Redesigns strike both anticipation and fear in the heart of marketers, particularly when it comes to understanding how a redesign will impact SEO. If you’ve been going into redesigns blindly when it comes to SEO, redesign basics will give you a good jumpstart to feeling more confident. This article is designed to equip you with a few basics.
- Do you really even have anything to worry about? I say this in the most loving way possible. Many people who are concerned about their website’s SEO don’t need to be. Simply because they’re not even ranking for anything purposeful to begin with. You only “have SEO” if your pages are ranking for valuable, relevant terms that you need to preserve. If you’re not ranking for anything good to begin with, then this is your chance to start over. The way you know if you’re ranking is to pop your site into a tool like Semrush. Or, head over to Search Console and review your SEO performance data. Assessing your current situation and documenting your observations around the data is a huge part of an SEO redesign strategy. This helps you determine if you need an SEO maintenance strategy, or simply an SEO growth strategy. Then, dreaming and plotting for improvement, and putting the plan behind that, comes next.
- Address SEO early so you know what to know: Worried a redesign will impact SEO? The earlier you can address it, the better. I’ve had so many SEO redesign clients tell me over the years they wish they had brought me in earlier. Even Google itself gives this advice: “a great time to hire is when you’re considering a site redesign, or planning a new launch. That way, you and your SEO can ensure your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site.” Even if you can’t afford an SEO Consultant, just being aware of the significant mistakes – as early as possible – will give you more peace of mind.
3. Different types of redesigns impact SEO on different levels: Here’s what you need to identify when it comes to your redesign; is your redesign a facelift? A CMS migration? A multi-area migration and content overhaul? A scary combination of all of the above? A quick search online will reveal that most experts recommend a site refresh every 2-3 years. And of course, for each redesign type, there is a range, right? You could be doing a small facelift to refresh branding and theme styles, or a pretty big one involving messaging and heavy copy changes. A migration could be changing URL structure, and a multi-migration could mean migrating to a different CMS, changing URL structures, eliminating large chunks of the site, etc. And of course, the larger the site, or the more complex, the more SEO areas you need to consider. Know what type of redesign you have going on so you can be aware of the implications of each.
4. Simple changes could wipe out rankings: are you removing a page from the menu? Taking a page link away from the homepage? Changing up copy? Condensing pages? Majorly changing layouts? These are all little things that might have big consequences. Catalog all of the changes you, your team, or your developers plan on making, site-level and page-level. Review wireframes for both mobile and desktop. Then make sure you know which pages rank well, and inventory all elements for that page that may be contributing to the high ranking. You want to make sure you leave those pieces that contribute to good SEO for those pages. This kind of detective work can make or break SEO, and the hidden, obscure details behind what may make a page rank are part of what can make this process frustrating.
5. Remember the Fundamentals of SEO: While there are hundreds of elements that help Google’s algorithm determine ranking, a few pieces are more significant than others (particularly when it comes to SEO redesign basics). Don’t forget these basic, yet critical areas:
- Redirects – if you’re changing up the URL(s) of a site, you MUST tell Google where the new page is. Do not take this lightly – there is a fundamental right and wrong way to redirect, and the proper team members must be on the same page. Do not just delete pages at will. There are a million good articles about this – here’s a good one from Yoast I read recently.
- Site speed and performance – improving UX, site speed, and performance is one of the most exciting parts of a redesign. This is the time to shine! If you’re not taking a look at your performance and technical scores, and including a list of what to improve, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Cleaning up your site, and making it more healthy, should be a big part of your redesign.
- Copy – several years ago, when the minimalistic style of Apple was the coveted look for websites, that resulted in unnecessary struggles and tension between stakeholders, designers, copywriters, and SEOs. Well-meaning individuals would want to wipe out all the text on the page in favor of a small minimalistic paragraph and a giant image. Umm, no. While I don’t think we should have text on the page just for the heck of it, Google (and your users) still need copy and content. Not every page, but the pages you really want to rank well and hold their own against competitors. Don’t sacrifice copy that is contributing ranking just for the sake of minimalism.
- Title tags – your title tags and meta descriptions (meta data) for each page need to carry through onto the new site platform/CMS/theme. Don’t make the mistake I’ve seen many sites make before, which is that the title tags don’t get carried over, and they revert to the page heading or something even worse like the homepage title tag repeating across every page.
SEO Redesign Basic Tools:
Following these few simple steps can take you a long way to preserving and improving SEO results. Here are a few more resources:
- Semrush – if SEO is an important channel for your organization, and you need to preserve the SEO you do have, it’s worth it to buy into a pro tool for a few months. A good SEO tool will help you strategize and do competitive assessments, make data-driven decisions, and—for the month or two post-launch—ensure your site is moving in the right direction and your rankings aren’t declining. (partner link – I have tutorials set up showing how to pull reports you’ll want for redesigns; if you want these, reach out to me)
- Here is an in-depth/advanced checklist: https://cognitiveseo.com/blog/12802/website-redesign-seo/
- Here’s a good checklist that’s a little less complex: https://www.jeffbullas.com/website-redesign-checklist/
- Feeling overwhelmed? Here’s a simple tool for you
SEO Essentials Mini-Course
Refresh your SEO skills with this 5-day SEO fundamentals mini-course. You'll learn the key pieces of knowledge marketers must have to master the complex world of SEO.
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