So you’re thinking about a website redesign but you don’t want to hurt your SEO standing. Kudos to you for giving SEO some thought before making any serious changes.
Read on for 5 important SEO considerations for website redesign that will equip you to make an informed decision.
Site Redesign Consideration 1: What Google Thinks About Your Domain Name and URL
The URL (uniform resource locator) of your site is simply the web address where your customers and prospects find your business on the world wide web. Many people consider the URL to be a secondary consideration to what the actual “site” looks like, and think that it can be changed easily with minimal impact. These people are wrong.
In the eyes of Google (and therefore, SEO) your URL basically is your website. Google (or more technically, Google’s crawler agent known as Googlebot) has likely spent years getting to know your home on the web via your domain name and all URLs associated with that domain. Googlebot is out there crawling at least some portion of your site each day, and using the information it gathers to update its index.
What’s Google’s Index?
Think of the index as Google’s library and Google as the librarian. The web pages on your site are the books in this metaphor. When someone comes to look for a book (enters a search query in Google), the Google librarian searches through the index / library to see what search result / book is the best fit for the search. In other words, the pages on your site must be in Google’s index in order for them to show up on the Google search results page.
What Does That Have to Do With Changing my URL?
What Google knows about your site and all your pages is inextricably linked to your domain name and URL structure. Therefore, any changes to your URL isn’t simply changing your web address to Google. Instead, it’s effectively creating a brand new page for Google to crawl and getting rid of your old page. To you, it might be one page with a new URL. To Google, it’s two pages. And the new one (your updated URL) is foreign to Google. If you don’t know what you’re doing, this is perhaps the quickest way to torpedo your SEO performance with a site redesign.
For more on what Google thinks about URLs – and how something called a 301 redirect can help when you do need to make changes – check the video below.
Site Redesign Consideration 2: It’s All About Links, Baby
Links are the currency of the internet. Straight SEO cash, homey.
Why is that? Because Google only wants to rank sites that it deems trustworthy (to provide a good user experience and keep us using Google!) and uses link signals as a proxy to measure trustworthiness. In other words, if your website has links pointing to it from other websites that Google knows and trusts, Google sees those links are effectively vouching for the trustworthiness of your site. That is the principle of link equity in SEO, which is one of the most fundamental concepts of how the internet works.
Wait, What is Link Equity?
Link equity is the idea that links have value (equity), and this value can be passed from one page to another. Link equity is at play when dealing with links from one domain to another (you would call these external links) and also in dealing with links that go from one page to another on the same domain (internal links). Both external and internal links have massive implications for SEO.
What Does This Have to Do With My Site Redesign?
During a typical site redesign, at least one one of these two things will often happen: the URL structure will change in some way (see consideration 1 in this guide) and / or some pages will be deleted. A deleted page is similar to a URL change in that Google likely had a perspective on the page before it was deleted. If we don’t give Google some special instructions about that page, our SEO performance can suffer. It’s important to document and research any pages that might be deleted in a site redesign. If these pages have external or internal links pointing to them (which they should), they have link equity that would be stranded without any further action.
What Can We Do About it?
A 301 redirect is our friend here as well. Not only will the 301 redirect send users from the old (deleted) page to a new page that is the closest fit, but it will transfer the link equity that had been built up in the old page and pass it on through to the new page.
As a website increases in the link equity it has established, it increases in something called “domain authority”. On the one hand, domain authority is a made up SEO metric that rates the power of a domain’s link profile on a scale from 1 – 100. On the other, it is also a very helpful metric and can help marketers understand their likelihood of ranking for a given keyword against their competitive set.
If you want to learn more about domain authority and how it all works, here’s a video link for future viewing.
Site Redesign Consideration 3: What Are Your Goals?
There are lots of good reasons to launch a website redesign project. Here are a few of them:
- The site is old and bulky and loading slowly. User experience metrics like bounce rate and time on site are troublesome. The site needs to be redone in a lightweight framework to remedy the situation.
