Preventing SEO Dips During Site Structure Updates

Imagine a scenario where you launch a new church website with great new content and better navigation menu labels. You reimagined your church and are excited to see how your audience reacts. Unfortunately your Google search ranking just dropped through the floor, and for the next few weeks you are struggling to regain your foothold in the top results for your city. If you are planning a website redesign, the strategies in this article are a must for you.

If you re-structure your site without any planning, you may lose the pagerank that search engines have assigned to individual pages and your site as a whole. Also, people who linked to pages within your site will wonder where those pages have gone, or why has the focus of the page is now vastly different. However, this can be avoided by using automatic redirections. Instead of getting a “404 page not found” error, your browser is automatically directed to the new content. This will require server administrators, experts in user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO) to work together. For some churches that is one person, others may have the luxury of more. But know that it is possible with a little bit of effort.

Identify Changes

Are you revamping content with a Content Gap Analysis? You may see ways to improve the usability of your site by moving content around. Your church may have grown and some pages now require a section of their own. You may have stopped supporting a ministry and now a large section that houses just one page seems out of balance. Go ahead and move that content to a new area, just keep track of it. Create a spreadsheet with the old section / category name, page name, and old page address.

Map Old to New

After identifying all of the old content you wish to move, identify where it should redirect to. Create additional columns in your spreadsheet and document the new section / category name, page name, and the address (if it is known). The decisions for this should be more than just drawing lines between two columns of phrases. Think and pray about what the user was searching for when clicking or searching for that old page, and connect it to similar or relevant content. Your UX and SEO experts can discuss exactly why the mapping makes sense and how both users and search engines will remain happy.

Avoid Deletions

If your church is retiring a ministry, or making it inactive; I would strongly advise against simply deleting it and redirecting to another ministry's landing page. Honesty is the best policy here. If resources were thin, an important person left the church, or response was too small; tell the story. However, leave a prominent call to action, asking that if the user wishes to request this ministry be restored, to contact someone at the church. Also, consider the actions I mentioned in the retiring content article, and suppress the visual prominence of links to these dead end pages.

Update and Redirect

This last step is for the techies out there. When you upload your new site and content structure, you should also have updated configuration files that redirect those old addresses to the new ones. Chances are your server administrator already know how to do this, but the two most popular web servers out there, Microsoft IIS and Apache, both have ways to accomplish this fairly easily. Using the spreadsheet the content team created of the old and new addresses, these updates should be fairly trivial, but still essential.

Action Item

Before diving headlong into a website redesign, be aware of the implications of changing your content structure. Identify what changes are required, and account for them in your Content Gap Analysis spreadsheet. Map your changes to the new areas of your site, be it a new section, page, or a page that tells them why that ministry had to be retired. This way your search engine rankings do not plummet when the new site structure is uploaded.

Photo courtesy of Sigurd Decroos

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.

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