2020 has arrived and its times to refresh your website with a new design. But before you do it, do read up on this article to know what you have to take note to avoid a nightmarish start of the year.
When it comes to a refresh in Web design & Development on your website, the most dreadful question is how will it affect the SEO performance?
Will my Ranking Go Down?
The answer is Yes and No.
Yes, because if done incorrectly, all your effort for SEO might go down the drain as old URLs are not mapped to the new one.
But if executed correctly, not only will the ranking not go down – chances are that it will improve significantly as well.
A website redesign/development with SEO in mindset a strong foundation and boost to your current SEO when done and execute correctly.
Thus, whether, you have not done any SEO before or not, it is time you consider SEO in the process of your Website Redesign.
Check out the Ultimate SEO Checklist for Website Redesign below to make sure you will never miss a step ever again.
Here’s my take on the Ultimate SEO Checklist for Website Redesign insights from the infographic:
Before you start designing your site, below are the 3 things to do to make sure that you start off planning with a strong SEO foundation.
1. Re-define / Create Keywords Strategy
Keywords Strategy is the cornerstone of SEO. Your Keyword Strategy should involve selecting high searched keywords that are relevant to your business at the same time.
The most basic and quickest way is to start running your core keyword into Google Keywords Planner. (*You will need a Google Account to use it.)
E.g: If you are a florist in Singapore, start by “florist Singapore” into it to generate a list of keywords.
Look at the Search Terms’ Intent & its Avg. Monthly Searches and start “Add to Plan” for those relevant Keywords.
Do a check against the Singular and Plural version of the keyword to make sure you are targeting the right version as at times, the search volumes might be a huge difference.
Repeat the process for each category of your products. Eg: Wedding Flowers
Once done, download the keywords added into CSV format and at this point, you will have an excel of keywords that provide you with strategies & guidelines throughout your website redesign.
2. New Site Structure & URLs
Get an overview of the current site structure, metadata and URLs is vital to identifying exactly what is changing and why based on the previous step of re-defining/create keywords strategy. The best tools for it is so use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tools and it allow a crawl of up to 500 pages and should be sufficient for most site. (They have a paid version as well for those larger sites.)
At this point, you want to identify keywords that are with high search volumes that you might not have a page for it.
For example, after your re-defining your keywords strategy, you identify that “wedding flowers” have an average monthly search of 210, you will want to include a new category section of your products just to cater to it especially if you send flowers that cater for a wedding.
After that, you will want to make sure that keywords are included in the URLs as well and in this case, http://yourwebsite.com/wedding-flowers.
Document down the new Site Structure & URLs in word documents.
3. 301 Redirect Map
The biggest headache when redesigning a website is having 404 errors when someone visited your old URLs. Thus do prevent that before you even start designing your website, you should create a 301 Redirect Map.
If you have done up the previous step, by now you should have a list of all the old Pages URLs & the new Pages URLs and now it is a matter of matching it up.
Now, match each old URL with its corresponding new URL. For example, that the “About Us” page on the old site is going to redirect to the “About Us” page on the new site, etc and do make sure that all old URLs match with new URLs and these will remove any 404 errors when the site is launched. The best tool for this job is none other than just the trusty Excel document.
(Note: If the site is huge, automating the process is essential by finding the common differences between old & new URLs. like old URL: about.php to New URL: about then “.php” is a common difference here. If not possible, minimum do a redirect on most important pages for SEO to the new URLs and the rest can redirect to the homepage.)
So you have done up the steps above to set a solid foundation. But there are still things to take note during the redesign to prevent redundant work and issues later on.
1. Block Googlebot
Never forget to block Googlebot from crawling your staging site. Because, the last thing you want is to have Google index your great new content and when you launch the new site, the new content will have close to no value as it will be considered a duplicate.
There a few ways to do it but if you are using WordPress, it can be easily done by checking the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.”
The next way is to add the following code to every page of your staging site, which is very time consuming especially if you have a large site.
