The periodic desire to redesign a company website is natural and often inescapable. We just get fed up with the way our sites look or function over time: what used to be trendy and appealing, has become tired looking and out of date. The more artistic one is, the shorter the interval between rounds of website redesign. You should, by all means, feel free to re-design your site, but go into the project with your eyes open and a plan to succeed.
So, what plan do you need? Shouldn't the most important elements be design and user experience? What should you be concerned about other than that?
While most people have an idea as to how well their sites are performing (traffic, inbound links, customer conversions), many don't realize how really cautious they need to be when it comes to preserving their hard earned Google authority. Spending the time up front to architect a solution that minimizes SEO impact can help to prevent catastrophic reductions in website traffic flow and ultimately company sales.
We have compiled some key actions you should include in your SEO preservation strategy before beginning any website redesign plan. Here they are:
Actions to Take Prior to a Website Redesign
- Know your Old Site - Before doing anything, you must know the current structure of your existing website and the pages within it. Performing a website audit can be done easily (and for free) using a utility called Xenu's Link Sleuth. This tool will crawl the site and reveal all of your existing pages and, importantly, their unique URLs. You need to do this step in order to set up 301 re-directs from these pages to their new locations within your redesigned website structure. Without doing this critical step, your Google authority can be destroyed because Google will no longer know where to send traffic that you have worked so hard to rank for.
- Inbound Link Preservation - The most powerful indicator to search engines that your site is worth directing traffic to is based on the amount and quality of other sites that link to you. It is nothing short of imperative that you also create 301 redirects for these pages as well. There are a number of tools that do a great job of analyzing inbound links including Hubspot Internet Marketing Software suite, and SEOMOZ' Open Site Explorer.
Actions to Take During a Website Redesign
- Conduct a Site Audit - This is a great time to make sure your existing pages are in the best shape possible relative to getting found on the internet. You can use Google to create a listing of all the pages in your domain that it has indexed. Much can be learned from this including pages that should not be indexed at all such as documents that you offer for download in your calls to action: you don't want your prospects to get these jewels without first filling out a contact form! Google will generate a listing of all your pages by entering the following in the search field - site:yoursite.com. Remember to navigate all the way to the end of the final results page in this search, and click the "repeat the search with the omitted results included" link to get all of your pages displayed. Some of the things to audit your site for include:
- Are each of your pages optimized for search engines?
- Have you built a robust keyword strategy for the new site?
- Are you using meta tags effectively?
- Do inbound links include anchor text?
- Is there redundant optimization on multiple pages?
- Do all images have alt-tags on them rendering them invisible to search engines?
- Are there out of date pages that shouldn't be indexed?
- What to do About Obsolete Pages? - Out of date pages that you no longer wish to index within your new site can still be super valuable. Use Google Analytics or Hubspot to determine the traffic generation power of these pages before cutting them loose. If they are driving traffic to your site for keywords that you care about, 301 re-direct them to a replacement page that you then optimize for these keywords. Don't just delete them as this will obviously impact your traffic rank and reduce the volume of visits to your website.
- Develop New Content to Boost Your Site - Flesh out your new site with new content optimized for the keywords you identified in your updated keyword strategy. Generally speaking, you should expect some level of performance degredation after a website redesign project, so be proactive and develop new content to compensate for this dip.
Actions to Take After a Website Redesign
- Basically keep a close watch on your traffic rank and inbound links through your analytics tools and try to intercept problems quickly. Use the tools highlighted earlier in this article to find links that are broken and to make sure your page count makes sense.
- Benchmark your site before vs. after the change by looking for differences in ranking, number of indexed pages, and bounce rate. Also run a load time test and check compatibility with all major internet browsers as well as mobile browsers.
- Be sure to include a customized 404 Error page that will offer visitors several options within your new site in the event they pursue links that have become obsolete.
We hope you find this information useful and look forward to your comments.
Image by VFS Digital Design