How to update a website without losing rank

Details

The author of the case:
Eugene Gnedash, SEO specialist

Client. Karandash, an agency that provides educational services abroad.
Problem. An outdated site that does not meet modern usability trends and search engine requirements.
Task: to ensure a successful site update process, minimizing possible risks.
Solution: To develop the right approach, which will allow:

  • establish a workflow;
  • avoid mistakes;
  • achieve the intended results.

Result: we updated the website without losses for business and downgrade in search engines.

In this case, we will share our practical experience in updating sites. You will learn how to build the process of updating an Internet resource, not miss anything and achieve the desired result.

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At the moment of the start of work on updating the site, the client has been cooperating with the ADINDEX agency for four years. At the stage of moving, the client’s project was already a niche leader and confidently occupied the TOP of search results in priority areas. ADINDEX had a great responsibility for getting the result because we didn’t want to lose the positions we got.

Fig 1. Dynamics of website positions in priority areas

We had the task to ensure the correct updating of the site with minimal losses for the business.

We scheduled the start of work for April 2019.

PROBLEM

The reasons why we decided to start updating the site: the current version of the CMS is outdated and did not allow solving several business and SEO tasks:

  • Lack of a personal account.
  • Limited interactive site functionality.
  • The inability to leave reviews in the context of product pages.
  • Lack of correct internal linking on the site.
  • The blog is not optimized technically.
  • Limited site structure, lack of filter functionality.
  • Lack of an alternative language version of the site.
  • The design of the current site is outdated.

Fig 2. The main page of the site Karandash.ua before the update

SOLUTION

Any complex task requires a clear action plan, which will outline each stage of work. Formally, we can divide the process of updating a site into the following stages:

  1. Preparation for the start of work;
  2. Implementation of technical tasks;
  3. Analysis of completed works;
  4. Site release.

At first glance, it may seem that the plan is too simple, but it is not.

Let’s figure it out.

Stage 1. Preparation for the start of work

Based on experience in implementing such tasks, we can say that the preparation stage is the most important in the whole process. At the beginning of the journey, we have the opportunity to develop a work procedure, distribute areas of responsibility, and lay the foundation for a site that will meet the requirements of search engines.

Organizational matters

Since three parties were nominally involved in the website updating process: the client, the programmers, and our agency, the first thing we decided to do was to develop a unified approach and implement it at the level of all parties involved.

Often, the organization of communication between all parties becomes a big problem. Correspondence in various chats, contact by mail, comments in files – all this flow of information intertwines and forms a tangle that even the most experienced project manager can hardly unravel. Task managers come to the rescue in such a situation; in our case, we used Asana.

The advantages of this application:

  • Simple and intuitively understandable interface.
  • Allows you to add up to 15 members in the free version.
  • Systematization of processes. Allows you to create the required number of boards for any type/stage of work.
  • It makes it possible to streamline communications.
  • Allows you to manage large processes by breaking complex and multi-level tasks into simpler ones.
  • Control of deadlines. Allows you to set deadlines for completing tasks and a convenient notification system – not to miss anything important.
  • Availability of a mobile application. It makes it possible to control processes and be aware of all events without being tied to the workplace.

Fig 3. The workspace of the Asana task manager

You can choose any task manager convenient for you since most of them are similar in functionality.

Distribution of areas of responsibility

Since our agency assumes responsibility for the result of the project, we put forward some requirements for the work procedure.

This approach allows us to develop a unified strategy when working on moving a website.

1. All actions on the site coordinated with the agency

If responsibility lies with us, then we need to know about any changes on the site. That avoids cases where the client or programmers make edits at their discretion, without looking at the possible consequences.

In the example, we can bring up the following situation: a client wanted to change the site structure, changing the existing categories and subcategories without warning us. As a result, the logic of transferring the link weight breaks down, and, consequently, the site after the release loses position and traffic.

Any action can affect the result. Therefore, it is essential for us that the client who entrusted us with the task of ensuring the correct updating of the website; speaks with us of all the changes that he plans to make and does not do anything without our knowledge. That is the only way to minimize business losses.

2. Deadlines, cost, and list of works

The list of works and all deadlines are evaluating at once in full. That gives the client a clear understanding of when they will receive the website and what its final cost will be; All tasks that come after the approval of the list of works are calculated separately and implemented for an additional budget;

That avoids conflict situations and misunderstandings on both sides. And helps to determine who should undertake additional costs if the client has extra requirements in the course of work, or the programmer did not take into account the complexity of the task when evaluating the work and required more hours than it initially agreed;

Also, at this stage, it is agreed on whose side the costs are if non-compliance with deadlines or poorly performed work.

The most common case that we had to deal with – the client paid for a certain number of working hours, the programmers submitted the project, but when checking the site, it turned out that most of the requirements have not been completed. Naturally, the question arises of who should spend their resources on making edits and analyzing the result. To avoid such situations, we prescribe all the requirements before starting work.

