How to redesign a website and not harm SEO: practical tips
August 09, 2023
Table of Contents:
"We revamped the site and traffic dropped by half!"
We have been contacted with this problem several times. It turns out that we were going to change the design, and at the same time we changed the structure, added functionality and adjusted the URL, but forgot to set up redirects. Meanwhile, a year has passed and it's too late to save the situation - the moment has passed and you need to start working again. That's why it's important to do everything on time during the redesign.
If you're just changing one visual for another, you have little to worry about. However, redesigns are often combined with other changes to a website that can harm SEO: changing or expanding the structure, adding new functionality, changing user paths, changing the CMS or domain.
We tell you what you need to consider when redesigning the site to avoid losing SEO-traffic In the article you will learn what to pay attention to, what you need to do necessarily, and what you should not do to keep positions or even improve them.
Make sure a redesign is really necessary
Reject the redesign if you are driven by any of these reasons:
My friend doesn't like it
Improve your site for the convenience of your customers, not the approval of your friends.
It's been a while since we've changed anything, let's do something new
Change the site for a specific purpose, not to give the appearance of active work and development.
The competitors have rolled out a new version and we need to
Focus not on the new"tricks" that your competitors used, but think about what problem they were trying to solve with the redesign and whether you have such a problem.
Don't just redesign anything to avoid ruining what's already working well. Arm yourself with an interface specialist or even a whole team that can audit the UI of your competitors' sites, create a Customer Journey Map and help:
- transform the site into more of a useful resource;
- Improve site performance and operation;
- reduce technical support costs.
What to do before the redesign?
To be able to monitor the effects of visual, structural and other technical changes, preparatory work must be done.
Measure the starting positions
It is important to record site visibility, average position, CTR, keywords for which the site has the highest visibility in search. This data will help to track the dynamics of changes and compare results.
Conduct a technical audit
Use one of the crawlers, such as Website Auditor or Netpeak Spider, to find existing errors and fix them during the redesign process.
Do a UX analysis
You need to understand what interface elements are used, how users behave on the site and what they are used to. Based on this data, try to preserve the main user paths and the location of key elements: buttons, forms, checkboxes, etc.
Gather links to the pages that generate the most traffic
Take them under special control and start monitoring user behavior on the site after the redesign. Try not to change their physical location on the server.
The most convenient way to gather data is from Google Search Console.
Copy the site and database
Backups will save you from disaster if something goes wrong.
What to control during a redesign to keep traffic coming?
Has the user experience been taken care of?
It happens that the design changes dramatically, new features are added, some blocks are moved, despite the results of UX-analysis. Regular users of the site at first sight may doubt its authenticity and leave, or at first they may be uncomfortable or unclear how to use the site now. This can all affect traffic and user behavior, help them cope with possible difficulties:
Divide one big update into several stages. Gradually change individual elements and sections of the site. A step-by-step redesign will save you from the natural rejection of the new by users.
Teach users how to work with the new design. Make tooltips that show where old features have moved to and tell about new ones. Not everyone reads the instructions, but it will help some part of users.
Leave the option to choose
- Release the new design on the new.site.ru subdomain and offer to try the interface in exchange for some bonus. On the subdomain, track user experience and collect feedback.
- Give the option to revert back to the old version for a while. You can use a pop-up window to inform users about what happened and offer the opportunity to use the old version of the site while you finalize the new functionality.
Conduct split tests between elements of the new design. Users will see different variants of the same page, and you will be able to test different interface variants and analyze user behavior to understand which variant is more convenient for them.
How is content being migrated?
Texts and metadata. All texts, title and description should be in their place, correspond to the topic and content of the page. Changes may affect important for SEO page titles, the old ones should be moved, and new ones should be prescribed. It is important not to mix up or forget anything, otherwise you risk losing positions.
Image metadata. Make sure that alt tags are prescribed for all new images, and that old alt tags are transferred and assigned to the appropriate images.
So that the "chips" in the design don't become a problem
- Animations and dynamic elements should not interfere with the user and should work correctly on all devices.
To make the transition to the new structure painless
Changes in the structure entail changing addresses and deleting pages. This may affect the positions of pages after redesign.
