Design trends are constantly changing and if you are trying to stay competitive in your industry, you’ll eventually need to redesign your website.
For most sites, it’s best to overhaul your entire website every few years rather than “Frankenstein” something together with small revisions here and there. But there’s often hesitation about opting for the redesign, stemming from the question: will my site lose its SEO rankings in the process?
However, by following a few best practices for SEO and web development, you can retain your rankings and benefit from a new site.
How to Preserve Your Website’s SEO Rankings During a Redesign:
- Maintain the website URL structure whenever possible
- Be careful with 301 redirects
- Improve your web content
- Get assistance with the website launch
- Closely monitor the site post-launch
1. Maintain the Website URL Structure Whenever Possible
When redesigning a website, it’s best to retain all existing website URLs, especially on pages that are ranking organically. Retaining the URL structure means that the web design team will upgrade the design and content of the page, but the website address (URL) will stay the same.
Changing the website address of a page for no reason isn’t ideal for users nor search engines. If you’ve spent time building up links and rankings for that page, changing the URL runs the risk of losing the SEO value of that page.
To avoid this dilemma, audit your existing site map before starting a redesign. When making adjustments to the navigation or changing page names, your web agency can discuss whether changing the URL is recommended or not.
There are situations when you do have to make major changes to a URL structure. If your existing site has a very poor page structure and you aren’t utilizing a keyword in the URL name, then you may want to reorganize the site structure in order to build up better SEO results in the long-term.
See the next section on how to avoid errors when making these types of changes.
2. Be Careful with 301 Redirects
At some point in the lifetime of your site, you’ll need to delete a page or change its address. When you do this, it’s critical that you set up a proper 301 redirect. Redirection means that you are permanently redirecting the original URL to another live page on your website.
If you don’t set up these redirects properly, both visitors and search engines will receive a 404 error, stating that the page cannot be found.
Having a lot of 404 errors on your website will negatively impact both your SEO rankings and the user experience. If a search engine hits a 404 error while it’s crawling a site, it stops the crawler from continuing to index other pages. This can then cause indexing errors across the site.
During a website redesign project, you and your web team will need to plan the redirects required. Before the site goes live, make sure your internal team is trained to set up redirects in the future.
Sadly, it’s common for clients to take over a new website and not realize that deleting pages and categories without the proper steps can cause errors on the site.
3. Improve Your Web Content
A site redesign often leads to reviewing and improving the content — and rightly so! Most businesses forget to update their website content outside of a web project.
If that’s been the case for you, your site probably contains outdated descriptions of your services and products. However, keep in mind that the content on the page needs to contain certain cues for the search engines.
If you have pages that are ranking well for a specific keyword, avoid drastically changing the content or deleting a lot of critical headlines. The H1 and H2 tags on a web page are the most important headings for on-page SEO.
An H1 is an HTML tag that indicates the heading of the web page. You most likely want to retain the H1 and H2 for high-ranking pages.
While you need enough text on a page for the search engines, you also need to balance what’s best from a user experience standpoint. Today, users are navigating sites on smaller devices and prefer to scan headlines and short snippets of text.
If you need a lot of content on a particular page, consider utilizing accordions and placing longer text further down the page. In terms of retaining content, your web agency should make sure all existing blog posts and articles are carried over to the new website.
Search engines are biased toward larger sites because there’s often a larger quantity and diversity of links. If your current website is built on a content management system, there are several ways to safely migrate content to the new site.
4. Get Assistance with the Website Launch
Launching a new website requires several technical steps and if you don’t know what you are doing, you could mistakenly cause downtime or dreaded errors. These errors, in turn, can cause major SEO problems.
Typically, it’s best for a skilled web developer or web agency to handle the launch. Along with pointing your domain name to the newly designed site, a developer may need to run a script to make sure all URLs on the live site display the proper address and not a development or production URL.
You’ll also need to set up or reconfigure an SSL certificate for the new website. An SSL is set up on the hosting server and once configured, all of the website pages will start with HTTPS. For SEO, having an SSL certificate, and serving web pages over HTTPS, is a small but important ranking factor.
All of the major browsers like Chrome and Safari will display a warning on a site that has mixed content - meaning that the SSL certificate isn’t set up or configured properly. Regardless of your concerns for the search engines, these browser warnings could scare away web visitors.
Your web team will also need to make sure the new website is available for indexing. While building a new site, the developers will temporarily block search engines from crawling the production site. Once the new site goes live, it’s critical to make sure the robot.txt file is adjusted and the website is indexable by search engines.
5. Closely Monitor the Site Post-Launch
For the first couple of months after launching a redesign, it’s all about monitoring. There are some website issues that are very difficult to detect before launch, even with the best quality control process.
The first place to start is Google Search Console, a free service that automatically detects indexing errors, mobile functionality errors, and crawl errors for your site.
Since Google is the most popular search engine globally, fixing errors related to Google’s indexing is paramount. The Search Console reports can also provide insight into the rankings and organic keywords that are delivering traffic to your site.
After the website launches, run several different speed tests and watch for slow load times, especially on the home page. If you are having major performance issues, you may need to evaluate where the site is hosted, as the website server plays a large role in the load time for the overall site.
You’ll also want to monitor analytics, which you can do by using a service such as Google Analytics. It’s very common for a tracking code or snippet to get missed and not copied over to the new live site.
If there are any major issues with the site, analytics is typically the first place it will show up. Even if you don’t detect any errors after the first few months, get in the practice of reviewing both Google Search Console reports and any analytics report on a monthly basis.
Maintaining Rankings is On-Going Work
SEO is a long-term marketing strategy, with many competitors working to knock you off the top search results. Not only that, but search engines are constantly running updates and finding ways to improve indexing and their understanding of web content.
The best way to keep your site in the game is to keep your rankings up and boost your domain authority. So, whenever you do a redesign, or any other site changes such as top page improvements, keep all of these steps in mind to sustain and improve your SEO.