3. Unexpected expenses

When planning a time-consuming job like updating a website, there are always variable factors to consider. Search engines regularly update their algorithms, which may cause additional or change the current optimization requirements. Often, the client does not possess such knowledge, so our task is to convey to him information about the risks that are beyond our control;

Elaboration of technical specifications

Before proceeding to the creation of technical specifications (TOR), it was essential for us to understand what the client wants from the site. Therefore, firstly, we found out what wishes they had and discussed the possibility of implementing the requested functionality. The information that we received helped us to work out all the details in the future and not miss anything from both SEO and business;

Let’s take a site design as an example. We often encountered a problem when drawing up the TOR – the client already had the layouts of the main pages ready. In the future, this led to the fact that some of the SEO requirements were impossible or very difficult to implement since they didn’t take that functionality into account when developing the design. In this case study, we do not set ourselves the task of presenting a detailed list of technical solutions that we implemented step by step. However, it would be wrong not to say about the essential requirements that we adhered to;

Ideally, for the move to be as painless as possible, the new site should be as identical as possible to the old one.

On the technical side, we adhered to the following points:

  1. A new site necessarily developed on a test domain, which is closed from indexing by restricting access to it by IP.
  2. Maintain the current structure of the site, including the hierarchy: sections, categories, subcategories, product pages, information pages, an article section, etc.
  3. Transfer the current site settings by 301 redirects so you won’t lose the existing link weight.
  4. Transfer all current meta robots tags and canonical attributes.
  5. Transfer all current title and description metadata.
  6. Transfer all text content unchanged while maintaining the structure of the H1-H6 tags.
  7. Transfer all installed counters and analytics systems.
  8. Update sitemap and robots.txt files.
  9. Set up a 301 page redirect.

Separately, we should note about the website design; people changing it the most often. In our case, it was the outdated design that became the reason for moving the site.

To ensure a successful website redesign, we focused on the following:

  1. We did as simple as possible and intuitively understandable design. New users should not have any difficulties using the site, and old users should adapt to the new design as quickly as possible.
  2. Since the old site was not optimized for mobile devices, we focused on Mobile First indexing and, foremost, started from the design on mobile devices.
  3. Since the concept of a good site is different for every designer, we have formulated requirements for all the elements necessary for SEO promotion.

Stage 2. Implementation and verification of technical specifications

At this stage, there was the most communication. In the process of work, various kinds of difficulties always arise. We, as an agency, are the link between the developers and the client. We are responsible for supporting the implementation of tasks, analyzing the results obtained, and monitoring compliance with deadlines.

Here, the usefulness of task managers is fully revealed. As we said earlier, working on large tasks, communicating in chats, or commenting on documents is a sure-losing option. Sooner or later, you will get confused by a large number of messages from different messengers and applications.

Stage 3. Final website audit before release

After all the work has been completed, we proceed to a comprehensive analysis of the site. That is a very tense and responsible stage. It is essential to look at the site as a whole, and not in the context of individual tasks, paying attention to every detail. The site is a complex mechanism where everything is connected. Making edits to one part of the site can affect it as a whole. In other words, at this stage, we are passing the point of no return, so this stage is the time for the final check and the work on errors.

Due to various circumstances, during the audit, errors may be identified that do not allow the website to be uploaded, due to which we may extend the deadline. In this case, our task is to report to the client the degree of criticality of unfulfilled tasks and possible consequences in the event of a premature release of the site.

Stage 4. Website release

For obvious reasons, we decided to update the site during the least user activity period – at night.

After the release of the site, the search engine needs some time to re-index the site. In our case, it took about 30 hours.

Often, after updating the site, technical problems, failures, inaccuracies occur. Therefore, our task is to identify malfunctions and eliminate them as quickly as possible while the search engine re-evaluates the site. We are starting to analyze the website again because the fixed result on the test site is not a 100% guarantee of the correct working of the functionality on the real one.

After the release of the site on February 26, the average position of the website decreased slightly (as expected). However, a month later (in early April), the indicators began to recover and grow.

Fig 4. Dynamics of the average position of the website before and after updating the site according to Google Search Console

Higher education in England

Fig 5. Dynamics of the average position of the site before and after the update in the context of the tracked directions

Secondary education in England

Fig 6. Dynamics of the average position of the site before and after the update in the context of the tracked directions

Higher education in Australia

Fig 7. Dynamics of the average position of the site before and after the update in the context of the tracked directions

RESULT

Upon completion of the work, we received:

  • Updated website design.

Fig 8. The main page of the Karandash.ua website, after updating

  • Website positions remained the same – they did not fall and did not grow.
  • The site adapted for mobile devices;

Fig 9. Displaying the site on mobile devices

  • Filter pages have been implemented, due to which the site structure significantly expanded.

Fig 10. Filters functionality

  • Added an alternative language version of the site.
  • Added the logical interlinking blocks for correct weight distribution on the site and greater user engagement.
  • Optimized Blog section with thematic subject categories and subcategories.

Fig 11. Structure of the blog section on the site

  • The site speed has increased.
  • A highly functional CMS was added, which allowed solving the client’s business issues.

CONCLUSION

Updating a site is a complex work on changing an Internet resource both from the inside and outside. Global changes are always accompanied by certain risks of how a new website will be perceived by search engines. The task, to put it mildly, is not an easy one.

Focusing on the only goal – the growth of the project, over the past five years, we have successfully helped to update dozens of sites. Having an impressive work experience, we came to the understanding that coordinated work in a team of two players – an SEO agency and a client – is essential to achieve this goal. This approach will reduce risk factors and get the desired result.