Are you in the middle of a website redesign and worried about losing the SEO value you worked so hard for? The average company starts a website redesign project every two years, so you probably feel like you just recovered from the last one. Hey, we can relate—we recently finished a redesign ourselves.
You're right to be concerned about SEO impacts of your redesign, since a website redesign done wrong can mean the loss of hard-earned Google rankings.
Today's requirements for a great website are already daunting: you have to make sure your new design is optimized for mobile devices, considers your buyer's journey, and provides a return on investment.
Like each of these, maintaining your SEO progress simply requires a little planning, strategy, and maybe a few tips from a helpful blog post or two. Whether you're planning to do it all yourself or just need to know the right questions to ask your web designer, I hope this helps you out!
1) Before You Start: Inspect the Analytics
Do you know for sure which pages of your website get the most traffic? What about the pages that receive the most inbound links from other sites? Which of your current site pages causes the most visitors to bounce?
These and other signals of your website's relevance, authority, and usability impact your SEO. Once you know the facts, you can take the proper precautions to avoid costly mistakes, especially on high-performing pages.
So... open that Excel file, access your Google Analytics, and launch your Webmaster Tools. Select the date range you want to measure and start documenting these:
- Pages with the most visits (in Google Analytics)
- Pages with the most inbound links (available in Webmaster Tools under "Links to Your Site." Moz's Open Site Explorer and HubSpot's Page Performance tool are also great for analysis)
- Pages with high-authority links (tools like HubSpot and Moz are great for looking at this)
- Pages with errors (in Webmaster Tools under "Crawl Errors." You'll want to fix these now, regardless of the timeline of your redesign)
- Internal link relationships (in Webmaster Tools under "Sitelinks")
- Indexed pages (Google Webmaster Tools will tell you how many pages of the current site are indexed, and how they are linked.)
- Pages that convert the most visitors (you can build custom goal reporting in Google Analytics, but I prefer HubSpot for an accurate measure of this)
2) Plan to Keep Key Content
The point of documenting that information is to avoid removing critical pages in a haphazard "clean up." In general, the more indexed pages you have, the better.
Unless you have pages with "thin" content that put you in jeopardy of a Google penalty, now is the time to think like a hoarder (at least a little). Hang on to those pages, and if they are outdated or thin, improve them with new, unique content rather than removing them and crying into your pillow when your rankings drop.
3) Use an SEO-Optimized Website Platform
If you're already using the WordPress CMS or HubSpot's CMS/COS, I'm preaching to the choir. If not, I highly recommend choosing one of these options, because they have built-in SEO tools to make your job easier. For the WordPress websites we design, we also install SEO Yoast to give our clients even more control.
I recommend you avoid any platform with the following red flags:
- An "old school" HTML site that has to be built with a desktop publisher (think Dreamweaver)
- Anything that isn't a CMS (Content Management System)
- An unknown proprietary CMS custom built by a local company (what happens if they get hit by a bus?)
- A brand new platform you saw on TV or a Facebook ad recently and just had to try. It's one thing to test out new technology for yourself, but it's quite another to trust it with your company's next website.
4) Avoid Mobile-Friendliness Penalties: Use Responsive Design
If you haven't been keeping track of the buzz around "mobilegeddon," the short and sweet version is that Google wants--nay, demands--that your site to be ready for mobile visitors. Responsive design is the best way to achieve this.
5) Use 301 Redirects
It's ideal to avoid changing any URLs during your website redesign, but that's not always practical. You may need to merge pages, remove pages, or improve URLs to match the changes your company has gone through since your last website design project. But for the love of all that is good and SEO holy, don't forget to redirect the URLs you remove to live pages using 301 redirects. This tells Google a page has moved, and where the new page is.
6) After Launch: Submit Sitemap & Inspect Analytics
After your site launches, you'll want to make sure Google (and Bing) have the latest and greatest sitemap. You also need to monitor things carefully for a while. Some decrease in your organic traffic may be unavoidable, especially if you've had major changes to your site structure or a company name change that impacted all your URLs. After you create 301 redirects, it can take some time for your pages to be re-spidered.
A website redesign is an exciting thing, and it can lead to great new opportunities for your business. I've seen clients experience drastic improvements after a redesign, often due to moving to a better platform with optimized page copy. When you take these steps to avoid losing the SEO value you've worked so hard for with your current site, you'll see even more dramatic improvements!