All websites will undergo a redesign at some point in time during their virtual existence. It is inevitable and has to be carried out due to many factors like aesthetics, changes in technology, been too long with the same design, change in brand image, not doing well in search, for better usability, and many other such factors.
Whatever your reasons may be for a website redesign, it goes without saying that redesigning a new or relatively unknown site is much easier than the decision to redesign or to revamp a site that is well placed in organic search results.
Risk Of Dip In Rankings After Website Redesign
The reasons are clear of course, as any website redesign brings with it the danger of dropping considerably in rankings if certain points are not followed or observed. Though a little dip is imminent even if everything is done right before you gain back the traffic. But it is well worth it because the Old has to go and the New has to come. It is how things work. And it is the same with websites.
The chances of making a mistake or oversee certain points are high during the website rebuild. Therefore it is important to be attentive and take into consideration all points possible to minimize the risk. As I said, I personally believe that after a redesign, it is certain that there will be a dip in rankings, however small, for a certain amount of time. The precautions are just a means to minimize that.
Create A Website Redesign SEO Checklist
It may seem like too much of an effort, but it may be worth every minute of it. I would recommend creating a website design SEO checklist, to make sure that you take all the necessary steps and avoid any pitfalls during the redesign phase. A “redesign SEO checklist” on a paper works best for me, as I can tick off the task that has been taken care of. And also it allows me to make notes if necessary.
Your website redesign project plan should consider the following points.
Backup your old site
Ensure you have a valid backup of your old site. You never know when you need it during the redesign phase. Many times people redesign sites when switching service providers, or when their hosting is expiring. You never know when that old site becomes inaccessible. The process of backing up a site is simple and can be easily accomplished. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary headaches down the road, I recommend backing up the old site asap.
Ensure A Complete Backup
I believe that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Meaning, you should have a complete back up of your entire website. Not on a virtual machine in the cloud somewhere. I am only sure I have the backup when I have it with ME. I don’t want to get into a situation where I am locked out or unable to retrieve it from my virtual cloud backup server. Or the backup somehow fails to download? Anything can go wrong. Why take a risk?
Also, make sure you backup both the website content files and database separately, if it is a CMS website.
Copy All Your Pages & Posts
To know what pages you have in your old site is invaluable. Make a list on a spreadsheet and keep it safe. It would come handy when comparing pages and posts between the two sites. It will ensure you do not leave out any pages. Also, if the backend CMS or the technology changes in the new site, it would mean different URLs for the same pages. In such a scenario, it would help in redirecting old pages to the new ones.
Copy Page Titles & Descriptions
Page titles and descriptions play a major role in ranking your site pages and posts. Page title is critical I would say. And a description that you perfected for that perfect click-through rate, is also worth taking a backup of. Losing that data could mean valuable information lost.
Make sure you have all posts and page URLs copied on a spreadsheet. You don’t know when you will need them.
Build New Site On a Temporary Hosting Space
You should have a development server or hosting space where you can build the new site. You should avoid rebuilding the site on a sub-directory or sub-folder of the live site. The chances of making errors and putting the live site at risk are not worth it. It is always good to be able to build the site completely separate from the live site.
One of the main advantages is that you can directly copy the content from the old to the new site this way. You can compare both sites as you build them.
Discourage Search Engine From Indexing The Temporary Site
Block all search engine traffic to the new site as it is being built. You don’t want duplicate content issues if Google indexes the temporary site, which is under construction.
Keep URLs Same
Ensure the URL structure for the new site remains the same as the old one. This ensures that the links pointing to your site are not lost. Links from other authority sites are what helps you rank up in the search. Losing out on these links would prove to be a disaster for your newly designed site.
Wherever possible, ensure that each page has the same link structure as the earlier site. If it is not possible due to technical or some other reasons, make sure to properly 301 redirect those pages to the new ones.
Redesign Website Without Losing SEO
Given below are some points that one should keep in mind during a site redesign. Add these too to your website redesign SEO checklist. A complete website redesign poses many risks to the ranking that you achieved over the years. Keep these tips in mind to ensure that these risks are minimized and you successfully redesign your website without loosing SEO. If there is a dip, ensure it is for the shortest duration possible.
#1 – Avoid Duplication Of Content
As briefly discussed above, during a website redesign, the temporary site or files are usually hosted on a separate domain or subdomain. And typically one would redesign the whole site here and test it before moving it to the production server or to your actual domain. It is important to take care that you block search engine spiders to crawl the temporary domain or files by using robots.txt file. Otherwise, you will end up with search engines indexing the temporary files causing unwanted duplicate content issues.
