Redesigning an ecommerce site is part of the natural brand cycle.
Redesigns keep your brand relevant and your message clear, can dramatically improve the user experience, and may be necessary in order to keep up with evolving web standards.
At the same time, redesigns can result in throwing away SEO authority and dumping search traffic.
Communication between SEO professionals and developers is extremely important.
SEO should be a consideration throughout the redesign process from beginning to end.
The following technical SEO checklist will help you keep track of the changes made during the redesign to prevent this from happening.
1. Crawling & Auditing the Original Site
Use a crawl tool like Screaming Frog to get an index of your pages and various important pieces of meta data that you will want to refer back to throughout the process.
Make sure to save the crawl. You will need this information in order to ensure continuity between your original ecommerce site and the new one.
After you complete your crawl, identify any of the following issues from within your crawl tool, creating a spreadsheet for each:
- Duplicate page titles, image alts, H1 tags, or meta descriptions
- Missing page titles, image alts, H1 tags, and meta descriptions
- Page titles under 150 pixels or over 512 pixels
- Meta descriptions over 923 pixels
- Links to 404 pages
- Links to 301 pages
- Links to any other 3xx, 4xx, or 5xx status code URLs
- Any inconsistent use of https vs http or www vs non-www.
You should also:
- Check for a mismatch in the number of URLs crawled by Screaming Frog and the number of URLs indexed by Google. You can find the latter by doing a site:yoursiteurlhere.com search with an empty query.
- Make sure you have an XML sitemap and make a copy of it.
- Ensure you have a robots.txt file and make a copy of it.
2. Setting Up the Test Site
In setting up the test site, advise the developers to keep the following in mind during their process if possible:
- Ideally, the original site crawl should act as a template for the new site. Make a copy of the original crawl and make notes on it of any changes to be made on the new site, especially any URLs that will be changed or removed.
- Address any issues you encountered in auditing the old site and map the changes to the new site and note these in the original site crawl copy.
- Make sure that the new site is noindexed from within the robots.txt file. You do not want Google to start displaying your test pages in the search results.
- Make no unnecessary changes to any of the URL folders and filenames. They should be as close to identical as possible, with exceptions only to deal with inconsistencies and pages you do not want to carry over.
- Any URLs that are changed should have the links to them changed. You should also set up .htaccess to redirect the old URLs to the new ones, but this isn’t an excuse to leave the links themselves unchanged. Links to 301 pages lose PageRank and create unnecessary server load. Your original site crawl will tell you which pages link to each URL along with the anchor text. Make note of these changes in your old site crawl copy.
- Eliminate any links to pages that you are removing and make note of the changes in the old site crawl copy.
- If you are consolidating any of your pages into a larger central resource, update the links on your pages so that they point to the new resources, rather than simply removing the links. Make note of these changes in the site crawl copy.
- Do not create “soft 404s” by replacing missing pages with redirects to the homepage or another irrelevant page. Google has been very explicit about wanting removed pages to display as 404.
3. Crawling & Auditing the Test Site
Crawl your test site, again using Screaming Frog or the same crawler of choice that you used on the original site. Export this and call it your initial test site crawl.
Start by verifying that all of the issues discovered in crawling the original site are not present in the test site crawl.
Now make a new copy of your original site crawl, containing all of the change notes, and perform a search and replace operation so that the URLs have the same structure as the test site. (For example, replacing http://example.com/folder/page with http://test.example.com/folder/page). Call this your testing crawl text file.
Now set your crawler to “list mode” and crawl the test site using your testing crawl text file. This will check each URL individually to see if there is a corresponding page on the new site for every page on the old site. Export this and call it your final test site crawl.
To reiterate, at this point you should have:
- A crawl of the original site and a copy that you have made edits to in order to address any fixes.
- A crawl of the test site and a copy that you can edit to address any fixes.
- A testing crawl text file containing your original site crawl edited to match the test site’s URL structure.
- A final test site crawl containing the results of checking each individual URL using your testing crawl text file.
You will use these files to ensure there are no discrepancies between the new site and the old site in the following steps.
4. Matching Up Your Content
You will need to take the following steps to ensure that the old site and the test site line up correctly:
- Address any 404 pages in your final test site crawl first. If you noted that these pages were being removed entirely, nothing needs to be done. If you noted that these pages were being moved or consolidated, you will need to set up redirects in .htaccess. Add these to a spreadsheet of relocated pages; you will need to ensure that links to these pages are updated in a later step.
- If you encounter any 404 pages in your final test crawl that are not noted as either removed or relocated, do a search for a matching title tag, meta description, or keywords on the test site crawl to see if there are any good matches. If not, verify that the old page is intended to be removed or if it should be present on the new site but is missing and needs to be added.
- Make a copy of any 301 pages in your final test site crawl. While the redirects mean that the site should be usable, you will still need to ensure that links to these pages are updated in a later step.
- Verify that there are no duplicate or missing title tags, meta description tags, image alts, or H1 tags on any of the pages in your final test site crawl.
5. Prepare Redirects for All Changed URLs
You will need to identify any URLs that have been changed that you haven’t yet set up a redirect for:
- Open your list of 404 pages from the final test site crawl.
- Search for the title of the 404 page on your initial test site crawl. If there is a match, set up a redirect in .htaccess from the old URL to the new URL.
- Repeat this process for each 404 URL.
If you encounter a 404 on your final test site crawl that doesn’t have a matching title tag, search for keywords or meta descriptions that match.
If there are no good matching pages on the test site, note this in your spreadsheet and leave the 404 in place. In step 6 you will ensure that there are no links pointing to this missing page.
6. Consistent Internal Link Architecture
Now it’s time to make sure that all of the links on the new site point directly to the appropriate page.
- You may find it easiest to run one more scan of your test site after updating .htaccess in step 5 to ensure that all pages are either status 200 or 301.
- Do a bulk export of all of the links on the site from your crawler.
- If any 404 links remain, begin by addressing these. If .htaccess was implemented correctly, all of the remaining links to 404 pages should simply be removed.
- You will need to update the links to your 301 pages so that they point to the appropriate page instead of the redirected URL.
7. Finalization & Launch
By now all issues should be addressed and the site should be ready for launch, but you will want to run a final crawl before doing so.
There are a few things you will need to verify during the launch process:
- Remove noindex entirely from the test site during the migration.
- Ensure that .htaccess is operating on the correct URL structure, not the URL structure of the test site.
- Run a final crawl after the launch to ensure that there were no issues in migrating the test site to its final location.
As I said in the beginning, communication between developers and SEO professionals is vital.
Make sure that you have accurate crawl data on the original site as well as the test site throughout the process.
Be as clear as possible about what will create issues and what needs to be avoided throughout the redesign.
Keep in mind that this checklist is a guide. It’s likely you will end up deviating from it.
Keep track of which issues have been addressed and which remain.
This checklist will help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls brands face during redesigns.