How to Avoid SEO Catastrophe During Your Website Redesign

Article Overview

There’s a lot more that goes into a website redesign than simply getting a web agency to sparkle up your site. If you want to keep your Google rankings the following is some great advice for getting a website designed while maintaining your SEO rankings.

How to Avoid SEO Catastrophe During Your Website Redesign

May 14 2021

Sprucing up your website is a great idea. Improving your online image with a great looking website can have great results and bring in more customers.

Giving your website an overhaul can significantly impact your SEO rankings if your web agency isn’t aware of the protocols. 

At Hopping Mad Designs, we have seen many businesses online rankings plummet after launching a new site because they ignored some basic rules of the website migration process. Yes, they might have made the site load faster, made the user experience more enjoyable and perhaps helped with sales in the very short term. 

Tweaking the website is only half the process; the other is the migration. Get it wrong, and your in for a wild SEO ride. Watch those much-loved rankings plummet over the next couple of weeks; this is a certainty!

Website redesigns are a must for your business.

Many SME’s are not worried about their website until they have to. They are probably doing ok with sales and inquiries, and their rankings on Google are also consistent, so why bother changing? This attitude can linger for years until one day, a brand spanking new competitor with a shiny new website starts taking all the business. Watching your competition do it bigger and better than you is when the alarm bells start to ring, and you decide it’s time to be proactive and get a new website.

Reasons why your business might need a new website include:

1) You still have an HTTP and not an HTTPS at the front of your URL. While this is a technical reason, it may highlight the age of your website and point out that you haven’t updated it in a while. This is a quick fix, but it can affect your Google rankings; it trusts HTTPS sites. Even Google tells us to secure your site with HTTPS.

2) You still have photos of old staff that no longer employed. 

3) Your websites don’t reflect your brand or business any longer.

4) Your website isn’t mobile-friendly, which is a massive reason why you need a new look. Your customers are on the go and are browsing on their websites when searching for a product or service. If you are not catering to this new mobile active market, then you are losing business. Statista tells us that In 2017, 75.8 per cent of the Australian population used a smartphone, and the share was estimated to reach around 80.1 per cent by 2025. This represented just over 21.5 million smartphone users across the country.

5) Your website takes longer than a few seconds to load. Slow load times are a conversion killer and will turn customers away.

I have written other reasons why people leave your website, which you might identify with.

Stuffing up your Google rankings with a new website is common.

At Hopping Mad Designs, we have redesigned countless websites without any sudden drop in rankings for our clients. Why? Because we follow a rigid checklist that we adhere throughout the migration process. You don’t want to stuff this process up as it can harm businesses.

Following are some fundamental mistakes many SEO professionals, marketers make during the website migration process. Knowing these are extremely helpful if you want to have a crack at this.

Poor Planning

You have not invested the time during the scoping and UX phase of the design process to learn the businesses goals. For example, there might be redundant services that you no longer wish to have on the new site. Conversely, you might want to replace old services with new ones or remove outdated products. All these need to be noted in the scoping phase so your web developer can implement them in the design phase. Having a correct and neat URL structure will help with the migration process.

Let me break this down further.

Let’s say you have an eCommerce website that sells tennis shoes, and you have replaced them with football boots.

Your URL structure needs to change from:

companyxyz.com.au/products/shoes/tennis

to

companyxyz.com.au/products/shoes/football

And you have to add a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one. In this way, you don’t lose any link juice built to the old URL. Let me explain. Your old tennis shoes URL would have built up some trust, authority and rankings over the last couple of months or years. It probably ranked well on Google, so you want to pass this good authority to the new football boots URL to rank quicker.

301’s between old URL’s and new ones are critical to a successful website migration, especially if your radically changing the structure of your site.

Many businesses had their website built using content management systems that need upgrading to WordPress websites, which involves a whole new URL structure. This means you will need to 301 redirect a whole bunch of old URLs to new WordPress style URL’s. 

If you have a large website, this could be the most time consuming and essential part of the redesign process. I suggest leaving these to web experts that have a sound background in 301 implementations ( unless someone is able to clearly explain this process to you).

Failing to do this 301 redirect for the migration will result in Google deindexing all your old pages and you losing all that great Google juice built up over the years. Failure to redirect old URL’s will serve up a whole lot of 404 errors ( page not found ) which is a poor customer experience and can marginally damage your brand.

If you keep the same sitemap and website structure, you don’t have to worry about 301 redirects in rare cases. 

I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to go in and rescue websites post-launch that have not implemented 301’s correctly. Rankings have tanked, business owners are freaking out, and it’s a complete mess. 

All WordPress websites will have a 301 redirect option in the dashboard that you can easily use as shown below.

wordpress 301  redirect example

Once you get the hang of it; 301 redirects are easy to implement.

On-page Optimisation

You have to make sure all new on-page elements in the redesign are Google compliant. 

Essential on-page must-haves include page titles, descriptions, page load times, and the content needs to reflect the intent of that page for the user. In other words, all separate page elements need to line up nicely to give users the best experience possible. This is where your web design team must have a thorough knowledge of SEO, as the two disciplines need to work together cohesively.

Launch

Don’t do the launch on a Friday afternoon, as issues can and most likely will happen. Wait till Monday and go through your launch checklist. The most crucial thing is to check for broken or missing links. Never rush this process as you may miss something. WordPress has a broken link checker, which is a handy tool to have.

Post website launch SEO checklist

Any decent web design agency will monitor the website after launch, and the following is a comprehensive list of things they need to be watching.

1) Check redirects

All 301 re-directs need to be in place. Check to see if any of your main keywords have dropped on Google after the launch. If they have, this may be a result of missed 301’s. Businesses have rung me up in a panic complaining that their main keywords are no longer ranking, and it’s always the same; the web agency forgot to do the 301’s. 

2) Test Site-to-Live Site Audit

You might have implemented all the correct on-page elements on the test site, but have these been taken over to the new site? Go through all the main landing pages and check for apparent anomalies. Also, don’t forget about any schema markup you have on the site.

3) Website Speed

Please don’t assume that because you have a new website, it will load faster. You might have new plugins or graphics that can slow page speeds. Pingdom allows you to check page speed load times and make corrections to increase site speed.

4) Submit XML Sitemaps

When you are 100% satisfied with your 301 redirects and all the on-page elements, it is time to submit the XML sitemap. 

5) Monitoring

For the next couple of months, keep a close eye on the site and see if any issues arise. There shouldn’t be any major hiccups, but there’s always the chance you could have missed something—login to your Google Webmaster Tools account, which will highlight any issues such as broken links etc.

6) On-Going SEO

Now you have your new website and things seem to be going well; you need to maintain or improve your rankings which involves an SEO campaign that should be part of your marketing mix. A new WordPress website might give you a bump in the rankings, but that’s about it. To remain competitive and take business from larger companies, you MUST do SEO – simple as that.

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