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Part 1: Plan a Successful Website Redesign & Preserve Your SEO

Preparing for a website redesign can be a nightmare for marketers. Although you’ll likely have a web design team on hand to help you along the way, it’s the marketing team that will ultimately be responsible for the success or failure of a relaunch.

And there are many moving parts to keep track of—apart from an aesthetically pleasing design, your website needs to convey your brand message, drive conversions, provide useful analytics, host valuable content, and be easy for the user to navigate.

It’s a lot to keep up with!

In our introductory post to our web redesign series, Redesign with Confidence, we wrote about the potential drawbacks of a website redesign, including first-hand tales of plummeting traffic and lost sales. This post will help you navigate the beginning phase of a redesign. We outline the steps you can take and questions you can ask your developers to minimize potential damage to your traffic and rankings, and make the entire process as smooth as possible.

Before Relaunch Checklist

A step-by-step guide to preserving rankings and optimization before a website redesign.

Redesign with Confidence!

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing our tips for avoiding digital marketing disaster with your next website redesign. We’ll explain the steps you need to take before, during, and after a relaunch to ensure any detriment to your rankings, traffic, and conversions is mitigated, and your new website is primed for success. We’ll also provide helpful downloadable checklists for each phase of the redesign process.

Previous post: Can Website Redesigns Do More Harm than Good?
Next post: Part 2: Make Your Website Relaunch Day a Success!

Step 1: Begin with Benchmarking

The ideal first step during a website redesign is a thorough website audit that captures what’s working now (so it can be preserved) and what’s not (goodbye, junky pages!). The insights you glean from an audit can help you minimize your losses moving forward, and save you thousands of dollars and hours of manpower in post-launch fixes.

Typically, we see problems occur when high-value content is deleted or redirects aren’t written, causing keyword rankings and organic traffic to plummet. We’ve personally pulled clients back from the brink of website disaster when they became overzealous in cleaning up content, or didn’t put the right technical safeguards in place.

The time to prevent these types of issues is at the very beginning of the redesign process, before any design work or information architecture has begun. Have your development team perform a full scan (or crawl) of your website to get a complete picture of what you’re working with. Take note of your best performing pages, how much traffic they get, where drop-offs occur, as well as other technical benchmarks such as page load speed and bounce rate. Use this information to guide your decisions as you plan the structure, content, and design of your new website.

Website redesign questions for your developer:

Do you perform a full scan of current website content before making recommendations for the redesign? What tools do you use? (Google Analytics data, Screaming Frog crawl, etc.?)

What performance metrics do you pull on my existing website before beginning work?

How do you use that information to drive layout and design decisions moving forward?

Step 2: Safeguard Your Site Structure

Once you have the information from your site crawl or content audit in hand, it’s time to decide how the pages you currently have apply to your new website.

When mapping out your new website architecture, remember that it should be intuitive for visitors to navigate. The placement of content within the navigation should indicate its  importance on the site. For example, a highly-relevant and often-visited product page should sit in the main navigation, with subtopics nested neatly below it. It may sound simple, but you would be surprised by the number of times we’ve been brought in on a website redesign project only to discover valuable content had been buried four clicks deep.

When developing your new website architecture, make it easy on your visitors and maintain a logical flow to your content. Failing to do so can cause frustrated searchers to quickly bounce off your pages and prevent search engines from properly indexing your site.

Website redesign questions for your developer:

How do you determine what pages are most important, and what topics should be covered on the new site?

If migrating to a new CMS, will the new platform have any effect on site or URL structure?

How many menu options will be in the main navigation? (Seven or fewer is ideal from a user experience standpoint).

What is the click depth of my content on the old site versus the new?

Will you be uploading the XML sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools?

Step 3: Care for Your Content

With a sound website structure in place, it’s time to tackle content—your audit is absolutely crucial here. If a page is ranking well and has good engagement metrics, it should be kept intact on your new website. Shortening content, changing your on-page elements, or, worst of all, deleting the page entirely can have major ramifications for your online visibility. One of our clients lost almost half of their organic keyword rankings by rewriting pages that were already performing well!

When it comes to content rewrites, save your effort for pages that actually need help. There is zero benefit to rewriting high-performing pages unless there are factual changes. Remember, just because you’ve seen this page a hundred times, doesn’t mean your audience has. There’s an old redesign myth that it’s important to refresh your content periodically. In actuality, it’s much more valuable to allow your content to build a strong history with Google and other search engines, and to regularly add new, relevant content to your website.

