A web redesign can either boost your SEO… or erase all the traction you’ve earned so far. The choice is yours.
You may opt to give your site a “facelift” to keep up with changing user preferences, web design trends, or Google’s evolving algorithm. Or, you may decide to blow the whole thing up and build it again.
In either case, the last thing you want is a very expensive and beautifully designed website that just sits there. It looks great, but nobody sees it. More importantly, it’s being ignored by search engines and not producing any leads.
“What went wrong? We put all this time and effort into this and we’re no further ahead. In fact, we’ve lost ground!” This is the cry of too many business owners after a website rebuild.
So what went wrong? In a lot of cases, it’s because a design was prioritized over SEO. This can’t happen. You and your team need to stay focused on SEO before, during and after the redesign process, or all that work you’ve invested in SEO over the years may be undone.
Let’s make sure your SEO rankings stay intact and your new site is set up to move the needle forward. Here are a few common mistakes that companies make.
Mistake #1: Removing or Renaming Pages That Rank on Google
You will probably choose to get rid of (or rename) some of your existing web pages. Maybe you’re moving everything over to a new domain name or you’re trying to simplify your existing website layout.
Whatever the case may be, remember that Google uses the URL addresses of these pages when ranking your website. If you suddenly change the URL, you’ll have to start from scratch when it comes to SEO. Each page goes back to square one.
Your best bet is to use a 301 redirect when deleting or moving web pages. This shows Google and other search engines that your website has permanently moved to a new address, so you won’t lose your search rankings.
When moving pages to a new domain, this should be fairly straightforward. But, if you’re deleting pages that rank well on Google (more on that later), redirect them to the most relevant page of your new website.
If you’re simply cutting certain pages without offering a replacement, you’ll have to say goodbye to those search rankings.
And let’s not forget about backlinks, still one of the most important factors for SEO. Your backlinks account for about half of your SEO clout. But if you change or delete some of these pages, the links go with them.
Users that click on these backlinks will be greeted by a 404 page, which renders your link building efforts null and void.
Again, you’ll need to use a 301 redirect to salvage your existing backlinks. Users that click on these backlinks are redirected to your new website instead of staring at a blank screen.
Mistake #2: Not Checking Internal and External Links
Your new website needs to be navigable. But when you’re working in the development environment, things get lost.
The development environment is a separate workspace where web developers build the new website before it’s live and accessible to users. Things are bound to get lost in the shuffle as you move your new website from the development environment back to the live server.
For starters, you’ll probably use separate URL addresses in the dev site (development site) from those that eventually get published on the live server.
For instance, one of your web pages might be listed as “domain.com/client/products” on the dev site. Yet, on the live server, the web page shows up as “domain.com/products.”
This means you could be looking at a complicated puzzle of missing or broken links when you finally go live. Some internal links may appear as external links. They’re still pointing to the domain used in the development environment. It’s messy.
That’s why it’s so important to check all internal and external links before you launch your new website. Don’t worry! You don’t have to do it manually. Use a web crawl tool like Screaming Frog or SEMrush.
These programs quickly crawl and test every link on your website to make sure they’re all working. When you’re done, spend some time navigating the website to make sure everything looks, and works, the way it’s supposed to.
Mistake #3: Not Testing the Website’s Overall Functionality
Just like all those links, don’t forget to test the website’s overall functionality.
This means testing all:
- Input/lead forms
- Interactive programs
- Any other features on your new website
Users don’t like broken things. If something isn’t working properly, your users will abandon your website in seconds. This ruins your SEO efforts. If they land on your site from a search engine results page and leave because something is broken, Google will notice.
We tend to create entire web pages around individual features, so users don’t feel overwhelmed. Thus, inattentional blindness takes over as the user focuses on the task at hand. But if one of these features isn’t responding, there will be nothing else keeping users on the page. Make sure all your features are working properly, so your users can interact with your website with ease.
Mistake #4: Overlooking the Little Things: Renaming Images, Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Don’t forget to pay attention to all those tiny details. They can make or break your search rankings.
On-page optimization is the core of a successful SEO strategy. If you’re not familiar with the dos and don’ts of on-page optimization, take a look at Google’s official SEO Starter Guide.
