As a leading digital marketing company, we have been helping companies to increase their ROI through effective marketing strategies. Improving the conversions through the website is one of the key aspects of our digital strategies and is a proven method over the years of our services.
When we take up digital marketing for any client, we start with analysing their website. Our website optimisation expert will go through a checklist of about 100 checkpoints through a manual process and certain automation tools are also used to assist in the auditing.
One of the key factors that we look into is the website structure and navigation path. A properly structured website will help in several ways:
1. It will be easier for your readers to navigate through the menu and sections of your website and reach the page they are looking for. More readers reaching your intended page means more conversions for you.
2. A properly structured website has better chances of ranking on search engines. Over a period of time, smart search engines like Google can understand the hierarchy of your content and use that information to choose your more appropriate pages to show on search results based on the additional knowledge it acquired from the content hierarchy.
3. A better-organised content can help in building more meaningful breadcrumbs schema and thus support in improving your presence in various search results.
4. Segregating different types of content into different sections will help in building the Schema in a more effective manner. For example, if you group all reviews into a category, you can build the Review schema for all pages in that category. If you have another category for Articles, the “Article” schema can be used for the same.
There are many other advantages for properly structuring your website but they are beyond the scope of this article. Let’s focus on the subject of this article.
Restructuring a website is a major event in the life of a website, comparable to major heart surgery for a human. A small mistake can cause catastrophic losses to your ranking and traffic. We have done restructuring for several high traffic websites in the past and have learnt a lot from our prior experience. Here is a collection of our tips to handle the website restructuring:
1. Audit your website
Website restructuring is one of the major activities on any website. Why not use this opportunity to fix other problems as well? Do a complete audit of your website and find all other issues. Use automated as well as manual auditing tools to find issues. siteaudit.in is an excellent tool to get started with your website audit. Take the help of an SEO consultant, if needed. By combining the overall fixing of issues with the restructuring can help in reducing a lot of redundant efforts.
2. Choose the right strategy
There are a few ways you can implement the restructuring:
--- Do all changes together and choose a day to switch over to the new structure (highest risk but most practical)
--- Change pages one by one to the new structure, thus measuring the impact through a gradual process (medium risk and ideal for small sites)
--- Keep old pages and URLs as it is but build new pages with a new structure and eventually make the old pages fade away from the visibility (lowest risk, highest efforts)
We have done all the 3 strategies for various clients and they all fit well for various scenarios. For one of our large banking client which has a huge volume of traffic from organic sources, we didn’t want to take any risk and so we did the slow migration process. We chose a mixed approach – for some low traffic sections, we did an all-at-once switch over to the new structure. Some pages that receive very high traffic from search engines were retained as it is for years until they eventually lost the traffic to some of the new pages we built. For many other pages, we implemented a system where we can manually change the URL to the new URL to move them to a new content structure. The entire process went very well and we were able to make a significant improvement in the search engine ranking and user experience after the migration was over.
3. Look for content stolen from your website and file DMCA
This is something that we learnt through bitter experience. We were working on website migration for one of our clients who run a popular technology portal. Other websites used to steal articles from this website but the client wasn’t concerned about it much since search engines anyway consider our site as the original source and rank them above all the copycats. However, after the website restructuring, somehow Google missed to correctly understand our new site even though we followed all the best practices. Many of the copycat sites started ranking above our original articles on Google search results for a short period of time. This problem got fixed eventually when Google reindexed all of the pages. But we found issues when we tried to file DMCA on the articles that were copied from us. Since our URLs changed, many of our DMCA requests were denied since the reviewers were not convinced that ours are the original content. Due to the change in the URLs, many of our pages were considered as new content and the copy cats have an older date. So, before you go for website restructuring, it is advised to scan for content copied from your website and file DMCA with the major search engines.
Implement 301-redirectWhen the site structure changes, the URLs also change. Since the search engine ranking is tied to the URLs, when the URLs change, the traffic ranking also gets affected. By properly implementing 301-redirect from old pages to the new pages, you can convey the message to search engines that the ranking of the old URLs needs to be transferred to the corresponding new URLs. This is the most important task involved in website restructuring.
