Ten years ago on my Marketing Jive blog I wrote about how you should plan a website redesign. Guess what a lot of (all?) of these tips still apply in 2018. Let’s revisit my ultimate SEO guide to planning a website redesign.
What is a Website Redesign?
A Website redesign defined is: the act of updating or changing your website. Simply right? Well not so fast. There are two types of website redesigns:
- Website Redesign from a design perspective – with this type of redesign, you are basically focusing on the aesthetics or look and feel of your website.
- Holistic Website redesign – this is more of a full-scale redesign where you may be reworking not only the look and feel but the architecture of your website. Findability and search are key components of a holistic website redesign.
The key for both of these types of redesigns are that you are designing your website for your audience and for the user. UX is a key component of any website redesign project.
As online marketers and website owners, there is going to come a time when you will need to take a deep hard look at your website and determine if it is working for you. More often than not you will probably decide that a site redesign is in your best interest. Common reasons for a website redesign include:
- Rebranding of your company
- The need to make your site mobile friendly/responsive
- Failure of your site to drive traffic (and conversions)
- Feedback from your audience/customers
- Timing and the need for something fresh
- A strategic change in your company
- Competitive pressure (specifically from online competitors)
Regardless, there are questions that you should ask yourself when considering a site redesign. In fact I’ve previously outlined 7 Questions to Ask When Planning a Website Re-Design, which I will reproduce in part here.
Questions to ask when planning a website redesign
- Why do I need a redesign? It may seem simple enough, but what are the reasons that you are even considering redesigning your site? Take a pen and piece of paper and write down five reasons as to why you need to redesign your site. If three or more of the reasons deal with usability, that might be a strong indication that a site redesign is probably a good idea.
- What are my goals for the site? You would be surprised at the number of site owners who have difficulty in answering this question. What is the reason for your site’s existence? Is it to provide information? Is it e-commerce based? Is to act as a portal to other websites? Prior to planning a website redesign, you’ll want to establish clear goals for your website.
- Do I have the proper resources needed to complete a proper site redesign? Depending on the type of site that you have and what the goals for your site are, a website redesign may require a great deal of time, money and resources to complete. Is it feasible at this time?
- How much time will it take to complete a site redesign? Planning a proper website redesign takes time in itself. A site redesign is something that you do not want to rush. You must dot all of the “i’s” and cross all of the “t’s” if you want to have a successful redesign. If you are coming up to your peak sales season, you’re probably not going to want to launch a new site that may confuse buyers. On the other hand, once you’ve completed your research and have factored in everything that needs to be addressed with your redesign, you will have a better idea of the ideal timing for the launch of your new site. Depending on the size of your site and your resources, the whole redesign process could take anywhere from six to eighteen months (or longer).
- How will a site redesign affect my online visibility? Anytime you redesign your website, you run the risk of having your search engine rankings plummet. Improper use of redirects, failure to include content that is currently ranking over to the new site can have a dramatic impact on your search engine rankings. Not all companies have the sponsored budget to “buy” rankings in the search engines. Loss of organic rankings can be extremely difficult to get back. You should weigh the options of losing existing rankings through a new site redesign vs. keeping the same site and adding new features to it vs. creating a micro site to support your main site. Consider items such as site architecture, URL structure, page optimization, linking inventories and site interlinking. Drastic changes to any of these items will have an impact on your search engine rankings.
- Ask yourself, what’s working on your existing site? Which areas need improvement? Many times, Webmasters and designers have it in their heads that their site needs to be flashy and needs to feature all of the latest web design trends. Well the fact of the matter is, these sites traditionally do poorly in the search engines and more importantly do not provide the best user experience. How many times have you become frustrated with a flashy homepage that makes use of Flash with a large number of images that takes forever to load the page? After the page loads, you have no idea about how to find the information that you were looking for in the first place. Or the page just takes forever to load…. Your old site may have had perfectly good navigation and now the user cannot even find a link to your FAQs. Prior to planning your redesign, jot down the positive points about your site and identify the areas that need improvement.
- What are people looking for when they come to our website? How will my visitors react to a new site? This is probably one of the most important questions that you can ask prior to planning a website redesign. Obviously website usability should be at the core of your redesign planning.
- Take the time to find out what your audience appreciate about the existing site.
- Ask them what their experience was like. Leading up to your website redesign, provide a feedback mechanism to allow your site users to comment about their site experience.
- Test your proposed site and test again. Planning your site redesign right the first time will save you from having to do another one in a matter on months.
- Your site should be designed for a strong user experience that will help your audience enjoy a successful experience whether they visit for ten seconds or ten minutes.
If you are prepared, a site re-design should not scare you. A website re-design can present a great opportunity to address site hierarchy issues, SEO and optimization issues as well as aesthetics of your online property. So then how do you prepare for the nastiness that a site re-design entails? All of the hierarchy concerns, all of the SEO factors to consider, all of the design issues, all of the content management issues, all of the ranking issues etc etc etc… the answer is you plan. You simply plan out your site re-design. In order to plan your website redesign you should prepare a checklist of the re-design issues that you need to consider.
