Maintain Search Rankings on Site Redesign

SEO Tutorials | January 17th, 2008 | 7 Comments

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The other day while making a tour of the blogs i like I ended up reading on NetBusinessBlog a post on how to maintain search engine rankings on site redesign. I do like that blog and it does have lots of useful tips and articles, but I had to disagree on this article where the author where he was mainly concentrating on the URL mapping rather than actually maintaining the rankings. Adie’s advice was to use 301 redirect (permanent redirect).

The 301 redirect does redirect web browser users as well as search engine spiders to another page. So lets presume you had a page called se-ranking.htm and later one you decided to change the page name to search-engine-rankings.htm because you want a more keyword rich URL. In this case, the search engines will treat this renamed page as new page, and it will lose rankings most likely, as well as it will not have even PageRank (if you really care about that). This issue is solved by the 301 redirect, where you redirect everything from se-ranking.htm to search-engine-rankings.htm included visitors (from your homepage, referral pages or even organic search), the search engine spider bots and also you will be forwarding the PageRank of the old page to the new one (few days ago I wrote about the PR glitch and faking PageRank, but redirecting pages from your own site is it not considered as faking PR).

After my comment on that post the author was kind enough (or ironic) and asked if I could maybe explain this on my blog, it was a great idea indeed so here I am writing about it for what I know and for what I can tell you. If you are an old reader of this blog than you know the nature of the blog is to prove you that you can do SEO too, is gradually and in a longer time or boosting your rankings all at once (in any case I choose the gradual one, yeah more posts to write 😛 kidding). You might also know that I have been playing with this blog and torturing it a extreme way, first I redesigned the blog after the redesign I tortured it and played with seo website title, also played with the number of posts can be displayed on homepage and how they are being displayed to eliminating duplicate content. All these were dynamic part of a blog and in case you have forgot there is the static part of the blog which can play an important role when we are talking about blogs, to explain this better I have drawn a mockup of how this layout looks.
Site SEO Mockup Mapping
As you can see the mockup seo mapping (of this blog) is in different colors, and each of the colors has been described. The green parts of the layout are the (so intended to be static parts of a layout), the orange one is semi dynamic since it is visible only on the homepage of SEO Blog while the dark blue area is the dynamic part where the content sits (it is dynamic since it changes every time you publish a post). These green parts can play an extremely important rule when optimizing your homepage for a certain keyword on site redesign or simply when you are changing the way the posts should be presented to your readers in the homepage.

When I blog I like to have the freedom as of how I start my posts and I would not want to keep in mind that I need to use keywords (for the homepage) in the first paragraph since the first paragraph will be used as summary of my post when displaying excerpt of posts on homepage rather than full post. So if before when I kept full posts on homepage I would anyway have keywords from within the post, now I wont, and here is where the static parts of the layout will help me a lot. As you may know, I like to rank for this blog with keywords “SEO Optimization”, to obtain that I have on the header (static part) my keywords under a heading (h1), than again on the semi dynamic part under a heading and yet another time on the sidebar right bellow the RSS subscribe block which helps me obtain keyword frequency in homepage of 12 times (in combination) and keep the keyword weight in the body of the site of 3.3%.

Why am I explaining this? These are those parts that you will most likely be losing when you redesign your blog and as Adie of NetBusinessBlog said on his post “Web designers now need to be very aware of Organic Search Engine Rankings when changing a clients website” but this doesn’t often happen, and if you are not aware of these changes you will most likely lose rankings. But lets see what do you actually need to look at when redesigning your layout (is it a blog or a static page).

  • The coding structure
  • Content VS Image/Code percentage
  • Load time
  • Keyword density

The coding structure

The coding structure has a huge impact on SEO. As we know, the search engine spider bots crawl our website and store our content, content where our keywords are present and which (at a certain point) determine our position in the SERPs. The easier for spider bots it is to reach our content the better it is (just as, it easier is for readers to find our content and read it its better). But with the use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) we can play with our content position the way we want, in a same layout design we can bring the (in the code source) before the sidebar or after the sidebar (if we use positioning “which I always avoid” we can even present the content block in the source code even before the header block) and keep the perfect visual for visitors.

In simple words, what we would want to do is keep the content as close as possible to the body tag so spider bots can easily reach it (note: spider bots crawl content from top to bottom), the closer to the body the content is the faster the spider bots will crawl our content instead of having the content at the bottom of the source code (where the spider will first need to crawl all the code, header, sidebar etc, informations which are less important for your site).