As for your underperforming content, either invest your time in rewriting it to perform better, or scrap it entirely if it’s not actually serving a purpose for your users. If a page receives no visitors, doesn’t rank well, and isn’t critical to your message, it’s time to say goodbye. There’s no point in putting the effort into migrating pages that don’t add value. Low-value or thin content can actually have a negative impact on the rest of your website, potentially triggering penalties with Google. A redesign is the perfect opportunity to cull the dead weight from your website. We’ve had clients pay to have hundreds of redirects written for pages that no one is even looking at—save yourself the money and hit delete instead.

Website redesign questions for your developer:

What is your process for identifying what content to keep and what to discard? (Do they actually go by what the data shows? Be wary of a one-size fits all approach, ex: any blog post before 2015 gets deleted.)

Will new pages and content need to be developed?

Do on-page SEO elements (title tags, meta descriptions, etc.) remain intact during migration? If not, is there a process to save and restore them after?

Do you write 301 redirects for deleted or relocated pages? How do you make the determination if you write a redirect or not?

Step 4: Prepare for Paid Search

Your sitemap is in place, your content has been strategically migrated, and your new website is easy to use and looking good. Congratulations! You’ve done everything right, so your site is guaranteed to perform well immediately, right?

Well, not exactly.

One thing we’re sure to mention to clients is that any redesign, no matter how well done, is going to result in at least a slight dip in keyword rankings and traffic. When a new website is launched, Google and other search engines need time to crawl your content and rank it appropriately, and that inevitably leads to fluctuations in your rankings. The good news is that a properly-planned redesign minimizes the impact this reindexing period can have on your rankings, and you’ll likely recover within a matter of weeks (as opposed to months, or even years, if you neglect to safeguard your new website’s optimization).

Fortunately, there are techniques that help mitigate the traffic loss inherent to any website relaunch. Paid search advertising can be an extremely effective way to stay in front of customers while your new website is gaining its footing. Although the time to scale up a campaign depends on your market and current paid search setup, we’ve found Google Adwords, and others, to be an effective way to keep traffic strong throughout a relaunch.

Website redesign questions for your developer:

How much do you predict my rankings/traffic will drop after redesign?

How quickly do you expect I will recover?

What tactics will you use to mitigate the risk of traffic loss during reindexing?

Bonus Step: Check out the Competition

Although redesigns can be scary, they open up exciting opportunities to enhance your online presence. Take the time to check out your competitors’ websites while planning your redesign, and while you’re at it, check out their social media profiles, too. You’ll get a better understanding of what others in your market are doing and specific ideas for improvements. For example, if all your competitors have clear calls-to-action on their blog posts and you don’t, it’s time to catch up!

Tools like Ahrefs.com can show you high-level SEO metrics for your competitors, such as domain rank, organic keywords, and backlinks—all useful information when planning to up your website game with a redesign.

Questions to ask yourself:

How visible are my competitors online compared to me?

What types of content do my competitors have on their sites?

What are my competitors doing that I don’t? (paid search, video, testimonials, etc.)

What social media platforms are my competitors posting on? What types of content are they posting? What type of engagement are they receiving? Are they engaging with customers or influencers?

Working through a Proactive Process

Be proactive with your website redesign process and audit your website before you begin—it will save you major headaches down the road. When you know where you stand and where you want to go, and have the data to back it up, you’ll have more confidence in the course you set for your new website, and will be better prepared to handle any challenges that may arise. And you’ll set your new website up for ongoing SEO success!

Visibility Audit Report

Learn More about Our Redesign Audit

At Pure Visibility, our Visibility Audit for Redesign includes a comprehensive review of your website’s SEO, local search optimization, content performance, paid search configuration, social media accounts, and competition. We build a thorough picture of your digital presence and provide specific suggestions on how to move forward with your redesign.

Download the Before Redesign Checklist

We’ve created a series of handy checklists to help website developers better preserve and improve SEO during a website redesign. Download our Website Redesign Checklist, which includes step-by-step tips for preparing for an upcoming website relaunch.

As our SEO Content Specialist, Katie cuts through the clutter. She knows SEO tricks are no substitute for solid information that meets user needs.

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