In my opinion, most websites could stand a little redesign every two years or so. That is by no means a hard and fast rule, and if it isn’t broke don’t fix it, but usually some of the content needs to be updated, the layout can be tweaked and the site could use a fresh look. However, undergoing a major website redesign can completely destroy your past SEO efforts if you don’t keep an eye on several things during the process.
Here is a list of some of the most important changes to keep track of during a website redesign:
1. 301 redirects
Keeping track of any and all 301 redirects is probably one of the most important elements of a website redesign that a site owner needs manage. Even one broken link (a 404 error) can ruin the SEO value and user-experience of your new site. A 301 redirect ensures that all inbound links and the trust value of a certain URL (mysite.com/products) are maintained when you create a new URL for that content (mysite.com/solutions). Keep in mind that even though your new site’s navigation might reflect the new URL structure, that old page might have dozens or hundreds of inbound links. If you don’t tell the search engines that old URL is no longer valid and both the links and incoming visitors need to be sent to the new page, everything is going to be sent to the non-existent page and your new site will suffer.
When undergoing a website redesign, create a master guide that clearly outlines the old URLs and the new URLs for each page on your site. If a page gets deleted, where should that URL be redirected to?
2. New/updated content.
In a perfect world, when undergoing a major website redesign, a site wouldn’t go live until it had been properly re-optimized. This is especially important if you are adding new content or rewriting existing pages. You want to give those new pages the best possible chance of doing well in the SERPs right out of the gate so your site won’t suffer any traffic lose. Remember, the search engines rank individual pages, not a website as a whole. Those new pages won’t necessarily be crawled and indexed right away, and they may need time to build search engine trust and links of their own before they start ranking well for your priority keywords. It’s important to keep track of the new pages on your site as well as the pages that are being rewritten so you can track their progress.
3. Elements of onsite SEO.
What’s going to happen to your Meta descriptions, title tags, H1 tags, Meta keywords and so forth when you move to the new website? Some of the information may be able to carry over during the website redesign process, while other onsite SEO elements are going to have to be rewritten to accurately reflect the new site and new content. Whenever you undergo a major website redesign, it’s important to make sure all your SEO is still in good shape before you launch the new site so you don’t risk losing visitors or rankings. It’s also important to remember that once you make a major change you should let it sit for a few months to see how the search engines respond. Making half a dozen changes to the same few pages of your site to figure out which one “works” in the first week after launching the new site can start to look a little spammy to the search engines. Why aren’t you making a change and sticking with it? Are you trying to find the “secret” to SEO success? (Hint, there isn’t one!)
4. Keywords being targeted.
If you launch new content on the new site, you may have to do more keyword research. Some previously considered keywords that haven’t yet been incorporated might work, but you want to avoid targeting the same keywords on multiple pages of your website. If you consolidate two or three pages down to one which of the old keywords are still relevant? Maybe none of them are and you need to come up with new keywords for that page that better reflect the new content. Please keep in mind that if you remove a keyword that was driving a lot of traffic to your site you might lose some visitors from that. While Google is smart and will often rank websites for related searches (SEO company and SEO agency, for example), you can’t expect to do well for a keyword that is no longer incorporated into your site in anyway.