A website redesign can improve your site’s appearance, conversion rate, visitor experience, and more — but it also can put your search engine rankings and traffic at risk.
During the redesign process, you might change your domain name, subdomains, page-level optimization, and URL structure. You might add content or move it within your site’s hierarchy or remove it altogether. You might also add new sections or new features and run into some technical issues. While it’s unlikely that your redesign will include all of these changes, any one of them can be problematic for your rankings and organic traffic without careful planning and execution.
To ensure you reap the benefits of a redesign while avoiding the potential pitfalls, we’ll flush out a website redesign SEO strategy in this post. By following the checklist below, you can not only retain your existing search engine rankings and traffic — you can improve them.
Checklist to Redesigning and Relaunching Your Website Keeping Your SEO Intact
Revamping your website is going to have a number of unique challenges that differ from completely migrating the website to a new URL. Regardless of the situation, there needs to be a focus on not losing previously generated search engine rankings. Some companies may thrive on online leads, which makes moving the URL a terrible idea and redesigning the more ideal move. Web design trends do change over time, which is something all businesses must consider.
Migration to a new URL is going to take a significant amount of work down the line as backlinks built could be completely lost. Reaching out to publishers and websites you haven’t worked with for years to change a few backlinks is a major hit or miss. Some will want to charge for the new backlink, especially if your new website doesn’t have great search engine metrics. The amount of money that some businesses invest in link building is staggering, so the migration of your site could lose thousands of dollars in money previously spent.
Here are tips you can follow to make sure your redesign doesn’t result in lost rankings and marketing dollars:
Step 1: Analyse Your Current Site.
Before redesigning your site, you need to benchmark your current site’s performance. In addition to looking at your rankings for important keywords, look at bounce rate, time on site, domain authority, number of form submissions, number of unique visitors, and the total amount of sales generated.
With this information, you’ll be able to tell what’s working and what’s not working on your site. You can then preserve what is working and improve what isn’t in your redesign, rather than starting from scratch.
When pulling the rest of this data, you’ll also want to run a link audit to check on the health of your link profile. You can analyse all your backlinks with SEMrush’s Backlink Audit Tool to identify any spammy, irrelevant, or low-quality links that might be hurting your domain authority and rankings.
Getting all of the data on website performance from your old website is imperative. Otherwise, you will not be able to tell if the website is attracting more traffic or yielding more leads. Important metrics to look into include the following:
- The total number of visitors that are coming from search engines and which search engines they are visiting from
- The keywords that the website is ranking for
- The conversion rate, leads and calls that the website drives
- The number of pages that the average visitor views when visiting the website
- The total number of pages that are indexed by major search engines
Step 2: Inventory Your High-Performing Content.
When analyzing your site, take note of the pages that have the most shares, views, and inbound links and which keywords these pages rank for. These are assets on your current site that you need to protect during your redesign. If you don’t, you may seriously damage your SEO.
For example, say you delete a page that has a high number of inbound links. Since inbound links help search engines gauge the quality of your content and drive referral traffic to your site, removing this page could decrease your keyword rankings and traffic.
You can avoid this mistake by finding out what content is currently performing well on your site. You’ll want to minimize changes to these pages to retain their SEO during the redesign process.
Step 3: Determine Your SEO Goals and Revamp Your Content Marketing.
Now that you understand what search engine rankings and traffic you need to retain, consider how you want to improve. Do you want to increase your keyword rankings by 10% this year? Do you want to double the number of unique visitors per month? Do you want organic traffic to make up more of your search traffic than paid traffic?
To ensure your redesign project is both realistic and aligned with your overall marketing strategy, make these goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (or SMART).
The right content marketing strategy combined with a new website can work wonders. The following tips help ensure that your content marketing campaigns continually generate results:
- Try various types of content, including video and podcasting, to see the return on investment (ROI) and engagement on each.
- Consistently publish content on the company blog that educates visitors in a number of ways about products or services.
- Use social media to promote content. This can easily be automated to post on multiple platforms at one time. Engage with comments to create a sense of community among followers.
- Do appropriate keyword research before creating content and make sure all posts are tagged. The right tagging makes a difference in SEO.
- Create content based on data. There are plenty of tools that show which pieces of content created the most engagement.
Step 4: Optimize Your Existing Content.
To achieve your SEO goals, it’s essential that every page on your site targets one to two keywords that are important to your business. That ensures your content strategy is built around what your users are actually searching for instead of making assumptions.
Once you determine the keywords for each page, implement on-page SEO tactics to improve your chances of ranking. One best practice is to use your keyword in the title, introductory paragraph, heading, URL, body, meta description, and image alt tags of each page. Another is to add links to related content, which helps search engine bots and readers navigate your site and understand the relationship between your posts and pages.
Updating your content in this way will take time and that’s okay. Content optimization is not something you can do once and check off the list — it’s something you must continuously do to improve. With that in mind, aim to work on 5 to 10 pages per week.
Search engine optimization (SEO) needs to be a priority in web design since you want the website to have the largest possible reach, and this is done by showing up high in search results.
Title tags or title links should be the first thing taken care of when there are new pages. Meta descriptions that include keywords are also important.
Images need to have alt text, so the images become searchable as well. H tags should be used wisely because they make content and pages easy to understand. Find a web designer with a background in SEO to handle these areas of the redesign.
You should also perform outreach to sites you have worked with in the past to change author bios or other information. You would be surprised how many backlinks can be regained through this outreach. Even changing profiles can allow a new website to generate backlinks nearly immediately.
Step 5: Set Up 301 Redirects.
