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SEO Checklist When Renaming URLs

We have been working tirelessly on a website just purchased by one of our main clients and completely revamped. The subject matter remains the same for the site but the old site was such a mess. Content was skewed all over the place and URLs had weird query strings causing duplicated pages that were out of our control. So, we revamped everything.

What that meant for the page name URLs was they were completely renamed except for the home page. We redesigned and created a beautiful hard directory along with the new static page names that will allow us focus on topics and nice growth for the future.

The old site had some legacy links we wanted to hold on to because they still applied and keyword rankings that we felt related and were of continued importance for the new site and visitors looking for that information.

To be the most effective, we noted rankings and external links and to what old website pages they belonged to. This allowed us to set up a new relationship from old page to new page of the site. With this we created a nice spreadsheet to help create the page-to-page 301 redirects we needed and a nice clean on-site sitemap and a sitemap.xml feed.

It also allowed us to check for any on-page content references so we could make sure all pages on the site referenced the now new pages only.

We also created a nice little custom 404 page-not-found page for any old references we might have missed. We didn’t want to just do the catch-all thing and redirect any bad references to the Home Page. Since we had such a complete outline of every old page and analysis we felt it better to truly deliver a page-not-found error for visitors that mis-type or incorrectly reference a page. Then we could also use the Google Webmaster Tools to help us watch 404’s from external links and 301 redirect more appropriately.

So, if you are moving or renaming website pages, here is a suggested checklist:

1) Perform a Link Analysis for the pages being moved or renamed and note the anchor text used.

2) Run a Ranking Report to note the keywords those individual pages are currently ranking for.

3) Push even more for additional information about old pages being referenced by other websites by using the following command in the Search Box:
“domain.com/oldpagename.html” -site:domain.com

4) Use the above to create a good new URL name (in a good Directory structure) that might help the external anchor text used and/or the keywords the old page was ranking for.

5) If Content is rewritten, consider the anchor text and ranked keywords as well for use in the new content.

6) Don’t forget to consider tying your new URL name with your Meta Data and on-page content.

7) Make sure all on-site page references point to the new page names – check content and navigation.

8) Create an XML sitemap of the old pages. A sample name to call this page is sitemap-old.xml.

9) Update the on-site sitemap page with only the new pages referenced. And update the XML sitemaps page with only the new pages. You’ll have the old pages listed in the sitemap-old.xml mentioned above.

10) Set up your 301 redirects, old individual page to new individual page, however your server and coding environment allows.

11) Have a nice custom 404 page. We like using a format like the on-site sitemap page but the custom 404 page must have a Meta Robots NOINDEX where the sitemap page has INDEX. This will act as a catch-all for any bad or incorrect references.

12) Keep the old pages accessible along with the new pages. Do this until all the new pages are in the Search Engine Indexes and the old pages are out. As well, all external link references have either been updated or changed. This will allow the link juice to get to your new pages properly and allow the search engines to update their indexes easily.

13) Set up your Google Webmaster Tools account and update your sitemaps with the new pages XML feed and the old pages XML feed.

14) Then when you flip the switch just keep an eye out for anything missed.

Hopefully, this checklist will allow the changes to take place smoothly and with minor ranking changes as all your new pages are digested in the SERPs!

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