SEO & Web Design: 8 Must-Do’s During a Web Redesign
You work hard getting your website on Google search results. However, your design eventually gets outdated which can impact your site’s ranking ability. The good news is, SEO and web design go hand in hand when it comes time for a redesign.
So, with a little pre-planning, creating a new website design with SEO (and SEO for mobile) in mind will reduce the risk of your rankings from dropping slightly after your site undergoes major changes,
Follow these 8 SEO optimization tips to minimize the risks of a significant Google penalty during your website redesign.
1. Establish an SEO Baseline
You can’t tell whether your redesign is causing problems with your search engine ranking positions unless you know where you’re starting from.
First things first:
Conduct a thorough SEO audit of the original site before you start working on a new design.
Not only do you establish your SEO baseline, you can also identify structure problems that could be stopping you from going even higher in the results.
Of course, there’s more to it than just site structure.
I recommend giving our article, SEO Audit Best Practices a read through. We’ll tell you how to prepare for an SEO audit as well as introduce you to additional key points to be on the lookout for.
2. Future-Proof Your URL Structure
One of the most important things you can do for SEO during a website redesign is to pick a standard formatting structure and stick with it. (That is, if you haven’t already.)
Why, you ask?
Because, if you have multiple URL styles for each section of the website, you’re going to run into problems with your page rankings and, ultimately, getting your website on Google search results.
Furthermore, your website’s URLs are going to be one of the first things customers see and engage with when visiting your site. You want them to be logical and easy to remember.
Categorize your product listings in your URL
Let’s use our site as an example.
If you look at the top of the page, you’ll see a navigation menu with various categories. When you click on them, you’ll see a drop down menu with a list of services, etc.
The drop down items are sub categories that help Google and your customers more easily categorize your pages.
When a user sees a URL such as https://www.3mediaweb.com/web-services/web-design/ (Web Services > Web Design) it’s easy to see that web design is a service we provide and not, say, a blog post about web design, which we would categorize under https://www.3mediaweb.com/blog/category/web-design/ .
Additional SEO tips to improve website URL structure:
- Include keywords in your URLs
- Avoid extra verbiage, prepositions, and conjunctions
- Always use dashes instead of underscores (underscore will connect two words into one in the eyes of Google)
- Keep your URLs short, under 512 pixels or Google will truncate them
- Produce an XML sitemap
- Don’t forget about changing existing pages on your website, as you don’t want your new content and your old content to have completely different permalink styles.
- Make sure your information architecture accommodates your long-term business goals
In other words…
If you think that you’re going to add new categories in the future, ensure that you have a configuration that will organize everything properly.
You don’t want to go through the redesign and have to redo your URL formatting again a few months from now.
3. Put the Proper Redirects in Place
No one likes landing on a 404 error when trying to access a website.
After you change your website to a new URL format, it’s time to start redirecting older pages on your site so they forward visitors to the new version of the page.
The correct redirect syntax for this purpose is a 301 redirect.
This option tells search engines that the original URL has moved permanently to the new address.
All of the traffic going to the old pages will be automatically redirected to the new one instead. The search engines recommend this type of redirect so you limit the damage that you do to your SEO.
It’s also a rather seamless redirect for users, which improves the user experience.
Want to Boost The SEO of your New Web Design Even More? Update Backlinks
While a 301 redirect covers all the traffic that points to those pages, a better way to retain the SEO power of that link is to talk to the websites that posted the backlink.
If you have a way to get in contact with the webmaster, see if they can edit in the current address rather than the original one.
Remember that many website administrators have a lot on their plate. They may not be able to drop everything that they’re doing to change one link that’s buried in content from years ago.
So, be patient when you’re making these requests and understand that no one is obligated to agree to this.
4. Use Noindex in the Testing Environment
This tip might sound like a basic recommendation, but it’s an easy mistake to make.
And, unfortunately, the SEO of your new web design could be damaged without it.
