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Co-Founder of Custom Legal Marketing, focusing on new business development and strategies for highly competitive practice areas.
A new website doesn’t have to spell doom for your law firm’s most valuable search engine rankings. With just a few easy steps, you can enjoy the benefits of a modern website without fear of losing organic positions.
1. Know which pages are the most valuable for your law firm.
Midsize and large law firms often have blog posts and articles that were written by their diverse legal teams. In my experience, content that speaks to specialized areas of law, especially written by an expert, is likely to maintain high page rankings.
Recently, my agency redesigned a website for a law firm that has five offices and a lot of attorneys covering various areas of corporate law. Their old website had pages with .html extensions, and the firm put off modernizing their site for years out of fear that they would lose their best lead generating rankings when the page URLs were renamed from “…/page.html” to the WordPress-styled permalink of “…/page/.”
By analyzing their website traffic, we were able to determine that much of their most valuable traffic came from the extensive content the firm has dedicated to their state’s department of employment security audits. Any business in the state that comes under such an audit will most likely do a search to see what to expect. This law firm has over a decade’s worth of coverage on the topic, and one of these pages is almost always in the top three positions in Google search results.
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When you discover a group of pages that are responsible for generating leads, note their full URL and add them to a spreadsheet. After your new site launches, it’s a good idea to manually verify the status of those pages.
2. Map out your law firm’s entire website.
Presumably, your law firm is hiring a web design or law firm marketing company to do your rebuild. Make sure they have a plan to map out every single page of your site. This is critical.
When doing a redesign for a law firm, we start by generating a spreadsheet listing all of the pages on the old website.
There are three ways to generate your list of pages:
• If your law firm’s website has an XML sitemap, you can use the XML import function in Google Sheets to quickly import a list of pages. To see whether you have an XML sitemap, add “sitemap.xml” or “sitemap_index.xml” to the end of your website address (e.g., example.com/sitemap.xml).
• If you don’t have an XML sitemap, your next option is Google Search Console. Using a Google account, log in to Google Search Console and verify your website. After you’ve done that, navigate to “Links” and then “Linked Pages” and click on “More.” Under the “Top Linked Pages” section, you will see a tab that says “Export.” You can export those pages to Google Sheets or download an Excel file. This won’t necessarily be a comprehensive list of all the pages on your website, but these are more than likely the pages that get the most organic traffic and, therefore, the pages you need to protect the most.
• Manually build a list of pages. If the XML sitemap and Google Search Console are not options, the next step is a painful copy-and-paste project wherein you manually go through your website and add every single page to a spreadsheet. It’s not fun, but the benefits are worth it.
Once you’ve imported or manually built your list of page URLs, here is how to structure your spreadsheet:
• Set up two columns: “old URLs” and “new URLs.”
• Under “old URLs,” list the complete website address for every page on your website.
• Under “new URLs,” list the address for every page on your new website, once it’s been built.
3. Establish permanent redirects.
A redirect is how you tell Google that a page has moved. Redirects are an absolute necessity.
Let’s say you have a page on your website that has 10 high-value links pointing to it, and that page ranks on page one in the Google search results. If the old page URL is “…/valuable-content.html” and you just launch a new website without a redirect, the same exact page that is now located at “…/valuable-content” will essentially be a brand new page in Google’s index with no links and no authority. Plus, any website linking to the old page will now have a broken link on their website.
However, when you create a permanent redirect (a 301 redirect) from the old page to the new one, two things happen:
• Anybody that clicks on the old link will instantly be redirected to the new page.
• Since the redirect is allowing the page to inherit all of the links and authority of the old page, your page-one ranking for the old page will generally be replaced with the new page.
If you’re doing your website build internally, the easiest way to get these redirects added to your server is to share your old URL/new URL spreadsheet with your web hosting company and tell them you want the old URLs to become 301 redirects. This needs to happen at the same time as the launch of your new website.
After you’ve launched your new site, manually check the redirects of those high-value pages you discovered in the first step. If those are working, the rest of your redirects are probably working as well and you can rest easy knowing that your organic rankings are safe.
As for our recent client, they not only kept all of their rankings, but thanks to the improved user experience and coding best practices of their new site, they’ve also picked up a handful of new top-of-page-one rankings.
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Author: Jason Bland, Forbes Councils Member