Upgrading your website? SEO considerations

Take care of ‘under-the-bonnet’ technicalities to preserve Google ranking

confused website userQuite often we get inquiries asking for help after a dentist has updated their website only to be met with a significant and unexpected fall in their visitor numbers and Google ranking positions. This is clearly not a good scenario, particularly where the dentist expected their new site to bring lots of new patient enquiries. So what is going on there to cause the fall back in web traffic and drop away in those all important search engine positions?

You might expect that a new website with updated information is going to be well-received by Google and improved search rankings will result? However, often this isn’t the case and there are a number of technical considerations to manage as well as simply designing a new website.

Making the difference

Web designers who churn out cheap and cheerful designs using pre-built WordPress templates or similar, generally aren’t really concerned about your search engine positions or indeed how well the website will work for you’ve after they’ve handed it over. Many simply want to move on to the next job and relieve themselves of any additional responsibility, other than perhaps for some periodic content updates and an annual hosting fee.

On the other hand, good designers who are also well-versed in digital marketing including SEO, know that it’s critically important to ensure that a website not only looks good, but works well in search engines too. Building the correct website structure is essential to achieve this, for completely new websites but also for upgrades too.

For the upgrade scenario, here is an overview of the technical considerations your web designer should have in hand – please check that they do. Many web design companies, indeed not just those who are out to make a quick buck, ignore these important elements and in doing so, contribute to the ranking drops which all too often follow.

Preserving the URL (web address) structure – Google includes your site in the search index using each page’s URL or web address. Very often when updating a website, designers will arbitrarily change the page URL which in effect renders it completely new as far as Google is concerned, or indeed any other search engine. So rather than preserve the existing ranking position of the old page, the new page is published and starts from scratch.

In the example where the old web page has some established presence in Google, it clearly makes sense to hold on to this, rather than starting afresh. So either make sure that the old URL is preserved, or where there are compelling reasons to change it, ensure that SEO friendly re-directs are set to look after the transition. This technique tells the search engines that a web page has moved and 95% of the time, the original ranking position will be maintained.

Evaluate the existing web page content and how it is contributing to ranking positions – quite often, dated websites actually have some good content which has been developed and optimised over time. Unfortunately, we sometimes see the useful content pruned right back to something minimalist, typically because the dentist has requested it or the designer can’t be bothered to understand and explain the implications. Minimalist websites may look pretty but they don’t really work too well for Google. So if your old site ranks well and is a mine of useful information, think twice and take guidance before stripping it right back. If they are any good, your dental website designer should be able to explain why.

Evaluate and optimise the “on-site” SEO basics – all too often I see websites where the real SEO basics have been skimped or worse, not done at all. Elements like page titles, hierarchical data tags and keywords still do make a difference and so need to be configured diligently. So don’t just rely on your designer to do it right, get them to show you what they did and why they did it.

Other technical considerations – was your website moved to a new server and is it now loading slower than it did previously? That’s not good for your users or for search engines. Did you switch to operate your site under encryption (SSL)? There are also serious SEO considerations there too, often completely neglected by designers who don’t understand or don’t care about the implications.

Summary

If you recently upgraded you dental practice website and your search positions, web traffic and new patient enquiries fell away, then unfortunately you may actually have downgraded it – at least in functionality and the ability for patients to find it.

As discussed above, a site update is not just about aesthetics; it’s also about usability and preserving Google positions too. If you website designer doesn’t have that as part of the scope of their work, or simply doesn’t know or care about what they are doing, then your site could tank.

If you’d like to know more about the technical aspects of search engine optimisation or want to update your website without the risk of losing your search positions, please get in touch with the digital marketing team at Dental Media on 01332 672548.