If you fail to use noindex for your website redesign testing environment, you could end up hurting your live site’s rankings long before you’re ready to change it to the new design.
Google and other search engines may assume that the live site is filled with duplicate content since you have more recent changes in the testing environment.
You put yourself in a position where you have bigger problems than fixing problems caused by the new design and site structure.
Confirm that noindex is in place before you start testing anything in a search engine accessible environment. Handle this manually if possible, as your content management system may not put this tag in place properly.
5. Make your Website Redesign Google-Friendly
When it comes to SEO and website design, you want to please Google, and that means falling in line with what being a Google-friendly website means.
One of the key points is ease of accessibility, which means making your website easy to crawl for Google. The starting point for this is making your website design responsive by Google’s standards. This will allow you to be crawl-friendly on mobile too.
The content guidelines provide even more insight on what Google wants from a web design perspective. Google suggests that you use a text-only browser to see how the crawl bot might perceive your pages. The Fetch as Google tool is another method for figuring out how crawlable your website really is in Google’s eyes.
Pay close attention to what Google does not want.
Within the content guidelines, you will find many examples of that. For example, you should avoid iFrames completely unless you include “text-based links to the content they display.”
Once your website is 100 percent crawl-friendly, what’s next?
6. Improving Page Load Speed with your Website Redesign
Now you need to tackle the page load speed.
You do this because Google’s crawl bot will read your site’s data better if there’s less junk in the way.
Luckily, Google has just the tool to help when you’re working on SEO and web designs.
Let me introduce you to Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
You can learn a lot through the PageSpeed Insights tool. It checks for many website performance factors, including:
- Landing page redirects, which you should avoid.
- Compression, which you should enable.
- Your CSS, HTML, and JS, which you should minify.
- Your browser caching, which you should leverage.
- Render blocking, which you should not do.
- Your images, which should be size-optimized.
- Above-the-fold content, which should be first priority.
- Server response time, which should be below 200ms.
Make sure to also do this on any pages where the design is different — such as if you have a separate template for your blog section.
For more tips on improving your page speed, be sure to read How to Improve Your Website’s Google Page Speed Score.
7. Be Mindful of SEO for Mobile During Your Web Redesign
Seeing as how Google is now truly in a mobile-first world, understanding SEO for mobile is paramount in the success of getting your website on Google search results.
Again, the PageSpeed Insights tool is going to come in handy for this.
Once you’ve entered your URL into the tool, you will have the option to see a display of your website as it will render on a mobile device. Using this feature, you will be able to see exactly how fast (or slow) your site loads on a mobile device.
The tool will give your site a score based on it’s speed performance.
On top of that, it offers suggestions you can do to improve your page load speed, helping to automate the process a bit.
Make sure your pages render the right content based on the device and screen size. Test it with various smartphones, tablets, etc., to ensure the design is optimal.
The best course of action is to create a responsive web design for your website — as this is now the standard in SEO, website design, and web development worlds.
8. Utilize an SEO & Web Design Expert
Redesigning your site can be quite a pain, but it’s all to make the visitors happy. The rewards can be substantial — so long as you do not destroy your websites position on Google search results in the process.
Be careful, see it as a blank slate, and follow Google’s current expectations to succeed.
Our best advice?
If you want to avoid damage to your SEO during a website redesign, it’s essential to have the right assets available to your staff.
Bring in an SEO expert or leverage someone on your team that specializes in this area. When you involve them at the beginning of the project, you decrease the chances that you’re going to have to make significant changes to restore your original search engine rankings.
The SEO professional can also make suggestions on how to improve the design to account for the latest trends in this industry. Google algorithms change on a constant basis, so having an SEO specialist on-hand ensures that you don’t miss anything major that was recently implemented.
Most websites can’t keep the same design forever (unless you’re Craigslist). You have to make changes to account for the latest trends, develop new features and provide an excellent user experience.
Planning a website redesign?
Let 3 Media Web build you a modern, fresh website design using our SEO expertise.