4. Review most linked URLs
Open Google Search Console and look for the most linked pages on your website. See if you can retain the most linked URLs when you restructure the website if they still fit well in the new plan. Retaining the most linked URLs will be the lowest risk option. But if those URLs do not fit well in the new plan, let’s move on and change them. But maintain a list of those linked URLs to ensure they all get redirected to the corresponding new URLs using 301-redirect when your new site goes live.
5. Review internal links
If you have been efficiently managing your content and links, you would have created a lot of internal links between your pages. They are all going to break when you change the structure, resulting in poor user experience and lowering the search engine ranking. Use a broken link testing tool and scan the site for broken links. Also, do a manual audit and look for how the pages are cross-linked. In many cases, you can do a better job than an automated tool. While a tool can check the technical aspect of links, you can do a better job of making a more meaningful internal linking.
6. Come up with the best structure
You have made the decision to restructure your website. When you are changing for good, come up with the best. Restructuring is something you do once in a lifetime of a website, not more than that. So, do it right. Do proper brainstorming with your digital team. If you don’t have experts who have done this in the past, take help from a consultant or professionals. SpiderWorks has extensive experience in website restructuring and feel free to contact us in case you need any help
7. Retain the old website
Even after your new website goes live, you will have several reasons to refer to the old structure. So, keep a copy of your old website ready for reference. In most cases, we maintain a backup of the previous version as a sub-domain (something like http://backup.primarydomain.com). Remember to use robots.txt or no-index meta tags to block this backup from getting indexed on Google, causing other issues like duplicate content. I would recommend you keep this old copy until your new website’s fully functional in all aspects and all old pages are completely removed from search engines.
8. Dedicate enough time
You understand the risk and consequences of this major activity. Many things can go wrong when your new site goes live. So, make sure you have enough time in hand to dedicate for this process. Don’t replace your old website when you are involved in another major project since unexpected things can happen and you may need to dedicate your time to resolve the issues. So, choose a period when you have enough time to focus on this makeover.
9. Avoid your busy season
When your restructured website goes live, there could be fluctuation in ranking and traffic for many days. It may take several days or weeks before it settles and traffic returns to normal. If your business depends a lot on the organic traffic from your website, it is better to avoid a busy season. For example, if your website is a travel portal, your most busy season could be November – January since that’s the time most people plan their travel. Look at your traffic pattern and figure out which month is the best time to lose some business from organic traffic.
10. Submit sitemaps
Once your new site goes live, make sure you have submitted the new sitemap files to search engines. Even though the modern search engines are smart enough to crawl the websites without the help of sitemaps, it is a good idea to help them find your new URLs quickly. In case of websites with dynamic pages like articles or product listing, it is relatively easier to generate dynamic sitemaps based on the content from the database. In case of websites with static pages, you will have to create static sitemaps manually or with the help of some sitemap generation tools. Also, submitting sitemaps will help you closely monitor how many of your new URLs are already indexed on Google.
11. Change web hosting
Did you find a better hosting provider but didn’t want to switch-over yet since you just didn’t find the right time to do so? The time has come. While your old website continues to run on the old server, you can buy the new hosting plan and upload your new site to the new server. You may use a temporary domain or a sub-domain and evaluate the performance of your website on the new server. Once you complete the testing, you can switch your domain to the new server. If you have paid up for a longer-term on the old server, you may retain your old website on the old server by pointing a sub-domain or a temporary domain but remember to block it from search engines.
12. Change links from external websites
If your website is pretty old, you may have acquired a lot of organic backlinks from other websites. If you have done any sort of link building activities, your website would have received links from those activities as well. While 301-redirects can help in diverting the ranking of old URLs to the new URLs, that is not a fool-proof mechanism. You may lose ranking over a period of time unless you get backlinks to the new URLs. It will be a lot easier to get your old links changed to the new URLs than waiting for organic backlinks to come up for your new pages. Try contacting the webmasters of the sites that are linking to your old URLs. Explain to them what you have done and request them to change the link from the old URL to your corresponding new pages.
Restructuring the pages and URLs on your website is one of the biggest risk activities for any website. In addition to taking care of above recommendations, you can take a look at this excellent resource from Google. If you are not an expert in handling this kind of activities on an SEO perspective, it is better to hire an SEO consultant or a digital marketing agency to execute this. If you are looking for a reliable digital marketing agency in Dubai, we are here to help. Get in touch with us today to get started with your migration to a new face for your website.