How to Safely Upgrade an Existing Website

If you are preparing to upgrade an older website it is important to know that common mistakes during the upgrade process could severely impact your website traffic and search engine rankings.

We specialize in website re-designs and website upgrades of established websites and we regularly see the results of website upgrades gone bad. For example, we recently had a customer who went with an inexperienced firm who just blindly built them a shiny new website and launched it. It sure looked great but their rankings and site traffic took a major hit and the inquiries and leads dried up and that, negatively impacted their business.

Needless to say the customer was livid and hired us to remedy the situation. We actually had to restore their old website to get back their rankings and traffic, which took weeks and then we did a careful planning project to transition from the old website to a new website, in order to minimize the impact of the website upgrade.

Factors That Will Impact Your Rankings

  • Updating the Back-End – The greatest risks occur when you are upgrading your website and changing from one back-end platform to another. This is not uncommon. Client may be changing in or out of WordPress or some other platform. This is risky because many times the URL structure of the website changes and this will affect rankings. To get around this, the developer can use 301 Redirects, which tell the search engines, this old url is now locate in this new location. This works but we’ve seen a ranking loss when this occurs.
  • Changing Site Structure – Re-locating content into different categories, shuffling around your navigation and changing the folders that content is stored in almost always impacts rankings.
  • Deleting / Removing Content – Pruning “old” content can also affect your search visibility, since Google has indexed these pages and often times they are bringing traffic. Think of the amount of content you have as the size of your fishing net. The larger the net, the more fish you’ll catch. Think twice about making your net smaller.
  • Editing / Changing Site Content – With a new upgrade often comes the desire to revamp all the content. Be wary. You can enhance the content carefully but you’re best to check search traffic and rankings for each page to make sure you’re not going to impact your best pages. Check your keyword density and don’t change it substantially. Also err on the side of developing LONGER content, not shorter content. Google looks at how much time user’s stay on your pages as a factor of relevancy. Longer engaging content is better.
  • Changing Images – Changing images and the names of images can affect the relevancy of a page in a search engine. You can change the images but maintain the image file names and try to maintain the same number of images for your best pages.
  • Changing Page Names – Page Titles and page names are very important. Be careful about changing page names for well ranked pages.
  • Changing Meta Descriptions – While not strictly a ranking factor, a well written meta description can increase the number of clicks. So if you have pages with high click through rates, maintain the same meta-descriptions.
  • Changing Headings & Subheadings – Pages often are comprised of sections, made up of Headings and Subheadings. These are important ranking signals. You want to maintain these if possible or optimize them when such pages aren’t ranked well or driving traffic.
  • Changing Canonical – Most customers don’t realize this but there are two choices for your domain name: (1) and (2)  As you can see one uses www and the other doesn’t. To find which one you use, just type in your address into a web browser, wait for the page to load and then see what the address bar reads. Whatever it is, STAY with it. Don’t let your web developer accidentally change it, because it can significantly affect your search engine rankings.
  • Page Speed – Make sure your pages load quickly. This is becoming an important factor. Under 3 seconds is the target.
  • Mobile Optimization – Goes without saying but your site should be mobile optimized. This is a ranking factor on mobile.
  • Search Engine Friendly URLs – be sure you are maintaining seo/human friendly url’s that contain relevant keywords in them.
  • Internal Linking – most pages should have at least 2-3 links to other relevant content on your website. Maintain these links if you have them already. If not, plan out what those links should be.
  • External Linking – Linking to external websites that are relevant to the topic sends signals to Google about your content’s topic and can help rankings.

How to Minimize Your Web Site Upgrade Risks

All of the above factors contribute to your search rankings and traffic. If you’re simply keeping all content as-is, and just upgrading the theme of the website, there’s less risk but inadvertent mistakes are still quite commonly made, so be sure you’re developer is aware of these risks and mentioning them to you as part of the upgrade. If not you may be dealing with an experienced developer.

Website upgrades that will impact 1 or more of the above factors require a bit of upfront planning to determine what is desired, what the goals are for the new website, what content should stay, what should be archived, how the site will be re-structured, what platform will be used, etc. etc. This is called a “Roadmapping Session” and the goal is to map out the path that will do the least damage and which will preserve your search engine rankings.

Why You Need a Roadmapping Session

Particularly if your website is larger (50+ pages) or your website has been around for several years and you’ve built up some decent organic traffic and/or you desire to change 1 or more of the above Ranking Factors, a roadmapping session is what you’ll want. It includes a detailed analysis of your existing search engine rankings as well as a review of the following:

  • your traffic figures for your top landing and exit pages
  • your top referring websites
  • your inbound links (from other websites)
  • your organic sources of traffic
  • a site map showing the existing structure and organization of your website
  • the existing URL/file path format currently in use for key sections

This analysis and review informs everyone of the level of risk present in the website upgrade and helps us develop a roadmap for what we have to do to preserve your traffic and rankings.

Taking Inventory of Your Website’s Assets

Once we understand the SEO/Organic traffic factors, the next step is to do a content and functionality inventory where we complete the following tasks:

  • Categorize the content into logical categories and subsections
  • Analyze what features and functions the new website will need to mimic the old website’s functionality.
  • Make suggestions for any new features you might consider.
  • Work with you to map out which content should be featured/active on the new website and what should be archived but still present
  • Work on calls to action (CTA) development by improving current CTA’s or suggesting new ones.
  • Determine if we will need to mimic the URL paths on the new website so that they match the new website.
  • Plan out how the content from the old website can be migrated: manually entered, automated through an export/import or a joint-effort between company and provider.

As you can see, upgrading an established website requires more thought than just diving in and starting the project. For this reason we highly recommend a roadmapping session.

Benefits of a Roadmapping Session for Website Migrations

A Roadmapping Session benefits you by providing:

  • A detailed action plan.
  • A traffic analysis report.
  • A traffic risk assessment.
  • A blueprint for mitigating traffic & ranking loss.
  • A content migration plan.
  • A new website plan, which includes a site map listing active pages, archived pages and main site sections.
  • Existing site functionality.
  • Suggestions for new site functionality.
  • And of course, having completed the analysis, you will then be able to have a detailed estimate for your entire website upgrade.

Roadmapping session give you the confidence to know what you currently have, where the risks are, what’s going to happen, that your project is understood and that your website upgrade will be smooth. And you will also now clearly understand the costs to perform the upgrade.

Professional Website Transition Experts

For sites with 50-250 pages, ClearTech Interactive charges $499 to complete a roadmapping session. If your site is larger it may cost a bit more. You are not required to continue with us after we complete this analysis, but we’re confident you’ll be so impressed you won’t want to go anywhere else!

We have been helping customers just like you since 2003. We are here to support you and make the transition to a new modern web platform as smooth and easy as possible.

If you’d like to discuss how to properly transition and rebuild an existing website, please call us at 727-562-5161 or request a call to schedule your roadmapping session today.