After months or years of investing in SEO, sooner or later your company is going to want to update, refresh, redesign or totally rebuild your website. This article looks at how to go about these types of changes without destroying all the hard work spent on your SEO efforts and wasting the internet marketing budget already spent.
How to Ensure Your Website Redesign doesn’t Negatively Affect SEO
Most companies will refresh and redesign their website every three to four years, even when:
• great care has been put into keeping it finely tuned for search engine keywords that rank,
• the website is maintained regularly (plugins are updated on a regular basis, etc.), and
• specific pages are occasionally given a fresh coat of paint, so to speak.
Why Should a Business Redesign its Website?
More and more, a website is becoming the primary marketing tool for business. With that as a simple fact, it stands to reason that as the company’s fortunes rise, fall, expand and contract, so too the website needs to be a reflection of, or perhaps a window into the company. If a new service or product is implemented there needs to be information about it on the website, so too if services or products are discontinued, or sold off the website needs to reflect these changes as well.
Apart from the marketing perspective, there may also be solid technical reasons a company would want to redesign its website. But first let’s take a quick look at some of the marketing reasons.
1. Improve Customer Service
It is no secret that customers now expect to be serviced on the internet. What are you doing to make that a reality? Online ticketing systems, live chat widgets, and other customer service applications have been making their way to corporate home pages and they dramatically reduce customer service expenditures.
While it is possible to integrate these technologies into an older website, there are large swaths of efficiencies to be gained by using modern technologies. The new sparkling tools available don’t tend to be very backwards compatible and custom web development costs rise when you try to fit a round peg in a square hole.
2. Your Website is a Key Part of the Company Brand
Website standards, trends, technologies used, and expectations of contemporary websites change over time. By not keeping up with current design standards it can demonstrate a lack of attention to detail and misses the mark in terms of visitor expectations.
Some might say that having an older website demonstrates a sense of value in the age of the company, but this is pre-digital era thinking. It’s very difficult for a company to pull off a ‘retro’ feel to their website using dated technologies. From a customer perspective, it is infinitely better to use up-to-date technology and style it in a retro way than to have a website that uses outdated technologies. Crucially, websites that feel out of date tend be regarded as untrustworthy by potential customers and, just as bad, may inevitably suffer from exploits or malware. Most people will not want to risk these types of things from what they perceive is a ‘dodgy’ website.
3. Your Brand, Values, and Methodologies Have Changed
It’s likely that the way you do business will evolve over time, and your website will need to reflect that. A website redesign is the ideal time to have a fresh look at your website content. Does it still reflect how your business operates? The great thing about the internet in this regard is that nothing need be carved in stone forever. It is all editable. As part of a content revamp, you can optimise content for new keywords, and focus on other SEO factors such as title tags, media meta information, and so on.
4. Respect Your Marketing Calendar
A marketing calendar is an indispensable resource when it comes to online technology and your website.
While it is very easy to try and jump on every technological or stylistic bandwagon that happens to arise, sometimes these turn into nothing and a misstep can mean a lot of reworking when the market or tech go in a different direction.
Much more efficient is to know that any website is likely to have a lifespan. Just as a car or any capital expenditure goes through stages of depreciation until it becomes time to write it off, so too your website is the same. It’s better to keep tabs on new directions, and once the allotted time for website review arises, then dedicate proper concentrated effort into evaluating the current website’s direction, styling, and other properties.
A pragmatic approach will always trump a knee-jerk reaction, especially when it comes to something as important as your website.
5. Stay up to date, or get left behind
Technology moves quickly, and this doesn’t appear to be letting up. What is current now may be outdated in twelve months. Without half an eye on modern innovations in web design it’s easy to miss key developments which may cause your rankings to suffer (if nothing else).
Lead capture methodologies, technologies which make your website look great across any device, and the way search engines evaluate website value have been evolving at breakneck speed and sometimes a key differentiation between your company and your competition’s could boil down to your use of these modern website technologies.
Even the way website visitors visit websites is still rapidly changing; last year we saw mobile website traffic surpass desktop browser traffic. Your website is responsible for a large portion of important leads which will nurture the future growth of your business.
Now, About Those Website Redesign SEO Concerns
We only scraped the surface of reasons why you need to redesign your website every three to four years in order to frame the context of the next half of the article.
When you redesign your website there are a handful of things you will need to diligently keep your eye on in order to not lose any of that hard earned “Google Juice” you’ve been building up.
1. Crawl Your Website, Repeatedly
In even a small website, over time it is very easy for important SEO attributes to get out of hand. For example, a post or page was added but the person got called away before they could submit a notice to the SEO person, or perhaps staff changed without a complete handover.
For these and a thousand other similar reasons it’s important to keep on checking your website; to keep on top of it. If you have many people adding to the website this means many different levels of technical skill. In terms of SEO this can mean many different levels of headache.
It’s this level of detail and fine tuning which makes a website a valuable asset – or not.
Especially in regard to SEO, crawl your site often to build upon and improve your search rank after your website redesign. It’s important to know what is broken on the old website and ensure that breakages are corrected on the new website.
You should also seek out existing website limitations and areas where you can improve. for example, examine files which are being indexed by search engines, review what keywords are being used (if any!), and run a side-by-side comparison of how many pages are being indexed across search engines. What Google sees Bing may not see – and it is important to understand why.
You should also analyse top landing pages from your website with Google Webmaster Tools and apply the principles used in those to other important landing pages across your website.
Check for and alter/remove duplicate content, site wide. Duplicate content will drop your website rank on every search engine, and the same goes for meta information.
Verify internal links to make sure they work, and they are appropriately using keywords (or not using keywords at all). Google and other popular search engines can smell “link stuffing” a mile away and it could hurt your incoming organic search engine traffic
If website URLs have changed permanently, be sure to redirect them properly (i.e. 301 redirects) and be warned that you still may lose a pinch of organic traffic initially
2. Focus on Navigation and Link Structure
It is incredibly important to make sure that your navigation and link structure has a natural flow for both search engine site crawlers and humans alike.
Think about the various roles for each type of human visitor and tailor your navigation for them. The general public might be interested in your blog, but specific industry roles should also be able to find exactly what they are looking for at their fingertips in as few clicks or touches as possible.
In respect to Google and popular search engines you will want to use key phrases and keywords within your navigation, ensure that your website sitemap reflects any navigation changes, and prioritise popular links and possibly remove frivolous links.
3. Review Incoming Links
A website redesign is an ideal time to also review off-site website content. Disavow spammy, low quality links, and determine which links are bringing in the lion’s share of organic traffic to your website.
If any of these links point to content that has moved, this is another key moment to consider the importance of a 301 redirect for that content.
A 301 redirect is a programmer code used on your server to let incoming links know the page they were linking to has permanently moved to a new location.
If you are moving from an old CMS to a new one and not just moving things around in terms of the design, it is also important to consider how links to your home page are rendered in a browser’s address bar. A common example of this is when companies switch from, say, .NET to PHP programming languages.
The website may be identical to look at, but where links to your old home page may have looked like www.yourawesomewebsite.com/index.aspx , now that URL might have changed to www.yourawesomewebsite.com/index.php.
This article discusses some of the most important “evergreen” points on our list in terms of website redesign SEO, but we’d like to hear from our readers, too. This provides other SEO professionals an opportunity to speak up and offer helpful advice as well.
So if you have any website redesign SEO tips to share, please do in the comments!