Content VS Image percentage

Search engines LOVE content, fresh and unique content mainly, but overall they do love textual content and thats what they mainly crawl from our sites. The more we feed search engines with content the more likely we will better rank, said this, your websites source code should be presented with more textual content than coding. Many coders and designers don’t keep this in mind, all they tend to achieve is present to their customers a good looking layout in major web browsers (even if they need to use more wrapper code than it actually is needed, but in many cases coders can’t do much if the designer has designed the layout in such way, and than its clients fault for approving such design even tho it is indeed a beautiful design).

Load time

Load time in many cases depends from the server on which you have your website hosted but the designer (or rather the coder if you are outsourcing one) can help to reduce this load time. It happens often that designers (well its their job) provide you with a image heavy design where graphics is a must to have even when coding. If the coder is not able to slice that layout in a way that it uses as less as possible images that the server will need to load will cause a slow loading time. Let me ask you, have you ever tried to reach a website but gave up because it was taking ages to load? The same behavior the spider bots have, if they will not be able to crawl your sites content within a short period of time they will mark the site as temporary unavailable and leave, than reattempt in a second time to crawl it, and this will might cause loss of rankings for new keywords (if you have new content to be crawled) or possibly overall ranking if the spider bot will have difficulties to crawl your content.

Keyword density

Keyword density also plays important role on search engine optimization. Funky (but yet beautiful) designs that have parts designed in fonts which browsers do not support (or at least that the user does not have that font installed on his/her machine) will need to be presented as images (unless you are willing to give up on that design part). Using those parts as image based will decrease the keyword density of your site (example, NetBusinessBlog uses the “Read the rest of this article” as image based, and to make things worst it is using it in a empty span where the span is using as background the image). If you look at the source code you will notice that more than 50% of the layouts source is code based rather than image based (but that could of be well reduced by decreasing the number of wrappers). With the previous layout tho (seen from the archives) netbusinessblog’s source code held more than 60% content.

These are points I do like to pay attention at when working out a redesign of your site, even if the structure of the homepage changes but you still have the points named above fixed the ranking of your blog have some fluctuations since search engines will treat the design as a new site (just as it treats the new content), but as time passes it will gain back your previous search engine rankings, it just needs some patience from your side. On a second view, what Adie said on his blog post it is strongly recommended to be used when you are also changing your permalink (the URL structure of your post) which I presume what was Adie writing about, since he had his permalink changed, but maybe he should had used the title of the post as “How not to lose rankings when changing URL structure” rather than when redesigning your layout.

Side note: I just realized that I haven’t updated my readers on how this blog has been performing in the search engine rankings after “lifting up” of the blog and after I made the major changes. I will take note not to forget this time and write about it on details.

Hope you enjoyed reading this (maybe the longest) post on seo tutorials and that it helped you learn seo from the coding perspective as well. Subscribe by email to be notified whenever a new post is being published.

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7 Responses to “Maintain Search Rankings on Site Redesign”
  1. Thanks for sharing all the info. I am considering getting a customized blog design. I currently would like my text bigger, only 3 blog posts on my articles page (I edited the # of posts to 3, it for some reason isn’t working), and a section of six 125 X 125 ads like you have… anyways, thanks again for the quality article.

  2. rendra-ht says:

    thank for tips, it very usefull for newbie like me.


  3. ChiQ Montes says:

    i think it won’t have any affect (the changing of theme) as long as permalinks/links are the same or intact..

  4. Chiq, it will, just as it will have impact having an empty element (call it a div or a paragraph). Even this blog has a huge bounce on changing the theme layout (coding structure).

    Andrew, have a unique design is a good thing, if you are serious about your blog and as long as you will benefit out of it (the mogul had huge benefits of it, I had benefits of it) just target your goal what you want to reach with the new layout. If you need help or suggestions, drop me an email.

  5. Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head. Too many people think that SEO is only about linking these days (Largely thanks to Google I suspect). On the page factors are still important, change your design, change your static text elements and even the order of your tags and where your content appears in the source and you will see ranking changes.

  6. Indeed Paul, many web designers (even tho their job is to design) believe that it will have no type of impact. And thats wrong, clients as clients are not aware of that and when rankings will start dropping for certain keywords but will maybe increase for other keywords in the near feature they will blame the designer or their previous SEO guy. The fact is that no one is about to be blamed, especially if you don’t let the designer and the SEO guy collaborate during the process.

    It is true that backlinks have a huge slice of the game (especially with Google), but thats just not all seo building backlinks. A pitty tho today I had no time to write about how the on page optimization can improve lots of things even without heavily building backlinks to your site. Will make sure to be ready for tomorrow tho.

  7. Thanks SEO for the support. I will probably drop you an e-mail. I’ve been getting quotes from different designers lately…