Redesigning your website presents a significant risk from an SEO standpoint if not managed appropriately.
What can be years of optimizations to your infrastructure, design, and content are going to be overwritten, and it’s hard to predict if the organic rankings you’ve earned are going to be swept away.
If your redesign strategy includes taking SEO into account post-launch, you’ll probably end up in for a world of hurt.
Here’s a look at organic traffic from a brand that came to us after launching a new beautifully designed site, wondering what happened to their SEO traffic.
Don’t be that website.
If your brand heavily relies on organic search to drive traffic, engagement, and conversion metrics, the risks from a redesign are real, and the impact can be devastating.
But through careful consideration throughout the redesign process, you can account for potential pitfalls and mitigate your chances of a drop in organic search ranking and traffic post-launch.
Follow along as I outline how we approach this at Portent.
How to Approach SEO Strategy in your Next Redesign
For many websites, organic search is the channel that brings in the most traffic, and inherently, conversions- whether that be leads or transactions and revenue.
Adding to that, organic traffic is the acquisition channel most at-risk through a significant website redesign.
SEO isn’t a tactic to employ after the website launches to clean up loose ends. Approaching your redesign with SEO in mind from the very beginning of the project is vital to ensure your channel’s requirements are baked into the result.
The key to preserving organic rankings through a redesign is two-fold:
1. Marketers must focus on minimizing risk pre-launch
2. Marketers must have a response plan to threats post-launch
With that in mind, our approach to minimizing risk and building a response plan requires us to include an SEO-minded team member in the project from the very start, identify and address gaps in the marketing stack throughout the redesign process, and quantify the impact on organic KPIs post-launch.
This approach lines up with three stages of the project:
- The planning and design stage (before any code is written)
- The development stage (when the website is being built)
- The post-launch stage (after the dust settles)
Let’s explore each of these stages further.
Get SEO Involved Early
The best way to handle potential SEO issues in a redesign project is to prevent them from existing in the first place. SEO for a website redesign starts long before the first line of code is written.
Get your SEO team a seat at the table from the very first meeting.
Their role on the project is to find solutions to infrastructure and content issues that may crop up. Providing a list of SEO requirements and expecting a designer or developer to take them into consideration isn’t enough.
SEO must be hands-on throughout the process.
Don’t wait for infrastructure decisions to be made for you. You may end up with a funky hosting plan, three subdomains, and two of them running on Wix.
(We’ve seen it happen.)
As an SEO, here are some of the questions to consider when kicking off a redesign process:
- Is the new CMS or framework SEO-friendly?
- Does the new information architecture include your essential landing pages?
- How many URLs are going to change?
Find the Gaps
As your new website starts coming together, you should ask yourself the question, “is this website more or less optimized than before?”
To answer this, you need to conduct two SEO audits of the website’s infrastructure and content: pre-launch and post-launch.
The goal of the pre-launch audit is to find all of the big problems that you can’t afford to launch with. Auditing a website that isn’t finished yet may seem premature, but it’s a great exercise; it allows you to correct any show-stopping bugs you may find.
This audit is where your SEO team will do most of the work involved with a typical redesign:
- Redirecting old URLs to new URLs
- Migrating title and meta description tags
- Correcting broken links and unnecessary redirects
- Testing mobile rendering
- Ensuring canonicalization
The pre-launch audit should also communicate gaps between the two websites in a few key areas:
Does the new platform have fewer site speed optimizations?
Does the new content satisfy queries better than before? Are the same Featured Snippets targeted?
Do you expect the conversion rate to be higher or lower?
Your post-launch audit should uncover any new bugs and make sure the website is being crawled and indexed correctly.
Some important factors to review post-launch are:
- Robots.txt (It’s incredibly common for websites to go live disallowing all crawling)
- Sitemap submission in Google and Bing search consoles
- The index coverage report in Google Search Console
- Checking redirect implementation
Doing two thorough audits goes a long way toward minimizing risk.
Any major threat to your rankings will be identified and hopefully addressed before launch, and everything else will be a known quantity. At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of which way your site’s performance will go.
Measure the Impact
Before you launch your new site, make sure your web analytics and rank tracking are recording reliable baseline data for your KPIs.
Also, confirm the new website has your web analytics implemented correctly. You don’t want to launch with all of your conversion goals broken.
I find these metrics and trends the most useful when gauging post-launch performance:
Organic users by landing page
If you didn’t change your URL structure, this report will be incredibly helpful in narrowing down performance gaps.
Organic users by website section
This report will help you find problems with the design or internal linking structure for sections that aren’t doing well.
Non-brand keyword rankings
For each important landing page, add the non-brand keywords contributing the most traffic to a rank tracker. If any of these rankings take a dive after launch, you’ll know which topics you need to prioritize.
Conversion rate by landing page
If your sales copy or CTA links had a drastic change in the new design, this report would let you know which pages will need their offers reconsidered.
Bounce rate and exit rate by website section
Increases in either after the launch might indicate usability problems with the new design for that section.
Common SEO Pitfalls
There are SEO problems so common to redesigns that I’ve seen one in nearly every launch I’ve cleaned up.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by making these mistakes:
Unnecessarily changing the URL structure
The best way to map old URLs to new URLs is to not change them at all. Plus, you won’t break year-over-year reports in Google Analytics. Unless you have a good reason, don’t change your URLs in a redesign.
Not redirecting URLs with backlinks
If you have to change your URLs for a new website, make sure you aren’t throwing your backlinks away. Redirect your old URLs to keep the link authority flowing into your site.
Not checking robots.txt on launch day
If your traffic flatlines after launching the new site, this is probably why. Make sure your robots.txt file is configured correctly.
Using uncompressed images
Please don’t make your users download 4 MB of images on every page. Use the right image format and level of compression to keep your images crisp and as small as necessary.
Introducing unnecessary subdomains
Keep your content in one place. Adding a subdomain to your site will split link authority and guarantee a migration project in the future. Always base a new website on a single platform that can do everything you need.
Time to Go Live
Eventually, it’s time to go live with your redesign.
It can be a nervewracking time for every party involved, but at the end of the day, it’s going to happen.
And while redesigning your website can have profound effects (both positive and negative) on site performance, there are ways to mitigate your risk through the process you take.
Be sure to:
- Get SEO involved from the start
- Find the gaps
- Measure the impact
Sticking to this strategy can set yourself up to limit website problems that could devastate your organic traffic.