I cannot tell you how often I have been called to do SEO on a recently redesigned website.
It’s a lot. Like, A LOT a lot.
Companies are in a panic because they just lost a ton of traffic to their website, and they are now trying to figure out how to fix things.
The truth is, with a bit of pre-planning, this panic was avoidable.
Most companies, when contemplating a redesign of their website will mostly be concerned with a new look/feel to the website. Or, cleaning up some things. They think and then – after we launch – we’ll address SEO.
I’m here to say, that’s backwards. What if the technology platform that you’ve decided to use for the redesign is inherently unfriendly to bots? What if you’ve built your website on a foundation that has massive issues?
Your website is your storefront to the world. Each page of your website is a doorway.
For this reason, you should be taking inventory of the value of your current website and looking at this in a few ways.
Questions to ask about your current website:
- Which pages have generated the most traffic to your website? Mind you, there may be some pages that drive a lot of traffic but are completely irrelevant to what you do. So, this is a subjective call as to whether you want to keep these around.
- Which pages are ranking well for key terms? There are some keywords which have low search volume but are super important to your business. Make sure that you account for the pages that are driving these rankings and traffic. We can assume that these pages may drive significant conversions or – at least – play an important role in the customer journey (perhaps folks have learned about you because of this one page and its rankings)
- Which pages have links to them? Even today, links to your website are super important. There may be blog posts that you’ve written that have a lot of links to them. You may be considering wiping these pages out with the redesign, perhaps because they are dated. What you should be considering is whether these pages could be rewritten/updated so that they – once again – become relevant. With this approach, you can maintain the page (or create a new URL/page and redirect the page with the links to this updated page/post).
SEO should be a key consideration in a redesign effort. I would suggest that you should spend months in SEO preparation before you even consider the look/feel of the new website.
SEO Redesign Services involve all of the key elements to ensure that you account for all of the aforementioned considerations.
Begin with a site audit:
- A view of analytics – identify the pages that are driving your success, today (and in years past).
- A view of ranking reports – identify the same (perhaps there are near ranking opportunities that we could address with the redesign)
- A view of current URL structures, and whether we should try to maintain URLs as much as possible or look to optimize these.
- Keyword research – see if there are keywords that are important to your company which haven’t been considered.
- Competitive analysis – see what others have done with their websites to be successful (URL structure, Page structure, Navigation structure/taxonomy, Content structure, technical elements including schema, Internal link structure, external/incoming links, etc.)
- Content gap analysis – identify the content gaps that you have with competitors that you’ve identified from this exercise. This gap could be amount of content on Service pages, types of content on Services pages, resourceful content that competitors have that we don’t, etc.
From this audit, you now have the information that you need to build a new website:
- Information Architecture / Navigation Hierarchy / Taxonomy
- Content Plans
- URL structure
- Page structure (layout/wireframe)
- Resourceful content needs / Blog content calendar
As you’re building the new website, you should perform routine checks to ensure that things are being built with SEO in mind.
Consider the following:
- Staging environment – Is the staging environment set up to closely mimic the environment of the new website and are you preventing crawling and indexing of the staged version of the new website? You could use a disallow statement in the robots.txt file and robots meta noindex nofollow on all pages, to cover your bases.
- New pages – Are the new pages better than our existing pages? (Or at least as good?)
- Page speeds – Are our page speeds better that current page speeds? (Or at least as good?)
- Internal Links – Do internal links use appropriate anchor text to describe the pages being linked to?
- URL structure – making note of new URLs and sections where URLs have changed (you’ll need to develop a redirecting mapping spreadsheet)
- Search results – Which pages do you want in the search results, vs some internal pages that need to be excluded?
- Sitemap – Develop a sitemap for the new website
- Meta data – like page titles and descriptions
- Keywords – Important keywords continue to be present in heading tags and in the body copy of the page. Any page copy that includes links to other pages uses keywords as the anchor text and not words like read more or click here.
- Schema markup code – to help search engines understand the content of your page
- Mobile friendliness
- Compliance – Accessibility compatibility and WCAG compliance
As you prepare to launch, do some final QA on a few elements:
- Analytics – Is analytics tracking everything correctly? Are all goals accounted for? Is Ecommerce tracking showing revenue? Make sure analytics is tracking everything that it always has (every page tagged? Conversion tracking enabled?)
- PPC campaigns – Any PPC campaigns revised to account for the changes?
- Sitemap – Is the sitemap accounting for all new URLs? Does the sitemap contain URLs that should not be there?
- Redirects – Are redirects ready to go?
When deploying the new site, sometimes the current site needs to be taken down or put into maintenance mode for a while, as the developers do their work. If you need to do this, please make sure all pages on the site respond with a HTTP 503 status code. This tells the search engines that the site is busy and to come back later. This ensures that while the site is down, they won’t make any updates to their search results. Please avoid, as much as you can, having the site return 400 or 500 HTTP status codes, as any prolonged outage of your site, could have search engines start to remove those pages and it could take longer for them to be reincluded again when the new site goes live.
The day has come…it’s time to launch the new (and improved??) website…You’re now pushing the website live. Here are the checks that you’ll want to have in place:
- Remove the robots.txt disallow and robots meta noindex and nofollow directives on all pages which are now going live.
- Annotate in Google Analytics the site launch date, as you’ll want to be able to check pre/post performance
- Leave the current/old sitemap in place in Google Search Console to allow time for Google to recognize the redirects that you’ve put into place. We recommend that you leave this in place for one month.
- Add the new sitemap(s) to Google Search console so you can monitor indexing and coverage
- New sitemaps should also be included in the robots.txt file
- Keyword rank checks – You should have already identified at least your top 100 keywords that you’re concerned with and have these set up to do daily rank checks. As the days pass from launch, you will begin to see some trends. Are things getting better or worse? You might expect a dip at the beginning, as the search engines figure out what you’ve just done. Be patient. But don’t dismiss losses, either. You should do some spot checks to see if something got screwed up.
- Run page speed checks. Even though you have done this while the website was being built, your hosting environment there will be different than it is once the website goes live. I suggest running checks on all main page templates (home page / service page / product page / blog post, etc.).
- Do a site query in Google to check redirects (and also see if there is anything funky in the index). You do this simply by typing site:sitename.com into Google. I suggest that you do non-www version of this AND www version.
- Run crawls via DeepCrawl, Screaming Frog or another crawling tool, to identify any issues.
There is a lot more to this process than just those elements that I’ve mentioned above. But, just by following the steps here you should have much more success with your re-launch of your website, from an SEO perspective, than had you not taken the time to read this post.
You could also consider hiring an SEO agency specifically to help you with this process. At Vizion, we have been involved in over 100 website redesigns and can bring that history/perspective to your project and potentially save you a ton of headaches.
I wish you all the best with your website redesign project!
At Vizion Interactive, we have the expertise, experience, and enthusiasm to get results and keep clients happy! Learn more about how our SEO Audits, Local Listing Management, Website Redesign Consulting, and B2B digital marketing services can increase sales and boost your ROI. But don’t just take our word for it, check out what our clients have to say, along with our case studies.