19 Jan 2024
Digital Products
7 min read

How to protect your SEO when launching a new website



Marketing Manager

Starting a new website project is an exciting opportunity to improve and elevate how your target audience discovers, perceives and interacts with you.

Whatever your objectives are for a web project, a key priority should be to retain and build on any existing organic rankings you already have that are bringing in traffic. Chances are if your organisation has had a website for a while, you’ll have an established presence on search engines.

In this post, we’ll take you through:

  • How to review your current organic performance in advance of a new website project
  • Some key things to consider from a technical SEO perspective during the design and development process
  • Why it’s important to consider SEO from the start of a project

Reviewing your current SEO performance

As we’ve already touched on, even if you have a bold vision for your new website and plan to make significant changes to its structure and content, there will be some goodwill and organic presence there that you’ll definitely want to protect, rather than starting from scratch.

Identifying key pages

Your first port of call is tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to look at which pages are currently bringing in the most organic traffic, and therefore need to be replicated or properly migrated across to the new site.

Current rankings

Alongside identifying key pages bringing in organic traffic, you’ll want to cross-check this with which keywords and phrases those pages are ranking for. You can do that using Search Console, or for more in-depth insight a tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs. Identifying which keywords are bringing traffic to those key pages can help shape the structure and content of the new website.

Content audit

Google’s recent Helpful Content Update retooled their algorithm to generate a signal to “better help people see “helpful, original content”. This signal is sitewide – meaning when Google is deciding where to rank your website, the algorithm considers all of your content, not just the page or post most relevant to the phrase the user has just searched. If a high percentage of it is deemed to be “unhelpful” – you may be penalised, even if that content is deemed “helpful”. It’s as vague (and ironically unhelpful) as advice from Google always is, but it’s a good reminder to make sure your content is of the highest quality and effectively answering actual questions your audience might have. When you’re looking at the organic performance of your current website, you’ll most likely find blog posts in there along with things like service pages. Migrating to a new site is a prime opportunity to review and audit your current content, and potentially combine posts or pages around the same theme, or perhaps getting rid of content which isn’t particularly original or high quality.

International SEO performance

This is one that’s cropped up in a few new project discussions for us recently and is an important consideration if you’re looking to target multiple geographies with your site. How your website or country/language-specific sub-domains or sub-folders are currently performing in your target geographies can (and should) inform how you approach the structure of your new website.

Where can you improve?

It’s also a good idea at this point to look further than your own ecosystem. You’ll likely be looking at what your close competitors are doing as you develop your website brief anyway, so it’s the perfect opportunity to look at how they’re performing organically, and how you can tailor your approach with your new website to move ahead of them.

Using SEO insight to shape your website project

With the help of a partner like Adaptable, you’ll use your brief to shape your website project and create the most effective plan to develop and launch it. As you go through this process, your findings around your current organic performance should inform certain decisions you make and the steps you take before launch.

Your site structure and SEO

You should have a good idea at this point about which pages on your current site are key to bringing in traffic. This should inform how you approach the structure and architecture of your new site. Google uses internal linking to understand your site and how content relates to each other, so a disorganised and disjointed structure won’t help. You should use the opportunity of a new website project to organise your pages and content into a logical structure and hierarchy, while retaining key content and pages, which will aid user experience as users navigating through your site, as well as SEO.

Redirect mapping

Although it’s best (where possible) to keep the URLs for key pages on your new site the same as your old site – sometimes it’s necessary, as we’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph, to redesign the structure and therefore URLs of your site to improve experience and organisation of pages/content. It’s vital that at some point in the development process before your new site is launched, either you or your web development partner documents which URLs will exist on the new site, and which ones won’t. Those that won’t need to be redirected to a relevant page on the same (or similar) topic. If you don’t redirect them, and they exist in Google’s index, the user will reach a 404 page, negatively impacting their experience and eventually your organic performance, as it’ll drop out of the rankings completely if it no longer exists.

New domains: to migrate or not to migrate

Sometimes, a new website project comes with the desire or need to move a website to a new domain. It could be a branding reason or a business restructure. Either way, it’s important to remember that migrating to a new domain can have extremely negative consequences for your organic performance if not managed properly. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that a fresh domain has no authority or link equity – meaning you’re sacrificing potentially years of built-up goodwill and starting from scratch. If the migration is absolutely necessary, it needs to be managed properly and carefully by an expert partner to ensure your traffic doesn’t suffer. Consider this move carefully before you commit.

Why you need to consider SEO from the start

With the right partner and ongoing development plan in place, it’s easy to make fairly swift changes and take action to address any drops in rankings or problems with indexing following a website launch. But it’s much better to be on the front foot. When it comes to how changes to your website or the new structure/pages will be understood, you’re unfortunately at the mercy of Google and other search engines as to how quickly this will happen. There are steps you can take to try and speed up the process, but there are no guarantees. This means that if you miss an opportunity to redirect or migrate key content, it could be days, weeks or even months before you regain those rankings (if you do at all). Planning ahead and having as much in place pre-go-live as possible will help you to mitigate this risk, protect what you’ve already got, and build on it.

Launching a new website is an opportunity to elevate your digital presence and achieve ambitious objectives. But it’s important to consider SEO as part fo the development process to make sure you’re building on what you’ve got rather than starting from scratch.

Looking to embark on a website project and need some help and advice around how SEO factors in? Get in touch to discuss your project and how we could help.