If you’re making changes to your website, you should bear in mind the impact of those changes to your search engine rankings. As SEO is such a finely balanced and fast changing science. any changes that you make to your website could affect your position in the search rankings.
A negative change in rankings can throw up all sorts of questions. For instance, if you dropped from the first page of Google for your key search terms, how would this affect your business? If you disappeared from the rankings altogether, what other marketing means do you have to still attract customers to your site?
Remember: Search engines are just Programs
Search engine crawlers and indexers are basically software programs; powerful computer programs that crawl billions of web pages, analyse these pages and the way that they all link together. Any changes to your site (such as URLs, content or links ) will be viewed through the eyes of these robots and changes to their index made accordingly. You won’t be notified if anything that you do may be going to cause problems. You’ll just find out a few days/weeks/months after the event when your pages drop in the SERPs or disappear from the listings all together.
Therefore, before you start making any changes to your site, think things through carefully. Take stock of your current website, taking into consideration the details listed below. Although you may not think some of these changes will affect your search engine rankings, rest assured many of them can have a dramatic impact on your Google rankings.
Adding New Content
Adding new content to your site should improve your search rankings. It should provide you with opportunities for new internal links and give reasons for other sites to link into you. However, more drastic changes such as adding a new categorisation system to your site would have profound effects on the site structure.
New features such as a blog, forum or members area will also affect the site architecture. Search engines (and users) look to the site architecture for clues as to what pages are most important so its crucial to ensure that any site re-engineering is carried out correctly.
Adding advertising to your site not only increases the amount of outbound links (a potential negative for SEO) but it has other ramifications too. Ads can cause your site to slow down because of excessive scripting, uncompressed image downloads and calls to other sites.
Changing the Domain of the Site
Before doing anything, you should do an incoming link audit to your existing site. Google counts links from other websites as votes so its important to ensure that links to your old domain will change to point to your new domain.
Don’t worry – you don’t need to contact each website owner individually and ask them to change the links from your old domain to the new domain: 301 redirects on the web server will take care of this for you. You can create what is called a “wild card” redirect in your .htaccess file that will transfer everything on a domain-name level to your new site.
Make sure that, if possible, you keep the same structure to your URLs that you had before. This will make the switch that little bit easier. When your new domain has gone live, let Google know that your site has moved. You can do this by using Google Webmaster Tools which will keep your domain and URL listings up to date. Also, ensure that you document when the switch over was made as changing the URL of a site can have a significant impact on your SEO efforts.
Modifying the URL Structure
For similar reasons to changing the domain of your site, modifying your URL structure can impact your search rankings. Again, make sure you document everything and redirect where necessary. Changing the URL structure may make it difficult to do wild card redirects and you may have to do a redirect for each page.
This is a very time consuming business and can be prone to errors if not tackled meticulously. Also, a temporary drop in rankings can be expected following a restructure as it takes the 301 redirects time to kick in. Avoid if possible.
Moving to a new CMS
Changing your content management system can have a massive impact on your search rankings. This is a large project and should be treated as such. Before you start, ensure that you have a business case for doing it. Make sure there are tangible business benefits for making the change as it could cause damage that may take months to repair.
Make sure that everyone in the team is involved in the change. This could involve developers, hosts, marketing, sales, finance and operations. Getting an early buy in from everyone will make things run a lot smoother throughout the process. Make sure you track the timing and the impact of the changeover too. Lastly, ensure you follow all the necessary steps and procedures that come with a site migration.
Changes to Navigation
Changes to navigation and menus should be done carefully. Bear in mind that changes such as these can cause your website to look completely different to search engines. Never assume you can tell if spiders can see elements of your menu by looking at the site with human eyes alone.
Changing Web Hosts
If you’re not changing your domain then changing to a new web host shouldn’t have an adverse effect on your search rankings. There won’t be any changes that you need to make to the actual site but, before you move, you should check:
- Does the host fully meet your needs? Bandwidth, operating system, scripting language, database.
- Is the new host blacklisted by the search engines?
- Is the speed of the host fast enough so as not to affect Google’s crawl speed.
- Is the physical location of the server in your target market?
- Upload your site to the server and check that it works fully.
When you’ve changed over your host, change the DNS records and keep both sites running for a couple of days until you’re sure that the changeover has taken place.
Document and Track Everything
Any good SEO specialist will tell you to document all changes to your system so that you can track any adverse changes to your search rankings. When you document and track changes, you can create an accurate storyline to help correlate causes with effects.
If you see a surge in traffic after you added menu links in your footers in March then this may be a cause of the traffic increase. Alternatively. a decline in your position in the SERPs in Google could be due to URL changes that you made in August. Having a document that tracks these changes is important to identify causal relationships between site changes and search results. Not documenting these changes may mean that it was months before you identified the correlation between the two.
After the Changes are Live
After your change to your site has gone live, there are a number of things to do to ensure continued search engine success:
- Monitor the server logs and Google Search Console for 404 errors for any issues that have been missed.
- For any domain or URL changes, reach out to any website owners that are linking to your old URLs and ask them to change.
- If necessary, submit a new sitemap to Google if your site has changed extensively.
Get Professional Help for Big Changes
If you are making large scale changes to your site, I would recommend getting an SEO specialist involved from the offset to make sure that everything that you do is search engine friendly. Remember though, that its Google (a computer program) that has the last say as to whether the changes that you make are optimised.
Following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is crucial to avoid SEO mistakes that lose you both search engine rankings and traffic.