How to Safely Redesign Your Website Without Destroying Your Business
Website redesigns are a scary proposition for many marketers and rightfully so, evoking a flood of concern such as:
- Will this work in all browsers?
- How will this affect page load speed?
- What’s the impact on conversions?
- How will this affect our SEO?
But why should you consider a redesign anyway? You may tell yourself that your present solution works great for your customers, so why change it?
The fact of the matter is that in order to stay modern and relevant, brands need to go through redesign cycles after a certain period.
It bears emphasizing that due to a couple of pitfalls which we will be exploring below, these redesigns have to be performed carefully.
There have been reports on companies that have not taken the necessary precautions when redesigning their websites and ended up losing a sizeable chunk of their natural search traffic; we are talking about up to 70% traffic lost.
Throughout this blog post, we will take you through a couple of steps to ensure that your redesign is executed by the book.
Crawl Your Site
Understanding all of your current URLs is of utmost importance. When you perform a redesign of your website chances are that your URLs will change.
If they do, it is absolutely critical that you let search engines know where those older URLs have been moved to.
If you don’t do this, you run the risk of hurting your website’s SEO and all the authority your older URLs have been providing can disappear causing a drop in rankings, search traffic, sales and most importantly, revenues.
Don’t worry, there are a couple of hassle-free ways to understand the current state of all your URLs. You can do this by crawling your own site.
This way you can get a complete picture and a better understanding of your URLs. There are some great tools out there that can help you do just that.
Xenu Link Sleuth is a great free tool that can help you get a clear picture of your URLs. Screaming Frog is another great tool for crawling.
However, you will need to pay for the service. As soon as the crawl report is done make sure you thoroughly understand your website structure. Pay special attention to URLs that need to be redirected or migrated.
Perform Inbound Link Analysis
These are essential for building healthy SEO. As mentioned before, when the URL structure changes, there is a chance you might lose the authority built by inbound links.
We recommend performing a complete inbound link analysis to fully understand your link profile. You should be looking into pages that are linking to your website and where exactly they are linking to.
These will then have to be migrated and when you do migrate them, pay special attention to 301 redirects when redirecting your old URLs to new ones.
There are a couple of tools which can help you conduct inbound link analysis, such as the Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO Tools.
Use them to your advantage and use them often as you should not skip this step when doing a website redesign.
Use 301 Redirect
The whole migration boils down to this. It is the single most important process to implement during the redesign.
As stated before, you need to make sure that your older URLs are properly redirected to new ones and you do that by using 301 redirects.
In turn, these will then securely pass PageRank from the old pages to new ones and, as a result, your website will retain its authority.
Don’t take 301 redirects for granted; there is a difference between retaining your organic search traffic and losing it, i.e. making your traffic look like the graphs at the beginning of the article.
At this point, we feel it’s important to stress that in order to prepare for the migration and do it properly, you will need to familiarize yourself with .htaccess, mod_rewrite, and ISAPI_Rewrite.
These will prove essential when you start doing 301 redirects or rewriting URLs. One other thing.
When redesigning or migrating a website, if you are by any chance able to retain the same URL structure of your original website, you should absolutely do it.
This will make the whole process so much easier for you and save you a lot of time because you will not have to deal with 301’s.
Analyze Site Reportin
This is one of the top priorities when redesigning or migrating your website – focusing on the top content, landing pages, and referring sites reports.
These reports will provide you with an invaluable insight into which pages are visited the most, which landing pages perform best as well as inform you which pages are receiving the most referring traffic.
If you notice that your landing pages are receiving referring traffic, this means that there are external links leading to those pages and we have already talked about the importance of your website’s authority.
Once you have thoroughly analyzed these reports, make sure to write down which pages need to be migrated to the new website
Don’t Stop Optimizing During Redesign
One of the worst things you can do is drop on-site optimization when the redesign is launched. This has been known to happen more often than you’d think and it could seriously cause damage to your rankings and traffic.
You should never neglect the benefits of on-page optimization, keyword research, and uniquely optimized pages.
Having the same general across-site optimization is not a great solution as it will not give you the performance you are hoping for.
The redesign of the website is a great opportunity to review your current optimization and take the necessary steps to ensure that your new pages implement that optimization as well.
To do this, there are several tools at your disposal that can help you analyze content optimization: SearchStatus, SEO Site Tools, etc.
Crawler tools, such as the Xenu Link Sleuth mentioned earlier, can also be a great help to view optimization. Remember, when doing a website redesign don’t forget to use this opportunity to find potential optimization concerns.
Both Google and Bing have their own webmaster tools which can be invaluable for webmasters. If yours is one of the companies that still doesn’t have an account, you need to create one immediately.
We can’t stress enough how great these tools are; you will even receive messages directly from the engines when something is wrong.
The tools allow you to verify ownership of a website, analyze diagnostics for your sites, view search queries, and click-through data, etc.
When it comes to website redesigns, however, the most important functionality about Google Webmaster Tools is that you can actually tell Google when you are moving domains.
Moreover, both Google and Bing Webmaster Tools allow you to monitor your site before, during and after the migration.
As you can see there are a lot of scenarios where a website redesign or a migration can go wrong if you do not plan accordingly.
However, implementing and keeping in mind the most important lessons we mentioned here should help mitigate all the side effects of a redesign gone wrong and make sure that you can rest easy knowing that you have done everything by the book.