How to protect your search engine ranking when updating your website

I thought it would be useful to write a blog on how to protect your search engine ranking + hard work as so many people come to me in tears "Help! I've really messed this up. I/a friend re-designed my website and I've basically disappeared from Google!" or maybe you're putting off making changes to your website BECAUSE you've heard so many horror stories.

What I see around is a lack of knowhow about how to protect the content you've created whether its pages, image layouts or blog posts. There are many articles out there but they're in a language that is, shall we say, a tad dry.

And you know me, I don't do dry. I make SEO So Exciting Obviously! Hooray

So here's where to start....

First of all, you need to bear in mind that when you re-design your website, however small or radically, then search engines will need some time to register the new changes - even if you've got the same basic text and images content there, then you've still made significant changes to your site in Google's eyes.

You may have updated any or all of the following:

  • You may have moved content about to different sections whether it's images or text or whole pages, which may indicate to search engines that you consider it less / more important than other content and this will affect your rankings.
  • You may be creating brand new content + sections that may take longer to rank.
  • You may be removing content (in which case, of course, it won't rank if it's not there and your rankings may even drop)
  • You may be changing / updating content (which will take a while to register on search engines)
  • You may be changing the URLs (links) to the pages / posts in which case any other pages whether on your website or elsewhere will then have broken links

Now you may be thinking - OMG this is an ACTUAL MINEFIELD, but actually, *pushes glasses up nose* there are steps you can take to be reassured that all your hard work is not lost.

Here's what you need to do when protecting your website SEO after a re-design:

1. Keep the old website live whilst you build the new one

If you're sticking to the same platform, create a second site. If you're on WordPress, contact your hosting provider and ask them to show you how to create a staging site. This won't be live on the internet, this is a backroom situation.

2. Backup your website

When you come to move your site to go live, please for the love of all that is good and holy, backup your website. Here's how to backup your website on Wix and here's how to backup your website on Squarespace. If your website is on WordPress, then be in touch with your hosting provider to see how often they backup your website. If they don't back it up daily, then you'll need to use a backup plugin on your site. I've always quite liked BackupBuddy but there are many, many others.

3. Save everything first

Save all your text and images in a lovely little folder system. This is a good practice anyway where you have a folder for all your website content and then subfolders per page and then if there's subpages, then more subfolders within that. #gamechanger THEN create a spreadsheet with ALL your pages and posts. No really. Paste the links from each page and post into your spreadsheet. You'll see why in the next tip below.

4. Set up redirects

When you create new pages or blog posts then each new piece of content will have a new link (this is known as URL) and when you replace old pages with new pages you need to tell people and search engines where to look instead as otherwise they'll be met with a UH OH 404 CANNOT BE FOUND page which everyone knows is the most frustrating thing in the worldTM. Think of it like setting up a new address thing with Royal Mail. Dead frustrating if it doesn't work, wonderfully smooth when it does.

So this is where the spreadsheet you've set up in tip 3 above comes into play. You can create a column next to the page + blog post links and paste in the new links so you can see with ease which redirects you need to set up.

So here's how to set up redirects for Squarespace websites, here's how to set up redirects for Wix websites. If you have a WordPress website then you can download a Redirection plugin and then enter each link manually (Note to web designers + fellow nerds: yes there are many other ways to do this, but I figured this was one of the easiest ways to do it if you don't like tech). Going forward I recommend you upgrade your version of Yoast from the free to the premium because it has the rather jazzy function of prompting you whenever you delete a page or post or update a URL to actually redirect to the new link #jazzy

5. Update your metadescriptions, etc

Go through and update your SEO boxes and by this I mean the metatitle and metadescription which is the text that appears in Google search results and will entice people to click on your pages. If you have WordPress, use Yoast. Here's how to amend metadescriptions in Wix and here's how to update metadescriptions in Squarespace.

6. Update your backlinks

What are backlinks? Any other websites out there on the world wide web that link to you so that includes any press features, any directories you pay to be in, any guest blogs, any mentions of you that link to you. Somewhere you need to have a record of all the places on the internet. If you don't have this and it's stored on notes here there and everywhere then create another tab on your spreadsheet mentioned above and paste all the links you know about there. Then for all the ones you don't know about go to a free tool like this one (I mean there are many great paid options but perhaps budget doesn't make that an option right now).

You then need to work your way through each link and manually update to the updated link. If it links to your homepage which has not changed then no action needs to be taken, but if it links to a particular service page or product range or blog post then it will most likely need to be updated.

But I've set up redirects already I hear you say. True, but really Google doesn't like being redirected too many times and it's far to manually update your backlinks.

7. Update your internal links

Internal links are any links on your website that links to another part of your website. Again, you'll have set up redirects in tip 4 but again Google doesn't like lots of redirects. Using the analogy of your mail when you move, think about your post being battered by the time it's had a few redirects from house to house. It doesn't look great, does it. So it's the same with your SEO.

8. Re-submit your sitemap to Google Search Console

You need to tell Google (and Bing! Don't forget Bing!) about any time you make big changes to your website whether it's a re-launch or not. You can read my blog post all about how to submit your sitemap here.

9. Do a song and dance about your new website on social media because you're ready to share baby!

Finally you're ready to make a song and dance about your new website. GO FOR IT! Internet domination will be yours!

Have you had any horror stories happen to you about this? What did you do? Let me know in the comments.

Maddy