All change is risky. But as priorities shift, companies are acquired, and brands evolve, your online presence (aka your web ‘domain’) may need to move from its current location to somewhere new.
Assuming you have had a content creation plan supporting your website for at least one to two years, there is ‘search equity’ built up for each page. ‘Search equity’ is a relative metric used by search engines to measure how relevant your content is compared to others in your space. The more relevant your website is, the more likely your page is to rank in the top 10 results for a specific search query.
Google uses over 200 signals to determine which page in their index is the most relevant for a particular search query. Content is one of the top three ranking signals, as confirmed by Google in March 2016. During a site migration, assessing your content’s current value is critical to avoid post-launch drops in the amount of organic traffic entering your site.
As such, each web page can act as a different pathway into your website. Never delete content because it is “old.” You have already done the work to create the content – refresh it! Do not remove it outright. Search engines have indexed this content and reference it. For example, say a page on your website was the most relevant result for a query, but you delete that page during a site migration. A few hours/days after launch, a person who found your page in the search results will now reach a “404 – Page Not Found” error, resulting in a poor user experience and a quick way to disappear from the organic search results. (If you want assistance in configuring these page-to-page 301-redirects, contact us.)
What makes a page on your website valuable?
Determining what content to refresh can be challenging. As search algorithms evolve, the metrics we reference to determine a page’s importance have also changed. First, we look to page-level data, such as organic entrances and bounce rate (reported in platforms like Google Analytics for free) to determine the current strength of any given page. Second, we analyze whether the keywords triggering that page to appear in the results are generating click activity (reported in Google Search Console). If so, we determine which websites are currently linking to the page that is going to be moved. That way we can reach out to those site owners to ask them to update their link so it points to the new location of the content that is the most relevant for their site visitor.
Benchmarking Your Current State
Since keyword-level data is no longer provided by secured search engines, we must move beyond first-party analytics platforms (such as Google Analytics) for insight into what keyword resulted in a visit to the website. Instead, we reference third-party databases to gather an understanding of what the top keywords are and how they currently associate with the content to formulate a hierarchy of relevant topics, or “keyword themes.” This topical insight drives the association between current-state and the new website’s content layout (aka sitemap).
Important: If the website is being redesigned to reformat your current value proposition, differentiators, and story for the end user, we suggest conducting a “Content Gap Analysis” to assess the strength of your competitors. This equips you with the information to articulate to internal stakeholders what content will need to be written for the newly targeted end-user persona, so search engines can gather a deeper understanding of how your company fits the intent of the searcher. If you do not have personas defined yet, start there first!
Keyword Research in 2017
Purposeful content creation is the foundation of any solid SEO strategy now. A search query represents a question or an unanswered need, so the content published on your website must help your targeted persona find an answer to their specific query. At NordicClick, we begin keyword research by evaluating current site strength and how it relates to your business goals and targeted personas. This helps formulate educated insight into the customer journey.
This keyword research builds an SEO book that you can take to internal stakeholders for sign off. In a nutshell, the SEO book outlines the keyword themes your site content should prioritize, supported by details of why and how. Once this guide is agreed upon, ensure those targeted keyword themes are still supported by the new content hierarchy of the redesigned website.
New Content Creation
Now it’s time to begin creating content. When writing, try to avoid jargon or internally popular words. If you’re not using the terminology a prospect would use to describe what they’re looking for, they may not be able to find your website. This results in organic traffic decreases and the post-launch blues for you. The pages on the new site must tie to common terms or questions (outlined in the SEO book) that match what your end-user is searching to educate themselves about any available product or service offering that may help them.
Best Practices – Checklist for Content Migration During a Website Redesign
- Inventory current content to evaluate what pages are the strongest from an SEO perspective and must be retained in the new sitemap.
- Identify all 301-redirects already in place on the current website to avoid redirection chains post-launch. (Also, make sure to establish a one-to-one 301-redirect to point the current page URL to its new location on the redesigned website post-launch to signal to search engines the page moved. This helps retain any equity the old page may have had.)
- Establish who on the team will be responsible for updating any internal links within the current content that you have determined is migrating to the new website. These links will need to be changed to directly point to the new page location, instead of hitting a 301-redirect.
- Understand if the new site will allow PDFs to be indexed by search engines or not (as these may trump an HTML page’s ability to rank. PDFs are typically a dead end for the user – Ask us why!)
- Inventory all current equity-passing inbound links and create an outreach plan.
- Before launch, ensure all tracking methods are documented to allow for comparable post-launch reporting of the “before and after” impact. (Trust us – upper management will ask you how the website redesign increased revenue. Make sure pre-launch all benchmark reports are established so you can report on this.)
- Since Google reference’s factual databases to inform its knowledge graph results and understanding between “entities,” we recommend you update your company’s Wikipedia listing with objective information to inform Google of the relationship of any new product offerings or acquisitions that will be featured on the website post-launch.
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