When auditing the content on your site, you’ll discover some low-value pages that aren’t worth updating. These pages might be outdated, redundant, or irrelevant to your business, which is why they’re bringing in virtually zero qualified traffic.
To maximize your crawl budget, these pages should be either be removed or redirected. This process, known as content pruning, is not always as simple as clicking Ctrl + Alt + Del.
While you can safely archive pages that don’t have any backlinks or meet any other performance criteria, you’ll want to redirect any pages that have at least one backlink or are ranking lower than another page for the same set of keywords.
You’ll also need to set up redirects if you change your URL structure. Say, for example, you install an SSL certificate on your site. In that case, you’ll need to redirect all http://yourwebsite.com pages to https://yourwebsite.com.
Redirects ensures that any visitors or search engine crawlers that end up those pages are sent to existing content on your site. That’s why setting up 301 redirects is considered one of the most important steps in retaining traffic and rankings (if not the most important).
Make sure to create a spreadsheet to record and map out your 301 redirects to stay organized.
Once the website has been launched, you need to take care of the following:
- Make sure you have done all of the 301 redirects.
- Make sure any changes from HTTP to HTTPS are noted in Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
- Check the website in incognito mode to make sure the correct pages are populating and directing to the right page.
- Check for page loading times; you can use tools like GTmetrix.
- Announce the new website via a press release, mention it in the company newsletter and blast it on social media.
Step 6: Update Your Site Architecture.
Once you’ve pruned our content, you’ll want to make sure the remaining pages are organized in a way that allows visitors and search engines to easily find them and understand their relationship.
For example, your homepage might link to you About Us, Products, Services, News, and Contact Us page as well as your blog homepage. Each of these pages will link out to different content on your site. For example, the blog homepage might link to category pages, which each link to individual blog posts. These, in turn, link to author pages.
This structure helps search bots not only understand the relationship among pages but also the importance of individual pages. Because more page’s link to your blog homepage than an author page, for example, search engines give more importance to the blog homepage.
Now let’s look at a specific example of how one business changed its site structure during a redesign.
When Vertical Measures was redesigning its site in 2018, it realized the blog homepage linked to too many similar category pages, which was making it difficult for visitors to find the exact posts they were looking for. So, the company renamed, reorganized, and consolidated 14 categories into eight.
This makes navigating the blog more intuitive for both visitors and search engine crawlers.
Step 7: Optimize Your Page Speed.
We know that today’s online consumers expect fast load times. In fact, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. But site speed isn’t just important for user experience — it’s also a ranking factor for search.
To improve your average page load time, consider compressing your files, adding a content distribution network (CDN), minifying your code, and using a caching plugin on your site. Following these steps will reduce page load time and improve your site’s technical SEO.
Step 8: Update your XML sitemap.
Once your site is live, you’ll need to update your XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing. A sitemap is like a floor plan of your site. It lists all of the relevant URLs so that search engine crawlers can understand the structure of your site and evaluate and rank it more easily.
If you’re not using a platform like CMS Hub, which automatically updates your sitemap, you can do so manually or use a tool like InSpyder.
By aligning your 301s, page structure, navigation, and XML sitemap to indicate the new site structure, you’ll help search engines understand the changes you made as quickly as possible.
Step 9: Launch Podcasts Keeping Brand’s Voice Is Consistent
Implementing a style guide across the content team is important. Some companies are forced to utilize freelancers to generate their content. This happens when they’re looking to build a ton of backlinks. The ability to stay consistent across all content projects is the lifeblood of sales.
Content that has to do with sales, like a pitch deck or pricing guide, needs to be high-quality, as well. The last thing any business owner wants is losing a sale due to their sales materials being low-quality. The right sales copywriting can impact conversions, whether you are sending out email blasts or monthly newsletters.
Hosting a podcast can be a wonderful way to create in-depth content at a reasonable price. It can cost hundreds of dollars to have a guide written on a specific topic. Listeners are what ultimately matter, so the guests you invite to be a part of the podcast should be relevant to your target audience.
Expanding your podcast’s reach to those who follow a specific person in the industry can also be a smart move. The right guest can help a newer company legitimize itself in a specific business space. Transcribing the podcast is also important to make the podcast searchable. Finally, take the time to plan out the podcast with topics that you know listeners are interested in.
Step 10: Ask Current Customers to Be Testers
Current customers can be a huge resource when launching a new website. With fresh eyes, these customers (or even prospects) can point out any issues that a designer might have overlooked due to being so involved in other areas of the project. A few main points that need to be considered are:
- What are the main goals of the website? Some site owners want to sell directly from the website, while others, like healthcare providers, want a site visit to lead to a phone call to set an appointment. Another aspect to think about is if the design of the website aligns with the goals set. Each section of the website can have different goals, whether it is to sell, educate or provide contact information.
- Is the content on the website concise and easy to navigate? The content should be quality and succinct to keep the attention of the visitor. The color scheme should make the copy easy to read.
- Does the website work well on mobile devices? The amount of mobile traffic is increasing annually, and you do not want to alienate this entire demographic as potential customers.
Maximizing Your SEO Efforts
During a website redesign, aim for more than avoiding an SEO disaster. Following the checklist above can help you not only retain but improve your search engine rankings and traffic.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by these to-do items, consider a platform like CMS Hub, which handles them for you.
The days of creating subpar content with a clickbait title to generate true results are gone. People have been desensitized to outrageous headlines that fail to live up to the hype. Basing your content marketing strategy on quality and data is the only way to succeed in today’s landscape.
And there you have it – the best practices when relaunching your website and revamping your content without losing your established rankings and audience.