Technical SEO: How to de-risk major website changes

Our Operations Director (and veteran technical SEO) Chris Smith shares his advice on the topic of de-risking major website changes in the following video:

How to de-risk major website changes

We share our essential tips for de-risking major changes to your website, so that your organic search performance is not affected.

Posted by Custard Online Marketing on Monday, 29 January 2018

View transcript
I’m Chris Smith, operations director at Custard Online Marketing and I take the lead on our technical SEO projects.

How to de-risk major changes to your website

I want to share with you some useful tips which should help to de-risk major site updates, so you can ensure that the only changes you make are positive ones.

Implementing major changes to your site such as alterations to the structure of your URLs, migrating to https or deploying a completely new platform, can be very risky. If the wrong decisions are made or the changes are not implemented correctly, it can have an adverse effect on your organic search performance.

What is the single most important thing to bear in mind when making big changes?

When altering your URLs or migrating to a new domain or protocol (such as https), it is really important that you create a comprehensive 301-redirect plan.

By individually redirecting your old URLs to their new equivalents, you will ensure that any search equity built up on the old pages is transferred to the new ones, and any historic links to your site won’t result in 404 errors.

The best thing to do is to create a redirect map, and to make sure that all redirects are in place at go live rather than mopping them up later. This is because with any major change, Google is likely to fully re-evaluate your site so its crawlers will be able to find the new content more quickly if everything is done right in one go.

What precautions need taking before deploying a major change?

Test your redirect plan in a staging environment using a crawler tool such as Screaming Frog. You can run a redirect chain report which will show you how many steps there are between the requests made to each URL and the final destination. Ideally you want all your redirects to consist of only a single step.

Before making any major change, make sure you have gathered enough data on the site’s current performance.

This will provide you with a benchmark which you can measure against after the changes have been implemented, enabling you to spot unforeseen issues and take corrective action more quickly.

In addition to the usual performance metrics from Analytics such as sessions, pages per view and conversions, you should also look at search position, impressions, clicks and click-through rate in Google’s Search Console.

When migrating to https, moving away from the www version or changing the domain of your site altogether Google will treat the new site as being completely separate to the old one from a search indexing point of view, so make sure you’ve claimed the new property in Search Console.

It’s crucial to ensure you transfer important elements such as disavow files, XML sitemaps, international targeting preferences and URL parameter configuration to your new Search Console profile – failing to do so can be disastrous.

What can be expected to happen immediately after go-live?

It is normal for results to fluctuate significantly following any major on-site change whilst Google re-evaluates, but things should settle down within 1-2 weeks.

Other than urgent fixes, it’s important that you don’t make any other major changes during this period or else it might become difficult if not impossible to know which change led to what effect.

If you have big plans for your website and need further support on de-risking these, or if you are experiencing problems relating to changes you have made in the past, get in touch with the team here at Custard and we’d love to help.

Find out more at custard.co.uk/techseo/.

Nobody wants to see a visibility plot like the one below. Making any major change to your website carries with it a risk, and if you don’t proceed with care there is a significant potential for damaging your site’s organic search performance.

de-risking-major-change

It is essential to take necessary precautions, both prior to and during such changes, so that you don’t become the victim of unforeseen adverse effects.

What could be classed as a major website change?

A major on-site change could be anything from rolling out a site-wide update such as a new design or transitioning to a responsive setup, a content migration involving the revision of your URL structure, a change of domain or even a seemingly simple switch to https://.

Any of these activities might seem simple on the face of it, but there are various pitfalls in each use case which need to be considered and avoided at all costs.

Proving our methodology works

To demonstrate why these techniques are important, read on to discover how we helped one of our retail clients through a major website change and the impact this had.

The challenge: The client had experienced a year on year drop in organic visibility and was seeing no noticeable improvements with their organic strategy.

Our approach: A fresh approach, focusing primarily on on-site content optimisation, which involved implementing a new site architecture in conjunction with off-site link building.

The results: Following a 12-month campaign, these were the results on the client’s organic search performance:

de-risking-major-change-results

  • Searchmetrics organic visibility score increased by 300% from the start of our campaign
  • Organic traffic up 95% year on year
  • Online orders up 70% year on year
  • Moz DA (Domain Authority) increased from 19 to 26

Need further help with your technical SEO?

If you want to find out more about how exactly we helped this client, or want to see other examples of our SEO expertise in action, please contact our friendly team who will be happy to help.

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