Disclaimer: There are many nuances in Search Engine Optimization which is why it is often like an art rather than a science. The following recommendations are a great place to start, but please do note that this is not a one-size-fits all situation. If a large portion of your business is done through your website, you should have a professional analyze and perform the tasks I describe below. With that said, ONWARD…
In a recent video post, I talked about how to make sure that your website’s URL & directory structure are readable by search engines and customers alike. Many businesses already have websites and may have made a few common mistakes when setting up their URLs. In this post, I’ll show you how to evaluate whether that link should be changed and the next steps.
In addition to making the changes I suggested in the URL Structure post, another time that you might be considering changing your URLs is when you are moving websites from an old website to new website. Maybe you’re considering moving pages around or you might be eliminating or adding new pages. Before you make any changes to your website and your URLs, there are a few things you should do.
- Document all of your pages & URLs
- Make sure you know where you stand now i.e. where those pages are appearing in search engine results page (SERPs)
- Evaluate which pages are working for your business in an analytics program like Google Analytics so that you don’t lose any important traffic or visibility when you make changes and moves.
This article will tell you when you should consider making changes and how to set those changes up for success.
“Should I change my URLs for better SEO?”
First, you may not need to change your URL if you are getting a lot of traffic from your target audience and those visitors to your website are converting into clients or subscribers. Even if you have underscores and a wonky directory structure, if you are ranking highly and making money from that page, then there’s no need to change anything. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
To analyze whether a page is performing well for the business, take a look in your analytics and ask these questions:
- What is my overall website traffic?
- What percentage of my traffic visits THIS page?
- Is this page in my top 10 landing pages?
- What source is this traffic coming from? EX: Organic search or referral traffic
If a large percentage of your website traffic is coming from organic search to this page, you could consider leaving it alone. However, if most of your traffic is direct, a 301 redirect might be your best bet.
Moving websites & Creating Redirects to New URLs
When moving websites you want to make sure that any user that has your website bookmarked or any website that links to one of your pages can find the new page on your new website very easily. If you spent a lot of time building links and you are changing all of your URLs, you don’t want to lose that link equity that helps your SEO.
The first step that you want to take is to set up a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL. You can do this in a number of ways including plug-ins, if you are on WordPress, or you can add code to your Htaccess file. If you take that route you want to be extremely careful when you are adding code because a misplaced asterisk could make your whole website crash. If you are not confident in making code changes you should hire a professional to make changes whenever you’re changing your Htaccess file.
If you’re moving your website from HTTP to HTTPS, this is also an important time to make sure that you catalog your URLs and set up your 301 redirects properly. You want to do this for two reasons: first, because you don’t want there to be duplicate content on your site in an HTTP version and an HTTPS version. Second, you want to have a record of what is on your HTTP site so that you can double check for errors when the HTTPS goes live.
The former is especially true with e-commerce sites and also with the new GDPR are laws that have gone into effect. Imagine a scenario where a user is trying to make a purchase on your website and they are looking at your HTTP or unsecure version rather than the secure site with HTTPS. The user might then make the decision not to purchase your products because they think it is unsecure.
If your URLs are staying 100% the same when you are implementing your SSL for HTTPS, then you can usually set up one redirect that redirects all of your HTTP URLs to HTTPS. Some hosts will do this for you automatically, some you need to request that the redirect be added, and some have a simple help article that walks you through the process. Again, this is something with which an experienced web developer or SEO expert can help you.
I have seen many sites that have both http:// and https:// pages, as well as, WWW and non-WWW versions. This can create a very big mess with in the search engines. As smart as they are, they can’t seem to figure this one out.
Making Directory Changes
Whenever you are changing the directory structure of your website you will need to make sure that you change all of the URLs contained with in that directory.
For instance, if you have a services page and then you have seven pages for those services you will need to change the URLs of all of those service pages. You will then need to go in and set up 301 redirects from the old service URLs to the new service URLs.
Here’s an example:
illuminousmarketing.com/services/seo/ -> illuminousmarketing.com/marketing-services/seo/