- The site has a confusing architecture and layout. Users are confused and can’t find what they need, as evidenced by low conversion rates and lots of negative feedback to customer support.
- The site was never optimized for Mobile. In a Mobile first world, this is a negative for user experience, SEO ranking potential, and has all sorts of implications for limiting the effectiveness of your business.
- Your company is going through a serious rebranding initiative. Not only is there a style guide refresh, but perhaps even the name of the company is getting a facelift! The old website experience will no longer be relevant
Bad Resigns to Redesign a Site
There are also some flimsy reasons that sometimes precede a website redesign. For example, the CEO deciding that he thought a new domain name would be “cooler”, or the head of Legal deciding that a new, single page site would be a more fun user experience than the current “boring” one, are not good reasons. If you don’t have a good reason, it may be time to reconsider whether you should do the project (more on that below). But let’s assume you do have a strong business case for a site redesign. What do you do next?
Come Up With Goals for Your Site Redesign
Let’s say you are an online retailer and your ecommerce conversion rate (i.e. the percentage of your traffic that results in a completed purchase) is 1.5%. You’ve tried everything within your current site setup and you can’t get it any higher. You know your conversion rates are lagging industry standards and you believe a new site on a new platform can help you achieve your goal.
If you increased your conversion rate to 2.25% with a brand new site, you’d expect your overall revenue to jump by a whopping 50%! If you use that as a goal, not only do you have benchmarks to help establish ROI for your project, but you can use that goal to gear all of your site redesign decisions towards creating a smooth and frictionless experience and checkout for your customers. In short, you’d have a goal and a filter through which to to run all of your redesign decisions.
You might be a software provider and use your website to generate leads. If your current site translates 3% of your web traffic into people who submit a lead form to talk to sales, you might decide that you need to drive a 4% conversion rate in order to take your business to the next level. A 4% conversion rate on your site would translate to a 33% uptick in revenue compared to the 3% baseline. Once again, this would be a great business case AND a single orienting goal to help make your redesign decisions.
How Do You Track Website Goals?
This calls for Google Analytics. Google Analytics is installed on 87% of the top 10,000 websites in the world and is a solution for web tracking and performance measurement. Setting up goals or “conversions” within Google Analytics is the only thing keeping your business from being able to measure conversion rates with accuracy. If you haven’t done that yet, the video tutorial below shows how to set up various types of conversions in Google Analytics, including destination goals, session duration goals, and event goals.
Site Redesign Consideration 4: Give the Map (Sitemap) to Google
Google can discover the content on your site, but you can make that simple with a sitemap.
What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is a file that acts as a blueprint for your website. It contains information about the pages and files on your site and tells Google (and other search engines) where to find them. It makes it easy for search engines to crawl your site.
Why Do I Want to Make it Easy for Search Engines?
The internet is a big place and Googlebot has a lot of work to do. In the eyes of Google, your website has something called a “crawl budget”. Basically, this means that there are only so many crawls your site is going to get. As a webmaster, you like those crawls because they are opportunities for Googlebot to discover your awesome content and rank it on the SERPs.
Submitting a sitemap helps Google to use your crawl budget as wisely as possible and keeps the focus on the pages that you want to be indexed and ranked.
How Do I Create and Submit a Sitemap?
Some website tools create their own sitemaps. Squarespace, for example, automatically adds to your sitemap as you create new pages. If you have a WordPress site, you can use Yoast to help manage your SEO settings. This Yoast sitemap guide shows how to access and edit your sitemap in WordPress and then submit your sitemap to Google using Google Search Console. If you go forward with a site redesign, uou should absolutely submit a sitemap to Google.
For more reading about sitemaps, you can check this documentation from Google.
Site Redesign Consideration 5: Check Your Speed
In general, fast websites perform better with SEO than slow websites.
Why Does Site Speed Matter for SEO?