This guide focuses strictly on SEO issues and makes the assumption that you have addressed usability issues and the overall need for a site re-design. In order to effectively use this guide you will have previously:
- Defined the Goals for Your Site
- Defined the Needs of Your Site’s Targeted Audience
- Determined the Resources Required for a Site Redesign
- Determined that there is an actual need for a redesign of your website
A 21 Step SEO Checklist for Planning a Website Redesign
- Prepare a SWOT Analysis of Your Existing Site – evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of your existing site as it exists today.
- Examine Your Existing Visibility (Organic Rankings) – Which of your site pages are currently doing well in the search engines? Which phrases are providing the most traffic to your site? Which pages have the greatest stickiness?
- Prepare a SWOT Analysis of You Main Competitors Site(s) – this includes both your offline and online competitors as online competitors may consist of sites who you do not think of as a direct competitor yet they are occupying the prime real estate of the search engine results and are receiving traffic that could be going to your site. Obtain ideas about web design, technology and optimization concepts by looking at competitor sites.
- Review Your Core Topics – it would be a good time to review your keywords to ensure that you are using the phrases in your site’s messaging that your audience is using in their search queries. Semantically relevant topics still matter when it comes to producing content.
- Examine Your Existing Optimization – For pages that are doing well, be sure to preserve your well optimized titles and meta data. If using a new content management system, you want to be sure that it has the capability to populate your existing titles and meta data.
- Evaluate Your Existing Content – take your time to map out what content will be rolled out on your new site. How will you display your content? Are there sections of the site that will be phased out? If so remember to check your visibility so that you do not jeopardize existing traffic.
- Have fresh content ready to go – as you prepare for the launch of your new site, be sure to develop new, unique and informative content that will get crawled, indexed and ranked by the search engines upon release. This content can help act as link bait and help build the external link inventory of your site’s pages. In addition, your target audience is coming to your site to find information. Make sure that you provide them with this information.
- Optimize your content for different types of consumption – ten years ago we referred to this as Blended Search. Be sure that your video and images are well optimized prior to launching the new site. Should you deploy Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)? It’s 2018, your website must be mobile friendly.
- Map Out Your Site Hierarchy – how you serve up your site’s content can have an impact on how search engines can find and index your content. More importantly your audience is expecting to find a web property that is easy to navigate. You will need to determine if you should use a sub-domain vs. sub-folder strategy as you redesign your website. Avoid burying pages deep within your site’s content. Avoid crazy pagination issues, avoid inadvertently creating duplicate content.
- Plan out a “friendly URL structure – this ties into the CMS that you choose to use or will be migrating your website too. I’ve seen it time-and-time again when designers and webmasters generate long, nasty, dynamic URLs that are not friendly for the search engine spiders nor human visitors. When planning a site redesign one of the worst things that you can do is dramatically change your URL structure without using proper redirects to help the user and search engines find your content. If the search engines cannot find your content, your pages will not get indexed, your visibility will slip. your traffic will decline and you may never be able to recoup that traffic to your site. Planning is key here..
- Pay Attention to Your Link Inventory – Still one of the most important factors as to how the search engines rank websites is by analyzing the link inventory of a website’s pages. If you happen to delete a page as part of your site redesign that had a number of quality links pointing to it, you’re making a mistake. While proper redirection can help, you’ll want to be aware of the external links that are pointing to your existing site pages.
- Optimize your Navigation – Ensure that your site will be easy to navigate by your target audience and by the search engines spiders. Consider the use of breadcrumb navigation and make sure that you have a well optimized sitemap to help with clear navigation of your site.
- Address Interlinking Issues – use SEO best practices to ensure that your site pages are well interlinked.
- Focus on the Theme(s) of your site – Be sure to consider what you want your site to be an authority on. Make sure that you have sufficient content to promote your theme(s). Build semantically relevant themes throughout your content.
- Plan for Scalability – Consider the impact of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. As you plan your website redesign, ensure that you factor in things such as press releases, blogs, RSS syndication and the like. Furthermore if you grow your product or service offering, ensure that you plan your site redesign for growth.
- Create Clear Contact Us and Information Pages – to help with local search results, ensure that for any and all branch or office locations that you have detailed address and contact information. If your company is found in local markets, make sure that your website conveys this. Make it easy for your target audience and customer to interact and do business with you.
- Consider e-commerce – If you are selling anything online via your site, make sure that you test your online store out. Make sure that the user experience is perfect.
- Avoid too much use of Graphics, Flash and Animation – sure these are cool things that can improve the aesthetics of your site, but from an SEO point of view, they often do more harm than good. If you do use images and such be sure that they do not affect your site load time and hinder the user experience.
- Brainstorm Ideas – Just when you think that you have addressed all of the usability and SEO factors for your site redesign, get together your design team, marketing team and SEM team to brainstorm anything that may have been overlooked. Work together to create the most effective site that you can for your business.
- Hire Third Party Help – Don’t be afraid to hire external help. Whether it is a design company or an online marketing company, their expertise will prove valuable in the long run.
- Test – As you plan out your website redesign, take the time to test out various strategies from A/B testing of your homepage to testing the use of images and Ajax, testing is a crucial step of the redesign process, even in the planning phase. Test, test, test.
Planning a website re-design is extremely important and can be a difficult and timely process to go through. The key is finding the balance between strong SEO and a sound user experience. The 21 step checklist above will help you succeed with your website redesign from a SEO perspective and from a usability perspective.