According to an Inc.com report, the average marketer will redesign his website once every two years. Judging from this information, it’s safe to assume that he won’t even have time to settle into his new design before he will have to change it again. Redesigning a website is no easy task, especially since the requirements of a great one are almost unfair: optimization for mobile devices, seamless navigability, good ROI, parallax scrolling or God knows what devilish features.
And there are so many things that could go wrong. As a matter of fact, everything that can go wrong will probably go wrong if you don’t hire a transition and planning execution SEO strategist or conduct extensive research.
You’re right to be worried about losing the SEO value that you’ve worked so hard to achieve for your site during a redesign. The good news is that you can successfully launch your new website without forfeiting SEO progress, sales or traffic, through careful planning.
The benefits of this time-consuming ordeal are hard to resist: lower bounce-rate, better engagement, increased sales and improved conversion rates. The following tips will help you redesign your site without murdering your SEO.
1. Dive into your Analytics & Crawl your Website
Your decision to redesign the website should be data driven. Are your pages losing traffic? Are your visitors bouncing? Will a redesign truly benefit your site on the long run? No matter how well you plan your redesign, you might suffer an initial traffic drop until the SE adjusts with your changes, so you need to carefully weigh the pros and the cons.
After Moz redesigned its site it recorded a 60.9% increase in page-views, and a 12.5% drop in bounce-rates. That’s because the team conducted a comprehensive site audit and prepared for problems such as increased load-times, de-indexed pages, URL and site-structure changes, lack of a Sitemap etc. You need to do the same.
Open an Excel file, access your Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics and Crawler of choice (I prefer ScreamingFrog). Start by crawling your website. This will tell you how many of your pages are actually indexed, how the search engine sees your site (including meta-data, URL structure, descriptions, titles etc.). ScreamingFrog will pull-out all this data in a matter of minutes. Organizing it on a spreadsheet will help you understand what you need to do on the site.
Note: After you redesign your website use the crawler again to see if more of your pages are indexed now.
The next thing you need to do is to audit your website. You can conduct quick SEO audits with SemRush or Ahrefs to identify critical issues.
Other Important Metrics:
- Content that is performing well: (from the Google Analytics -> Behavior -> Site Content tab). Export the full list in an Excel file. For content that is not performing well there are two options: either delete it and place a redirect on the URL, or improve the page (I would advise against deleting pages).
- Pages with powerful inbound links (can be found in Webmaster Tools under “Links to Your Site” or on Ahrefs, Moz’s Site Explorer and HubSpot’s Page Performance tool).
- Pages with errors (from the SemRush or Ahrefs – Site Audit tools). These errors should be corrected prior to the release of your new design.
- High-converting Pages (with custom goal reporting in your Google Analytics).
- Pages with Likes & Shares (using Ahrefs).
- Best performing keywords.
2. Preserve as Much Content as you Can
In my opinion, the documentation stage of your redesign is the most important one because it will give you a better idea of what is going on your website. The last thing you want is to have fewer indexed pages showing up after the redesign, or losing precious content that was generating sales.
Try to preserve as much content as you can on your site, unless, of course, you’re dealing with hundreds of ‘thin’ or ‘duplicate’ pages that might result in Panda-related issues. If this is the case, delete the pages and place 301 redirects on them or place index restrictions through robots.txt. Don’t forget to document all of these actions on a spreadsheet.
Some low-performing pages can be improved and optimized for search engines. Create another spreadsheet with their URLs, possible improvements and include them in your content plan. Google is a sucker for fresh, long-form pieces.
3. Make Sure your New Design is Mobile-Friendly
We are well past the mobile tipping point. As a matter of fact, the number of mobile users has far surpassed that of desktop users. Not optimizing your site for mobile usage would be a huge mistake for two reasons: you will lose potential customers and you will probably suffer mobile-friendliness penalties (read more about the Mobilegeddon update).
The idea is simple: Google wants… nay. Google demands that webmasters optimize their websites for mobile usage. The simplest solution to this problem is responsive design. Are you responsive?
4. Make Sure Google Isn’t Crawling your Site during the Redesign
It’s of vital importance to stop Google from crawling and indexing your website during development. The search engine doesn’t care if duplicate content comes from your old site or from your new one. It will take out the penalty hammer before you understand what’s going on.
By de-indexing your site during the redesign phase (in Google Webmasters Tools or directly on the site) you will avoid these issues. You should also let your visitors know that you’re working on the site through a site-wide notice.
5. Back-up your Old Site
God forbid something goes wrong. Nevertheless, you should be prepared for any situation by backing up your website. Create a database with all your files, as well as your site’s structure. Only after this task is completed should you start working on the new site.
6. Use a SEO-Optimized Site Platform
I strongly suggest that you use WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal or the Hubspot CMS/COSs. Keep in mind that Joomla and Drupal’s back-end dashboards aren’t very user friendly, but they are extremely robust. These CMS platforms also have great themes and SEO plugins that will make your job 10 times easier. Whatever you do, stay away from old school HTML websites, and obscure Content Management Systems.
7. Crawl your New Website & Resubmit your Sitemap
After your new website is ready there are two things that you need to do. First of all, you have to make sure that Google, Bing or Yahoo are indexing it correctly, otherwise your organic traffic will drop. So, if you’ve made major changes to the site’s structure (new pages, redirects, different URL structure etc.), you have to resubmit your sitemap through the Webmaster Tools. You can create separate sitemaps for images or video and have them linked to the main one.
The final step is to crawl your new website. You can use ScreamingFrog again. Insert all the data in an Excel sheet and compare it with your initial crawl. Is the search engine indexing more pages than before? How does your URL structure look like? What about the meta-data? Do this to see if all your new and old pages are correctly indexed. If they aren’t, you’ll have to make some alterations.
A final checklist for your website redesign:
- Create a plan of attack.
- Crawl and audit your old website.
- Prevent search engines from crawling your site during the redesign.
- Create a back-up of your site.
- Check your content and inbound links. Delete unnecessary pages and use 301 redirect plans.
- Improve old content that was performing well.
- Improve non-ranking pages.
- Implement the new design and crawl your new site.
- Allow the search engines to crawl your site again.