In a highly-competitive web 2.0 age of today, many webmasters redesign their websites several times a year. This lets them stay up-to-date with the hottest web design and usability trends and outrank their competitors (who are also preoccupied with refreshing their websites’ layouts and concepts).
However, web design updates can result in dramatic drops in ranking and search traffic. Surprising enough, even minor changes of the internal structure may reform the way Google treats your website.
To make sure you redesign your website with SEO in mind, go through the following checklist.
Before you redesign
1. Check your current rankings, number of visitors and Ecommerce metrics.
For a start, find out if your website is appealing to visitors and search engines. Check how your website ranks for your keywords manually or with the help of a rank checker. Use Google Analytics to check the average monthly number of visitors to your website and Ecommerce metrics that you find most representative, e.g. conversion rate. Thus, you’ll have a benchmark to weigh the redesign outcomes against.
2. Determine the most visited web pages.
Spot URLs that receive the most traffic at present. Make sure you keep them in place, even if the whole URL structure is modified.
3. Get the list of your backlinks.
Run your website through a backlink checker to find out how many links are pointing to your website presently. If you’re going to get rid of some pages, analyze the current backlinks to see which of them might be lost due to the changes. Then think of a redirect (see below) to keep these backlinks in place when you launch your renewed website.
4. Make use of seasonal traffic fluctuations.
It’s best if you plan your redesign campaign for a slack period – the time when you’re not having much visitors or sales. In this case you won’t suffer from considerable losses even if your rankings and traffic volume will be affected by your redesign campaign for a time being.
When you redesign
1. Don’t change the domain name.
Avoid changing the domain name, even if you have a better alternative at present. Older, time-proven domains have high trust value in search engines. Thus switching to a brand-new domain often means losing credibility your website has already gained.
2. Minimize changes in URL structure.
Keep as many old URLs as possible to minimize post-redesign ranking fluctuations.
3. Use 301 redirect for old URLs.
If you can’t skip changing the URLs, 301-redirect each of them to their new equivalents. There might be no corresponding new links to redirect to. In this case make sure each page you cut out is redirected to a page with similar content or to a home page.
4. Refresh robots.txt files.
When redesigning your website, you might move your private areas or shopping carts elsewhere, or add calendars or ‘terms of services’ section you’d like to hide from indexing. Don’t forget to update your robots.txt files to fine-tune the root of search engine robots through your renewed website.
5. Move ahead with gradual changes.
Stick to gradual changes. If possible, try to apply phased approach to creating new pages and altering site content. This makes it easier to troubleshoot unexpected problems, manage the amount of change your users see at every stage of the process and reduce the future ranking fluctuations.
7. Don’t replace text links with images
There might be a temptation to exchange a plain text link for an eye-catching banner, but that’s a mistake. Search engines give much more value to text links. Moreover, there are users who prefer to switch off images in their browsers, so opting for image links might turn out not user-friendly as well.
After you redesign
1. Crosscheck your redesigned website for mistakes
Run your redesigned website through on-page optimization software to trace mistakes, if any. If you have changed the URL structure, spot and fix all the broken links. Then check for 404 errors, which might occur due to redirects. Also run HTML code validation to exclude any coding related faults.
2. Facilitate the indexation
Help search engine robots indexing your website quicker – update the sitemap. Though search engines can follow redirects, blind crawling through numerous pages can take time you can’t afford to loose.
3. Start a new link-building campaign
As a final touch, magnify your link-building efforts. A fresh stream of relevant links will help diminishing possible after-redesign ranking fluctuations and cement your previously-won position on the Google top.