How To Preserve Your Search Engine Footprint.

We are planning to relaunch our website with a new design at the same domain name. How do we get the search engines to reassess us for the new site?

First, redesigning your site periodically over time is a good idea. Times change, and with the changing times, new expectations are set for design and interactivity of sites. Redesigning gives you a chance to address all the issues that you've been stewing over since your original design. It also communicates to the search engines that your site is active and up to date. If done well and according to a few simple rules, a redesign can give your site a substantial boost in the search engine results, even if you basically ignore search engine optimization. Again, a redesign in and of itself should give your site a boost.

If your site is already indexed on the major search engines, then redesigning and relaunching the site will cause them to spider and update your site automatically. If the scope of your site is changing substantially, then you should contact Yahoo! and the Open Directory and request that they update your site title and description.

There are 2 basic rules that should be followed when redesigning or rebuilding a site.

First, keep your domain name. Changing your domain name erases the search engine footprint you have spent years to grow. It also breaks the hundreds or thousands of backlinks from other websites to yours, destroying your link popularity.

Second, keep your individual file names. For the same reasons that you should keep your domain name, you should keep every single file name intact as well. By file name, we mean file extension as well. If you have a product description page on your site located at http://www.yoursite.com/productdescription-1.html, when you rebuild your site, you should either keep that product at that file, or put a new product at that file. Whatever you do, don't just delete that file. Update it. If you no longer sell that product, put your newest product information in that file. Don't change it to /productdescription-1.php or /productdescription-1.asp either.

Over and over we have watched organizations redesign and rebuild their sites, and in the process erase their entire web footprints by changing their file extensions from .html to .asp, .php, or .jsp. Unless you absolutely have to change your file extensions, don't do it. If you're thinking that you just have to update the site using ASP, that's no problem. Just configure your server so that HTML files are processed as ASP files, and you can have ASP code in your comfortable old HTML files. For an example, visit http://www.findcounseling.com. The site is built in Rails but the files are all HTML. That's because the site was launched in 1996 at MirConnect.com, before there was an ASP, then moved to TherapistFinder.net and finally to FindCounseling.com. Every time the site was redesigned and rebuilt over the past 14 years, all the file names were preserved, even when the domain name changed.

If you still are convinced that you absolutely have to change the domain name or file names on your site, then you need to do some workarounds.

1) Changing your domain name but keeping your file names:

This is the simplest change to make. Over time, you may discover that the perfect domain name you've always wanted has become available as a result of the bursting of the Internet bubble, or you may buy or sell a company and need to change the domain name to update your identity on the Web. If that is the case, you simply need to permanently redirect the old domain name (or domain names in the case of acquisitions) to the new domain name. Permanently redirecting the domain name to the new one will tell Google, in a language that Google can understand, to update all its listings from the old domain name to the new one. For instructions on permanently redirecting domain names, visit Will changing our URL or domain name affect our search engine rankings? How can we change urls without losing the traffic we're already getting?.

Permanently 301 redirecting your domain name will help, especially with Google, but you also need to contact the webmaster of every site that links to yours and ask that they update their links to you, including all the directories (Yahoo!, Open Directory).

2) Keeping your domain name but changing your file names:

If you are changing your file names but keeping your domain name, then every file that will be renamed or deleted needs to be permanently redirected to the corresponding (or closest) new file. So, if you're moving http://www.yoursite.com/productdescription-1.html to http://www.yoursite.com/product-1.php, then /productdescription-1.html needs to be permanently redirected to /product-1.php. If the product line is being removed and the content no longer exists, then redirect the file to another product. That way all the incomming traffic will be automatically forwarded to the appropriate new file, and that includes search engine spiders. For instructions on permanently redirecting files, visit Will changing our URL or domain name affect our search engine rankings? How can we change urls without losing the traffic we're already getting?

3) Changing your domain name and changing your file names:

So you've decided to restart from scratch. Luckily, you can redesign, rebuild, and relaunch a completely new site, and still maintain a significant part of your search engine footprint and your backlinks ( link popularity ) by properly redirecting the old files to their corresponding new files. Just permanently redirect every file from your old site (or sites in the case of an acquisition) to their corresponding files on the new site. Again, for instructions on permanently redirecting files, visit Will changing our URL or domain name affect our search engine rankings? How can we change urls without losing the traffic we're already getting?.

After you've redesigned, rebuilt, and relaunched your site, and have completed all the redirects, you need to check them to make sure they are done correctly. Use our free URL Redirect Server Response Check tool.

See also Will changing our URL affect our search engine rankings? How can we change urls without losing the traffic we're already getting? and We have launched a new version of our website and our rankings are rising and falling daily. How will we know when Google has fully indexed the new site? How can we tell how much progress Google has made in indexing the new site?


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