating them over to the new site in a way that preserves their value. Determining which of your pages has value is the more complex process. You’ll need to look at every page of your site to make sure hidden SEO gems are not overlooked. To measure value accurately, you need to use multiple tools, too:

  • A web analytics solution

  • A ranking tool such as RankChecker, to measure where a page ranks on different search engines for specific keywords

  • A backlink checker, also called a link popularity tool, to measure how many websites link to a specific page

With these tools, you’ll be able to analyze each page to determine whether a page is worth migrating based on these criteria:

 

A page doesn’t need to meet all four criteria to be worth migrating. Indeed, as long as it meets one, it’s generally worth migrating. When in doubt, migrate over more, not less, for maximum SEO value.

Migrating Your Content to Preserve Rankings

Once the decision is made to migrate, preserving value is a matter of making sure search engines (and customers) can still find the pages:

  • If possible, use the same URL, and simply change the template of the page

  •  If you must change URLs due to rebranding, company merger, or name change, or the use of an entirely new domain name, use 301 redirects to tell  search engines that the new URL is the permanent new address of the content of the page from the old URL

  • If you need to eliminate pages entirely—for instance, because you’ve discontinued a specific product or program—provide 401 redirects to pages where people can find similar information, so loyal visitors don’t become frustrated when they can’t find information they had bookmarked

An Opportunity for Change

 

Managing SEO during a site relaunch is not all about preservation—it also presents new opportunities. Properly deployed, Drupal can enhance your existing SEO efforts, with its numerous modules for controlling key data that search engines use to determine rankings. New site launches are often part of a larger rebranding, and SEO can, and should, be part of the mix.

Preserving the URL of a page with SEO value is important, but other aspects of the page can be changed—and in fact, you can use the opportunity of a site redesign to change TITLE tags, descriptions, image ALT text, and more. Don’t completely revamp the content of the page—after all, you were ranking highly for that quality content—but make sure your META tags are making the most of that content. Look at your headings and descriptions, especially if your website relaunch is part of an overall rebranding. Things change with rebranding, and you should ensure that your new descriptions—what searchers see first, before they even come to your site—accurately reflect your new messaging and brand. With good planning, a site relaunch can breathe new life into your SEO, as well.

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