When doing a site redesign there are a number of things to do to make sure that your rankings and SEO performance will not be negatively affected. Failing to follow all the steps correctly will confuse search engines and this will damage your website’s trust.
A website redesign is welcomed and sometimes necessary
There are many reasons why a website redesign in necessary. The most common reasons are:
- You want to change the website theme (look n’ feel)
- You want to do rebranding
- You decide to change platform i.e from Joomla to WordPress
- You want to switch to a mobile friendly theme
A website redesign does not necessarily mean changing the domain of your website so in all the above cases we assume that you keep the same domain but change the way the website looks i.e. the design.
Keeping your website up to date and continuously improving your design, features and user experience is actually something that is not only welcomed by Google, but it is also suggested.
Steps for a successful site redesign
#1 – Setup the new website on a temporary URL
It’s always a good practice to copy your existing website to a temporary url, work on the new design and when it’s ready you just switch the domain and everything works with no problems.
There are some technical details for this to work but your hosting provider should be able to guide you or even do this setup for you. Working directly on your live website is not recommended because a lot of things can go wrong when you start doing design changes.
#2 – Test new website and make sure that everything is working and there are no broken links
#3 – Create a list of all pages from your OLD website
It is normal to change the url structure of a website but it is also of great importance that you let Google and other search engines know about the changes. Failure to do so will damage your rankings, decrease your domain trust and as a result you will also lose your organic traffic.
The first step is to make a list of all the urls your existing website has. The easiest way to do that is to take your sitemap and save it as a text file.
#4 – Create page by page 301 redirections to redirect old urls to new urls
Let’s say that some (or all) of your urls have changed. For example the contact us page had this url http://example.com/contactus.html and with the new design you changed it to http://example.com/contact-us.
If you don’t want search engines to consider these as two different pages and if you still want any links that point to contactus.html to be transferred to the new url then you need to do a 301 redirection. A 301 redirection is the way to tell search engines that a page has changed url.
Another reason why you may want to do a 301 is to ensure that any bookmarks, social media links you have will still be working when the new website goes live.
Use the list you created in step 3 and write for each page the new url. If you are using wordpress (and apache in general) you can place the redirections in your .htaccess file (found in the root of your website).
A typical 301 redirection looks like this:
redirect 301 /oldpage http://example.com/new-page
The actual configuration depends on the platform you are using; read this nice guide on 301 from Google for more information.
#5- Switch to the new website (all at once)
This is a critical step and something that you waited for a long time. After all the hard work in designing, developing and testing your new website is ready to go live and it’s only a click away.
What you should do at this stage is make the switch to the new website all at once. The alternative way would be to do in stages, especially when it comes to big websites but Google’s recommendation is to do it all at once since this way will expedite crawling.
#6- Make sure that the new website is verified with Google Webmaster tools
After going live the first thing is to check that everything is working ok. I would also recommend to run a broken links check again just in case you missed anything from the last test.
The next step is to login to your webmaster tools (both Google and Bing) and make sure that the website is still verified. If not, you should verified it again so that you can monitor how Google and bing index the new website.
#7- Use FETCH AS GOOGLE to check that Google can properly read the new website
While in Google webmaster tools, use the FETCH AS GOOGLE option (under Crawl) and in particular the FETCH AND RENDER to make sure that Google can read the website correctly.
If there are no issues, re-submit the website and all linked urls to the Google index by clicking the SUBMIT TO INDEX button.
#8- Check robots.txt
Another thing to check at this stage is your robots file using the ROBOTS.TXT TESTER option which is under crawl. Robots is a simple file used by webmasters to either allow or deny access to search engines to the web site as a whole or to certain pages.
A wrong configuration in robots.txt can deny access to search engine crawlers and this should be corrected as soon as possible.
#9- Re – Submit sitemap to Google and Bing
Next and final step is to resubmit your XML sitemap to Google and Bing. If your urls have changed the new xml sitemap will have the new structure and this will help search engines index your redesigned website faster and avoid any unpleasant surprises with your rankings.
#10- Monitor your rankings
Last but not least it is recommended that you have a monitoring system in place before and after you do a website redesign. You can either use a ranking tool (I use serpbook but there are other good options as well) or do it manually by keeping a record of your ranking positions for different keywords.
What you want to identify is big changes in ranking, either positive or negative so that you can take corrective actions. Have in mind though that it is normal to see big fluctuations in the first few days after the redesign so don’t panic if you see a sudden drop or don’t get too happy if you see an increase. Wait for a couple of weeks and if things are bad for some pages then you can start worrying.
In most cases changing the website theme or urls will not have a negative impact. What is more likely to cause problems with rankings is a chance in the web page text. Dramatically changing the text is not recommended unless you are doing it for pages that don’t have a good ranking and you want to improve them.
Others things to know when doing a website redesign
Check your bounce rate before and after the redesign and if you see an increase (which is not good) then this means that user’s are less happy with the new design.
Changing the page content
As mentioned above, If you dramatically change the text of a page then your rankings may be affected and you won’t know if the new design or the change in text caused the issue. To avoid such unpleasant situations when doing a redesign try to change only items that are related to the design and look&feel of the website and don’t do any changes to the text. Once you go live with the new design (and possibly new url structure) and you are sure about your ranking positions then proceed with making changes to the actual page content.
User experience above all
When doing a redesign don’t forget about the user experience. A good website has many characteristics but above all it respects the user by providing them with a friendly interface. Make some tests and ask friends for feedback before launching a new design.
Social Media counts
Social media counts (likes, tweets, pins, +1s) will change if you change the urls. As soon as you go live you will notice that your social media numbers (for the individual pages and not domain) will go to zero. Don’t panic. It may take some time but sooner or later social media networks will read the 301 redirections and your hard earned social media ‘votes’ will be transferred over to the new pages.
Don’t be afraid to do a website redesign, if you follow the steps above your SEO won’t be negatively affected. On the contrary introducing a modern design that is faster, mobile friendly and easy to use without too much clutter will most probably improve your rankings and boost your website’s traffic.