March 01 2019

SEO and Website Redesign Best Practices

impact of website redesign on SEOIf you are planning a website redesign, there are many factors to consider. For most businesses and institutions, search engine optimization (SEO) is very important to attracting visitors from Google and Bing and supporting your branding efforts. But redesigning a website can be devastating to search engine rankings if several key steps aren’t taken. Use this helpful SEO checklist before you start your website redesign, so you can maximize your search engine traffic and minimize the negative impact that a redesign can have on rankings if best practices aren’t followed.

SEO Preparation Before Website Redesign

Website redesigns require a lot of prep work. When it comes to SEO, it’s important to set up SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely). For some businesses, beginning with a SEO audit of your current site can be a great starting point. An SEO audit independently evaluates your current site against SEO best practices and issues which might include missing, duplicate or incorrectly optimized titles and meta descriptions, 404 errors, poor content optimization, technical SEO issues and more. You will also want to measure your current keyword rankings and amount of SEO-driven traffic so that you understand your baseline to compare against once the new site launches.

Select a Website Redesign Vendor that Understands SEO Best Practices

When selecting a vendor for your website redesign, it’s important to evaluate if they are expert in SEO as well. Ask them what SEO best practices they will employ during the redesign and understand what your role will need to be – if any – during and after the redesign. If your website redesign vendor doesn’t have in-house SEO experts, you will undoubtedly end up with a site that hasn’t been optimized, which will cost you significantly in the long run.

Architecture and Content Optimization Considerations

When putting together your new site architecture (aka sitemap), identify where there are opportunities to support your SEO goals. This is the point where you will want to perform keyword research to see where the best ranking opportunities lie. Some best practices include:

  • Adding pages specific to products/service terms you are looking to improve your ranking on.

  • Consolidating pages that have very similar content so you can avoid duplicate content penalties.

  • Naming your pages to support your SEO goals. This should happen by default if you create a simple site structure influenced by keyword research. For example, if you sell peanut butter dog treats, include page specific to peanut butter dog treats with a unique page called: /dog-treats/peanut-butter.

  • Crafting all site content with your keyword research as a guide. Content should be written first for users but with SEO ranking goals in mind. Search engines like sites that users find useful, so having rich content that addresses visitor needs is essential.

Technical SEO Considerations

Technical SEO considerations are just as important during a website redesign. While your new site is being developed, follow these SEO best practices:

  • Your new site shouldn’t be accessible to search engine crawlers until it’s live. Understand what steps your redesign vendor has taken to ensure that your development/staging sites aren’t crawled.

  • When you are developing your new site architecture, you will need to capture the URLs of each of your current site pages and vanity URLs so you can setup page-level redirects in your new site CMS. This is a critical step to avoiding 404 “page not found” errors when you launch the new site. Because 404 errors are frustrating for visitors, search engines penalize your site rankings if you don’t include this step in your SEO plan. Be sure to also check the site in the weeks post-launch to capture anything you didn’t catch during the redesign.

  • When building the new site, carefully plan your “H tag strategy”. Heading tags – particularly H1 and H2s – can positively impact your site rankings. An ADA conformant website strategy may also have taken this into consideration.

  • If there is more than one variation of some site pages with very little differences in content you will want to add canonical tags. For example, if you are selling those dog treats and you have virtually the same content on both the bacon and peanut butter dog treats pages, then having separate URLs won’t do you any favors in the SEO department. In this case, adding a canonical tag will tell search engines which one to index. Better yet – make sure you optimize your content so that those individual pages have unique enough content to deserve their own pages.

  • Your CMS should have a built-in XML sitemap which lists all pages that can be crawled by search engine robots. This feature should be enabled so that you can continue to feed fresh content and site changes to search engines. If you do not have an automatic XML sitemap, you will need to manually create your sitemap and manually resubmit the site.

  • Your site should also have a robots.txt file which tells search engines what pages/files not to crawl, and also provides a direct link to your XML sitemap. You should revisit this file periodically to ensure you are blocking the right content/directories.

  • Once your new site is built, the page load time should be tested by your website developer. 75% of all users will typically bounce as page load time passes the 3-second mark. (Source: AB Tasty). Why? Because slow-loading pages can frustrate visitors and therefore are one of many factors that negatively contribute to search engine. Google has a Page Speed tool to help guide your efforts. It’s smart to test your site both before and after the site launches, and of course, select a website hosting provider that provides a great hosting environment for you.

  • As a disclaimer: during your redesign, if you are changing your brand name you may also change your domain. In that case, we have supplied you with a series of steps to follow to ensure your SEO remains untouched during this process.

Post-Web Redesign SEO Best Practices

Once your new website is live and ready for the world to see, your work isn’t quite done. As mentioned earlier, this is the time to re-check your page speed and address any lingering 404 errors. It’s also the time to monitor your success against your SMART goals. Even with all these best practices followed, your search engine ranking can take a bit of a dip in the months after a redesign as search engines adjust to the changes. But, with a solid ongoing SEO strategy in place, you will be able to evaluate how your website is performing and see it improve in the following months. If you are planning a website redesign or just want to talk about how a redesign might impact your SEO strategy, our marketing team is ready to help.

  • SEO
  • Website

posted by
Carley Gritzuk
Carley Gritzuk
Digital Strategist

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.