Search Engine Optimization: How To Prepare For Creating And Deploying A New Site

Clive Lobo

Updating your website on a regular basis is the key to remaining current and retaining visitors and generating new traffic. Replacing your site without careful planning from a Search Engine Optimization perspective will do you a lot of harm.

In the last few months we’ve come across clients who have recently updated their websites and unfortunately did not take the time to carefully prepare for the upgrade from a Search Engine Optimization perspective. Why? It’s not their core competency and most (but not all) designers / developers are not interested in Search Engine Optimization.

What’s the big deal you may ask? What is there to be aware of and consider?

That’s the million dollar question which we’ll answer here for you today. As your website ages, and you continue to do your “marketing things” such as press releases, partnerships, case studies etc… your website is:

  • carefully being crawled and indexed by the search engines
  • being linked to by 3rd parties including partners, news sites, press release sites and other interested parties
  • being book-marked by visitors to your site
  • generating organic traffic (free) from the search engines
  • generating free traffic from referring sites (those 3rd parties linking to you)
  • ranking in the search engines for keywords that are drawing in qualified (and poorly qualified) traffic to your site
  • receiving credit (PageRank – from Google) for all of the links to your site and content being written about you

This is just a small but important list of the things happening around and about your site that most businesses pay virtually no attention to. These are all important factors to take into consideration when updating your site.

What should you do to prepare for updating or replacing your website?

While the list is not exhaustive, and I am sure our readers can make some additional recommendations the following list covers off the most important aspects in our opinion.

  1. Install an analytics program (Google Analytics is free and easy to use) on your site if you have not done so already. If you are just now adding analytics wait at least one month before doing any work on your site and then proceed to point 2.
  2. Review your analytics to understand and document which pages of your site receive the most page views, which keywords are drawing in traffic with a low bounce rate and which keywords are drawing in traffic with a high bounce rate (but where the keyword appears to be relevant), which search engines and referring sites are sending you traffic.Compile all of this information in a format that you can easily refer to such as a text document, or spreadsheet.
  3. Use Yahoo! Site Search to identify the back-links to your site. You can only get details on the first 1000 back-links. Export this list to a TSV file using the feature provided on the site and store it with the information from step 2.
  4. Produce a site map of your current website using any drawing tool you can think of including Visio or a hand drawing. Now, this next part takes a little while to do but it’s crucial. For each keyword that is sending you traffic identify which page in your sitemap the traffic is landing on. You can get this information by drilling down on the keyword data in Google Analytics, or by going to the search engines and searching on the keyword and then identifying which page is ranked for that phrase (this latter approach is much more time consuming). Rank the keywords in order of the number of visits to the page.On your drawing you should rename the pages after the highest ranked keyword. For example “blue-widget.html”. This will ensure that the page is just a little more optimized for that keyword going forward. Also, rename any other pages in your site (new or old) after keywords you want to try ranking for in the future.Once you’ve finished this exercise you will have a solid understanding of which pages in your website are ranking for keywords that are “actually” drawing in traffic, you’ll know which keyword is pulling in the most traffic for each page and you’ve increased the optimization on those pages.

Begin Your New Site Creation

Now that you have solid understanding of how your site has been performing you are free to re organize as you see fit. Always be certain to create new pages of content that address the keyword topics you want to rank for, name the pages after the most important keyword and be sure to write unique titles, descriptions H1 and H2 tags and of course the body copy.

On the home page of the site make sure you are linking directly to the most important pages in your site. For example, if you have three core products or services, you should have them listed on in HTML text (not in a javascript drop down) on the home page using their names as links, “my best service 1”, “my best service 2”, “my best service 3”.

Once you’ve finished creating your site, and before you deploy it you must identify all of the pages in the site which have new names and permanently during the deployment redirect (301 redirect) the old page names to the new ones. If you’re site is on a unix server you can do this in the .htaccess file, or in IIS on a windows server. Either way – you should seriously consider this crucial step because it will:

  1. Allow the search engines time to update their index with your new pages without sending visitors to 404 pages on your website.
  2. Pass all of the value from all of the old links to your site to the new pages in the site
  3. Will prevent you from losing existing back links from 3rd party sites to specific pages in your site that are no longer there. Other webmasters are usually (and they should be) testing for broken links and removing them or correcting them on their sites.

In Conclusion

Having taken these steps, you should feel pretty comfortable that you have not lost any organic or referral traffic from the search engines, or referring sites and have produced your site in such a way that will most likely increase in rankings for the most important keywords vs dropping in rankings!

Sit back and relax – then have a look at your analytics in a few weeks to see what’s happening now!

Note: You should only take these steps if you’re relatively certain that your website is already well indexed, has many backlinks and already receives a decent amount of traffic that you want to preserve. If this is not the case, then you can simply start fresh, but do pay attention to the keyword, copy writing and file naming points in this discussion, and don’t worry about the permanent redirects.


If you have information that you feel is missing from these directions we’d love to hear about it. Please post them in the comments and we’ll update the directions and we’ll include a contributors list with full attribution and links to your site.

Clive Lobo

Spark’s resident boss man, Clive possesses the very nature of an entrepreneurial spirit.

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