It is easy for any website to become unwieldy and difficult to manage, both for the webmaster and the visitor. As your business grows and evolves, your site must adapt, but with everything else going on your company, you might simply add new pages in a fairly haphazard manner. Over time, your site can become clunky and dated. While some websites can simply be tweaked, many times a complete redesign is the better option.
Before you start building your new site, however, it is important to sit down and consider how the redesign will impact your SEO. Anticipating issues and designing solutions is always better than trying to fix problems after they occur. Here are seven principles to keep in mind throughout the redesign process.
1. Site Structure
Your site’s structure, or the way it is laid out, is a very important part of SEO. One of the biggest mistakes people make during a redesign is to reduce the number of pages. By all means, get rid of pages that have thin content or unfixable structural issues, as well as those that duplicate better, higher-quality content. For the most part, though, it is better to keep those pages and set up 301 redirects to the new and improved pages.
Changing your website domain can hurt your website’s search engine rankings unless you plan a strategy in advance. If you don’t migrate your old website to the new one all at once, then you’ll have similar or identical content in two places so search engines will likely ignore the new duplicated webpages. The best approach is to hide the new website using the “noindex” meta tag until you’re ready to flip the switch. Then make sure to 301 redirect all of the old webpages to the new webpages on the new domain. This will ensure you don’t lose your webpage rankings during the migration.
Backlinks, or links from other websites to yours, are the lifeblood of your SEO. They show Google that yours is a relevant, important site that other websites respect. Yet other webmasters are not likely to search through their links and manually change them to point to your new website. This means that their links to your old site will result in the dreaded 404 Page Not Found errors. This provides a poor user experience and drags down your search rankings.
You can overcome this issue by following the guidelines set out in Site Structure, above. Make sure that all the old pages have a permanent 301 redirect. Use your web analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to search for any remaining 404 errors, and correct them as you find them.
4. On-Page SEO
On-page SEO remains just as important as ever after your redesign. Take the opportunity to thoroughly audit any pages you are keeping, paying close attention to Title tags, Meta descriptions, headers (h1, h2, h3, etc.), and of course the content on the page. When creating new pages, make sure they are rich in useful, authoritative content and 100 percent focused on the keywords you’re trying to rank for in the search engines. Also pay attention to your internal linking structure, making sure that it is clear, logical, and easy to follow.
5. Off-Page SEO
Off-page SEO refers to all the things that show Google that your site is worth visiting, such as the number of websites linking to your website. While you don’t have much direct control over these factors, planning for them is the same as it was for your previous website. Create high-quality content that people want to read and share, use interesting headlines to convince them to click, and make it easy for people to share your content via social sharing buttons.
6. Duplicate Pages
A lot of duplicate content on your website can hurt your SEO, so be sure to avoid it. If the duplicate pages are not necessary from a usability standpoint, then the best option is to use a 301 redirect to force all the traffic to the correct page. If the duplicate pages are necessary, then use the rel=”canonical” tag to explicitly tell search engines which page to rank in their results.
7. Theme, Colors, and Other Bells and Whistles
A website redesign is a great opportunity to change your website’s look and feel. In general, changes in colors and other aspects of the site’s design do not affect SEO. However, major changes in page layout and content could have an impact. To minimize these effects, try to redirect existing pages to new pages that have the same overall “purpose,” and roughly the same balance of text to images.
Redesigning your website does not have to mean losing your SEO. Take the time to map out your existing site and develop a plan for the redesign, and you should see only minimal impacts from the changeover.
Want more SEO tips? I created a simple checklist that walks you through specific actions you can take to improve your search engine rankings and traffic. Click here to get my SEO Checklist