but it’s over at Search Engine Land
How to finesse a redesign without losing traffic or rankings
Planning to redesign or restructure your Web site? Any major overhaul is a great opportunity for implementing new search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. By including SEO considerations early in the process, you can save both time and money. Site redesign is also a time of great risk to existing search engine rankings and current inbound search traffic levels, so care needs to be taken to avoid losing traffic and rankings as content and pages shift.
Top Traffic Pages. First, do a detailed analysis of top entry pages and top traffic pages. There’s no such thing as having too much data in this case. I recommend looking at a full year’s worth of data, taking into account seasonal trends and specials. You can’t afford to overlook pages that may be due for an upsurge in traffic around a holiday or special event simply because you’ve only bothered to check three or six months of previous site activity.
When examining Web data, the goal is to determine the highest-performing pages in terms of both entry pages and strict page views. These pages are particularly important, and traffic to them must be conserved and appropriately directed from the old URL to the new URL to ensure that revenue and conversions remain stable after the switch to the new site.
Incoming Links. Links are an important part of SEO, not only because they affect search engine rankings, but also because many links will help bring highly targeted buyers to your site. You need to identify and manage these links in much the same way you do your top traffic pages. Make sure that after the redesign, visitors who access the site via the links will still be landing on a page that contains the data they’re looking for. There is no faster way to make a potential buyer hit the back button than to serve them a 404 error page or bounce them to the home page because a URL has changed.
In the past, SEO companies spent hours contacting the Webmasters of various sites that linked to our clients’ sites, asking them to update their links to specific pages. Thankfully, search engines have since evolved to where they’re finally able, more or less, to handle redirection codes correctly.
Deleted Pages. A custom 404 page is a safety net, a backup, and possibly your last chance to save a sale. Even if a user calls for a page that doesn’t exist, they’ll still end up on your site, instead of seeing the ugly, and nearly useless, default 404 page. A well-crafted 404 page can be responsible for saving a sale when a potential customer might otherwise have abandoned the site.
These pages can be dynamic and specific to each visitor. One creative option for a 404 page is to read the referral string if your visitor is coming from a search engine. This string contains the word or phrase that the visitor used to find your site. Take those words and insert them into an error message: “We’re sorry you couldn’t find our pages on [keyword phrase]. Please browse our directory or click here to search for [keyword phrase].” If you have an internal site search, it’s a small matter to populate the search box or give the user a pre-formed search query link to take them directly to the search results.
The goal of all this work is, at the very least, to preserve your current search engine rankings, traffic, and revenue during a site move or redesign. This is truly a case in which forethought and planning can go a long way to protecting the bottom line and making you look like a star to the person who signs your paycheck.
This article was published in OMMA Magazine’s June 2006 issue.
It seems like everyone and his brother has jumped on the local search bandwagon: Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Ask Jeeves, all the usual suspects. Local search results have become an integral part of popular applications like Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, and Mapquest. Bonus local listings now appear above the natural listings on many regular search engine results pages. The big search engines’ local offerings vary in quality and usability. Clearly, they remain a work in progress for all of the players. Yahoo! Local Search appears to draw on users’ search histories to gauge their interests when serving results, while MSN has made much of its geographical and demographic targeting capabilities. But a recent search for “bars” in my hometown produced some curious results — like ice cream parlors (maybe the tool knows I have small children?).
Google’s local product combines information from a variety of online sources, and Google Adwords now offers advertisers the option of targeting regions, cities, or even parts of cities, based on the zipcode of the area you want to reach. Google claims it can even custom-target an area that an advertiser defines. The geo-targeted ads are then served to searchers who include a location in their query, or to those who search from an Internet address within the targeted area. (But what happens if the user is accessing their service through a geographically separate portal like AOL? Google isn’t saying.)
To have a presence on local search engines, as well as the local versions of Google, Yahoo!, and msn, you need bricks and mortar, and a presence in the city where you want to be listed. Simply adding place names to the search terms for a purely online offer won’t work if it has no other connection to the geographic location. In the early days of local search, you might see results from as far as 50 miles away. That’s no longer the case, as the search engines get more sophisticated and precise in their targeting.
And when planning your local search campaign, it’s wise to keep in mind the relevance of your search terms. Are you bidding on the terms that users within your target area are likely to search for?
There are other ways to play in the local search space. Ever notice that online Yellow Pages like Verizon SuperPages often show up in the results for searches that are city-specific? For example, if you’re a chiropractor in Boston, you might not rank at all in natural results for the term “boston chiropractor,” but you can be the featured advertiser in places like SuperPages for relatively little cost. And the basic Yellow Pages listings — which can include contact information, hours of operation, payment options, Web links, and descriptions of products and services — are free.
What’s the next step for local search? How about a marriage between local search and social networking? Advertising to local markets through location-based online social networks makes a lot of sense. By their nature, these networks provide marketers with a wealth of useful detail: We know who the people in the networks are, what they like to eat and drink, where they hang out, and what music they listen to because they disclose this information voluntarily through their user profiles. Perhaps it’s time to start earmarking part of the search engine marketing budget to focus on the clusters of Internet users that you know are in your target demographic.
Finally, when targeting local search, be sure to come up with a metric that will account for offline conversions. And make sure you get credit for your efforts.
This article was published in OMMA Magazine’s February 2006 issue.