7 Necessary Ingredients to keep Google ranking when launching a new website

So, you just finished up your website finally… All the tweaks are implemented – wait there’s another one (gotta tell Web Guy about that thing hanging to the left there). Then you launch the website you’re proud of – replacing your old website. How will Google respond?

1. Retain pages’ authority

Did the URLs change from what they used to be? Perhaps your page URLs used to look something like:

http://www.website.com/products/oldURL.aspx?itemID=278

…and now they look like:

http://www.website.com/adhesives/super-glue/

The new URL is certainly more helpful for people and Google. But how will Google figure out where the new version of each page is? You have the choice:

  1. Wait for Google to review your site over time and figure it out by indexing and restructuring it’s understanding of your website hierarchy. This is easy on you (because you didn’t have to do anything), but it tends to shake up rankings for months and if you have built up the authority of pages by URL (by getting good links to that URL), much of that authority will be lost because the page is ‘lost’ from Google’s point of view. So… not really an option.
  2. Setup “301″ Redirects.301 is just a version of a redirect that tells Google this is a permanent redirect (not a temporary redirect or a server error). For any page in which the URL will change, setup a 301 redirect so Google (and peoples’ browsers) know the new location of the content. There are multiple ways to set these up: .htaccess files, WordPress plugin, PHP – your web guy will know which makes the most sense in your case. Setting these up will prompt Google to update its records of your page links and transfer the authority of the old URL and apply it to the new URL. Google confirms this and from our own tests, it does appear to transfer authority completely.

    Google says: “If you need to change the URL of a page as it is shown in search engine results, we recommended that you use a server-side 301 redirect. This is the best way to ensure that users and search engines are directed to the correct page.”

2. Don’t change your domain name

Google doesn’t admit this, but if you do everything right and setup all your “301″ redirects, you will still lose ranking if you switch to a new domain name – guaranteed. A domain name is like a person to Google. They have to get to know that new person before attributing trust.

Lesson Learned
We experienced this ourselves about 4 years ago. We switched from www.effectwebmedia.com to www.effectwebagency.com. We did everything Google recommends and we lost half our traffic. To Google, it’s a new person and even if everything is redirected, Google does not carry over all the authority to the new domain.

We recommend only changing your domain if you absolutely must. You can always point other domain names to your old one so people can type in different domains to go to your site.

3. Unique content on every page

When Google sees multiple URLs showing the same content, it tends to ignore one version or if it’s a common occurrence on the site, it can hurt the overall site’s ranking. Why? Why does a site need multiple pages with the same content? It an old, old SEO-trickerific tactic and besides – it just doesn’t help visitors anyway.

Ending up with multiple URLs showing the same content can happen a few different ways:

  • Both www.yourwebsite.com and (non-www) yourwebsite.com display your website pages. Google still counts subdomains as different sites. It’s effectively seeing two sites that copied from each other. Your web people can add some code to your site to redirect all traffic to the www. version to solve this. It’s a simple fix, but do it before it causes trouble.
  • Database-driven catalogs can, by oversight, show the same content from different URLs unexpectedly.Lesson Learned:
    We had this happen with one of our clients about 3 years ago. We needed a new feature to allow the client to change the title of the page. We had coded the website to be “smart” and make the URL from the title. (Example: /my-product-name). The programmer wanted to make things work smoothly and programmed the site to still show the pages at the old URLs. Later, we found out that Google was seeing the same content for every product twice. We corrected it by implementing a lot of 301 redirects to tell Google that the pages permanently moved rather than showing content at old URLs. This corrected the situation, but it took a few months to recover. We recommend having an SEO Director review your database-driven website area and beating on it to make sure things work for Google.
  • URLs should always end in / or just be consistent. If you have pages that sometimes are linked to with /page and sometimes /page/ – again it’s the “multiple URLs showing the same page” situation.

4. Keep the content original

Just make sure you’re not adding a new catalog with dozens of pages that have product descriptions copied from the vendor. All of a sudden your website will have more copied content than original. That’s a good way to become irrelevant in Google’s eyes.

5. Don’t go backwards with technology

A couple examples of how older technology prevents Google from reading content:

Fully or mostly Flash websites
Using “Frames” in HTML (your Web Person will know…)

6. Have Google audit your site

Have your site generate an XML sitemap and load it into Google Webmaster Tools. It will review your site and tell you about any issues to correct. Check it at least once a month to make sure their are no new uncaught issues.

7. Ask someone who knows

We all know that its wise to seek wisdom. If you are considering making a new website and are concerned about your Google ranking or traffic, go ahead and just ask us about your situation. If you haven’t yet selected a web team, we’ll give you 15 minutes of free guidance. If you are already working with another web team or have an existing site you’d like us to audit for Google issues, we’ll still be happy to help at our normal hourly rate. Just call us at (574) 533-3800 or fill out the form.