Duplicate content is when you find a copy of a page in more than one place on the net. Search engines may have difficulty knowing which one is original. They may also face difficulty in distributing link authority between the two pages. This would affect rankings.
Google Panda deals with “low-quality sites” or “thin sites”. In particular, having duplicate content may trigger a Panda penalty. And hence ranking could suffer.
#2 – Avoid Change in URLs
It is recommended to keep the URLs the same and not to change them. However, a major redesign may involve structural changes and moving of files from one folder to another, causing your URLs to change.
You may willingly want to change the URLs sometimes. Like making them shorter for better readability. Or perhaps removing unwanted characters or keywords to make them easier to remember, type, and look less spammy.
Though changing the URL and folder structure may make it better in the long run, but it does run a huge risk of losing the traffic for that particular page at present. If you do decide to change the URL for a particular page, do not forget to 301 redirect the old page to the new one.
Also, if some pages have been permanently deleted, do not 301 redirect that page to the homepage of the website. It may do you more harm than good. If you created an alternate page, redirect to that instead. If there is no alternate or similar pages, it may be better to simply let the page go. It will automatically redirect to a “404 not found page”.
However, I would recommend that you check for links pointing to that page. If you have high authority sites linking back, it would be a good idea to keep that page. Because losing that backlink could seriously damage the site’s rankings.
#3 – Avoid Too Many Changes In Content
Again it will be helpful if too many content changes are not carried out on all of the pages. Try to keep the placement of the content, as much similar to the existing site, as possible. Take extra care of the “h1 tags” and other heading tags. Make sure you include any images or videos that exist on that particular page.
Interlinking between the pages is also very important. Do not lose out on that beautiful linking association between pages from different sections of pages. This helps the user navigate from one section of the page to another with ease. This does help in reducing your overall bounce rate.
The idea is to minimize the change in HTML as much as possible. The more dramatic the change, the more time the search engines may take to decide your placement back on the SERPs.
#4 – Do Not Change Page Title & Descriptions
Page Titles are very important and only change them if absolutely necessary. The same goes for Description. The Title, as well as the Description, contain your primary keyword or key phrase for the page and should not be changed unless you are targeting a new keyword now.
If you need to target new keywords, I would suggest you let the turmoil settle from the redesign process. Then when your site’s rankings are back, you can take one page at a time and change its keywords that you are targeting. That way you will be able to track how that change has affected that page, and adjust accordingly.
#5 – Final Check Before Going Live
When the new site is ready, it is important to go over the “website redesign SEO checklist” again and again to make sure that everything is in place. And that you have not missed anything out. As I have said in the beginning, these SEO considerations may not be important for a new site. But for a site that depends on search engines for traffic and business, these considerations are of prime importance.
#6 – Secure Your Site With HTTPS
Most sites today run on HTTP which is not secure. Any information that is passed from the site to the server can be intercepted and read by someone who has an interest in that data. Suppose you are filling up a form. Before the information can be processed, it needs to travel to the server from your computer. During this travel between your PC and the server, it can be intercepted and read. If it contains sensitive information, it can place that information at risk.
Read my article here: How To Secure WordPress Site – A Comprehensive Guide
Securing your site with an SSL Certificate can help encrypt that data, making it safer. Your browser sports a lock sign when the site you visit is secured using an SSL Certificate. And that website will be accessible over HTTPS rather than regular HTTP.
You should consider changing your site from HTTP to HTTPS, even if you do not capture sensitive user information. Because Google is serious about website security and gives a slight SEO boost to sites that run on HTTPS. Moreover, letting your users know that they are safe on your site goes a long way in creating trust and better user experience on your site. All this can go a long way in retaining visitors on your site longer.
#7 – Get a Responsive Design
This is the perfect time and occasion to convert your old website to a mobile-friendly responsive design. Did you know you could actually get penalized by Google if your website is not mobile friendly? Since you are already rebuilding the site, you might as well take this opportunity and get a brand new Responsive design for your website. First, it is better for SEO. Second, it is better for your audience.
Your website visitors will be able to take advantage of the mobile-optimized site on all devices. Which increases your audience reach and therefore, more customers and sales. It makes perfect business sense to opt for a Responsive website at this stage.
These are some of the points you should keep in mind while redesigning your website. It is never an easy job to build a site that works well for you and your business. It is a continuous endeavor to find what is working and what is not. Continuous tweaking of this and that, pushing the limits of possibilities. Until you get that well designed site that works on all fronts.
Making use of all tools at your disposal to assess and better your site. The website redesign SEO checklist should help you to rebuild your website without losing your SEO rankings.
Let me know if I missed something out in the comments below.