This post is mainly for non-SEOs about how to take SEO into consideration when planning for a website revamp project. For further information, you can also refer to Google’s article “How to move a site“.

Tools you may need:

  • Webmaster tools ( eg. Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools )
  • Analytics tools your website is currently using ( eg. Google Analytics )
  • Keyword research and competitive research tools ( eg. Google Adwords, ahrefs, SimilarWeb )
  • Crawling software ( eg. ScreamingFrog , only recommended for SEOs )

Stage 1: Audit Your Current Site

Understanding what SEO practices had been done to the current site before stepping into the planning stage is crucial. This is how you can launch a better site than now.

1-1 URLs and Page Types Audit ( Including Self-owned Data Audit )

Due to search engines crawl and index content by pages ( URLs ), it’s important to understand what pages you have on your site and their performance so you can make your plan with better prioritisation. If you own a small site, you simply list down all the URLs on the site. However, if you own a site with thousands of pages, you probably can just list down the page types and the URL templates. ( Take e-commerce websites as an example, there should be page types like homepage, category page, product page, and promotion pages.)

For websites using different URLs for desktop and mobile web versions, listing down URLs for both versions is highly recommended. It would be great if you could unify the URLs into the next version to reduce the complexity of optimisation.

After having a complete list of URLs / page types, you can use the webmaster tools or analytics tools to understand the index status and organic traffic performance for each URL / page type. Those numbers are very helpful if you need to set the priority of your revamp plan.

1-2 Other Website Structure-Related SEO Audit

Except for the URLs and page types, there are lots of structural-related considerations, such as below:

1-3 CMS / Backend Related SEO Audit

Usually, websites with CMS come with some SEO functions. By understanding the SEO functions and the usage of those functions, you can plan for a website with better SEO efficiency and sustainability.

Sounds complicated? Let me give you an example. During most of my CMS audit, I see text fields of page title and page description. Those fields are good for SEO, however, marketers usually leave the fields empty. This is because the person who maintains the website content may not have the knowledge or time to update the content users cannot see but only search engines can! This SEO-considered CMS design results in no-SEO-optimised web pages.

In addition, it’s also normal that the website site you are auditing is outsourced, so no one in the company can properly explain the relationship between the frontend and backend (or anything). What I usually do is ask for an account and password of the backend and act as a detective to figure it out myself. Don’t worry, this is very common (LOL).

1-4 Frontend-Related SEO Audit

As an SEO, we are trying hard to improve the readability of a site for search engines. There are a lot of factors like HTML codes, rendering methods, server-related configurations, and user experience design across devices ( ie. desktop web, mobile web, and APP ). If you have a better idea of what frontend is working now, will be helpful for your plan.

Below are the aspects I would prioritise:

  • Rendering method: Nowadays, many websites use Javascript to generate web content so we must ensure that Google can correctly read the current web pages. If not, then it must be explicitly included in the planning of the new website. For more information, please refer to the ” Understand the Javascript SEO Bascis解 JavaScript“。Please also note that Google officials currently still recommend server-side rendering, static rendering or Hydration as solutions.
  • Mobile-first index: Due to Google moving to mobile-first index, we can focus on the mobile web when we do page audit. Refer to “Mobile site and mobile-first indexing best practices” for more information.

If you feel too complicated for the above 2 points, you can just use the URL inspection tool in Google Search Console to verify ( please refer to the below snapshot ). As long as Google is crawling your site with Googlebot Smartphone and you can see HTML code with SEO content when you click “VIEW CRAWLED PAGE”, your current site should be fine.

Google Search Console 的網站檢查工具
  • SEO tags & content: There are quite a few SEO-related tags to focus on, prioritising checking the usage of the page title, meta tags, canonical, open graph, hreflang (only for multilingual or international sites), structure data, heading, link title, and internal link design.
  • Thin content: Generally, search engines do not like pages with thin content unless the thin content fully satisfies the user’s search needs. If the content is too thin, you can do something about it in your future website planning or lower your SEO priority of the thin content page.
  • Other room for optimisation ( eg. image, video, locations, APP; deprioritise if no resource ): Base on your business type or materials you can have on your site, there might be more you can do for SEO, for more detail, you can check Google’s “Overview of Search appearance topics“.

1-5 Competitive Research & Keyword Research (Deprioritise If No Resource)

You can use third-party tools to look at the popular SEO keywords and pages of competitors’ websites and compare them to your website to get a rough idea of whether you need to add a new page or change the priority of a page when revamping your website.

