You’ve decided to invest money on a fancy new website, congrats!

But what happens when people aren’t finding that new site? Or your rankings in search results take a hit during the transition?

That’s where SEO— specifically keyword transitioning, comes in.

Having a solid search engine optimization (SEO) plan in place before your new site redesign launches can seriously help minimize dips in organic traffic, and make sure your new site is search engine optimized right out of the gate.

When Do You Need a Keyword Transitioning Plan?

Whether you’ve been doing SEO on your old site or not, taking time to plan out your keyword transition strategy will help you maintain previous rankings or refine anything that wasn’t working so well.

At Intuitive Digital, we’ve had the opportunity to work with partners on long-term SEO services. With these partners, at a certain point during our SEO work, site design becomes a factor. While we can drive organic traffic to the site and even make a number of on-site optimizations to landing pages and user experience overall, the reality is that an outdated site design can hinder your conversion rates.

A refreshed website design that prioritizes user friendliness and mobile friendliness can greatly improve your website’s converting power to capitalize on the traffic coming from SEO work.

When you weave in thoughtful SEO preparation with your site redesign, it can help minimize potential traffic drops (which can happen with site redesigns) post-launch. Beyond that, a new site design and killer SEO can set your site and business up for success!

How to Prepare SEO for Your Site Redesign?

While there are many technical aspects that will need to be set up and monitored for SEO on a website relaunch, there are a few things to check in regards to keyword strategy specifically.

When we plan our keyword transitions, we focus on the following:

  • Sitemap
  • URL Mapping
  • Keyword Performance Analysis
  • Keyword Mapping
  • On-page Optimizations

Determine the Sitemap

Site structure is crucial to keyword mapping.

Site Structure image from Moz.com

Image from Moz

Keyword mapping is the process of selecting and assigning primary and secondary keywords to specific pages on your site. Detailed tracking of these keywords can help you develop an overall keyword strategy for different levels of your site, as well as making sure no two pages are targeting the same keyword to avoid competition between pages on your site.

Before you start planning or refining your keyword strategy, you need to know what the sitemap will be on the new site. Likely, creating this sitemap will be a collaborative process between the team building and designing the site, you (the client), and the SEO team working on strategy.

If possible, start this conversation early.

Pages on a site can be selected for several reasons, which might not always align with SEO best practices. If SEO is considered from the beginning, your keyword strategy can be more proactive, rather than attempting to assign keywords to already existing pages or working within the constraints of an agreed upon proposal.

For example, if consulted from the beginning, SEOs can recommend splitting up service or location pages for better keyword targeting, using parent pages to establish URL hierarchy, or making certain optimizations for user experience.

Audit the Current Site Structure

To create or recommend a sitemap for the new site, first, you’ll want to go through the old website to see how the pages are currently arranged.

One way to find pages on the site is to use Screaming Frog. You can run the site URL through this program, and place the pages into a document to track and organize them.

I recommend calling this document ‘Site Transition’, and using it to keep track of all changes you’d like to make on the site before the relaunch.

Analyze Page Performance

A good way to audit the performance of current pages on the site is to conduct a content audit.

If you start with Google Analytics metrics such as bounce rate, time on page, and conversion rate per page, you can use this to influence your sitemap creation as well. You can get an idea of what pages are performing well and should be kept or what pages might not be necessary on the new site.

Optimize Site Structure

Once you’ve collected the old site pages and analyzed their performance, you can start making decisions on whether to bring them over to the new site as well. Here are some questions to keep in mind while you’re deciding this:

  • Will new content need to be added?
  • Will any services be changing?
  • Can services be split up for individual keyword targeting?
  • Can nested pages be used to establish URL hierarchy?
  • Does the business have multiple locations that can be moved to individual pages?
  • Are any existing pages no longer relevant?
  • Are any existing pages redundant on the site?

Once your new sitemap is created, compare the old and new site.

Using the ‘Site Transition’ document created from the pages pulled by Screaming Frog, you can line up the old versus new in columns to track any changes. Make a note of pages that will be removed or new content that will be added.

URL Mapping

An extremely important part of  SEO during a website redesign is making sure old pages on the site are redirected to the most relevant page on the new site. While tracking your keyword transitions, you can easily plan for URL changes at the same time.

Implementing 301 redirects on the new site ensures that if visitors are looking for a specific page, they will find the page on the new site rather than landing on a broken 404 page or the homepage.

