“Digital design is like painting, except the paint never dries.”
– Neville Brody, owner of Brody Associates
In the same way that technology is constantly evolving, it is critical for websites to do the same in order to keep pace.
Website redesigns can have significant positive impacts for a brand when correctly executed. If this endeavor is approached haphazardly, however, the results can actually be devastating, resulting in a loss in rankings, traffic, leads, and sales.
While a site overhaul does carry a high level of risk, the best way to mitigate potentially detrimental outcomes is by placing an emphasis on SEO optimization from the start.
Since SEO should be one of your top priorities when redesigning your site, here are five tips for ensuring that your new business destination remains just as visible (if not more so) as your last.
1. Evaluate Your Current Standings
Before going full throttle with your redesign, take a moment to assess the state of your current property.
Doing this enables site owners to gain an intimate awareness of the site’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities for improvement and broken elements, effectively creating a roadmap regarding what should be changed, migrated or eliminated.
Start by creating a list of all of the pages your site contains. Begin analyzing these pages to pinpoint areas of improvement or aspects that need to be fixed such as missing titles, under-optimized tags and content that should be rewritten in hopes of higher performance.
From there, begin deciding which pages should be kept, consolidated or canned. Use Google Analytics to understand which ones are your top performers; don’t make too many changes to these because it could impact rankings.
Anything that you deem worthy of consolidation should use a 301 redirect to the new URL so that users are guaranteed to land on the correct page.
Other factors of your site that you will want to study are:
- H1 tags
- Meta descriptions
- Image alt texts
- Duplicate content
- URL structure
- Search rankings for various keywords
2. Preserve URL Structures
Retaining your site’s current URL structure is ideal when undergoing a site redesign so you won’t have to fiddle with implementing a plethora of 301 redirects.
If this is unavoidable, it is critical to inform Google and other search engines where the page has been moved to; if you fail to do so, your rankings will crumble alongside your traffic and sales.
Ensure that visitors are sent to the correct pages with 301 redirects; these will update search engines to the new location.
If you are employing an entirely new domain for your site, it is necessary to implement a 301 redirect for every single page on your site.
Once you have implemented all of the necessary redirects, use a tool like the Redirect Checker to verify that everything is working properly.
3. Support Internal Linking
Your site’s internal links play a larger role than just keeping visitors on your content for longer periods; they also assist search engines in understanding which are your most important pages and the relationships that pages have with one another.
If you have elected to alter your website’s URLs, don’t forget to update your internal links as well. Failing to do so will end up creating “island pages” that visitors will be unable to reach within your site. This also helps to avoid having a bunch a broken links floating around your new site post-launch.
4. Keep Up with Keywords
Redesigning your site doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water; retain all of the keyword optimization work you have done on title tags, header tags, meta tags and so on — if they are properly optimized, that is.
While your redesign does mean that you will likely be infusing a fresh batch of copy into your site, this should be viewed as a building process on your already established foundation.
Start by analyzing your existing pages to pinpoint the most prosperous keywords and phrases for your new site; this will help to guide you in your quest for determining which pages will rank for which words.
The most important thing to keep in mind here, however, is that Google’s Hummingbird update shifted the power from keywords to natural language queries and user intent.
Instead of zoning in on specific words and phrases, focus more on the topic covered on each page, why a user would seek out such a destination, and providing a solution to the intention behind the user’s initial search.
5. Seek UX and Mobile-Friendliness Above All Else
A pristine and intuitive user experience (UX) is not only valued by your visitors; it’s prized by Google too.
As far as functionality and appearance are concerned, the No. 1 criteria you are aiming to achieve is to meet the needs of your visitors. If your site ends up looking ugly, operates poorly, or is difficult to navigate, your redesign needs a redesign.
Part of developing an impressive experience that search engines will favor means that it must be mobile-friendly as well. Google continues to place greater importance on mobile technology with each passing year; this year the company enacted a mobile-first indexing “experiment.”
Since mobile optimization is a ranking factor with Google, it is vital that your website be responsive to all screen sizes.
Bringing it all Together
Once your redesign is finished, it is highly unlikely that your new property will outrank the old one; don’t worry, this is normal.
When redesigning your site, keep in mind that your goal is to have the new site remain as visible as your previous destination. If you see a slight rankings dip, that’s okay. It is likely that once search engines understand what has happened, you will recoup your losses and possibly see some new gains.
Be sure to incorporate these tips when creating your new website so as to minimize potential damages and generate an SEO-optimized site that will build upon the work you have already put in.