March 21, 2018 | By:

Website Redesigns: How to Retain and Improve Your SEO

Redesigning your company website may be needed for various reasons. Often, it’s due to a rebranding effort; and sometimes, advances in technology and changes in trends may warrant an overhaul of your website. Whatever the reasons may be, a website redesign is a great opportunity to improve not just the look and feel of your website, but also your SEO performance.

Unfortunately, an innocent website redesign could result in disastrous consequences to your SEO if not properly considered. Web traffic may decrease and your SEO rankings may plummet, both of which could greatly impact your conversion rates and overall digital marketing efforts.

However, if the right steps are taken during the pre-planning phase of your website redesign, it is entirely possible to avoid SEO mishaps. Here are some of the important things to consider during a website redesign to ensure that your existing SEO traffic and rankings are maintained, or better yet, improved to greater heights:

1. Audit your current site

Before going into the trenches of redesigning your website, it’s important to gauge what pages and features are currently working well by doing an SEO audit. Doing an audit to your current website could also help you pinpoint problem areas, which you can address later on during the redesign.

WooRank and SEM Rush both offer free SEO auditing tools; while Screaming Frog also offer several comprehensive SEO analysis tools to help you get more insight on your SEO performance, but not for free. At the very least, you should look into the following data:

  • Missing data (page titles, meta data, tags, etc.)
  • Duplicate content
  • Broken internal and external links
  • Image alt text

You can also use Google Search Console to manually check for the following:

  • Crawl errors
  • XML sitemap
  • Robot.txt

Index status (you can also quickly do this with by inputting site:example.com in the Google search bar)

2. Crawl your current website

In addition to auditing your existing website, it’s also equally important to see how search engine bots view your site. Crawling your current site will give you a roadmap on your site’s structure, which will make it easier for you to match up the SEO elements with your new site.

Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is one of the best tools to use for crawling website data. Once done, be sure to save your crawl data results; that is, your on-page SEO elements such as, but not limited to, the following:

  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headers
  • Canonical tags

If possible, keep all these data as similar to each other as possible so that it’s easier (and faster) for search engine bots to crawl and index your new data once you’ve migrated to your new site. Unless, of course, there are obvious improvements needed to your on-page elements.

3. Use 301 redirects

Redirecting old URLs to its new URL should be one of your top priorities when planning for a website redesign. As much as possible, it’s ideal to keep content on the same URLs. But most times, changes in URL structures are inevitable. In this case, a 301 redirect is the best method for implementing redirects, as it passes almost 100% of link equity, or ranking power, to the redirected page. This not only makes your transition more seamless, you also retain much of your traffic and ranking.

To get started, create a list or a spreadsheet of all the URLs on your current and new website. Plan out which specific URLs you are going to redirect. If possible, keep the same original permalink structure.

If your website is hosted on a server running Apache, you’ll need access to your server’s .htaccess file. For more information, refer to Apache’s tutorial on how to access the said file. If your site is hosted on a server other than Apache, check with your host for details on how to implement 301 redirects.

4. Noindex your test site

While your web redesign is underway, it’s important to store your new work in a test site that’s not yet available for search engines to crawl and index; otherwise, test pages with similar URLs would be flagged as duplicate content and may lead Google to inadvertently penalize you.

To noindex your test site, go to your CMS’ settings and choose the option under “search engine visibility” to discourage search engines from indexing your site. To check, the following code in the <head> of every page should be present:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,follow”/>

Alternatively, you can use the robots.txt file to block the site; however, this option can be tricky if you’re not very familiar with web development. To block access to crawlers from indexing your test site, place the following rule to your robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

5. Update your new XML sitemap

Shortly after migrating to your new website, it’s crucially important to update your XML sitemap and submit it to Google. All page elements, such as 301 redirects and page structure, should align with the new site structure so that it’s easier for search engine bots to understand and familiarize your website as quickly as possible.

You can use third-party XML sitemap generators such as Screaming Frog and Dynomapper, or make use of the free XML sitemap plugins available in your CMS. Otherwise, you can create your own manually. For more information, refer to Sitemaps.org’s XML schema protocol guide.

After generating your new XML sitemap, test and add it using Google Search Console before proceeding to submit it.

Closing notes

A website redesign definitely offers a huge opportunity for you to have a fresh start on your brand’s look. However, starting with a clean slate doesn’t have to compromise your SEO performance. When redesigning, aim not just to maintain your SEO, but also to improve it with your new website. The key here is to always keep tabs on your SEO performance and promptly taking action to fix areas that need improvement.

If you’d like to know more about improving your SEO, or if you’re interested to work with Ilfusion for your website redesign needs, give us a call at 888-420-5115, or send us an email at creative@ilfusion.com.

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