Tips To Avoid SEO Ranking Drops During Website Redesign

If your website is no longer reaching its potential, then it might be time for a redesign. One case study found leads improved by 314 percent following a website redesign and SEO campaign.

Although redesigns can be expensive, it’s a better option than bleeding money year after year with an inefficient website.

When redesigning your site, it’s important you avoid the pitfalls that can severely hamper your SEO. To help you do this, here’s my website redesign SEO checklist.

What Is a Website Redesign?

A website redesign involves large-scale changes to your website. During a redesign, elements of your code, content, structure, and visuals may change dramatically, giving your site a completely fresh look.

This is a natural—and important—part of a website’s development. As much as 50 percent of consumers believe website design is an important part of a company’s brand.

Even if you had the greatest website in the world back in 2001, it would be looking very out of place today if you didn’t make any large changes to it. Design best practices change, technology changes, and your target audience’s expectations change; your website needs to change to keep up.

Benefits of a Website Redesign

Website redesigns aren’t without risk (especially for website redesign SEO), but when done well, they offer significant upside. They can:

  • improve SEO and site performance
  • simplify the user experience
  • refocus your content strategy
  • give your site a facelift
  • offer faster load speeds
  • provide up to date security

The most obvious benefit is since your website serves as a modern-day shop front, you want to make it attractive.

If a physical store has a broken sign, poor lighting, and a dingy interior, it’s going to struggle appealing to people. It’s the same for a website; if it looks tired and out of date, your visitors are going to wonder if your business is tired and out of date as well.

A website redesign is about more than just a facelift.

It also gives you an opportunity to change the fundamental structure of your website and make it easier for visitors to navigate. You want to start with the right approach since even doing a simple redesign with basic features can take an average of two months to complete.

Businesses change over time, and as their websites evolve and grow naturally, the structure of the website can become messy. You add new content categories, move things around on your nav bar, switch parent and child pages, and so on.

A simple rule when it comes to design and UX is that complicated design is rarely good. You want to make it as simple as possible for your visitors (and bots) to navigate your site and find what they’re looking for. A website redesign is a great opportunity to do this.

This is an ideal time to evaluate your site, decide on your goals, and create a redesign strategy that can help you achieve them.

When Are Website Redesigns Necessary?

According to a 2020 survey, here are the top reasons for a website redesign:

  • low conversion rates (80.8 percent)
  • high bounce rates (65 percent)
  • needs better UX (61 percent)
  • not responsive on all devices (53.8 percent)
  • outdated website (38.5 percent)
  • not SEO-friendly (23.1 percent)

It can be tricky to know when a website redesign is necessary. Chances are, you’re investing a good chunk of money in your redesign, so you want to get the timing right.

The thing to remember is user experience is absolutely essential in digital marketing. It’s going to show in almost every metric and, ultimately, it’s going to have an impact on your bottom line.

The metric closest to most website owners’ hearts is conversion rate. This can be a big sign that it’s time for a website redesign.

Conversion rates fluctuate, but if yours is in a downward spiral, then it might be time to consider a website redesign. They are also different depending on your industry.

For example, if your website is part of the Real Estate or Home Improvement industries, your conversion rates will be around 7 percent. However, if you are part of the Media & Entertainment industry, it might be closer to 18 percent.

One of the best ways to know if it’s time to make changes to your website is to use it from the point of view of your visitors. Imagine you’re visiting your site for the very first time and ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Does the branding seem on-point?
  • Do pages load quickly?
  • Is your site laid out in a logical way that’s easy to navigate?
  • Are your pages optimized for mobile?
  • Is it difficult to find the information you’re looking for?
  • Is your customer journey streamlined enough?

Compare your website to your competitors and see how you stack up. If you find your site is good in certain areas but missing a few details in others, a website refresh might be the answer. If there are lots of things holding you back on the other hand, then it’s probably time for a full website redesign.

Website Redesign SEO Considerations Before Getting Started

The top reason visitors leave a website is due to slow loading times—88.6 percent of survey respondents in a 2020 survey affirmed this. Page speed directly and indirectly affects SEO.

