Importance of SEO for Website Redesigns
For most digital marketers, online strategists, and search engine optimization (SEO) specialists, redesigning a website with SEO in mind should be common sense. Instinctual even. However, many graphic designers and client representatives may not fully understand the relationship between SEO and website redesigns. Redesigning a website without losing SEO can be a challenge even with a preplanned SEO strategy.
If you want to redesign a website without losing SEO there are several precautions you should take. In this article, we will show you how to implement a website redesign without losing your search engine rankings or getting penalized by Google’s index.
Why Some Websites Need Redesigns
Before we go into how you can redesign a website without losing SEO rankings, first you need to understand when and why some websites should be redesigned in the first place. Many websites that were developed more than 5 years ago are likely not optimized for mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. These websites are also unlikely to feature responsive web design and will be presenting your site’s content in one size only. This is extremely detrimental to user experience and is heavily punished by search engines.
A new website is more likely to be developed with modern SEO strategies in mind as well as offer many other advantages that will improve the long-term health of the website. Other advantages of a newly redesigned website are faster loading times, ease of editing, and easy implementation of tracking tools such as Google search console and Google webmaster tools.
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While a web page can look great on one screen size, it is important to remember that there are hundreds of other screen sizes that your website needs to look good and function properly on.
Think of how many different screen sizes you see on a daily basis, you have your computer screen, or multiple computer screens, your phone can be held horizontally or vertically, and you might also have a tablet and a smart TV. These are just some examples of screen sizes a person sees every day and within each of these categories are hundreds of devices with varying screen sizes and orientations.
Related: How to use Google Search Console
Another common problem with older websites is that they have a slower page speed due to the inclusion of unoptimized scripts and other types of code.
When redesigning a website, your SEO strategy for how you will maintain current search engine rankings is important. You will also have to plan for future rankings and depending on the severity of the redesign, you may also have to plan for a sudden surge in web traffic.
Does changing website design affect SEO?
A website redesign is sure to have a big impact on your website’s search engine rankings being the front end that every user will see when they visit your website. How much a redesign affects SEO can depend on several other factors including:
- How much of the site is being redesigned
- If the old website design was responsive
- If the newly redesigned site is responsive
- If the URL structure changed after the redesign
- If redirects were implemented to ensure no there are no broken links that lead to 404 error pages
These are just some of the front-end factors that can impact how drastic a website redesign is for SEO. However, a website redesign often also includes changes to a website’s backend, the aspects of a website that users don’t usually see.
Website redesigns often implement new website building methods such as implementing a CMS system, adding meta descriptions to the existing website, migrating the new design from a prebuilt staging site, creating a new XML sitemap, and using robots.txt to discourage search engines crawl bots from indexing certain pages of your website.
Any change you make to a website can affect its SEO but a proper website redesign done with SEO in mind can positively affect SEO while creating a site structure that will rank high in search engines.
How to Redesign a Website Without Losing SEO Rankings
During any website redesign, you want to keep as much SEO value as possible. It is also just as important as improving the infrastructure the website was built on.
If your website redesign SEO strategy is able to drive organic traffic while making visual and technical improvements to old pages and allowing for easy maintenance and implementation of tracking codes you are well on the way to success.
There are a few steps to take to ensure a smooth redesign with minimal SEO loss and potential SEO gains. Here’s our SEO checklist for what you should do during the redesign process.
- Make a list of every page of your live website.
- Build the new version of your website on a test site that is completely separate from your existing site. It is best to do this on a temporary URL or a new URL entirely.
- Once you’re happy with the redesign, give the entire site a post-launch audit.
- Keep track of URL changes and prepare to set up 301 redirects.
- Make any final changes and launch your new website redesign.
- Ensure that all your tracking codes are working properly
- Monitor how the redesigned site performs in search engines.
Make a list of every page on your live website
Before starting a website redesign, you should make a list of every page on the website. This will ensure that no pages disappear after the update. Additionally, it ensures website owners won’t have to worry about losing rankings or clicks from any pages of their website. This can also cut down on the number of broken links on your website.
