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How To Avoid Traffic Loss During a Website Redesign Launch

Thursday, 06 April 2017
How To Avoid Traffic Loss During a Website Redesign Launch
You have decided to upgrade your hotel’s website design. A new website will give you the look and feel to compete with your competitors and potentially take you a few steps up the market ladder.

To make sure your website takes more steps forward than backwards in terms of organic traffic to the website and revenue, then website redesign SEO needs to be an integral part of the whole process from the VERY BEGINNING.

What type of a website upgrade are you proceeding with? Changing your domain name? Moving to a new content management system? Redesigning the website?

Either one of these needs planning from an experienced SEO executive to avoid the risk of organic traffic loss during your website redesign and relaunch.

As it is not possible to touch on all steps in one blog post on this topic, these are the 6 most important areas that needs SEO website redesign/migration work done and are all part of our standard QA process for website redesigns.

Our comprehensive pre-launch SEO audit is just one of the many quality-controlled steps in the hotel website design process. To find out more, please contact us.

1. Conduct a website audit on you current site

Conducting an SEO audit at the start of the redesign process will help us see what condition your current website is in. It will highlight the SEO strengths and weaknesses in your current CMS platform. This includes whether items should be migrated or deleted and which website sections are technically good or bad so that the search engines can easily understand them.

Firstly, your site needs to be crawled to note all the URLs there, and to understand the URLs structures.  This is also a good way to see the size of your current website from a basic URL count, the number of URLs will indicate how much time and effort that will be required in the website migration.

Next, check the page speed of key landing pages like the Homepage, Accommodation, Dining and Special Offers pages. If there is a slow load time, then analyse why this is so it can be corrected in the new website.

You can analyse what pages have the highest authority gained from links by using Moz Open Site Explorer tool.  These pages will need extra care in carrying the ranking value across to the same page on the new website. Especially if they are revenue generating pages.

Analyse the top 30 organic keyword ranking positions so that you can compare these to when the new website goes live. A keyword strategy that involves matching up the old websites top keywords and content to the new websites page structure is critical here.

So, doing a pre-website redesign audit will help identify issues that should be avoided and strengths that can be replicated on the new site.

2. Redirecting the old URLs to the new URLs

Redirects are one of the most important things to implement during a website redesign launch. They point the old websites pages to the new websites equivalent page so that: 

  1. There are no 404s when someone clicks on the old URLs on a referring website.
  2. Google and other search engines can pass the PageRank from the old URL to the new URL and index the new pages accordingly.
If this is not done at launch, then you will lose organic traffic immediately. To avoid this, consider these three things:

  1. You do not need a developer to implement 301 redirects as all good content management systems have a built in 301 redirector tool. One with a bulk upload feature is most welcome! 
  2. They should redirect from the old page to a similar page, and not simply redirect every page to the homepage. 
  3. Only in cases where the new website does not have the exact same page match to redirect to, then a redirect to the closest available match is required.
For example, your hotel no longer offers a Junior Suite so that page can be redirected to the Suites page:

redirected to www.hotelname.com/accommodation/suites

The best for SEO is for the URLS not to change at all and then no redirects are required. The page keeps 100% of its authority and usually its keyword rankings also. Yet during a website redesign it is a good opportunity to review your URL structure and improve the URL structure for optimisation if possible.

could be optimised to www.hotelname.com/accommodation-in-london/luxury-hotel-suites

So, in this case a 301 redirect is required as the URL naming has changed. If redirects are not done, then the new pages’ values are reset and the old pages will 404 and drop out of rankings.

3. Set up webmaster tool accounts

Both Google and Bing provide webmaster tools that are free to sign up to, which are great sources to get visibility on how each search engine indexes and views your website.

Many hotels that are considering a website redesign already have these Webmaster accounts set up, but if you don't, then now is the perfect time to set-up one and check the health status of your current website on Google or Bing search engines.