This is just one reason to be vigilant about multiple factors that can affect website redesign SEO— planning a redesign isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The rewards are great when things go right, but can be a nightmare if things do go wrong.

The first step is to consider your goals.

What do you want out of your website redesign? What realistic targets can you set?

To set the right goals, you’ve got to have some benchmarks for your current website performance. Make use of your analytics and come up with SMART goals.

Once you’ve come up with your goals, then you can begin thinking about a timeline. The important part here is to be realistic. As you’ll see in the website redesign SEO checklist, there are a lot of steps to consider, so make sure you give yourself enough time to do a great job.

Then you’ll need to put together the right team to carry out your vision. You’ll need talented designers, developers, and content managers to ensure things run smoothly, but don’t underestimate one key element: communication.

Your team needs to be working together and communication is extremely important.

Website Redesign SEO Checklist

This website redesign SEO checklist will help you stay organized throughout the entire process and make sure you don’t miss anything important.

1. Audit Your Existing Content

Content powers many websites’ organic presence. Eighty-two percent of marketers actively use content marketing, and many successful businesses are built off of it.

A website redesign SEO process has the potential to take your content efforts to the next level, but first, you’ve got to have a good picture of where it’s at.

First, use a tool like Screaming Frog to pull data on all URLs included in your website.

Next, use your analytics and Ubersuggest to perform a complete content audit to determine your most important pages, see which pages are irrelevant or not needed anymore, and which should be redirected or combined with other pages.

Follow these steps and you should have a clear idea of which pages (and keywords) are most important. Look at your traffic stats, rankings, and conversion goals to see where other improvements can be made.

2. Update Information Architecture

Over 60 percent of users report leaving a website due to bad navigation. Although website navigation and information architecture (IA) are different, your IA should inform how your site navigation is structured.

Information architecture is about how you organize information in your sitemap. Navigation is how you organize your website.

As mentioned earlier, 38 percent of people will look at a site’s layout and navigational links on their first visit.

Let’s use this example post: “How to Scale Mt Everest.”

If people have to find it by navigating through a tips page, then climbing strategies, then Asian peaks, before finally clicking Mt Everest, it’s going to be nearly impossible to find.

Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if the process could simply be Peaks > Mt Everest > How to Scale Mt Everest?

How you organize information all depends on what your website is about, why people come to your site, and what information is most valuable.

To update your IA:

  1. Start by creating a map of your current structure.
  2. Do competitor analysis to see how your competition organizes their websites.
  3. Use a tool like Hotjar to see where users click and how they interact with your site.
  4. Using note cards or post-its, write down the main categories for your site.
  5. Next, write your subheadings based on the data you’ve collected.
  6. Write down the URLs for pages you keep, and organize them under the subheadings.
  7. Create a new sitemap based on what you created.

3. Carefully Map URL Redirects

In a Semrush study that analyzed 150,000 websites, 42.5 percent of the websites considered had broken internal links.

At the beginning, I mentioned how website redesign SEO processes aren’t without risk. The greatest of those risks is the potential of losing a lot of the hard work you put into building your organic profile.

A website redesign is going to change the structure of your entire site. Some pages will get moved, some will even get deleted.

The thing is, small changes can make a big difference in SEO land. As much as 60 percent of marketers say SEO and content marketing is their biggest source of leads.

Let’s go back to our amazing article on “How to Scale Mount Everest” that’s bringing in lots of organic traffic.

The problem is you posted it in a category that’s not very accurate, and you gave it a messy URL structure. Naturally, you want to fix this, so you change the category and URL.

You haven’t even touched the content, but this change can have huge consequences. This is because there are links out there already pointing back to the old URL, so when people (and bots) follow them, they end up at a blank page.

Unless you use URL redirects, you’re not only losing your referral traffic, but you also lose the page and domain authority those backlinks have already built up.

Essentially, your well-established and successful article has to start from scratch all over again.

Redirects can get very messy with a large website, so it’s important to carefully map them.

