Today, we will dig a little deeper into the analysis of your backlink profile when redesigning your ecommerce website. It would be easy to say this is the most important aspect to consider during a redesign, because it is one of the top two ranking factors according to Google, but really, SEO is one of those things where every aspect is important. Think of it as a car engine if you will, with spark plugs, starter, filters, pistons, belts, etc. If you remove even one component, you will have a hard time making it work. That said, links pointing to your site is arguably the #1 ranking factor and that’s what we’re going to talk about here.
A new ecommerce website design is necessary from time to time – you may be rebranding, or want to improve usability, or perhaps you finally decided to switch from HTTP to HTTPS. Whatever the reason is, it will (hopefully) pay off for you, and your online presence will be on the yellow brick road to happiness. This is not an easy process however and there are many things you must do in order to avoid having your website disappear from the web and leaving your wallet empty.
Here are a few items that must be addressed during a site redesign (in no particular order):
- Have a 301 redirect strategy
- Audit your old site for errors
- Check for errors on a test site
- Set up Google Search Console for new domain (when applicable)
- Crawl your site for errors pre-launch
- Analyse your backlink profile
Though they may seem simple, each of these includes a number of steps, and some go into great depth. Furthermore, ignoring even one of the incremental steps beneath the main topics can have you seeing a big drop in the SERPs. This will mean less visibility, resulting in less traffic and therefore less revenue or non-existent revenue. Scary isn’t it?
Your good backlinks must continue to provide value
If you redesigned your website, you most likely have a site that has been around for a few years at least – most people don’t redesign a brand new website. This means you probably already have a number of links, especially if you’ve been working to create them.
Some of these links will be from lesser quality websites, some may point to a specific product you no longer offer, and some may redirect to a page that no longer exists, which then redirects to the homepage.
Analysing your backlink profile doesn’t mean just going through looking for spammy sites, low-quality directories, or websites with malware, and then disavowing them, uploading the disavow file to Google and you’re good to go. No siree! That is only part of the fun.
After a website redesign, it is likely you will have removed pages and added new ones, maybe even new URLs, and of course redirects. Here are a few simple steps you can take to make sure you are getting the most out of your existing, worthwhile backlinks.
- Export a list of all the backlinks you found using your backlink analysis tool of choice (we like LRT) – this should give you tons of information, including ‘TO URL’, which is the URL on your website that the link points to. You can get rid of all the other information from the export and keep only the URLs that have backlinks pointing to them.
- Enter these URLs manually into a tool such as Screaming Frog using the ‘list mode’ option. Under ‘Configuration’ select ‘Spider’ and check the box that says ‘Always Follow Redirects’ in the ‘Advanced’ tab. Crawl away!
- Once the crawl is complete, you are looking for 4xx errors, 5xx errors, and 302 redirects as well as any URLs with a ‘noindex’ directive.
- Don’t forget, on the top menu there is a ‘Reports’ option. From there you will export redirect chains and canonical errors.
What to do with all these errors?
So you now have a handful of URLs with errors that need different solutions – what now? First, we need to understand the importance of addressing these.
If a site links to yours, but the URL it links to leads to a 404 error, you are getting zero ‘link juice’ from that link. If the URL has multiple redirects you are losing ‘link juice’ (from 10-15% on each redirect) and it increases page loading time.
If the URL linked to leads to a 5xx error, the user will likely abandon your site. If the URL…. well, you get the point. Aside from the technical aspect, all of these can lead to a negative user experience, and that is playing with fire.
Any URL that you are linking to, that leads to a 404 error, needs to be 301 redirected to a similar page/product or category page. This is a perfect opportunity to decide if you will have a new page that can be targeted. If it isn’t possible, it can 301 redirect to the homepage. This ensures the ‘link juice’ is passed on to your site, and your users are not greeted with a 404 error.
A 5xx error is when a valid request is made by the client, but the server failed to complete the request. Redirect chains can sometimes happen without us being aware of it, but they sometimes happen during a site redesign when you already have a redirect in place, and then you send that redirected URL to the new redesigned one. Each URL should have no more than 1 redirect. Don’t redirect URL A to URL B and then to URL C, instead redirect A to C, and B to C.
A 302 redirect will be a ‘temporary’ redirect until the whole redirect scheme is changed and redefined. Even if Google says 302s do pass ‘link juice’, we should use a 301 if the redirect is a permanent one.
What about when you have a URL that canonicals to a page that has a ‘no index’ directive? Or any other error previously mentioned – can this be canonicalised or redirected to a new similar page? All of these need to be handed over to your developer to address. The best case scenario for most of these would be to contact the linking website’s webmaster and ask them to update the URL to which you are linking. They may not all do so, but it is worth a try and you have nothing to lose aside from a little time.
Link-building and/or link-earning is not an easy task. It is time-consuming, which is why it is important to take care of the links you already have. As part of our SEO services we crawl our clients’ websites at least once a month looking for these errors, however if someone links to an old product of yours and the page no longer exists, the crawl may not pick that up. We are focusing on URLs that have backlinks pointing to them in this article, and when you redesign your site you are doing so for a reason. Often that reason is that you want a clean, fresh start. So, make sure all backlinks pointing to your domain are clean, direct, and user-friendly so you take full advantage of all that valuable link equity.
Use this site redesign to identify opportunities and possible errors within new pages or the pages being removed. Remember, this is only one of many steps to follow if you’re considering a site redesign, but one you cannot afford to overlook.