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My SEO (who also wants to design my new site) says that if I go with the web dev firm I might lose all of my rankings and for Google and others to reindex my pages it could take 6 months to a year.
That could very well be the case depending on the details of how the site ends up after being converted.
A different designer could really screw up what the SEO has done for you.
My SEO (who also wants to design my new site) says that if I go with the web dev firm I might lose all of my rankings
If you go with the SEO firm, you might ALSO lose all your rankings.
You pays your money, and you takes your chances...
Frankly, I think SEO is a corrupt concept from the git-go. Design for your users. Find a web-design firm that is good at doing that.
Make sure they talk to each other and that you stay in the loop and understand and approve each of the steps.
hear hear.. it's a bit like the song "Love and Marriage" -" one can't do much without the other - so if you're even recognising that both sides have a legitmate opinion then you're fine and IMHO you're pretty much onto a winner as long as you listen to both sides, there is no "ransom" answer they can hold you to?
That doesn't mean, however, that you should not address the very legitimate concerns of the SEO. If you switch to a dynamically-generated site and you change all the page names, then you will experience problems. You say that you have read about 301 Permanent redirects, which is good, but the best site redesign will ensure that you don't change the page names at all for the existing content. This means that the CMS chosen by the web design team must be adaptable and adapted to respect the current structure of the static site as much as possible.
Ask your web design company about rewriting dynamic URLs to static equivalents (via mod_rewrite in Apache, or ASAPI rewrite for IIS). Existing URLs remain the same, new pages may differ in format but should still be static-looking (ie. no query strings or session IDs). This will help you to find the balance between the SEO and other aspects of the redesign process.
I am currently working on a project for a client that saw their revenue plummet from a site redesign. The new company wow'd them with a groovy Flash website.. they paid tonnes of money to have their rankings go from very high, to non-existant.
Again, if your business is sensitive to your rankings, you really need to make sure the new company has the knowledge/experience to handle the transition and minimize the changes.
I'm no pro, but they're right. That doesn't mean they are the best suited for your redesign, but it does mean they have a valid point.
Is your prospective group also offering up advice on how they intend to try to minimize impact to your existing rankings?
If not, perhaps you're concerns on being scared are about the wrong group.