Moving a Large Website

Having a mature website on an old domain is a great advantage from the point of view of SEO, but a lot of sites like that haven’t been updated regularly, and need a complete redesign and rebuild. We’re working on a couple of sites of this kind right now, and seeing complaints about this type of job in forums all over the internet has moved me to offer some suggestions for overcoming the obstacles and enjoying the rewards.

Don’t try to keep the current organizing principle

Sometimes the current organization makes sense, but often it has just grown organically over the past decade or so and there’s a better way. When we moved Trout Fishing in America’s  13 year old website, we did keep the archive of old newsletters, but we pulled out the things that had gotten stuck into a general news category with them and put them in places where users could find them.

We’re working right now on a news aggregator site that doesn’t really need to move all its syndicated stories since 1998. The content that’s moving (and there’s a lot of it) shouldn’t remain in chronological order, simply because users won’t be coming to find a story that ran in 1999 — they’ll be looking for the specific information from that story.

We’re following these steps to figure out the new site architecture:

  • Understand what users are looking for and how they’re currently using the site. If you have analytics to work with, this job becomes much easier.
  • Think about new ways you want people to use your site. Sometimes you want people to interact with your content in different ways, and a redesign is the time to achieve that.
  • Sort the current content into the categories that make the most sense for users. During this stage, some site owners get attached to the status quo. Try to use data and user experience models more than gut feelings. Consider also the new content you plan to add — we want websites to work for the visitors and for the owners and web pros who update them.

Dig till you find everything

We’re working on a site update with Hapgood Design which led us to a lot of error messages: much of the current site is just missing. I used the Wayback Machine to find the old content, and the site owners were relieved it had turned up. On a hospital website’s redo last year, I found a number of pages which had gotten unlinked from the main site. Use the search operator “site:URL” to track these stray lambs down. Sometimes pages have gotten lost because they’re no longer needed, but sometimes it was an accident that never got fixed.

Optimize the content while you’re moving it

It may seem faster to import everything and figure you’ll update it later, but in real life this doesn’t work well. Not only will your site be a mess on relaunch, but you’ll miss the opportunities for greater insight and improved site architecture that inevitably come up while you’re working on the content. This is also a great time to fix the page titles, URLs, and meta tags. What’s more, if you don’t have the time to do it right now, you probably won’t have the time to redo it right later.

If you’re struggling to get a large site relaunched, consider getting professional support. Call us at 479.966.9761, or email to get on our calendar.







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