The last method is to put the following in your Robots.txt file as below:
*However, do take note that search engine might not always follow what is set at the Robots.txt and the safer option is to implement one of the other 2 ways above.
2. Unique Meta Tagging
A Meta tag tells Google what the page is all about and even though over the years, this has been a lesser emphasis in Google Ranking due to spam, it is still an important factor and can greatly increase the CTR rate when done right.
Thus during the redesign, you want to make sure you implement a unique meta-tagging for each page. Specifically, Page Title & Meta Description.
Page Title – A title tag is the main text that describes an online document and ideally 50-60 characters long.
Meta Description – Meta description tags are extremely important in gaining user click-through from SERPs. The description should optimally be between 150-160 characters long.
*Note: Try to include your main keyword at least once in Title and Meta Description when possible.
3. Site Speed
Nobody likes a slow loading site and neither does Google. Google has always rewarded sites that have clean codes and download quickly. This became particularly apparent when they announced its PageSpeed Insight Tools.
A fast loading site will also improve the experience for visitors as they are not left hanging. Do make sure that during the redesign, consider having unnecessary scripts or plugin if not needed. Here is a great article from the folks at Kinsta that illustrate how to improve your site speed in WordPress.
4. Image Optimization
When it comes to fast Site Speed, Image Optimization is the key. Images often account for most of the downloaded bytes on a web page. As a result, optimizing images can often yield the largest byte savings & performance improvements for your website.
The easiest way to shave off some extra bytes is to make sure that your image is saved at the actual size needed. Meaning, if it is only going to be displayed at 500px, do not save a 3000px image and upload it and always use the save as web option in photoshop.
The right file format makes the difference as mine. As a general rule, any transparent image in PNG & the rest in JPEG usually do the trick. But if you want to bring it even further, you will require an image compression software or plugin.
If you are using WordPress, there is a plugin called WP Smush which helps to compress images when uploaded to WP. Super handy plugin to have. But for those, Non-WordPress users, there is always Google to the rescue. (Which you can only use after your site is done and unblock Google bot)
(Note: Download the optimized images from the desktop view as the mobile view gives you the smaller file size for the mobile version unless you are using advanced techniques to serve a different version of the image on the smaller screen.)
5. Mobile Friendly
If you know a bit of SEO, then you must have heard of the April 21st, Mobilegeddon. The rise of mobile browsing means that when redesigning a new site, you definitely need to be considering the mobile aspect. Below are some of the things to consider:
- How the layout will change on mobile?
- How will the user experience and user interface be like?
- Is the vital information above the fold?
After the site is done, you can always use the Google Mobile Friendly Test to double-check to make sure that it is considered one in Google Bot’s eye.
(Note: You have to unblock Google bot before using it)
Now, your redesign is up and done up and ready to go live. But before you do so, make sure that you have the following check to ensure a smooth transition from your old site.
1. Install New / Existing Google Analytics
One of the common mistakes when launching a new site is the lack of transfer of the existing Google Analytics code. If your previous site does not have one, it is time to create a new one now.
If you have one, go over to Admin -> Tracking Info -> Tracking Code
Copy the code and make sure that it is on every page on your site and you are good to go for this part.
2. 404 Page Creation
As you prepare to launch a new site, chances are it will experience a few 404s – Page not found Error. Thus, you should always have an optimized 404 page in place in case that happened.
A 404 Page is not just a creative error page but can also be used to help discover new Pages and improve user experience by including a search function and a sitemap.
(Note: If you have a large site, at least include the key pages of your site on the 404 Page)
3. Sitemap Creation
A Sitemap is a directory place for the Googlebot and helps to identify all pages in your site especially now that you are going to relaunch a new site. You should always have an up-to-date sitemap both HTML & XML Format.
An XML sitemap is a document that helps Google Search Engine to better understand your website when crawling it. It is usually placed at the root domain of the domain. Eg. http://mydomain.com/sitemap.xml.
