Many times when companies consider a site redesign, they'll say, "We need a fresher look," or "We need to delete a lot of these garbage pages in our Web site." Their rationale may be that they need better -- marketing fluff -- content, or a more interactive Web site with Flash demos or things of that nature.
Rarely do you hear companies say, "We need to redesign our Web site because it wasn't built for SEO," or, "We need to be careful when we launch this Web site to make sure our search engine rankings don't drop due to changes."
If you find yourself in this position (undergoing a redesign) stop everything until you've read this column. The advice I'll give to you today will save you countless headaches, months of aggravation, and -- perhaps -- a lot of money in lost traffic/leads/sales.
Here are four absolute SEO essentials you'll need to consider in site redesign:
When you're putting together your information architecture, you should be considering usability (first and foremost), but you should also be bringing SEO objectives into this portion of the project. Don't let SEO be something you do after the Web site has launched. That's backward.
Develop a set of keywords you know you want to focus on and make sure you're building a Web site that actually has pages devoted to the keywords. Having a ranking for a keyword is not happenstance. You need to have content in order to have any "meat" the search engines can chew on.
Also, don't "pare down" your Web site. Your new Web site should have more pages. You want the search engines to see your Web presence is growing, not shrinking. I've often seen a Web site with 100 pages relaunch with 500 pages do better because of the "tail" traffic (those additional 400 pages are getting direct traffic), and the Web site seems to get a bump in "authority" because the entire Web site has grown. I refer to this as the "Wikipedia" effect (that's a huge Web site, in case you didn't know).
Many content management systems (CMS) cause problems with SEO. If you have a small Web site or a brochure Web site (e.g., lead forms), consider using WordPress as your CMS platform.
You can create search engine friendly pages, search engine friendly URLs, and light code with WordPress and many other CMS platforms. If you have unique needs from your content management system, ask your sales rep to give you examples of Web sites running on the platform. See if they have any organic rankings. Check several pages of these Web sites to see that they all rank. It's easy enough to get the home page to rank, but we need to make sure all of the pages are well indexed and able to rank, themselves.
Your design should allow for textual content for each page -- use text-based navigation (CSS), and be "light" code. Try to avoid "Flashterbation" (what I call using Flash for no real reason).
Text on the page. Real text on the page, not "text in an image" we see all too often. It's possible to make the text "look good" (through CSS) so get over that internal objection. There are many schools of thought on this, but shoot for 400 words of content on the home page and 250 or so words on internal pages.
Don't launch your Web site until you've checked to make sure your entire legacy (old) pages/URLs are redirected to the new URLs. Riona MacNamara of Google Webmaster Central wrote an excellent post on Best Practices when Moving Your Site.
Your Web site structure/design/content has everything to do with whether your site will rank in search engines. Many "so-called" SEOs will let you believe it's all about the links pointing to your Web site. That's false. One very large brand I know of has a Google PageRank of 9, yet that site doesn't rank for any relevant keywords.
Like many large brands, they opted for a Flash Web site. The entire Web site is not in Flash, but the home page is 100 percent Flash. This is a company that could basically choose which keyword they'd like to rank for and, with just a little effort, they could be there in no time flat.
They hadn't given SEO a second thought. By changing their creative approach, and having their IT team spend about one day (at the most) implementing a design, they could be enjoying millions of dollars worth of "free" traffic within two months (an attainable estimate).
If you follow these simple steps, you should earn a raise from your boss. Your Web site will do much better in the search engines and you'll never realize the time/money you saved in the process.