301 redirects will also help Google understand the new page is meant to replace the old page rather than indexing the new page from scratch. The old page likely built up authority over time, and by using a redirect to the new URL you can save some of that value.

In your ‘Site Transition’ document, you can track URL changes in two columns, one showing the old site URL that needs to be redirected, and the other tracking the new URL destination. If you’re keeping the page slugs the same, this is a simple process. However, if you update and page URLs to match your new keyword strategy, these old URLs will need to be redirected.

When the new site redesign launches, implement 301 redirects for these pages.

Analyze Current Keyword Performance

A site redesign is a perfect opportunity to evaluate the performance of your current keyword targets and make some refinements where possible.

To minimize dips in organic rankings during the transition, maintaining topic and keyword consistency as much as possible for a page will help Google recognize the page on the new site. That being said, if a keyword is performing poorly on the old site, it makes sense to pursue a better keyword target.

But if a keyword is doing well for a page or if you are already targeting a good keyword, you want to maintain that momentum by keeping that keyword associated with that same page on the new site.

If you’re working on a site redesign that you haven’t previously done SEO on, you can use this same process to see if any pages on the old site are ranking for keywords unintentionally that are worth keeping, rather than starting over from scratch.

To evaluate a targeted keyword for a page, you can use Google Search Console.

In your Search Console dashboard, you can use these steps to see what queries appear in search console for the page you’re working on.

  • Open Search Traffic > Search Analytics
  • Select Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Position
  • Set date range to last 90 days
  • Navigate to ‘Pages’, find your page in the list and select it
  • Navigate back to ‘Queries’ to see top terms filtered for that page

Screenshot of Google Search Console Analytics

Once you’ve filter queries by page, you can sort by clicks, impressions, CTR, or ranking position to see how certain terms are performing.

If the per-page keyword you are specifically targeting appears in this list, receives a good amount of clicks and impressions, and ranks within the top 10 spots, you will want to keep this keyword on the new site page.

As a note, if the click-through rate (CTR) for your page as a whole is relatively low compared to other similar pages but the impressions are high, you could consider keeping the keyword and adjusting the wording of your titles and meta descriptions for persuasiveness.

If the keywords for that page don’t get clicks or impressions, or rank very low, you’ll likely want to change up your keyword strategy. This is where conducting new keyword research comes in.

If there isn’t enough data for that page, you’ll just need to rely on your new keyword research data.

While looking through your keyword performance, keep the following in mind:

  • Will the audience change on the new site?

User intent is imperative when selecting keywords. If a new keyword can be selected that is more relevant for the audience, that will ultimately boost engagement.

  • Are there keywords in Search Console that you aren’t purposefully targeting?

The page may be already ranking for keywords naturally without specifically trying. This is a huge opportunity for content expansion and ranking improvements. Collect these secondary terms to potentially use within the page content on the new site.

  • Will new keyword research need to be performed?

Occasionally you’ll find a page that is under-performing. In this case, selecting a new, relevant keyword target is the best way to get the page seen on the new site. We use Ahrefs to research keywords with high search volume and low keyword difficulty.

Keyword Mapping

Once you’ve outlined the sitemap for the new website, analyzed current keyword performance, and conducted new keyword research where necessary, it’s time to assign keywords to each page.

We recommend tracking this in your ‘Site Transition’ document to avoid keyword cannibalization (internal pages competing for the same terms in search results).

Select a primary keyword target for each page, either keeping that keyword consistent with the old site or updating it to a new target. This primary target should be used in the page title you write, as well as the URL slug on the new site.

You can also select secondary keywords to use within your meta description and page content.

On-page Optimizations

Using the keywords you’ve selected per-page, you’ll want to make sure you optimize the content on the new website redesign.

Whether content for the new site will be transferred, written by the business, or written by a copywriter, you’ll want to make sure it is optimized using the keywords you’ve selected per page.

SEO + Website Redesign Projects

A new website can do wonders for your site’s converting strength and user experience.

If you don’t pair your site design with an SEO strategy, you could be looking at a drop in organic traffic and rankings. Determining your keyword transition plan is a key part of your site migration, in addition to a variety of other best SEO practices.

To give your new website an extra boost during the transition and minimize any issues that may arise with Google’s indexing of your new site, reach out to our combined team of SEO strategists and website developers!