The XML sitemap allows you to specify additional information about each URL such as:
- When it was last updated
- How often the site changes
- How important the page is in relation to other pages
To generate a sitemap, you can use http://xml-sitemaps.com which helps to generate up to 500 pages or Screaming Frog (Free Edition). Should you require larger than that, a paid version of Screaming Frog will do the job.
An HTML sitemap is a page meant for the user to navigate around especially if your site is large and with a lot of pages. It offers a clear overview of all the pages of the site. This is often an overlooked step but it is essential as it enhances user experience and helps the user navigate around.
4. Robots.txt Creation
A robots.txt file is a file at the root of your site that indicates those parts of your site you don’t want to be accessed by search engine crawlers and there is definitely section in the new site that you do not want like the backend access and etc.
This is also a place to define the location of your Sitemap.xml for the Googlebot.
5. 301s Redirect to Old URLs to New URLs
On the pre-phrase section, you have already done up the 301 Redirect Map and now it is time to put it in place. A 301 Redirects is basically a permanent redirect and you are telling Google that you have permanently shifted to your new URLs and any link authority and juice should be pass over.
One of the easiest ways to do a 301 redirect is via the .htaccess file.
(Note: Do exercise with caution especially when touching the .htaccess file as it might make the whole site down when done incorrect. If unsure, do get a web developer to assist with it.)
6. Unblock Googlebot
The last but crucial step before launching a site is to make sure that you have unblocked Googlebot. Remove the following code from the header of each page.
Plus the following in robots.txt.
If you have done all the above, you are ready to launch the new site.
Your newly redesign website is live but that does not mean that your job is done. In fact, now is the time to testament if you have executed everything correct on all the steps above.
1. Create Annotation in Google Analytics
Annotation lets users leave shared or private notes right on the graphs in Google Analytics. This allows you to benchmark and monitor your traffic on the newly redesigned site.
It is so simple to create that there is no excuse not do.
- Choose the date you want to set (Launch date for the new site)
- Click on the Toggle Button below the date.
- Click on “Create new annotation”
- Set the visibility “Shared” or “Private”
- Hit “Save” and you are done.
2. 301s Redirect Working
Now that your new site is live, check that 301s Redirect is working again. Check, Check and Check. The last thing, you want to happen is that you lose all your SEO link juice and authority by not double-checking on your 301 Redirect.
3. Adjusting Goals in Google Analytics
Goals are important metrics to your site. It aims to see if your website is fulfilling its purpose. Never forget to adjust the goals especially now that your site URLs might have changed or even set up a new goal.
Go Under Admin -> Views -> Goals
Then from there, update on all the Goals with the new URLs. (If there is any change in it)
There is a great article from Kissmetrics that talk about the 4 Google Analytics Goal Types
Note: Critical things to check else you might be seeing no goals conversion once the new site is up.
4. Check Number of New Pages Indexed
Use site:domain.com in Google Search Box to see the number of pages indexed by Google. The number of pages indexed will likely drop off post-launch. Once 301s are picked up, this number should climb back up. Be sure to check that there aren’t duplicate pages being indexed either.
5. Monitor Google Search Console Errors
Google Search Console errors will begin to climb and then diminish as you evaluate and take care of them. Be sure to clean up 404 errors and 301 redirect them to the most appropriate pages for those that you have missed.
Check & monitor on the number of Pages Not Found & also on the number of URLs indexed based on the total of your new sitemap.
6. Monitor Ranking
You will also see rankings take an initial dip while the engines are picking up your 301s and assessing the new pages. It could be down for 1-3 weeks as Google picks up on the new redesign. Ideally, set the redesign during a low season of your business.
If you currently do have a rank tracking system, you can try out Pro Rank Tracker . It is free for up to 20 keywords tracking and ideal for just your own business.
One last thing…
Check and monitor the above lists for a few weeks and once you are confident that things are on track, loosen up a bit. That is where you can stop monitoring that closely and start working on promoting the site for more growth in your SEO and do the Happy Dance!