Stage 2: Website Redesign

2-1 Redesign Your Site (Including Structure, Frontend, And Backend) Base On The Site Audit Result In Stage 1

If you have done stage 1 properly, planning an SEO-friendly new website is very simple! The most complicated thing is not to create a new website, but to make sure that the search engines understand the relationship between the old and new pages when the new website goes online. This is the only way you can keep your current good SEO performance.

Just two reminders:

  • URL Structure: Refer to Google’s content for best practices of URLs. My recommendation ( especially to big sites! ) is to plan for an easy-to-maintain SEO-friendly URL structure.
  • An Easy-To-Navigate 404 Page: Because there is a high chance that some old pages will be missed when a new website goes online, it is important to prepare a 404 page that is easy for users to navigate your new site.

Stage 3: Prepare The SEO Related Settings You Need When Launching A New Site ( Can Be Done Together With Stage 2 )

3-1 A Mapping Table Of Old / New URLs For 301 Redirection Or 404 Response Code

Usually, a new website comes with a new URL structure. By having a clear mapping table for new and old URLs, engineers can prepare the URL redirection setting in advance and apply the setting to live environment once the new site goes live so that the search engine won’t get lost!

  • 301 redirection tells search engines that your old URLs are permanently redirected to the new one.
  • 404 response code is a clear signal to search engines that the old URLs do not exist anymore, there is no need to visit the old URLs continuously.

Refer to Google documents for more information on HTTP response codes and types of redirection.

By the way, if you are planning for a huge site, you don’t have to map for individual URLs. Instead, you can categorise the URLs into several groups and map by rules ( usually the categorisation is the same as the page types you have on your site ). As long as you can categorise and describe the rules clearly, your engineer will understand. Of course, will be great if you know how to use regular expressions to explain!

3-2 Sitemap Structure And Update Frequency

The resource you put on the sitemap depends on your site size. For small sites with less update frequency, creating and uploading a sitemap manually is fine. However, for big sites, there are many considerations including types of sitemaps ( eg. webs, images, or videos ) to generate, sitemap format, and frequency. Sometimes you even need a backend for sitemap management. Google has a complete guide for sitemap. What I want to remind is, that even if there is a system generating sitemaps, I still prepare the new sitemap before the site is online. So I can update and submit the sitemap once the new site is live because sometimes it takes time to generate sitemaps.

3-3 A New robots.txt

robots.txt is simply a file uploaded in root to tell search engines locations of crawl and not to crawl. Same reason as sitemaps, it’s always good to be well prepared. ( REF: robots.txt doc from Google

3-4 Verify Webmaster Tools ( If You Plan To Change Domain )

If you plan to change the domain, verify your webmaster tools to get the site owner access in advance so you can monitor the site’s performance after it goes live. If you are using Google Search Console, refer to this doc for site verification.

Stage 4: Apply New Settings And Monitor The New Site ( Monitor For 3+ Weeks At Least )

4-1 Apply The 301 & 404 Settings

Once the redirection settings are up, make sure that both the user and the search engine are redirected to the corresponding page perfectly (so it would be great to have a test URL ready to go in advance!).

4-2 Upload Sitemap And robots.txt And Submit To Webmaster Tools

Webmaster tools such as Google Search Console can update and submit the sitemap and robots.txt, so do not wait for search engines to discover just do it right away! Refer to the links mentioned in the previous stages if you are not sure how to do.

4-3 Set Change Of Address In Webmaster Tools ( If You Plan To Change Domain )

If the domain has been changed, it is recommended to set up the “change of address”. If you are using Google Search Console, you can refer to the following screenshot to find the function location. This function can only be used if the 301 redirection of the old site is set properly, so please work with the engineers on that.

Google Search Console 網站搬家

4-4 Monitor the 404

There must be chances of missing out on some redirection settings if you have a big site. By double-checking the old URLs returning 404 response codes with high traffic, you can find the orphan pages and do something about it ( adding new pages or 301 redirect settings for example )! You can use your existing analytic tools or work with your engineer to find those pages.

4-5 Monitor Index Status And SEO Performance

It’s normal to see an unstable ( and low most of the time ) traffic trend when a redesigned website is online (at least 2 weeks of instability ), so you should look at the webmaster tools and analytic tools for at least 3 weeks after the new website is online. You can first use the webmaster tools and focus on the submitted sitemap indexing status and the main indicators ( such as impression, clicks, average ranking, etc. ) changes, then use your data analysis tools to see the traffic and conversion details later.

End of article.

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