If you’ve put even any effort into marketing and your site, you know how tedious and time consuming it can be.

Creating content, marketing it, and sharing it takes time and you don’t want to lose that.

Here are some tips and tools we use during a redesign to make sure your content doesn’t lose its social and search engine value.

How This Happens And Why It Matters

Sometimes during a site redesign we will need to refactor or change your site URL structure. Generally this is intentional for the purpose of organizing content to a new site map and to make the site structure more logical.

When URLs change you can produce 404 errors from the missing pages if you don’t setup redirects. This hinders your ranking on search engines and can break old social media posts along with user bookmarks.

It’s exactly what you don’t want because search engines see this as a new page wether content is the same or not. You can easily lose ranking, or if old content is left behind get duplicate content errors. Then you are just competing with yourself.

Thankfully this is an easy process to manage and I’ve outlined it below.

How To Solve The Issue

301 Redirects

Redirects are the tool of choice for properly handling page or domain changes.

301 Redirects specifically are permanent redirects of one URL to another. These tell the browser where to send users through an HTTP response. Having these in place also tell Google and other search engines what the new URL is for a page.

Example:
http://domain.com to http://www.domain.com

They can also be used when moving an entire site from one domain to another, or forwarding users from non-www versions of a site to a www version.

Here’s a video of Matt Cutts speaking deeper about 301 Redirects.

Plan for Success

Planning is key here and will set you up for success later. So there are two things we like to do right away:

  1. Create a Visual Sitemap of Existing Content Structure
  2. Export and track all existing URLs

Creating a Visual Sitemap

We use visual & text based sitemaps in all our projects, so this is a step we’re already doing. It may not make sense in the context of your project but generally we are restructuring sites during redesign, so this is a nice to have visual we can use for more than tracking how structure is changing.

Visual sitemaps easily double as a frame of reference for the design & development phases of a project.

An easy way to start on a sitemap is to use a tool like SlickPlan to create a visual sitemap like the one below.

SlickPlan also has versions on sitemaps, so you can create one at the beginning of a project and create one as the site develops then compare the two.

Tracking URLs

We tend to go a bit low-tech on this one. For a reason!

I like having an Google sheet or excel doc to compare OLD to NEW. This sets us up to easily import and create the 301 redirects.

The quickest way to get all your current URLs on an existing WordPress site us to use the Export All URLs plugin.

Another option would be to use WP All Export and run an export on just URLs from all post-types.

For non WordPress sites the task of exporting can vary. If you have database access it definitely makes it easier. If not, there are some options like exporting from Google Analytics or Generating an XML Sitemap.

Pulling It All Together

Since you’ve planned so well (right? you did, right??) this is the easy part.

Importing the 301 Redirects

There are a few ways to do this but I prefer using a plugin called Redirection.

Redirection lets you import from a CSV file (see what we did there?) and if you previously created one to track urls, it only takes a few minutes to put into place.

Another option is to manually add them to your .htaccess file on your hosting environment. Each redirect needs to live on its own line in this file and be formatted correctly:

redirect 301 /old-page http://www.domain.com/new-page

Testing & Wrap Up

If you’ve done this all correctly, you will now be able to test your old URLs by pasting them in your browser and trying to reach the page. It should take you to the new page automatically.

If you end up on a 404 page than something went wrong and you should double check your redirects in the Redirection plugin.

If you added them directly to an .htaccess file, make sure it wasn’t overwritten when the site was launched. This can happen if sites are moved from a staging environment to a live hosting environment depending how it was migrated.

Final Step

One last thing that should be done is to login to Google Search Console and Force Recrawl on your domain. This manually tells Google that you’ve made significant changes that need crawled again.

This can help speed up the process of replacing and ranking the new URLs.

If you are unsure how to do this, see this page under Search Console Help about Asking Google to recrawl your URLs.

If you have any questions comment below!

Posted by Drew Poland

Founder and Lead Developer of Spotfin Creative.

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