One of the most common misconceptions among website owners is that SEO needs to be done only once. Actually, SEO needs to be maintained throughout the lifecycle of your website, including redesign. While many marketers understand that their growing business needs a user-friendly website that looks good, they may panic when it comes to redesign, fearful of losing their SEO rankings. If this thought process is sounding familiar to you, read on, because this article will discuss ways to redesign your website without it having a deleterious effect on your SEO.
Table of Contents
- Why Do I Lose SEO?
- How Can I Keep My SEO After Redesign?
- Final thoughts
Why Do I Lose SEO?
During a redesign, your website undergoes many changes, including code and pages. The future of your online presence hinges on how these changes are implemented. Improperly managed, these changes can negatively impact your SEO, and ultimately affect the long-term growth of your company. Conversely, a correctly done redesign could strengthen your SEO, helping your company reach their future goals.
SEO relies on three core elements:
- The content relevance
- The technical ability to crawl and index content
- The authority earned through backlinks
Redesign affects each of these elements.
The content changes
The words on your pages are part of what helps you rank organically. When you change the words, the keyword themes you rank for also change. If your new ranking keyword set drives less search demand, your organic traffic will decrease. If you change the words on many pages throughout your website, you may see a dramatic change in organic search performance.
The content strategy changes
Your site is most likely divided into functional sections (blog, company information, and an eCommerce section, for example) that fit your business and content strategy. If you change your strategy, you may find it suitable to remove some sections. Depending on the role of driving organic search traffic, the section you remove could have a large impact on SEO. Removing that section would eliminate your ability to rank for the keywords those pages drove traffic through.
The navigation changes
Navigation and other internal linking structures enable more of your pages to rank. They earn their authority when other websites link to them. If you change pages linked to in the navigational structures, the pages that receive that flow of authority also change. Removing links and the authority they provide from the pages that have been ranking well may lead to less traffic and lower conversion rates.
The taxonomy changes
The taxonomy of your website is made up of:
- The product categories and subcategories
- How they relate to each other
- The filters you enable
- The labels you use
Each of these play a role in your SEO, and changes impact your ability to rank and drive conversions. For example, taking away or merging pages removes or changes their potential to perform organically.
The URLs change
When you design a website, URLs usually change. If you don’t use a 301 redirect, you will lose the link authority stored in those URLs, and the new URL has to earn it again before it can rank as well as the previous one did. If this happens on many pages, or on the most important pages, your performance may suffer.
The technology and code base change
Different website-building platforms provide different levels of functionality. Some are easy to optimize for organic search, while others need a team of experts to figure out what to do. Moving from an SEO-friendly platform to one that requires more development will impact your site’s ability to rank in organic search results.
How Can I Keep My SEO After Redesign?
While website redesign can be a step in the right direction for many aspects of digital marketing, you need to pay extra attention to the SEO aspects. Changes to your content, navigation, taxonomy, URLs, or platform can have a dramatic impact on your organic search performance. Luckily, you can give your website a fresh new look without hurting your SEO. You just need to follow our lead.
Download the URL structure of your website
As redesigning brings about many changes that affect the URL structure, this is the obvious first step you need to take. By using the Yoast SEO plugin, among others, you can easily back up your website’s structure. Taking this step will help you avoid the risk of redesign negatively impacting your website’s ranking.
Always redesign on a temporary URL
Doing the redesign on an existing website can cause many problems in the long run as it affects the overall user experience. It also carries the additional risk of bringing your live website down. That is why it is critical to copy your site and set up a temporary URL before you start making changes. An alternative solution would be to switch the domain once all the changes have been made. No matter the competence of your developers, post redesign website behavior is unpredictable. It’s best to err on the side of caution.
Test your website
Before you start your redesign project, you should perform a quick site checkup. This should include multiple aspects of your site. Issues such as broken links, features, and CSS should be addressed. We found XENU to be quite useful here, as this free-to-use tool can discover all the broken links that need to be remedied before continuing.
301 redirect URLs
Redirecting the old URL to the new one will ensure that both of them are running seamlessly, and that you don’t lose all the hard-earned SEO benefits from your previous URL. Google may be slow to recognize that some of your web pages have a new home. Eventually, things will fall into place as previously used keyword URLs are remembered and ranked accordingly. You can do this by using the .htaccess file. In that case, your code should look something like this:
Redirect 301 /oldwebsite http://newwebsite.com/new-url
If you feel reluctant to do things manually, you can use one of the numerous plugins available. If redirecting is not done properly, the search engine will show the 404 web pages not found message.
While keeping your content on the same URL is preferable, the redesign could bring to light that some pages work better if consolidated, while other pages may need to be removed altogether.
Fix internal linking
Removing pages during the redesign could affect internal linking architecture, so you need to make sure to remove all internal links that were pointing to these pages. You can use SE Ranking’s Website Audit to find out which pages are linked to the page that was removed. Find all the pages you deleted in the crawl of your old website copy and check the Referrer pages column. From there, you can access the full list of internal links that are pointing to the removed pages.
Review schema markup
Schema markup is a semantic vocabulary added to the website’s HTML code so that search engines could better understand the content of pages. If your site uses Schema markup, we strongly suggest reviewing it as some elements may be accidentally removed during the redesign process. Also, all the new elements added to web pages need to be marked with relevant tags.
You can use the Structured Data testing tool to see if everything is working as expected. Testing new schema templates is easy, simply paste the code in the Code Snipped tab. This tool can’t access your development site, so to check your old pages after the makeover, you will need to wait until your website goes live.
Switch to your new website
Once design and redirection are done, it is time for you to make the jump to your new website. You can use Google Webmaster to run a checkup of your new site. This will let you see if there are any broken links. There are a few more steps to follow to ensure that everything is in order:
- Check verification status and re-submit – Use the Fetch as Google and Fetch and Render options under crawler to run the tests and see if your website is entirely crawlable. Log into the Webmaster’s tool to check if your site is verified. Re-submit your website URL into Google index by clicking on submit to index.
- Check if your robot.txt is corrupted – To do so, use robot.txt option under crawler.
- Sitemap submission – Submit the website XML to Bing and Google.
In this article, we have talked about the reasons your website may lose its SEO after the redesign, and how to prevent that from happening. Closely monitor the changes you made in the months following your redesign. Keep a close eye on the rankings of your top-performing keywords by using one of the many SEO tools available. By diligently implementing these best practices, your website will be sporting a fresh updated look without sacrificing the SEO you worked so hard to attain.