Preserving SEO Rankings During A Website Redesign
With constantly emerging design trends and the growing necessity to stay competitive and meet customer expectations, almost all businesses conduct a website redesign at some point. They are crucial for reinventing your look, improving your credibility, and enhancing user experience (UX). However, whether your purpose is a website refresh, migration, or relaunch, the website is vulnerable to losing its Search Engine Optimization (SEO) rankings and sales. Retaining your organic traffic, and implementing an SEO friendly web design should be at the very top of your redesign strategy, at least if you don’t want your previous SEO efforts to go down the drain.
But why care so much about SEO?
When compared to pay-per-click advertisement, organic search is the biggest driver of website traffic. And according to Backlinko, 75% of all clicks go to the first three search results. No matter how eye-catching or state-of-the-art your website is, no one will know that it even exists if it isn’t optimized for search engines. But SEO strategies take a lot of time and effort, we’re talking months and maybe even years, to make it onto the top three search engine results page. Which is why it’s imperative to preserve them throughout the redesigning process.
You might ask, why does one risk losing SEO efforts in the first place?
Search engines use web crawler programs or digital bots that crawl across the world wide web (yes, like a spider), find different pages, gather information about them, and index them for future use. Google’s algorithm then kicks in, to sort and rank all of the indexed pages. So, when a website goes through a major redesign, along with content and structure changes, Google needs to crawl and index the new pages all over, leading to a decline in organic traffic. In fact, a temporary decrease in search traffic is very normal for this reason. However, for some businesses, web traffic takes a permanent hit after redesign, mostly due to SEO errors that could have been avoided.
In order to help you overcome some common SEO pitfalls before the launch of your new website, we have put together a checklist.
1. Establishing benchmarks and conducting audits
Whether the reason behind your website redesign is to boost conversion rates, improve user experience, increase load speeds, simplify navigation, reach new audiences, or all of the above, setting goals and formulating a project plan will be the key to your project’s success. It’s hard to gauge the negative impact, if any, of your redesign on your SEO rankings, if you hardly know where you’re starting from.
By conducting a thorough SEO audit of your current website, you will be able to establish your SEO baseline and also identify structure problems that might be inhibiting your website from securing higher rankings to begin with. You can use rank checker tools to find out which keywords and phrases on which pages are generating the most organic traffic and preserve them for your new website. Some pages might have become irrelevant and obsolete and might need to be eliminated. Others might need to be redirected or combined with other pages. Understanding your website’s architecture and auditing your website’s backlinks is also an integral part of the auditing process.
This pre-redesign assessment is crucial to refrain from removing or significantly altering content that have so far given you the highest number of conversions.
2. Maintaining your URL structure
Transitioning from an old website to a new one can be a disruptive process if you don’t use a temporary URL. Setting up your new website on a no-indexed temporary URL (i.e., it won’t appear in search engine results yet), and then copying your old website to the temporary URL, will allow you to make changes to your old site while preserving your SEO efforts. Once you’re done working on the new website, you can simply switch its domain with the old one and take it live. This method is far better than disabling your website and then working on it. If people want to access your site and they aren’t able to, they will look elsewhere and cause you to lose traffic.
But no matter what, never work on your website while it’s live. The updated version of your website should only be made live after its testing phase. Doing this will also allow you to refer to the old website if and when you encounter an issue while developing the redesigned website.
Retaining the website’s existing URL structure (the web address), especially on organically high-ranking pages, will in turn help you retain your SEO efforts. Only consider changing the URL if a keyword in the URL name is not being used effectively, which isn’t ideal for long-term SEO results.
3. Setting up suitable 301 redirects and informative 404 pages
A 301 redirect will inform Google of your URL change and redirect it to the current site. This has to be done for every page on your old website, making sure each page on the old website is redirected to its counterpart on the new website. If you plan to change your domain name, it is recommended to retain the old domain name for at least 6 months after you transition to your new site. If the 301 redirects are not set up properly, both the visitors as well the search engine will receive a 404 error.
A typical 404 page simply informs visitors that the particular page they’re looking for, is down. But they’re still unaware that your content exists and will most likely assume that your website is non-functional. So, make your 404 pages informative and redirect visitors to a relevant page on your current site. Even then, you do not want to have too many 404 pages since it will negatively impact both, your SEO rankings as well as the user experience.
If your site is particularly large, you may want to use an automated crawler to aid in this process. They will map out all your URLs and backlinks so that they can be redirected. Remember, once your site goes live, any and all broken links must be fixed ASAP. For every broken link out there, you are preventing your pages from surfacing in search engine results pages (SERPs) and are losing a never-to-return visitor.
4. Making your website crawl-friendly and improving page load speeds
By making your website redesign responsive by Google’s standards, you are making it crawl-friendly, even on mobile. Afterall, mobile friendliness is a key ranking factor for Google. Follow Google’s content guidelines closely to avoid making your website less crawlable.
However, mobile friendliness is not just about responsive design. It also needs fast loading speeds. If your mobile visitors are pinching and zooming your content in efforts to understand it, that’s not a good sign.
Improving your page load speed will also make it more crawlable. The less junk there is in the way, the easier it will be for Google’s crawl bot to read your site’s date. Moreover, everyone knows that when users come across a page that takes too long to load, they leave.
5. Monitoring your website post-launch
Even if you have implemented a rigorous quality control with the help of the best SEO developers, there are bound to be a few website issues that will only come up post-launch. Despite your 301 redirecting efforts, there may be a few 404s that show up anyway, and you might have to quickly implement additional redirects. Evaluate any major performance issues and keep track of metrics such as traffic, keyword rankings, load speeds, domain authority and number of backlinks. Developing a habit of reviewing your analytics report on a monthly basis will help you detect errors and eradicate them.
Staying at the top of search results is a competitive task. Any website redesigns or improvements should always be complemented with efforts to keep rankings up. However, SEO is a long-term marketing strategy with substantial payoffs. Involving a professional SEO company in Kuwait in your redesign project will decrease your chances of losing your original rankings and help you keep up with design trends and new features. We at Design Master, a leading SEO service company in Kuwait, along with our SEO developers, are committed to help our clients execute mobile responsive web design and development projects that retains SEO, enhances it, and increases conversion. Contact us here if you wish to redesign your website or rebuild your SEO rankings.