Don't change the structure if you can choose not to!
If you are sure that you can't do without restructuring, then make every effort to do it without losses. You need to make sure that, despite the "restructuring", users and search engine robots will be comfortable on your site.
- Don't drastically change user paths, location and appearance of buttons. This can worsen behavioral factors and reduce conversion rates.
- Try to keep the links of the pages bringing in the most traffic.
- Create a redirect map.
301 redirects redirect users to new addresses of requested pages. They can be set up manually or with the help of a CMS plugin. Make a list of pages that will change URLs and set up a redirect from the old addresses to the new ones.
For the pages that will be deleted, find suitable counterparts and direct users there. For example, if some categories or products are deleted, set up 301 redirects to the category above or to the main page.
This will help users who have bookmarked the site to get to the right pages, save the link profile and traffic from third-party resources. We try to preserve the link mass as much as possible, not just those links that bring traffic.
Create an informative 404 error page
Explain to the user why they ended up on this page, and add links to the most popular and important sections so they don't have to go back to search.
Have we forgotten about adaptive layout?
Or about the mobile version. Some of this has to be in the new design, otherwise you will lose mobile traffic.
What do you do when it seems like you're all set?
Check the site for technical problems
Test the loading speed of the site, make sure that there are no duplicate pages, correctly made linking and no broken links, the site opens and displays correctly on different devices, once again check the metadata.
What's up with the indexing?
Whether the site is open for indexing in robots.txt, whether tags canonical, noindex and attributes nofollow where it is necessary.
Content and metadata
All texts of landing pages have been moved and not forgotten about, they have not disappeared anywhere, old title and description are in their places, and relevant metadata are prescribed for new pages.
Check if you remembered to update the XML and HTML maps
The link to the new XML-map should be added to the webmaster panel, and do not forget to specify the availability of the map in the robots.txt file
- Whether Google Analytics counters are not forgotten, whether previously configured goals and e-commerce are working correctly.
If the site was moving to a new domain:
- add a new domain in the webmaster panel;
- change the tracked domain in the Google Analytics interface to a new one;
- whether the Google Analytics codes have been transferred correctly;
- check if all links and references to the old domain have been removed from the structure, texts and meta tags;
- change the contents of the robots.txt file.
What to do after the redesign?
Ask users to help you find bugs. You can "hang" information on the site that the site has been updated. Ask them to report bugs in feedback. This usually requires extra steps, simplify the process or give users a forum to discuss it together:
- Create a form on the site where users can write their impressions or report work errors.
- Use services to collect feedback and surveys. For example, HotJar, Survio. You will be able to get reactions, track bugs, and get suggestions from users.
- If you have an active audience in social networks, organize a discussion, ask whether the site is convenient to use, what you like and what you don't, whether everything works correctly.
Do a technical audit
Not all problems can be found manually. A repeat audit is needed to find potential sources of problems: broken links, empty pages, duplicates in metadata, incorrect micropartitioning, pages that take a long time to load, etc.
Track changes in Google Search Console
Fix the date of transition and track the dynamics of changes on the site as a whole and on key pages: site visibility, traffic, user behavior. Regular monitoring will allow you to promptly track the consequences of changes, correct errors, in extreme cases you can roll back to the original state in time.
Pay special attention to the correctness of redirects, promptly catch 404 errors and monitor changes in impressions and CTR.
Take the upcoming changes responsibly to maintain and improve your site's position:
- Make sure the redesign is really necessary.
- Prepare properly. Capture baseline data, conduct audits, create backups.
- Make changes gradually and monitor user reaction. If there is no such opportunity, do everything on a closed copy of the site and test everything well before pleasing users with global changes.
- Map out redirects and an informative 404 error page.
- Check the correct transfer of content and metadata, whether indexing is open in robots.txt, whether new sitemaps are made.
- Add up-to-date information in your webmasters dashboard and monitor the performance of your goals in metrics.
- Keep track of changes and incorporate user feedback.
Need to check positions on Google? The answer is here:
Get 300 checks per month absolutely FREE!
No credit card needed. No strings attached. 👍