How to Redesign Your Website Without Killing Your Rankings

Are you one of those people who thinks that you should redesign your website and then start “doing SEO”? Do you think that you will “keep” your Google rankings when you change your site? Lots of people do and I HATE explaining that they’re wrong.

I get so many enquiries from worried people who have redeveloped their website and sales and enquiries have fallen. They've invested lots of money but the new website is performing worse than the old one. They don't know why but they are painfully aware that the site is NOT delivering a return on their investment.

The honest truth is that rankings almost always dip after a website design. The reason is that Google gets worried about some of the things that happen when websites change. They don't see it like humans do. Their algorithm looks at lots of other factors. When I work with clients throughout the website redesign process, we make sure we do everything right by Google. We also make sure we set targets and get benchmark data. This data means we can measure the results and we have evidence to show how the new site compares with the old one.

To help everyone plan their next website (whether you are a client or not), I have created a comprehensive website redesign checklist. If you follow these tips and guidelines you will make your new site a success.

Regardless of any checklists, you need to get your design right. You must work with a website template that meets the Google standards on mobile-friendly design. You should do all you can to make sure your design and website navigation will appeal to your target audiences. This is vital if you want to support your strategy and conversion goals.

Guide to Successful Website Redesigns

  1. Benchmark data
    If you don’t already use Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools, get these set up on the old website. This will allow you to get benchmark data on things like: mobile-friendliness, use of structured data, load times for important pages, bounce rates, conversion rates (to newsletter sign ups, visits to key pages, sales, blog comments etc). Check which pages currently enjoy high traffic volumes, how many pages are in the current index and which pages have important inbound links. You need to ask your website designers to ensure they do a full back-up of your entire site, including the databases, robots.txt file and .htaccess file, so you can return to a safe point if some unforeseen disaster arises.
  2. Secure site (SSL) advantage and URL mapping
    Google is now giving a small ranking advantage to sites which are secure. As you are already carrying out a redesign, this would be a good time to make the switch. You'll need to get an appropriate Trust Certificate - if you don't know much about these, take a look at this blog post from The Daily Egg to find out which security certificates perform best.
    Whether you switch to https or not, you will need to look at all your current page URLs (shown in the browser address bar) and map them to new pages. For example:
    http://www.mysite.com/myservices will become
    https://www.mysite.com/myservices or even https://www.mysite.com/mynewservices (if you decide to change the names of the pages during the redesign.
    You will need to give this list to your website design team and ask them to ensure they create 301 server redirects. This will mean that anyone who comes across an old link to your website will be redirected to the most appropriate page on your new site.
  3. Create a custom 404 page
    Make sure your new website has a user-friendly 404 error page which will help visitors find their way around the site if they do find a broken link. For example, our own 404 page looks like this: http://www.branchout-internetmarketing.com/non-existent-page
  4. Avoid duplicate content
    Review the content on your existing site and make sure each page contains unique and valuable information. This is what the search engines are looking for when they decide on your rankings. If there is content on several pages which is almost identical, you need to ask yourself if you really need all those pages. If you sell products which are very similar other than size or colour, or if you have copies of press releases or articles which are also found on other sites, you will need to ask you web developers to use rel=canonical tags. This is a way of saying to the search engines that you know the pages are identical but you aren’t trying to trick them. If you want to find out more, check out this great article from Search Engine Watch.
  5. Protect your development site
    Ask your web designer to ensure the development site cannot be found by the search engines. This is a shockingly common occurrence and it means that the search engines find an entire duplicate of your website – and might penalise you for it.
  6. Check for broken links etc.
    Use a tool like Screaming Frog or Xenu's Link Sleuth to review the development site and check for broken links, odditites in page titles, meta descriptions etc. or typos in your menu URLs.Screaming Frog used in Website Redesign Checklist
  7. Check your site's appearance
    Manually check your new site in multiple browsers and on mobile devices.
Screaming Frog used in Website Redesign Checklist

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