I was reading an article today on Search Marketing Standard, by Chris Stiner regarding web design site restructure, who gives some very relevant information on the steps to take to proper optimization when re-designing or structuring a Web site. In fact, we often try to explain this process to our clients but frankly, I think Chris says it best here so I might as well save my breath. Thanks Chris!
The challenges of restructuring a site that has been optimized for SEO are major. If you are going to make fundamental changes to the look, flow, and — most importantly — content of your site, here are three important steps you should follow if you want to maintain your positive rankings in the SERP s.
1. Create a one-to-one 301 redirect map of pages from the old site to the new site. Make sure the pages are as close to an exact match as possible.
2. Make sure that any old site pages that do not have an exact corresponding new site page are redirected at a category level.
3. Any old site pages left that still do not have a home should be redirected to the new site home page.
The reasons for doing this are plenty. Your website is full of assets that you need to protect. Here are the top three things you want to maintain during and after a restructure of your site.
1. External links to your website. People who follow these links need to land on relevant pages. If you lose the relevancy of an inbound link by redirecting it to a generic page, you lose most of its value. More importantly, you want the search engines to map the links correctly.
2. Deep link pages of your site in the SERPs. When users click on them, you will want the correct pages to show up. This mirrors point #1, but from the user’s perspective via the search engine.
3. Bookmarks of your site. When a user attempts to go to a bookmark, you want to make sure they get the information they are looking for. Again, relevancy is king.
If you have a large site (over 100 pages or so) here are three techniques to help you prioritize your pages to ensure you are taking care of the most important content first.
1. Identify which pages are receiving the most traffic. Your analytics software will help you here.
2. Use Google Webmaster Tools to identify your external links and what pages they are landing on.
3. Use Yahoo Site Explorer to locate the top pages listed by your external links. Yahoo lists this in order of importance most of the time.
By taking a serious look at your site structure and not skimping on the upfront work of site mapping and 301 redirects, you can eliminate most of the headaches that can come as a result of a poorly planned SEO restructuring.