So, you’ve decided it’s time to upgrade your website. You’ve done all the research, you’ve calculated a budget and now you are ready to implement your plan to make your new website a reality. The only issue is you are concerned a new site will destroy the credible SEO you’ve spent months, years even, garnering for your current site. Fear not! Nuanced Media is here to help with a handy guide to ensure your website redesign doesn’t negatively affect your SEO. Keep these easy steps in mind when creating an action plan to redesign your website while ensuring you don’t lose SEO.
Audit Your Website
There are plenty of good reasons to audit your website when going through a redesign. A means of understanding your site, and how users interact with it, is up there at the top of the list. A website audit is a comprehensive view of web pages on your site with multiple data points indicating traffic, performance, and much more. There are dozens of tasks you can accomplish with the data pulled from a website audit, but, for the sake of a website redesign, let’s focus on these three things:
- Pages that carry the most traffic and their exact URLs.
- Pages that are rich with backlinks.
- Assessing the main content categories and their layout on the website.
Your most-visited pages will inevitably help grow the SEO authority of the overall site. Therefore the “value” these highly trafficked pages are much higher than others. One of the most common causes of plummeting SEO after a website redesign is that the URLs on these pages change. This in-and-of itself is not a problem, however other websites or internal links that pull to the “old” URL will yield a 404 error, which will certainly have a negative effects on your organic SEO authority.
Google has made it clear that websites rich in credible backlinks hold more SEO value. Backlinks are links from other websites push traffic through to yours. As a result, backlinks provide you with qualified traffic and positively impact your ranking with Google. A look through your backlinks, and more importantly which pages they refer to, will be of great value while going through the website redesign process.
With every algorithm update Google makes one thing more clear: gear your website towards specific content, and you will be rewarded. This means that if you run a website about car engines, ensure your content pertains to exactly that. Google will penalize a website about car engines if it sees large chunks of your website content pertains to dirt bike engines. This is why it is important to assess the primary categories of your website. Consider whether or not your website categories go hand in hand. Be sure to ask yourself what content is relevant and necessary and what can be left behind.
Do Your Research
The due diligence put in when researching your website will go far during a redesign. Comprehensive research regarding your website and how it is viewed by users and Google will give you a better understanding of what must be addressed to ensure you don’t lose SEO. Here are some things to consider:
- What is your current domain ranking?
- What keywords does your website rank for?
- What are potential keywords you can rank for in the future?
Domain ranking is viewed by Google as an overall understanding of your domain address and the “authority” it holds. For instance, domains that have been around for 15 years could potentially rank higher than those that have been around for 5. There are many factors that Google takes into consideration when ranking domains, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to adjust. The easiest way to influence your domain authority is to ensure you are keeping up with SEO best practices site-wide.
It’s difficult to overstate how important it is to understand what keywords your site ranks for. Subsequently, it is also important to look into what keywords your site could potentially rank for as well. This practice goes hand in hand with domain ranking. This helps you ensure that you attempt to rank for keywords that rank below or in the same area as your domain. For example, if you run a small BnB in Arizona and you are trying to get bookings, don’t reach for keywords like “hotel bookings” where you will inevitably go up against large national companies like TripAdvisor. Instead, try ranking for “Arizona BnB getaway” which will be much more attainable.
Make a Plan
Nothing works without a plan. With the information you have cultivated after completing your website audit checklist and domain and keyword research, it’s time to create a plan. These materials will ensure you are on the most efficient path to SEO health during your website redesign. Here are some things to consider when making your plan:
- Which keyword topics do you wish to rank for?
- Which pages will own these specific topics?
Keyword topics are quite simple, they are the topics users can expect to find when visiting your site. Yes, we talked about the importance of specifics earlier, but this is to get an idea of what your website is ultimately about. Dedication to ensuring you don’t stray from the topics with your content is vital.
Consider how these topics (and their sub-topics) will be dispersed throughout the site. It’s important that content-rich pages have one main focus. Sure, they can link internally to other parts of the site pertaining to other topics, but make sure that the crux of each page can be dwindled down to one thing.
During the Redesign & Launch
When building your new website be sure to apply SEO best practices like you normally would. The site is changing, sure, but this is the easiest way to ensure you retain some of your SEO authority. It is much better to ensure a page is search engine optimal before the site goes live rather than circling back later after Google has had a chance to crawl your new site and ding you for a lack of on-page optimization.
When you have finally hit the button and launched your new site, it is important to go through these checks as a means of repairing any damage that might’ve been done to your SEO. This includes a comprehensive analysis of:
- 404 errors found by Google.
- The implementation of 301 redirects.
- A site speed check.
- Broken links found on the website.
404 errors occur when a user is linked to a page on your site that no longer exists. This means that across the web, there is a link back to your site that hits a dead page. The quickest remedy for this is to redirect that 404 URL to a page on your site that best matches the content once found on the 404 page. This is the most common problem seen when launching a new site because URLs inevitably change. 301s provide a fast means of fixing this.
When internal link on your site hit a 404 for this same reason it is called a broken link. This is because these links can ultimately be changed within the CMS, which means it doesn’t require a 301 redirect.
There’s a lot that goes into redesigning a website. When that site is finally live the last thing you want is to start from scratch on is your SEO. Following these steps will help ease the pain of potential SEO loss and could even eliminate such a loss altogether.