At some point in time all business with a website will have to go through a redesign, and whether you are completely changing platforms, or just redesigning your existing site, it's important to keep SEO in mind. The last thing you want to do is launch your brand new, beautiful website and realize a few weeks later that you completely forgot about your SEO and now your rankings have plummeted and so has your traffic.
Redesigns can wreck havoc on a business if done wrong. Loss of traffic means loss of leads.. which means loss of revenue, something no business wants to experience.
By following the recommendations outlined below, you will mitigate the amount of lost ranking and traffic.
The first step in the redesign process should be to take stock of your website's metrics as they stand right now, including the following:
• Current rankings & list of pages ranking for each keyword - SEM Rush, WebCEO, AWR Cloud
• Current organic traffic - Google Analytics
• List of pages producing traffic - Google Analytics
• Number of pages currently indexed in Google - do a search in Google using site:domain.com
• Domain authority - https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/
• Site speed - GTmetrix.com
Download your current XML sitemap so you have a complete list of all the pages on your current site. This is especially important if your URL structure is changing as it will be critical that you have this information to plan your 301 redirects.
Once the new website is launched, create a new xml sitemap and submit it to the search engines.
One of the most common mistakes I see when it comes to a redesign is developers forgetting to ensure the Google Analytics code is installed on all the pages of the new website.
Download all of your current meta data (title tags, meta descriptions). You can use Screaming Frog to do this quickly and easily. Once you have the information downloaded, you can then just copy and paste the information to the pages on your new site.
This is also an opportunity for you to improve your current title and descriptions, especially if they haven't been updated since Google extended the lengths of the titles and descriptions.
Schema markup provides the search engines with important information about your website. Forgetting to implement the information on your new site, could not only have an impact on your rankings, but will also take away your rich snippet information in the search engines.
Another piece of the rankings puzzle, alt-image tags are an important part of on page optimization that should not be forgotten during the redesign process. Properly tagged images can rank in Google images and bring in additional traffic to your website.
URL Structure/301 Redirects
When you change your URL structure or file extensions of your pages, you're essentially creating brand new pages in the eyes of the search engines. These new pages work just like a new domain, with no page authority. If you can keep your URLs the same when you redesign, that's optimal, however, when this is not something you have the ability to do, always remember to implement 301 redirects.
When you put a 301 redirect in place, the page authority or link juice of the old page is transferred to the new page. This helps mitigate any loss in rankings you may experience when you launch the new site.
Making changes in your content can have a direct impact on your rankings in the search engines. I have seen many website owners remove hundreds of pages of content because they didn't think it was important anymore. This can have a serious impact on how relevant the search engine perceives your site to be.
Every page on your site that has content relative to the overall topic of your site adds value to the site. This is why larger site with lots of content (even old blog posts or news items from several years ago), seem to rank better than smaller sites with less content. Even pages that get very little traffic add value from a relevancy perspective.
Internal Links/Navigation Structure
This is a big one that a lot of people don't think about. Every link, whether internal (linking to other pages within your site), or external (linking to pages outside of your website), pass link equity or Google juice. Not ensuring these links are re-implemented with the redesign will have an impact on the pages to which the links used to point. This will result in lower PA, which in turn will impact your rankings.
Many times when a site is in development, the designer will add no-index, no-follow tags to the site in order to ensure the site isn't crawled until it's ready to be launched. Forgetting to remove these tags upon launch will result in your site not being crawled or indexed. A MAJOR issue! Always double check that these tags have been removed or changed prior to launching your newly redesigned website.
**Tip - Don't launch a redesigned website during your busy season! Even if you check the boxes on all the items listed above, you'll likely still experience a drop in traffic and rankings. This is typical as Google needs to adjust to the changes, but in my experience, the loss is temporary and you should see your rankings come back within 4-6 weeks at the most. Because of this planning the launch of your new website during your slow season is critical.
Remember to closely monitor your website for broken links, pages resulting in 404 errors and so on after you launch your new site. You can do this easily with Google Search Console. Keep a close eye on your traffic and make adjustments as necessary.