At some stage you are going to upgrade your website. It could be for reasons as simple as seeking a new fresh look, it may be as part of a rebranding
initiative or simply because you need to have a mobile friendly version of your site. Whatever the reason, there are some very important aspects
of your website upgrade that too many developers overlook and which can lead to serious SEO issues and loss of your current rankings if it is not managed
A great deal of work goes into the planning and design of your site upgrade but in too many cases little or no thought is given to the rankings and
reputation of what has already been achieved with your existing site stop
Over the years, your site has built (hopefully) a solid reputation, along with a degree of credibility on the Internet. Links to your website pages
from other websites are responsible for this. This could be in the form of links to pages in your site from business directories, other blog/web sites,
discussion forums, social media posts etc. All these links will point to specific URLs within your website.
Further to these links, the search engines have indexed your existing content and all things going well, the URLs for pages are showing up in the search
results directing prospects to your website content.
The Dreaded 404 Error
Now imagine your new Web developer has built your new site however the new pages have different URLs to your existing content. Reasons for this might include:
transferring current content across to new pages but on a different URL
you developer may not migrate all your existing content across
you have changed the CMS platform used to develop your site which produces URLs on a different basis to your previous system
Whatever the reason, your new site could be going live with an array of existing links on the Internet, pointing to pages that no longer exist. You
do not want this to happen as this is seen as a broken link resulting in a 404 error condition because your internet address can not be found.
You will have a hard enough job ahead of you getting your new pages ranked but to lose the value of those existing backlinks can be detrimental to your
SEO rankings and result in some serious loss of visitors to your site.
As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is the quality of your back links that confirms your credibility and reputation on the Internet,
two key factors to obtain good SEO rankings.
If these links point to non-existent pages, the following will occur:
Google will downgrade your ranking because of 404 errors stemming from the broken links.
Your overall reputation for your website will be downgraded due to a diminished back link profile
visitors to your site arriving from search engine results or following links to your site from other referrals sites will be discouraged and are more likely to bounce from your site.
Less visitors and increased bounce rate combined with lower average time on your site will decrease your ranking in the search engines.
Visitor confidence in your business will be lowered.
Resolving Your Broken Links
There is a solution and whilst it does require time and attention on the part of your developer, it is not overly complicated to put in place. You
must first obtain a list of the page URLs for every page in your old site. Two programs we use of this are Xenu and Screaming Frog. Compile this list of site URLs before your old site is decommissioned.
You then need to build a series of 301 redirects on every one of those URLs pointing to the equivalent new page in the new site. This need only be
done where there is not an exact match on page URLs between your old and new site. How your developer achieves this will depend on the CMS platform
that they have chosen to develop your site.
With Business Catalyst, we are able to import a simple Excel file of all our redirects into the new website for our clients and then add/edit individual entries as required.
The other important thing your developer should ensure is that your site has a 404 broken link page in place in case you have any broken links or have
overlooked the list of links in your 301-redirect list. How you define the content of your 404 page can also have an impact on visitor response so
it is importanto to make this page as helpful as you can.
How can you check on broken links?
The simplest method is to ensure your developer has Webmaster tools setup for your domain. In this tool there is a facility where Google will report
on any references to missing pages refer to within both your own site and pages on other sites that Google has scared. You should be sure that
these results are checked regularly and most importantly, immediately after your new site goes live and Google has completed its first scan.
Where Google Webmaster Tools comes in on its own is its ability to identify broken links found not only in your own content but also that of external pages
Google scans and indexes.
There are a number of other aspects you developer should consider when migrating you to your new website and certainly following the above advice to ensure
you do not suffer serious disruption to your SEO rankings all visitor traffic.