How to map URL redirects:

  1. Create a list of all URLs you are keeping as well as those you will no longer be using.
  2. Create another list of content you plan to keep that will be under a new URL.
  3. Match each old URL with its new URL.
  4. For the URLs you are getting rid of, match each to new content that covers a similar topic.
  5. Give the list of new content mapping scenarios to developers to implement the redirects.

4. Optimize Content You’re Keeping

After doing your content audit, you should have a good idea of what content you plan to keep. If you’ve put the time and effort into your audit, you will likely have flagged some areas of improvement for some of your best pages.

A website redesign is a perfect opportunity to refresh old content and give it a new lease of life. This process alone can increase organic traffic by as much as 106 percent.

Content decay is real. New information comes to light, competitors invest in their content, and suddenly your best pages have been pushed down the rankings.

Click through rates for the top organic rankings drop off extremely quickly:

  • 1st result: 34.2 percent
  • 2nd result: 17.1 percent
  • 3rd result: 11.4 percent
  • 4th result: 8.1 percent
  • 5th result: 7.4 percent

Dropping from the top rank can immediately cut your organic traffic in half, so it’s important to optimize your existing pages.

Your website redesign SEO should help with the UX side of things, but what else can you do to improve content rankings again?

  1. Use Google Search Console or an SEO tool like Ubersuggest to see how your content is performing.
  2. See what keywords your top-performing content pieces are ranking for. To improve those rankings even more, add target keywords to headers, increase keyword density (without stuffing) throughout the post, and use keywords in image alt text and file names.
  3. Dig into content that isn’t performing well. Make improvements by rewriting it or updating it with recent links and studies as well as data points, expert interviews, and visuals or videos.

5. Optimize Page Speed

You can’t underestimate the importance of page speed. Everyone knows the feeling of waiting forever for a page to load, and you know what users do when that happens; they leave and look for information elsewhere.

Technology has made people expect things much faster these days, and interacting with a website is no different. 25 percent of people leave a website if the page takes more than four seconds to load, and a one-second delay results in a 16 percent drop in customer satisfaction.

Website Redesign SEO Checklist - Optimize Page Speed

Photo Credit: Yoast SEO blog

Websites tend to become bloated over time. A website redesign SEO process let’s you take the opportunity to optimize page speed by addressing the bloat.

First, you want to make sure images are optimized to the correct size and format. Make embedded videos load properly and, if they don’t, use tools to decrease the file size or shorten the videos.

Next, reduce the number of HTTP requests. You should also minify your CSS and JavaScript, and clean up your HTML.

This should be something you consider from the very start of your redesign, and you need to stress it as a priority for your developer.

6. Update Your XML Sitemap

Your XML sitemap is like your website blueprint. Google and other search engines use it to understand the purpose of your content and it’s crucial for good website redesign SEO.

You can either do this manually by adding every URL in your updated site to the map or use an SEO plugin like Yoast or AIOSEO to generate one automatically.

This is a simple but important step. If Google is looking at an incorrect XML sitemap, their crawlers may ignore your site entirely (as confirmed by Google’s John Mueller).

7. Test Your Site After Redesign Is Complete

Across the internet, 0.27 percent of internal links are broken and 1.37 percent of external links are broken. Broken links are just one of the many issues you need to consider when testing your website after a redesign.

Redesigning an entire website is a huge undertaking so every detail isn’t going to come out perfect straight away.

If you launch your new site immediately without testing it first, these imperfections can have big consequences.

It’s tempting to get the ball rolling and start with your new website as quickly as possible, but you’ve got to put time into testing. Review all of the changes on your test site (get your friends and family on board as well) and go through the website with a fine-tooth comb.

You can create specific tasks for everyone involved in user testing your site.

  • test CTAs
  • test site navigation (it should make sense and all tabs/navigation links should be clickable)
  • look at side navigation links
  • review forms, pop-ups and exit overlays if you use them
  • audit internal and external links
  • pay close attention to interactive content and purchasing pages
  • have people text on desktop, tablets, and mobile devices (Android and iOS)

Add any errors you find to a spreadsheet and go through them with your developer.

Again, it’s about exploring your website through the eyes of your target audience. If you do this well, then you’ll fix a lot of errors before they reach the end-user.

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