404 page not found errorThe danger of redesigning your website is that you lose any SEO advantage you’ve already built up.

When you’ve spent time and money on a search optimisation campaign the last thing you want to do is throw all that investment down the drain when you launch your new site. Here are three mistakes I’ve seen made that have devastatingly resulted in just that happening…

1. Working with a web designer who doesn’t understand SEO

This is the most common, and most costly mistake you can make. It is a popular misconception that all web designers understand SEO. This is sadly far from the case so ensure that your web designer of choice either has a thorough understanding of the SEO work you’ve done and how to retain your advantage or, that they’re working alongside a specialist who does.

2. Choosing a graphics heavy design

Google can’t ‘read’ images. Fact. So if you choose a new design that is graphics heavy you will suffer in the search optimisation stakes. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a few well chosen, well placed images on your web pages – they’ll actually help with your conversions. The places to avoid using graphics are for text. Don’t under any circumstances have navigation menus made of images – they may look nice but search engines can’t read them, follow them and a result may not index your site’s pages.

Make sure you check with your designer that they’ll be using actual HTML text for all navigational elements. Web designers can now use the @font-face CSS attribute to utilise more than the standard issue font sets so you’re no longer restricted to Arial, Verdana and Trebuchet etc!

3. Overwriting an established page structure

It’s often the case that a website redesign happens at the same time as an upgrade in the functionality of the site itself. You may be switching over to a dynamic site i.e. one that is database driven so either provides a content management system, blog, membership area or similar.

Beware here of page file naming conventions. A static site (one that rarely changes and is just built of standard HTML pages) traditionally has URLs such as http://www.yourdomain.co.uk/foldername/page.html whereas a dynamic site is more likely to name this as http://www.yourdomain.co.uk/page.php?name=pagename This presents a number of problems, firstly your site visitors may have bookmarked the fisrt page so when they re-visit it they will just see a Page not Found error instead of the page they were expecting. Secondly Google has indexed the URL of the first page and when it too revisits and finds an error page this will affect your rankings. And thirdly the second URL type is not easily readable by Google (it stops at the ‘?’) and so your pages may not even get indexed at all.

The good news is that these are both avoidable. To prevent the page not found errors you should use 301 Page Redirects which are  rules written in the .htaccess file on your server that tells search engines that a page, for example,  http://www.yourdomain.co.uk/foldername/page.html has permantly moved to http://www.yourdomain.co.uk/page. This will also make sure that any SEO credibility the original page has carries over to the new page.

To prevent the second problem of the dynamically generated URLs they need to use a mod_rewite which rewrites the URLs at server level i.e. before it appears in the browser address bar. If you’re using WordPress this is easy to do using the Permalinks setting, otherwise it is advisable to talk to your web developer or hosting company.

So before you rush to redesign your website take stock of the SEO value your current site has. Measure your keyword rankings, look at your analytics to see which pages are most popular and look at how your site appears in the search engine results pages (SERPs) to see if google has included links to deeper content on your site. Pass this information to your web design company and make it part of the brief that they have to retain your current SEO status.

Note: Even if your designer does do all of the above it is normal to see a drop in rankings when a new website is put live – this is temporary and your site will bounce back and likley be stronger if you’ve chosen your web agency carefully.

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