Practical Tips on Redesigning Websites without Sacrificing Search Rankings

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A Brief History

Nowadays, one of the biggest fears of marketers that a complete web redesign project while being fresh and attractive to the target audience would also mean years of hard SEO work going down the drain. A good rank for the targeted keywords is the ultimate prize for the SEO team as it represents the fruit of hard labor put in for generating optimizing content, earning valuable backlinks, and conducting myriad on-page optimizations. To lose all this can be heartbreaking and the sheer thought of having to rebuild everything to get back the coveted page rankings again can be enough to postpone the website redesign initiatives. While it is true that a website redesign can seriously affect your search rankings, it is also heartening to know that when done correctly, the exercise can be completed without any loss of ranking position, and indeed, there can be an improvement.

Digging Deeper

Website Redesign SEO Considerations

There are certain fundamentals that you need to keep in mind to ensure that you do not lose out on the impact of the SEO after the site has been redesigned. Typically, the four primary considerations involved in site redesign are user interactions, the content of the site, on-page SEO, and technical health. Each of these considerations is quite complex, which is why understanding them can be easier through the device of a redesign checklist, which will also help it from becoming an SEO disaster. Some of the important steps:

Benchmark Current Site Performance

It is important to define your starting point so that you know where you are in relation to it after the site redesign had been completed. The benchmarking process is also a wonderful way of setting some baseline performance metrics that will tell you how effective your site redesign project has been. Search engines nowadays use more than just keywords in the page content as ranking factors. They now factor in how users are interacting with the content and take into account metrics like dwell time, bounce rates, and more. Document important metrics like sources of traffic, the average page loading time, the average duration of a session, the bounce rate, number of pages visited during a session, etc. All of these metrics are important from the view of the search engine evaluation of your website. The point of keeping a record of the performance benchmarks is to try and exceed them with the new site design.

Identify Drivers of Organic Traffic and Important Referral Sources

Without a doubt, the two most vital sources of traffic for the website are organic and referral. It is also true that these two channels have the greatest potential for disruption. When you are redesigning the website, it is natural that you will be updating and adding content as well as archiving web pages. If not monitored properly, these two seemingly innocent tasks in the website redesign SEO checklist can easily become fatal defects of the redesign. It is quite normal to find that 20% of the web pages accounting for 80% of the organic traffic.

With the help of Google Analytics, you can measure the volume of organic traffic and referral traffic of each of the web pages. Make sure that you have noted the pages that generate the maximum traffic because you will need to use it when you commence your plan for URL redirect. Of course, you must have content available on the new site for visitors to explore when they land on the webpage from other locations. Use the Google Search Console to create the backlink profile of each of your web pages because you will want to preserve them after the site redesign if they link to domains with high quality and authority as they are important for search ranking.

Create Information Architecture That Is Effective 

It is the website’s information architecture that decides how the content is organized and displayed. The effectiveness of information architecture is a mix of keyword strategy and intuitive user navigation that is not only user-friendly but also search engine-friendly. According to https://www.forbes.com, it is important to give priority to high-value content in the website architecture so that both users and search engines can discover them easily.

Decide on the Strategy for Migrating and Archiving Content

Content and SEO are tied to each other in such a way that one cannot be separated from the other. If you delete or archive a webpage that is ranking well for the target keywords, you for sure end up losing the results. Marketers should know that if they are offering something, the product or the service has to be mentioned somewhere in the content because otherwise, the search engine by itself will not be able to figure it out. It is like a restaurant having something that is not listed on the menu so only people who are in the know will ask for it.

When undertaking a site redesign, it is not necessary to archive lots of content. Often, the content can be updated for it to enjoy a longer lifespan. It is also a great opportunity for reviewing pages with thin content and deciding whether to upgrade them or archive them. As you are aware, pages with thin content do not usually rank well for the target keywords because Google is averse to pages with low word counts, interpreting them to be superficial and without any value. Pages with completely outdated or non-applicable content are fit for archiving; however, it is important to study the backlink profile and organic traffic report to understand the impact of the archiving decision as you will lose the traffic and the positive impact on SEO. Even if the traffic brings in irrelevant visitors, improving the content quality serves to reduce the bounce rate and improve the dwell time, which are positive SEO signals.

Conclusion 

As far as managing a website redesign without losing out on the existing SEO value is concerned, you need to appreciate that there are many factors to be considered. However, there is less reason to worry when you follow a process that is defined well, make informed and strategic choices, and take decisions based on facts. When done with precision, a website redesign can not only improve the design and aesthetics but also attract new audiences and achieve superior search rankings.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Jenkins, Sue.  Web Design All-in-One For Dummies.  For Dummies, 2013.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine of Web design books in Bayview Village Chapters, is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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Abdul Alhazred

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland