A website redesign is a great way to improve the appearance of your website and keep your online presence in line with rapidly evolving web technology. The capabilities of web design have come a long way even over the past couple of years, so it’s no wonder businesses want their websites to look fresh and modern to keep up with the latest trends and impress their users.
However, a website redesign can have its pitfalls, particularly when it comes to SEO. It can be tempting to get caught up in a stunning visual design without considering the problems that can easily arise behind the scenes.
Depending on whether you’re planning incremental design changes or a full website redesign, factors such as the architecture and speed of your website play a pivotal part in your SEO performance. They should, therefore, be considered when it comes to making any changes.
If done well, you could benefit from enhanced SEO performance, increased conversion rates, and a better user experience. Done badly, and you could see your SEO efforts go to waste.
To deliver a great website to both your users and search engines, the following considerations should be taken for an SEO-conscious website redesign.
Understand your current SEO performance & set benchmarks
Consider this – what are you hoping to accomplish with your website redesign?
Understanding what your desired outcome is of changing your website appearance forms the foundation of your redesign process. If you’ve found yourself on this article, the likelihood is that SEO is something you might consider to be important. Therefore, understanding your current website SEO performance and setting benchmarks is going to be pivotal when it comes to making changes.
How is your website performing from an SEO standpoint?
In most cases, the first question you need to be asking is what your current SEO performance looks like. When you come to make any sort of changes, knowing where you currently sit will help you measure and control the impact of your work.
- What content is currently ranking or performing well that I’d like to retain? What are the keywords?
- Are there poorly performing areas of the website that are providing no value and can be cleaned up or removed?
- Is there any content I’d like to see perform better after I launch my new design? Are there keywords I’d like to see improvements for?
Once you’ve started to answer these questions, you can begin to form a checklist of key considerations and benchmarks that will help guide your redesign process. For example, exercising caution when it comes to redesigning high-performing content areas that you do not want to risk damaging when making any changes.
Using the tools available to effectively analyse and monitor your SEO performance is vital for success. Free software provided by search engines such as Google and Bing will not only collect data for you but provide valuable insights so you can pinpoint important performance metrics.
To name a few:
Conducting a manual review of search engine results pages can also provide raw and meaningful insight into your search engine rankings.
What is your current website health from an SEO standpoint?
Further to your initial performance evaluation, taking time to evaluate your current technical website health should be your next move.
A website redesign presents a fantastic opportunity to identify areas for technical SEO improvement on your website. Using a website crawler such as ScreamingFrog will allow you to crawl your website for free on up to 500 URLs. However, for larger sites, you’re better off using something with more capacity.
Some common things to look out for:
- Missing image alt text
- Broken links both internally and externally
- Missing or duplicate titles
- Duplicate content
- Redirect issues and 404 errors
Factoring potential fixes into your website redesign is a proactive way to help rather than hinder your SEO efforts.
Take a mobile-first approach to your website redesign
A study in 2020 showed that 68.1% of all global website visits in 2020 came from mobile devices, which is projected to continuously increase. This means a good portion, if not most of your potential users are going to be seeking out and discovering your content on their mobile phones. Looking at the device report in Google Analytics can help you understand how much of your traffic comes from mobile phones and other devices.
Google fully completed its rollout of mobile-first indexing in 2021, meaning that the search engine predominantly uses the mobile version of websites for crawling and indexing content. This means that designing for mobile should be a key component of your website redesign.
A good practice to follow is to create the designs for the mobile version of your website first, before even thinking about desktop. Spend some time researching the guidelines and standards for mobile designs so your templates are optimised for mobile users.
Some key elements to consider are:
- Responsive content for all viewports
- Legible and easy-to-read text
- Simple and easy-to-use navigation menus.
- Intuitive touch target designs
- A finger-first approach to interactivity such as scrolling, navigating and clicking
Using Merkle’s Mobile-First Index Tool, you can compare your mobile and desktop pages to identify any discrepancies between SEO signals. For example, you can ensure you’re serving the same content to mobile and desktop users.
Google’s own Mobile Friendly Test can also help you understand if your website meets the mobile benchmarks that many search engines set for usability.
Use a staging website
Making big changes to a live website is never a good idea. In making changes to your customer-facing website, you risk introducing bugs or breaking your code, neither of which are fun for users, search engines, or you (when it comes to fixing them). Therefore, it’s a good idea to use a staging website.
A staging website is essentially a carbon copy of your site that’s completely independent from the live website that your visitors and search engine crawlers see, making it great for experimenting and testing. In using a staging environment, you can carry out any changes before pushing new designs live, catching potential errors and bugs early on and mitigating SEO impact.
Depending on the scale of your design changes, you can leverage the use of a staging environment to roll out your updates in phases, rather than in one go. This, again, is good practice to catch potential issues before carrying out more changes.
Staging environments are created differently depending on your web stack, so it’s best to find out how to set this up for your particular project. However, the most important thing to remember from an SEO perspective is to ensure it’s restricted from indexing to eliminate the chance of duplicate content issues.
You can achieve this by:
- Blocking it in your robots.txt file
- Setting the website to noindex in your chosen CMS
Maintain consistent internal linking wherever possible
The internal linking structure is a pivotal part of site architecture and helps search engines understand important pages on your website. Making changes to this structure can affect the internal link equity you’ve built up over time.
As part of your initial website crawl and analysis, take time to understand the existing linking structure. In doing this, you will gain insight into which pages receive the most links internally, which receive the least, and what anchor text is used. You can then correlate this with your key pages on the website.
As a general rule, you should maintain consistent internal linking wherever possible. This will help to alleviate potential negative SEO impact and avoid confusion for returning website users when changes are made. This is particularly important when it comes to redesigning sitewide navigation elements like your main navigation menu.
That’s not to say avoid changing your internal linking structure altogether. If you want to give more weight or importance to a key page you’d like to see perform better, improving your internal links to that page can be beneficial. The thing to really bear in mind is a drastic change to your link architecture is likely to impact SEO, so should be factored into your website redesign.
Implement 301s & Avoid 404s
Think back to your initial website evaluation.
Ideally, you will want to retain the same URLs and URL structure that is used on your current version of the website. However, in instances where you have poorly optimised URL structures or want to remove redundant pages, it can be appropriate to consider these sorts of changes.
Whenever you decide to change URLs, even when you are not carrying out a website redesign, it is best practice to create 301 redirects from the old URLs to new URLs. In doing so, you will prevent creating 404 issues, which is bad for both user journeys and SEO.
Before you change or remove any URLs, it is worth reviewing your crawl data from your initial audit to see what internal links are already set up. This way, you can methodically remove or change all the inlinks to the new URL before creating the redirects to save you from setting up unnecessary internal redirect chains.
When you come to set new designs live, it is also worth running crawls on both the live and staging versions of your website to identify any discrepancies between the two and implement fixes before pushing it to your audience.
Control your page speed
Not only is page speed a ranking factor and SEO consideration, it’s more importantly a key part of your user experience.
There are a few basic measures you can take to make sure your new web designs are optimised for speed.
- Deliver images at their most optimal file size and utilise advanced formats (such as WebP, AVIF or Progressive JPEGs)
- Use a CDN
- Serve resources using HTTP/2
- Set cache expiry headers for static assets
- Defer non-essential resources to later in the page load if they are not part of the critical rendering path
With all this in mind, it’s a good idea to take a streamlined approach to your website designs and understand the speed implications of opting for more complex design elements within your page templates. This is not to say avoid using them altogether, but rather create them with a good grasp on how to deliver these designs in the best possible and most optimised way for users.
Page speed can be a complex issue to tackle. In the vast majority of cases, you will need to work closely with a developer to work through these important page speed factors and carry out necessary optimisations for your website designs.
Utilising tools such as PageSpeed Insights and WebPageTest can help you understand the full extent of the page experience you are delivering, which will be particularly handy for testing new designs and their speed impact on your staging site.
For more information on page speed and its SEO impact, I would strongly recommend taking a read of our Guide to Understanding Web Vitals Metrics for SEO.
Monitor the impact of your website redesign
Benchmarking and analysing your SEO performance at the beginning of your website redesign project is the key to monitoring the impact of your changes. You should, by this point, have a good grasp of your most important content and the tools available to help you monitor them.
Some of the key things to look out for when assessing whether or not your website redesign has had any SEO impact may include:
- Changes in organic performance, including organic traffic volume increases and decreases
- Noticeable differences in organic positions, both up and down
- A reduction in website conversion (such as online purchases, sign-ups or form completions)
Some fluctuations in SEO performance, even when you are not redesigning a website, are normal. It can be difficult to attribute small increases or decreases to your design changes. It’s worth using multiple different data sources when carrying out your evaluations (including the tools mentioned earlier in this article) to get a full overview and align any trends you notice.
Of course, it’s all well and good tracking and analysing your SEO performance, but how to investigate, understand and address any changes is another question.
In Part 2, we will explore how to tackle and understand changes in SEO performance as a result of implementing a website redesign.