There are several ways to get the URLs of every page on your website. You can either use third-party sites, generate a new XML sitemap, view Google’s index of your website, or if your website already has it set up Google search console. However, each of these methods has some drawbacks, and the only way to verify that your list contains every page of a website is to manually check your website files.
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Build Your New Website On A Dev Site
To minimize website downtime, you should avoid building the new version of the website on the same domain and instead should consider building the new web pages on a staging website completely separate from the live site. This will allow you to go crazy with plugins, add-ons, custom code, and anything you want to implement. It also minimizes the fear of taking down or breaking elements of the current website.
Creating a staging environment when doing a website redesign can save you plenty of trouble later on. It can even allow you to perform some on-page optimization before the new site redesign is implemented. Doing this can lead to an immediate increase in rankings from search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. This will also cover you in case you make critical errors that require you to restart the website redesign process.
Post Launch Audit
Once you are satisfied with the layout and design of the new website, it is time to give it a post-launch audit. Often times during a website redesign, some pages’ content gets combined, URL structure changes, new pages are made and unused landing pages get deleted.
During your audit, you should also look for other errors on the website that might affect your SEO. Be sure to remove duplicate content. Also make sure new pages are navigatable, ensure that your maintenance page is disabled, and test any e-commerce features or other functions of your website.
One of the most important things to look for during an audit when redesigning a website is URL changes and content migrations. Google and other search engines heavily weigh the content of a web page when deciding where it should rank.
When redesigning a website you don’t want pages that already rank high to lose their rank or become 404 pages. It is extremely important to keep track of URL changes, new URLs, and deleted URLs.
Making 301 Redirects
Now that you’ve finished your audit, the next step is to set up 301 redirects. 301 redirects are a type of redirect that will take users from one URL to another.
The reason you should use 301 redirects when redesigning a website with SEO in mind is that this type of redirect transfers any authority to the new URL. Even if your website redesign completely changes the new URL of every page, a 301 redirect can transfer any search authority a page may have.
Setting up redirects is essential to keeping your website’s SEO after a redesign. If you have a WordPress website you can quickly and easily install a redirection plugin. These plugins manage redirects for you. Otherwise, you may have to edit your htaccess file to set up 301 redirects.
Related: How to perform an SEO Audit
Keep note of whether the website redesign will have some pages keep the same URLs or if they will change. Adding “www.” in some cases can count as an entirely new URL. This can cause a 404 error page to occur.
Launch Your Newly Redesigned Website
By now everything on your website’s front end should be ironed out and ready to be pushed live. This can be a very exciting time. However, for SEOs and developers, this can be the most nerve-wracking moment of a website redesign.
After designing the new website on a staging site you will have to migrate the redesigned site. This should be to the hosting provider of the live site.
After you completed the migration, check the URLs of links and different pages to ensure everything is working. Be certain that there are no broken links and that the website redesign is completed. Afterward you can move on to the next step of the process.
Related: How long does it take a new website to index?
Installing & Ensuring Tracking Codes Work
To make sure your website isn’t losing any SEO rankings you should ensure that any tracking codes are working properly. Test your website’s Google search console, Google Analytics, and any other tracking codes you may have on your website. Doing this immediately will ensure that the data you’re tracking is accurate and sets you up for long-term success.
Monitoring SEO Performance
Now that the redesign is complete, the last thing to do is monitor your website’s performance in search engines. This step takes time because search engine crawl bots have to continuously visit your website. It is important to know that over time your rankings will change. They won’t change immediately.
Newly built websites are likely to have a new page that search engines will have to find and index. If your newly designed website looks good and meets all the criteria required for SEO then over time you can expect to see the change reflected in your analytics.
Related: 10 Ways Improve Your Google Search Ranking
Want To Learn More About How You Can Redesign a website Without Losing SEO?
If you want to learn about how you can redesign websites without losing your SEO see our other blog posts. Or if you want to learn more about developing a surefire SEO strategy check out the rest of our blog.
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