Any successful website redesign requires a variety of experts – from designers and developers to marketing strategists -- to ensure all best practices are followed and goals are met. In addition to these more known roles, SEO specialists are just as essential to put an SEO plan in place. This involves careful considerations at every stage of the website redesign – from the initial site architecture to post launch maintenance. Explore the importance of SEO during a redesign and why you or your agency must consider it during each phase.
1. SEO Audit and Discovery Stage
At the start of any website design or redesign project, the SEO specialist must become acquainted with the brand and learn as much about the business as possible – from popular products and services to target audiences and business goals. A website audit, which involves a deep analysis of the current website including performance and user behavior, is a key step to understanding the organization’s existing digital presence. In addition to this, a separate SEO audit is also helpful to identify specific SEO elements that are is working well and where there may be room for improvement:
Search Engine Rankings: By crawling your site, the specialist can determine how high each page shows up in SERPs, which can suggest how well the website is ranking on target keywords.
Duplicates: Tools like MOZ Pro can showcase any duplicate pages, heading tags, and meta tags that need re-working. These can be seen as spam by search engines and ultimately result in being non-visible from SERPs, so they are crucial to fix.
Meta Tags: All metadata should be well optimized to ensure it meets the recommended character counts, indicates a business’s target location (if applicable), and includes a focus keyword or phrase.
Error Codes: It's essential to take a look at any alarming error codes, mainly 404s (page not found) that should be redirected.
URLs: These should be short and simple and include a focus keyword. Check to make sure they don't have any of the following unnecessary characters: ?, =, +, #, &, %. Additionally, if canonical URLs should be in place to tell search engines which variation of a page is correct, this is also important to address.
Once the SEO audit is complete, the specialist will have a collaborative discovery with the client. Discoveries focus on where the business wants to go in the future and reveals essential details like objectives and a checklist of opportunities, so the SEO vendor can start a practical plan on achieving them.
2. Website Architecture Stage
After you set an SEO plan in motion, marketers will need to map out the website architecture in a way that not only maximizes user experience but also benefits SEO. This involves creating a navigation structure that will allow users to more easily find the page they are looking for and provide optimal content for search engine crawlers. Important pages that hold SEO value (like product detail pages) should never be removed or consolidated – in fact, you might even want to add pages for products or services for which you would like to increase search rankings. These pages should also never be hidden from the site navigation unless they’re tied to promotional landing pages – instead, they should be visible and easily accessible from the menu.
Additionally, the organization and hierarchy of pages should be intuitive for users and the names of pages listed in the navigation should include the focus keyword or phrase (e.g. Maryland Credit Union Certificate Deposit Rates). This will make it so users are more likely to engage, and crawlers can evaluate relevance. Keep in mind that pages that are further down the architecture tree tend to receive fewer clicks, so the SEO specialist needs to choose the structure of your pages wisely.
3. Website Content & SEO Copywriting Stage
If you choose to work with an agency writer, understand that there are many different aspects to the content portion of a website redesign to support SEO.
Once you have determined all the pages in the new sitemap, it's time for keyword research. There are many tools out there to help with this, including Google Keyword Planner and MOZ Keyword Explorer. These days, users are very picky with the search results they click on, and they are unlikely to engage with your site link unless they believe the page matches the intent of their search. So, when specialists begin keyword research, they must focus more on what the audience is looking up and less of what exact terms the business wants to rank highly on. It's important to include long-tail keywords in an SEO strategy, as those are more specific to what your audience is searching for and can reduce competition. These selected keywords can be kept track in your sitemap, alongside their respective pages.
Once the keyword research phase is complete, a skilled SEO copywriter can incorporate these keywords strategically within the page copy. Focus keywords convey the subject of the page and should be included within the page title and at least once within the first 100 words on the page. This way, search crawlers and viewers will be more likely to determine that the page is relevant, thereby increasing ranking in SERPs and reducing page bounces. It’s important to focus copywriting on selecting the best keywords to fit onto the page, in a preferred location. Likewise, be cognizant of avoiding “keyword stuffing”, which will create a poor user experience and be seen as spam to search engines.
4. Website Build Stage
In the website build stage, it's time for all the work that you have planned to be implemented, including essential elements to support SEO.
Google measures authority based on the number of trustworthy links included on the page. Google cares about page links because they represent that your company, organization or institution has connections with other reliable sites. In order to utilize backlinks to improve rankings, add anchor text when linking to relevant pages. It’s never advisable to purchase backlinks or force this process in anyway, as this is considered a black hat SEO tactic.
Having optimized meta titles and descriptions is crucial, as they indicate the topic of the page to search engines and users. Keep these concise, so they do not get cut off in SERPs. Other best practices for these tags include:
Keep title tags under 60 characters and descriptions under 155 characters.
Allow the metadata to be a clear indication of what the page is about, with one focus keyword at the beginning of the tag.
Start description tags off with an engaging line, perhaps a question, and end with a call to action.
While other SEO tactics can positively contribute to your page’s ranking, these meta tags can ultimately be the reason why someone clicks onto the page. If there are pages with have similar content, make sure the descriptions and title tags are unique from one another, so they don't appear as duplicate content or get flagged as a website ADA violation either. Adding canonical tags can help solve this problem.
All URLs from the old site should be redirected to the most relevant page on the new site as 301 redirects. Pointing all old pages to your home page will result in SEO penalties, so this is a critical step to take. Be sure to spot check your work after implementation to ensure all links are properly redirected. Once these are complete, you can develop a new XML sitemap (which will likely be an automatic feature of your CMS), add a robots.txt file, and submit your redesigned site to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster when it’s live.
SEO specialists and developers must work together to ensure that the site’s code is properly optimized against SEO best practices. From determining a heading tag (H tags) strategy, to adding image ALT tags and compressing images for faster page load times, the behind-the-scenes of a site can help or hinder a site’s rankings. Ensure your development team has a full understanding of SEO best practices do that your SEO strategy is implemented properly.
5. Website Launch Stage
Once it's time to launch and maintain your redesigned site. SEO efforts need to stay strong, as maintenance is the key to continuous visibility to the site. Regularly look at your crawled pages and see if there are any alarming SEO errors, such as duplicate content, exceeding character counts, missing tags, and 404s.
The SEO specialist will also take this time to perform content optimization to align with current search trends and business goals. The way users search is constantly changing, so it may make sense to refresh certain pages with alternative keywords that provide better ranking opportunities given the current landscape. This is part of important ongoing management to keep your beautifully redesigned site effective so that all the initial hard work remains intact.
To monitor SEO performance, track data in your site’s analytics, though Google’s Search Console tool and any other helpful third-party SEO tools. SEO success can be measured in improved rankings, improved site engagement, conversions attributed to SEO, and other critical data points. Contact us to discuss performing an SEO audit of your current site, or to discuss your next site redesign.