Over half of the projects that we take on has to do with the re-designing or a complete revamp of a website. One of the most common concerns we get from our client is that redesigning a website could have negative impact of the ranking of their website. The concern is a reasonable and justifiable one, redesigning a website could always have the potential have affecting the ranking your website has gained. However, when done properly and following best practices and cautious measures, not only would the revamping not have any detrimental effect, it could even boost your SEO. In this article we look at things that need need special attention on when redesigning your website.
Before we begin though, we would like to add a few words on what do we mean when we say ‘SEO’ anyway. A lot of our clients we come across have a misconception of what SEO actually means. Many of them imagine a single SEO performance benchmark for the whole of website. In fact, when we speak about SEO what we are referring to is how different pages in your website rank under different keywords. Your SEO performance should be measured against a set of keywords that you wish your website or a specific web page will show up in the search result when people type it in the search bar.
Ok now back to website re-design and SEO
The Before: Re-designing should be done on a staging environment
Regardless of the scale of the re-design you are attempting, it is never a good idea to work on the changes straight from the live website. Re-designing a website, especially if you are making a wholesale of changes, will always have the risk of creating conflicts and bugs in the website. You wouldn’t want to affect your visitors’ browsing experience with a wrongly aligned button, or worse, an error page.
So always work on your revamp project in a staging environment. Clone the whole website into an independent space and use a staging url for the cloned website so that search engine won’t get ‘confused’ with your original domain and website page structure. You should also ensure search engines are not indexing your cloned website for the same reason. This can be done by adding a Robots <META> tag into the header of every page in your staging website.
The During: Avoid too drastic change on the content
Revising the texts in your website is one of the common things to do when re-designing your website. Your new website might have a new layout with a different content container that doesn’t fit the old copies anymore. You may also decide to refresh the content a bit by adding or removing some exiting copies.
Do this with caution tough.
Your content is one of the major determining factors dictating how well your page ranks, changing them will almost certainly affect your SEO, for better or worse. But if you have to do it: try not to remove a wall of texts. Google and other search engines love texts, lots of texts. By removing thousands of words and replace them by hundreds, you run the risk of a drop in page ranking because there is now less content to convince Google that your page is still relevant to some of the keywords that used to rank with the old copy. If your new website design really call for a trim of a significant amount of texts, try to at least keep the core message. For example in in the ‘About Us’ page there was a ‘Our Team’ section, try to have keep texts that at least mention this in your new copy.
The After: 301 redirect
Another thing that you need to pay attention to when re-designing your website is page structure and url names. To minimise negative effects on SEO after the re-design, try to to keep a similar page structure between your old and new website. You may rename sections, remove some and add some in different pages, but always try to mimic the url structure so that your [www.mycompany.com/about](http://www.mycompany.com/about)us page doesn’t become www.mycompany.com/about-us.
If, however, it is absolutely necessary to change the domain structure, it is essential to setup 301 redirect. This is basically a message to Google telling them the old url has now been moved to a new one. Doing this avoid visitor arriving at your old page with the outdated url and see a blank page (404 error) which in itself could also hurt your SEO.
One useful way to make sure all of your old url has either the same url in your new website or that a 301 redirect is setup for those that doesn’t is to map out all the urls that exist in your current website. You can then use it as the blueprint to plan how your new website is going to be structured and which urls need redirecting.
Re-designing a website not only changes how a website looks but it will also have an effect internally. Plan ahead and follow the best practices and your website re-design project will even help boost your SEO with a better user experience, faster loading speed and more mobile friendly interface.