I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a call that went something like this: “Hi, we just had our website completely redesigned and now that it’s live, we’d like the site to get more traffic from the search engines. Can you help?”
Of course we can help. But frankly, the correct answer is, “I wish you’d talked to me before you launched the new site.”
It’s a fact that most sites suffer a drop in traffic right after a re-build. Why? Most sites have search rank and traffic for at least SOME non-branded keywords before the rebuild. What often happens next is that they still show up in the same place in the organic search results for a while, but anyone clicking on the listing will land on a 404 error – Page Not Found because the content that Google was pointing to is now located at a new URL which Google doesn’t know about yet.
To Google, providing quality search results is like religion. A search result that points to a 404 page is heresy. If Google finds the associated content in its new location, and if you’re lucky, they will eventually link to the new page. Otherwise, your position for that keyword will simply disappear from the search results and the traffic you used to get for that keyword will evaporate.
Having search engine rank for non-branded keywords is like having equity in your home. It adds enormous value to your website, above and beyond the look and feel of your site. It needs to be protected. There are steps you can take to ensure an orderly transition, preserve your search rank equity, and ultimately help your site get more traffic than before, but you need to plan ahead and be proactive.
A properly optimized website is reflected in the structure of the site, just as a properly designed house has a solid foundation. If you build a house and then discover the foundation is inadequate, you’ve got an expensive problem to fix. It would have been much easier and cheaper to get the foundation right BEFORE building the house.
Similarly, doing keyword research prior to a website rebuild and defining placements for your target keywords on the new site before it launches is easier (and costs less) than trying to retrofit. Moreover, you should always take stock of the keywords that are bringing traffic to your site before rebuilding, and decide which ones you want to keep and which to replace.
Generally, a website rebuild will trigger a rewrite of at least some of the copy. Having your keyword research handy while writing new copy lets you weave those keywords into the copy in a natural, professional way. Your new website will probably introduce new filenames (URLs) for internal pages. These present a wonderful opportunity to apply your keywords, right in the URL names. It’s much easier and more effective to do this before the site launches, than to change the URLs after.
If you are designing a new home, it is easier and cheaper to move walls on the floor plans than it is once they have been built. Similarly, you can save a lot of trouble and money down the road if you include SEO in the website rebuild process from the start.