Google is all about user experience. Google cares about you and I having a good experience on the websites we find on Google. If we have a good experience, we’re likely to continue to use Google in the future. If we have a bad experience (like a spammy site or a slow and bulky site), we might consider using Bing or (gasp!) Duckduckgo in the future. Google does not want that and therefore prioritizes fast websites that provide a good user experience.
How Can I Measure Site Speed?
There are a number of good tools for measuring site speed. Here are a few:
- Here is PageSpeed Insights from Google.
- This GTmetrix tool is another good one.
- The team at Pingdom also has a solid site speed measurement tool.
- My personal favorite is this tool from experte.com because it allows you to do a bulk analysis rather than go through the tedious process of checking one page at a time.
You can use any of those tools to check your site speed. You can also use Google Analytics to measure and track site speed over time. All you need to do is adjust your site speed sample rate. The two minute tutorial below has the details.
How Does a Website Redesign Affect Speed?
It depends. If your updated site has a lot of bulky media files (pictures and video) it can actually make your site slower. That would be a pretty rough outcome. Here are few practical things you can do:
- Get a baseline reading for site speed today (check out those tools above).
- Consider your goals. If site speed improvement is a major goal, you should redesign with that in mind and intentionally be thinking about making your site more streamlined. If site speed improvement is not a major goal, you only need to avoid making it slower.
- Be careful with media files like images. Sometimes, images can be removed. Other times, the file sizes can be reduced to limit the drag on the site.
- Check your redirects. The fewer redirect “jumps” the better in terms of site speed.
- Review your hosting. Some hosts are faster than others. If you’re doing a website redesign, it might be worth exploring a hosting migration as well.
Should You Proceed With Your Site Redesign?
Well, this also depends. Like nearly all decisions in life, there is upside and downside to proceeding. If the upside outweighs the downside, it’s probably a good idea to proceed. If the opposite is true, perhaps better to work on improving your current site setup.
Possible Benefits of a Site Redesign
There are more than a few, including:
- You can more accurately reflect your brand to your customers and prospects.
- If you have a specific goal (or goals) in mind, you can design an experience that is tailor made to accomplish those goals. This gives you a better chance of achieving those goals.
- A redesign can be an opportunity to increase site speed. If you’re feeling bogged down with a bulky site, a redesign might be just what the SEO doctor ordered.
- In the long run, you can improve SEO. A site redesign is not naturally going to be a plus for SEO. However, if you make changes that provide a great user experience (for humans and Googlebot) and have great content, you can expect overall SEO performance to increase in time.
- Your business can make more money. The more important your website is to your sales process, the more financial upside there may be. Increasing conversion rates by 5% or 10% can directly translate to a 5% or 10% increase in revenue. That’s serious potential.
Possible Drawbacks of a Site Redesign
Again, there is a lot to consider:
- These projects can be expensive. According to Neil Patel, a site redesign for SEO can start around $15,000 and can cost upwards of $75,000. That’s some serious cash.
- If you don’t have a goal in mind, you might spend a lot of money and not get positive results. Of course, you can mitigate this risk by working with an experienced firm that has been around the block.
- If you don’t know about the SEO considerations detailed here, you are more likely to harm SEO performance than help it. This one is the big one for me. The more established your site is, the more equity you’ve likely built in your site and the bigger the risk is.
A site redesign is a major decision. It can lead to significant gains but it also comes with risks. Having a plan and working with a trusted firm can help capture the gains while mitigating the risks. This is generally not the kind of work we do at Root and Branch, but we provide a couple names if you’re exploring.
Whatever you decide, knowing about these SEO considerations is a big part of the process. So congratulations to you on making it tot he end. I hope you’ve learned something new.
About Root & Branch
Root & Branch is a certified Google Partner agency and focuses on paid search (PPC), SEO, Local SEO, and Google Analytics. Learn more here, or hit the button below to check out YouTube for more digital marketing tips and training resources.