Once you verify your website on webmaster tools, you can analyse diagnostics to see what pages are indexed, have crawl errors and identify html improvements. Also, search analytics, search queries and click through data is available. It is most useful when you want to see the trend of a specific keyword for your hotel.

Discover what traffic, for example, the keyword "Hotels Near Covent Garden" is getting over a three-month period.

Once set up, you submit a XML sitemap to the search engines through the Webmaster tools account. It's a great way to do a health check prior to the new website launch, and then after the new website launch, you can fix any crawl errors that appear. A crawl error is when the Googlebot is not able to successfully access your website pages, which can affect search results.

One last feature of Google Webmaster Tools worth mentioning is the 'Change of Address' feature. Yes, it does exactly that! If you change your domain name, this is where you can tell Google that the old website was on this domain but now it is on this new domain. It will help speed up the length of time it takes Google to re-evaluate the new websites page positions on the new domain. In turn, this will prevent traffic dropping at website launch.

4. Don't delete pages

Your current website has been on its current CMS platform for 4 years now and you are enjoying good keyword positions. Your digital marketing agency has been working hard with you to develop the site’s content and optimizing the new content. The worst thing you can do at a website redesign is to drop all of these optimized pages and consequently lose all the traffic that they bring to the website.

For example, a hotels website might consist of an Attractions module with a page specific to each amenity or attraction that hotel customers might want to visit during their stay. You might not think these pages are top revenue pages because people do not book from these pages, but, quite often, these pages brought the visitor to the website initially with an organic search from something like:

"Things to do in Covent Garden", "Museums in Central London", "Hotels Near the London Eye", "Hotels Near London West End" etc.

If you drop these pages on the new website, then you will quickly find that you do not rank for these keywords anymore!

Deleting pages at website redesign causes a content gap in what Google knew your website once 'talked’ about on a specific topic but now your website no longer has a page on "Hotels Near the London Eye", for example, so will drop out of ranking for this topic and no longer receive the traffic related to it.

5. Keep site architecture structure

The structure of the pages on a website is called site architecture and refers to how each page is connected to another page on different levels. We call pages in the main navigation bar primary pages and these would generally be the most important pages to rank for. They would be fully optimized to get as much attention from Google as possible on their topics: Accommodation, Weddings, or Events, for example.

These primary pages then pass the link equity down to the secondary pages on the same topic.

The /weddings/weddings-packages page below the main /weddings page for example.

Google passes value from one page to the next through internal links. Depending on where the targeted page is in the hierarchical structure will depend on the amount of value passed to these pages.

Internal links are implemented in a couple of ways, through navigation bars or in content hyperlinks. And both can be utilized to connect with the higher value pages if you want to push for a certain page to get page rankings.

Often during a website redesign, it may be suggested that a page that once was on the primary navigation should be included elsewhere. For example, it might be requested that ‘Spa’ should be included under a new section called ‘Leisure’ (to include the hotel’s new gym), but link equity will be lost from the old website’s primary navigation, as the internal linking structure would also change. Traffic for these ‘Spa’ pages will drop and take some months to recover in the search results.

Try to keep the same site structure on the new website that existed on the old website to keep the link equity.

6. On-page optimization migration

A website upgrade is a great time to review your current meta titles, meta descriptions, H1’s, URL Structure, optimized Alt Tags, past keyword research and any other on-page SEO that has been carried out on your existing website. If this meta data is good and your website has enjoyed good search engine rankings from it as a result, then do not change it. Migrate the meta data across to the new website as it will help in not confusing Google further!

So, a website redesign is the perfect time to review your current optimization, document it, and make sure your new pages contain the same high optimization level or better. Your post-launch organic traffic will thank you for it!

That said there will always be certain sections on a website that never got any/enough SEO in the past, so these will require new meta data and keyword research.

These 6 Tips will avoid traffic loss during the website redesign and grow your traffic after launch.

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