A major redesign of a large website offers an opportunity to shed obsolete content. But how do you efficiently sort the obsolete from the old but still useful? And will SEO rankings decline when you toss out the old?
Here’s everything you need to know about auditing content to prepare for a website redesign and about how to keep your SEO rankings intact throughout the process.
What Content Should I Keep on My New Website?
Determining which content to migrate from the old site to the new is especially difficult if you have 1,000 or more pages on your current website. Answers to the following questions can guide your decisions.
How many pageviews has the piece of content attracted in the last year?
Google Analytics has this metric at the ready. Set the time period to at least a year prior to your query, to get a comprehensive understanding of audience size for that content. Factor in the variations of that URL as you examine the Google Analytics pageview data. If you’ve driven traffic to that page through designated UTMs or other parameters, such as Google Ads, GA might display your URL in multiple lines that show those unique parameters.
Consider also the original publication date. A blog post published a month ago probably won’t have as many pageviews as URLs published years ago.
My rule of thumb: Keep content published in the last six months, as Google can take that long to rank a piece of content well.
- How many impressions has the page received on Google?
The next few items require Google Search Console data. (You should have had this set up and collecting data for at least a year. If not, set it up now and let it run for a minimum of a few months, so you have some data to work with.)
Focus on your impressions (the number of times your pages appeared on search engine results pages) for the last 12 months. You can download this data directly into Excel to see the exact number of impressions for each page. Weed out pages with zero impressions in the past year, as those are clearly not giving you SEO value.
- How many clicks has that page received from Google?
Find the clicks numbers in the same Google Search Console data reports that deliver the number of impressions. High impressions but low clicks tell you that users see your link on SERPs but don’t click through to your content or that your listing appears so low on SERPs that no one sees it.
- What is the average position on Google for that page?
Average search position, another key indicator of how high Google ranks a given bit of content, also comes from Google Search Console. The average search position accounts for local and national searches, so you can get a good sense of how well the content ranks.
- How many keywords does that page rank for?
You’ll need a third-party tool, such as SEMRush, Ahrefs or MOZ, to get keyword data. These tools aggregate keyword rankings and provide lists of all the keywords your pages rank for on Google.
The total number of keywords that rank for a page tells you how well that content is optimized and to what degree Google has rewarded it with variations of keywords. The best content ranks for many variations of a keyword or keyword phrase. The more keywords a page ranks for, the better it typically performs on Google.
- What is the top keyword ranking for that page?
You can rank for many keywords, but if your best keyword position is between 20 and 90 on the search results page, the vast majority of searchers will never find it – a full 75% of people never go past the first page of search results.
A note of caution: Just like pageviews, it’s possible that your top keyword ranking for a page is climbing as time goes on. So even if that page ranks in the teens or twenties, it might well rise in the future.
You’ve Collected All this Data. Now What?
The data you’ve collected will give you a good sense of how well your content performs on Google and how many people read it. Now look for trends.
Pages with fewer than 100 pageviews and very few impressions, clicks and keywords in the past year generally shouldn’t move to the new website.
But data alone might not be the whole story. Even if content performs poorly in terms of SEO, it might have business value. Maybe your sales team uses that page. Maybe it contains required information for accreditations or other purposes. Make sure to identify pages you absolutely must keep regardless of SEO value.
What to Do with Old Content?
Once you’ve decided what content to move to the new website, what do you do with the old content you’re retiring?
Download old blog posts into Word or another format and store them in your files for future reference. They could have value at some point. With some rewriting and optimization, those posts might do better on the new website than they did on the old. It’s always easier to build on existing copy than start from scratch. Old content, repurposed, updated, and rethought, can be notably rich and authoritative.
Don’t Forget 301 Redirects
What to do with the URLs you’re retiring? Typically, the URL structure of your new website differs from that of the old. All those old URLs that Google indexed will move to new URLs. This requires 301 redirects, which tell Google where to find the new content for those old pages.
If you’ve already set up 301 redirects, users will have no problem finding your website through Google searches on the first day of your launch. Without 301 redirects, your website will see dramatic losses in keyword rankings and Google traffic.
The pages you’ve retired might have no equivalents on the new website. Must you set up 301 redirects for them? In some cases, no – for example, for pages that had zero SEO rankings in the first place. You can redirect old pages with very few rankings to related pages on the new website, maybe to a relevant blog post or application page. If there’s no relevant page, you can always redirect URLs to the home page of your new site.
A major redesign will affect your overall SEO rankings, but not necessarily in a bad way. Purposeful, data-driven content purging can lift your SEO. Cleaning up your navigation, improving the user experience and further optimizing your content can improve your rankings.
Don’t worry! You’ll get through your redesign and come out stronger on the other side.
If you need assistance determining what content to keep or retire for a website redesign, or general SEO support, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re happy to help!