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Will you lose your Google ranking if you get a new website?

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Written by Carlos Pinheiro on October 17th, 2018

No, you won’t – if you make the switch properly. Here’s our guide to website migration that won’t ruin your search rankings.

A common argument against updating your company’s website is that, even if it’s really outdated, and looks rubbish, the risk of changing it is too great because it might impact your search rankings.

We hear this a lot, especially from businesses whose revenues rely on quick conversions through their sites. They’re at the top of Google for a lot of their key services already, and it means they get thousands of clicks, resulting in a steady stream of quotes and/or sales.

And it works for them – so why change? That’s a good question actually, so let’s start there.

Why get a new website if you’re already at the top of Google?

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Well, true. But it might be broke without your knowledge, or on its way there – and even if it isn’t, there’s usually a way to improve even further.

Heading for trouble: outdated SEO practices

If your site’s a particularly old one, it may have climbed to the top of Google through some tactics that seemed fine at the time, but are now less-than-desirable.

We do still see sites full of spammy links, copy-and-pasted duplicate content, and keyword stuffing. In the past, these frowned-upon tactics helped sites climb to the top of search engines – and they’ve managed to fly under the radar thanks to their company’s niche and stay there.

But it’s a huge risk to keep it this way. Getting caught out and slapped with a Google penalty will do massive damage to a smaller business’s website – far more than a new site would.

You can always improve

Are you ranking highly for everything you want to rank for? Or is there the opportunity to cast a wider net, and improve your rankings under a more diverse set of terms? And do the rankings you do have translate to enough leads or sales?

SEO is an ongoing process – if you don’t attempt to build on it and grow your rankings, or work to retain the ones you have, you’ll start to slip.

Retaining search ranking through a site migration

Here’s a quick run-through of how we plan and launch new websites from an SEO perspective, to give you an idea of what you need to consider. If you have any questions about anything, just get in touch!

Crawl your existing site

Do you know exactly how many pages there are on your website? Over the years, everyone has a tendency to add and remove things – but often, pages are just removed from view in the front-end menu structure, rather than deleted completely.

This can be a benefit if the page still drives traffic to the site, but a drawback if it means you have two basically identical pages competing for rankings, for example.

Crawling a site using a tool like Screaming Frog will find every single URL on your domain, show you whether it’s indexed by search engines, and also pull through page titles, image alt text, and the search metadata that is displayed in Google results pages.

This gives you a full understanding of how your site is set out, so you can identify any gaps, know what you need to retain, and make sure you don’t miss anything.

Analyse and improve your content

If you’ve got good content that doesn’t fall into any of the outdated practices that we mentioned above, and leads to good rankings, then there’s not much point in changing it.

However, it’s incredibly unlikely that you won’t find a single thing that can be improved upon. You might have duplicated page titles, which you can diversify to improve keyword reach. You might have multiple versions of the same page that can be deleted.

But you also might find that your content can be improved upon – a good place to start is if you have pages that are too short to really provide a user (or search engine) enough information. These could be expanded.

Transfer your content to the new site

If your site is being rebuilt in a new platform, then you’ll need to transfer your content across. This is where your site crawl comes in handy, as it means you won’t miss anything.

Blogs are a particularly important thing to consider – you might decide you want to lose all your old posts and start from scratch, but if they’re driving a lot of content to your site then it’s probably a bad idea.

Often, blogs can be exported from one site and imported to another almost instantly – but even if they can’t, there are methods for retaining that essential content that can be explored.

Retain URLs where possible

This is probably one of the most important points. If you move a page to a different URL, Google won’t be able to find it anymore. Even if the content is identical, your new URL will have to be re-indexed and climb its way back up the rankings again.

Keeping your URLs the same on a new website is often very straightforward – it’s a case of ensuring that companyname.com/categoryone/productone on the old site is still companyname.com/categoryone/productone on the new site. Unless you’re doing some major rebranding or restructuring, this would normally happen naturally anyway.

However, if you are changing the names of things, or the way they’re accessed on your site, then you’ll need to put URL redirects in place.

301 redirects

URL redirects are a key part of technical SEO – pieces of website code that point one URL to another. So, for example, if someone clicks on companyname.com/categoryone/productone they are instantly taken to newname.com/newcategoryname/newproductname.

This won’t mean that the new URL will instantly replace the old one in search results – your rankings will take a hit of about 15% by using 301 redirects. However, this is the most effective way to create a connection between the old and new links, and the most effective way to pass on the old link’s search authority to the new one.

Time your launch right – i.e. not during your most busy period – and you’ll be able to ride out that ranking reduction. Combined with the improvements you’ve made, and any ongoing SEO activity you have planned, you’ll be able to recover and improve upon it in no time.

Headshot of Carlos
Written by Carlos Pinheiro on October 17th, 2018

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