What You Need To Know When Redesigning A Website
At Design In DC, we firmly believe that when your business is going through a website-redesign that you need to be aware of the effects that it can have on your established SEO. Website design and SEO really do go hand-in-hand, so even if your redesign looks better, it may not be better for your SEO. Businesses can get trapped in the cycle of redesigning their websites without considering the implications of their SEO. They get enamored by the idea of making their websites look better. However many companies do not understand that a website redesign a website's visuals will not necessarily improve conversions and revenue.
First, think about why your business is embarking on a website redesign.
- See the need to improve the user experience
- Want to convey a new image for your company
- Be trying to improve SEO
- Want to improve conversions
Write down your “whys” first before you do anything else! There needs to be a greater purpose for website redesign other than just the looks.
Think about all of the changes you are making during a website redesign
Now think about the potential risks of these changes, especially if you launch your redesign without testing. The gravest mistake that we see people make is completely trash their old sites and go with the redesign without a method to the madness. There’s no testing to see if the redesign actually performs better. The best thing you can do is put a system in place that lists everything you want to change with the redesign, and why it needs to be changed.
This process requires an understanding of your audience and taking a scientific approach to web redesign. Come up with hypotheses that may be affecting your conversions. Run A/B tests and take a more incremental approach. What are the true obstructions on your site? Does it look bad on mobile? Are your call-to-action buttons getting missed? Write out every key issue of WHAT and WHY you want to redesign. As you A/B test specific design issues, keep track of the performance. Instead of making an entirely new site, measure the results of making these incremental changes first.
Here are some incremental changes that you could make that won’t have a blunt impact on your SEO:
- Changes to your logo, header, and tagline
- Templates for BRAND NEW pages, not old pages
- Test new landing page designs
- Test your product or service value proposition statements
- Work on your lead generation forms, shopping cart, and checkout processes. None of this testing will break your SEO
- If you want to experiment on a more dramatic redesign, focus on your homepage first, not the other pages
- Try changing your images and re-writing headlines
What is your success criteria for redesigning your website? While your team may be talented and may have some “gut feelings” of what could work, make sure that they are using your criteria for success. For example, a website redesign may seem like it should be built entirely around looks, but what about increasing conversions?
Make sure you are careful with your website's information architecture when you are going through a redesign
When you are making changes to your website’s information architecture and sitemap in the redesign, you want to make sure that important pages are not deleted from the site. While it’s tempting to completely start a new website from the ground up, if any of your previous pages carried SEO value you’re going to lose that. So make sure that sections of the site that were getting sales for you are not diluted by the new design.
Now let’s think about some of the problems that can come up with a website redesign:
- If the content is removed, it can’t rank anymore.
- If the content moves within the site’s hierarchy, that affects rank
- Page-level optimization may change.
- New content can be added.
- New technical issues can be introduced.
- Internal link structure could change
The best approach is to be incremental in your redesign - no need to be revolutionary, be evolutionary so you can preserve your SEO. Analyze your current sitemap and work with your team on requirements for the new sitemap. This will be your one-stop guide for the rest of your redesign process - it gives you an inventory of what you already have. Usually, when we do a crawl on websites to identify all of the pages, we use a tool like Screaming Frog. Google Search Console is also good and it keeps getting better. You’ll get better diagnostic information directly from Google to track your 301s and 404s.
Make sure you also understand the relevance of your content to the intent of the searcher. When you know what context and overall architecture are changing (or remaining the same), you can work to protect or proactively optimize at the page level for the specific elements that help with relevance. For example, make sure you keep an inventory of every URL, page title, meta description, H1, H2, H3, body text, etc.
So how deep are the changes to architecture and sitemap overall once you’ve done this analysis? This will determine how much you need to focus on the relevancy of content to ensure you don’t lose subject matter content on the site. And make sure you set up a staging site for your redesign - DO NOT overwrite your current site.
Make sure that you map out 301 redirects for all pages that are getting new URLs and those that are going away in the redesigned site.
The case for keeping this in mind is all about user experience. You never want to serve up a 404 error page because your previous page URLs no longer exist. Google isn’t constantly indexing your site, so when people fail to set up their 301 redirects, users find a bunch of broken pages.
Make sure that all pages that have links pointing to them are properly redirected if you don’t have control over ensuring that the links are updated to the new destination page URL. If you have a large website, this can really be time-consuming. But it’s important - in fact, it may be the single most important thing to keep in mind with a website redesign! You can crawl like you did earlier for your sitemap planning to determine all URLs that need to be redirected.
When you have all redirects mapped out, ensure that they are implemented at the server level too. If you have overlooked this process in your own website redesign, let us know - we have been asked before to do rescue work after a redesign launches because of the lack of redirects.
If your website has a lot of dynamic content, make sure that your databases and tables don’t get missed in the migration.
Beyond the 301 redirects, all pages and specific on-page optimization needs to be carried over from your staging site to the live site. If you optimized all title tags on the staging site but you didn’t migrate them over to the live site’s database, you might find missing or default duplicate titles on every page.
Also, don’t assume that your live website will perform the same as the staging site did. Run the homepage and key pages through Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool. Compare the speed of your current website versus the test one. The difference in servers, hosting, and other loads on the production site can cause technical issues that you wouldn’t have found on the staging website, so keep that in mind.
Finally, make sure you tell Google by submitting your new XML sitemap to Webmaster Tools.
Good luck with your website redesign!
We hope that you have learned how to give your website a new look and feel without sacrificing conversions. We hope that you have learned which changes in design elements improve results. This takes a truly incremental approach - make sure that you maintain the focus of driving results and not just changing the look at once. Even if your website redesign improves your results, you won’t know what about it improved your results. Make sure you don’t lag in results with the redesign, and if you did already throw out the baby with the bathwater, make sure you have your old site handy so that you can restart with an incremental approach rather than a revolutionary design.
If you have any questions on how to best approach an incremental website redesign for your business, let us know! We can provide you with a checklist and plan that is specific to your website.