Redesigning a website can be extremely exciting and equally frustrating at the same time, for both the website designers and the website owner. What lots of people like to forget is that behind that brand new web design is potential for an SEO catastrophe, waiting to happen (if not properly managed, considered and accounted for from the get-go).
There are a number of reasons why it can all go wrong; from site architecture to content, to ensuring none of the steps of migration are missed. For this reason it’s vital that a plan is put in place from the start of your website redesign process, ensuring SEO success when your site is eventually live.
This may or may not seem like an obvious first step, but it is a vital and often missed one. We see a lot of business owners skip the process of auditing their current or old website when deciding on the elements of their future site.
Before making any decisions on the content and elements you’d like to see on your new website, it’s imperative that you find out what performs well on your current site. This can be measured in a few different ways, with varying complexity. It could be as simple as personally delivered feedback from your customers, to which calls to action are most utilised, to a deep dive into analytics to see how each page performs.
Broadly speaking, we will typically look at which pages are ranking for keywords and driving traffic to your site, as well as the pages that users navigate to and have the highest engagement and conversion rates. These are the pages and content you’ll want to carry over to your new website in some way. By identifying the pages of success you’ll also notice the pages that aren’t performing well. This is a fantastic opportunity to improve or replace them in the redesign.
Once you’ve identified the best performing pages on your old website, and the new pages you’d like to add and improve on, you can begin setting those SEO goals.
What services, products or content do you want to see ranking on your new website?
Is your goal to increase sales or conversions on a particular service offering or product?
There’s nothing worse than designing a new website, creating content and, worst of all, spending lots of money just to realise none of your goals have been achieved because you didn’t voice them soon enough during the redesign process.
After determining your SEO goals, the site architecture and the content to include, ensuring that content is optimised and still relevant to your searcher is crucial. This means if you're migrating a pre-existing ranking page from your old site to new, the overall subject of that page shouldn’t change. In fact, you should only aim to improve that content, not completely change it.
If the migrated page was not ranking or had good engagement, then now is the time to consider rewriting it with your SEO goals and research in mind. Optimising your content for launch also means taking a look at your URLs, meta titles/descriptions, page titles, alt-tags and all other on-page SEO elements.
301 redirects are commonly known by SEO’s as a gruelling and tiresome task, especially if you’ve got a large ecommerce site. This doesn’t make them any less important to your website migration. 301 redirects are vital to user experience but also to the success of your site's SEO come launch.
By creating correct 301 redirects you are ensuring that users won’t land on a 404 page. But you’re also telling Google that your old URL now has a new permanent location. As such, any link equity associated with that page is then carried on. You can easily find all of the URLs on your website that have a backlink using the Screaming Frog SEO spider tool.
This is one of the most important steps to your website migration for SEO and can very well be the difference between a successful migration and a failed one.
It is unlikely that your new website will have the same page speed as your old website. If the developers redesigned the new site with SEO in mind hopefully this won’t be an issue. Page load speed and core web vitals are important technical ranking factors.
There are several reasons why your website might be slow. Running your site through a tool like lighthouse will give you the complete rundown on where your site is lacking and what’s bringing your overall scores down.
Core web vital scores on the other hand can’t be viewed until a URL has been indexed, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t design your website with them in mind. It will save a lot of hassle in the long run.
Before launching, run through some final checks to ensure no URLs were missed during your 301 redirects. Now is also a good time to take another look at your content and do a final comparison between the old and the new.
It’s essential that the website isn’t launched too early before on-page optimisation and 301 redirects have been addressed. Once the website has been launched it’s a good idea to make sure there were no errors carrying over from the dev to the live site. This includes all of your on-page work but also making sure those 301 redirects are now correctly firing.
If you can’t find any issues after doing a live site audit, you can now create your new XML sitemap and submit it to the search console. This will notify Google of the existence of new URLs and lead to a website crawl. Ensure you have no 404 pages in your sitemap, redirect URLs or non-canonical pages.
Once the launch is completed and the hard work is done, it’s time to monitor your website and regularly conduct site audits to ensure no new errors or issues arise. Also, don’t forget that SEO is ongoing, to improve your results you’ll want to ensure you have an active SEO strategy in place.