If you’ve ever been part of a website overhaul, then you know how complex it can be. When it’s time to transition your website, there is so much to think about. It’s easy to focus on the great new user experience and compelling content you’ll include, but it’s essential not to forget about SEO. The truth is that when transitioning your website, SEO should be at the forefront of your mind so that you don’t lose traction.
In a recent episode of Ask Googlebot, Google Search Advocate John Mueller talked about this concern and gave some guidance. Here is what legal webmasters need to know about launching a new website while running their old one.
Ensuring a Smooth Transition with Redirects
In his video, Mueller advises implementing redirects from the old site to the new one. He states: “Ideally, you’d redirect the old website to the new one.” By doing this, you can aid users in finding the correct website. Additionally, and just as important, you will help search engines transfer any existing signals to the new domain, potentially boosting its standing. Redirects pass on the value of links pointing to the old domain over to the new one. This transfer of link equity is vital to the new website for retaining its search engine ranking. If you change domains without redirects, you could hurt both the user experience and the search ranking. And of course, it makes things easier on any web traffic that might try to visit the old website domain since they get automatically redirected.
To get tactical, the most common and recommended type of redirect is a 301 permanent redirect. This will pass link equity or ranking power from existing pages to new ones. To set these up, start by mapping out which old URLs should point to which new ones. Then, depending on your web server, you can either edit the .htaccess file (for Apache) or server config files (for NGINX) to create the redirects. It’s a good idea to get some assistance from a web developer or hosting provider to implement the redirects properly since this portion is so important. He suggests leaving the redirects in place for at least one year to guarantee a smooth transition for both your traffic and search engines. A lot of content management systems such as WordPress also have plugins that can automatically create these redirects when migrating to a new site. Again, if you feel uncomfortable with the process at all, reach out to an expert – because it’s essential to get these right in order to keep your search rank intact.
Transitioning from Old to New
When you begin the process, it’s important to recognize that leaving contradictory information online could confuse users and harm SEO. Therefore, it’s crucial to remove or update the outdated website as soon as possible. Additionally, having inconsistent information like different business hours or contact information on both websites will be harmful since search engines won’t know how to index and rank pages with differing information. As we mentioned, it’s a good idea to leave the old site active (with redirects in place) for up to a year. During that time, you should perform a review to make sure that information about your firm (such as addresses, etc) is aligned with the new site. When the new site is ready, you should make sure your old site is no longer publicly visible. You may want to do periodic check-ins to see how many people still visit the old domain so that you’ll know when it makes sense to take the old site down completely.
There is no secret sauce to maintaining search rank when migrating a site, other than ensuring that information is not contradictory and using 301 redirects to point to your new domain. There can be serious consequences to your search performance if you don’t get the migration process right, so we suggest consulting with a website expert who can guide you. If you’re not sure where to start, our web design experts can offer support. Our team helps to build user-friendly websites that perform well in search rankings and generate leads, and we keep up with all things search so that legal marketers don’t have to.