You may have already optimized the individual pages of your old website, including:
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Alt text for images
But if you change this information when launching your new website, your search rankings could take a hit. If some of your pages were ranking well, leave this information as it is.
One of your web designers might speed past this step and rename one of your images “new image,” instead of using the alt text from the old website that earned you some SEO wins. If you decide to change some of your metadata, make sure it’s up to Google’s standards.
Mistake #5: Letting Search Engines Index the New Site Before It’s Live
Like an artist painting a masterpiece, you don’t want anyone to see the work in progress.
And you don’t want Google seeing your new website before it’s ready for its big debut. But Google might have other plans.
Unless you insulate your new website from Google’s robots, it might crawl your new website while it’s still under construction.
This means Google may create two separate versions of your website, which will frustrate even the most patient web designer. Your links will all be out of whack with some pointing toward the old website and some pointing toward the new website. Again, it’s a mess and untangling this yourself is awful.
To avoid this nightmare scenario, you can:
- Build your new website using a test domain
- Hide your website from Google’s robots
- Combine the two for even more peace of mind
If you want to build your new website with a test domain, choose a domain name that’s never been used before. Something like “www.skljgkllk.com” is sure to remain hidden, considering no one will be linking to that site.
Once you have a test domain, disallow Google’s robots by disabling the robot.txt feature in your website settings. Set up an empty index page, so your test website isn’t connected to your old website. Finally, you may even want to set up a password for your test website while it’s still in development to make sure Google can’t access it without your permission.
Mistake #6: Forgetting to Let Google Index Your Website After It’s Live
We absolutely did not want Google crawling the site before it was ready. But now it’s ready, and we desperately want Google to crawl it.
Whether you’re working in WordPress or another website building platform:
- Reconfigure your settings so Google can crawl and index your new website
- Change your robot.txt feature to open the door for Google’s robots
- Swap out your test domain for your real domain
- Disable any passwords you might have used to hide your test website in the development environment.
Mistake #7: Not Optimizing for Mobile
Mobile traffic is now ahead of desktop traffic and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Your new website needs to be responsive and mobile-friendly.
You may say, “Yes, but most of our target market won’t be using our site from a mobile device.” Fair, but don’t forget that Google has already started rolling out its mobile-first index policy. Which means it will crawl the mobile version of your website when composing its search results.
Even if you don’t think users will care about your mobile site, Google still will!
Make sure the web browser automatically resizes your content for the specific device. Otherwise, your users will have to scroll left and right just to see the heading of the page. You don’t want your users to have to pinch the screen to zoom in on a specific piece of content. This means everything needs to be visible from the get-go.
The text should automatically appear larger on smaller devices. You also don’t want to have two buttons too close together. Or your users might click the wrong one, which is insanely annoying.
To help users see your content more clearly, use image expansion tools that blow up an image when a user clicks on it. This is especially important for e-commerce websites where users will want to see a larger image of the product before making a purchase.
And don’t forget to avoid full-screen pop-ups on mobile devices. While it might work for desktop users, clicking out of pop-ups can be a major pain on mobile devices. So the user leaves.
With all that in mind, make sure you test the mobile version of your website before you launch using a mobile-friendly test like this one from Google.
Mistake #8: Forgetting to Minify Your Code
Start a project with the right mindset so you don’t waste time fixing mistakes down the line.
Minifying code improves the usability and speed of your new website. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, it essentially means simplifying your website code by removing redundant characters and processes.
If you have a large website with hundreds of indexed pages, this is especially important! If you wait until the end of the redesign process to minify your code, it will cost you more than time and money. It may even delay the launch of your new website.
Be practical when building your new website and start minifying from the start.
Mistake #9: Sacrificing Speed for Aesthetics
Your old site was ugly or outdated, so you upgraded and updated the look. But never sacrifice speed for aesthetics!
Sure, all those fancy graphics and background videos might look great, but they could dramatically slow down your new website.
Why? Because a single second delay in load time can result in a 7% loss in your conversion rates. And 40% of web users will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
If you want your new website to be successful, you can’t afford to overlook the merits of speed. Google is driving users towards fast, responsive websites. Unless you speed things up, the competition will beat you to the punch.
Use these tips to speed up your website as much as possible before you launch.
Build it Once. Build it Right
When you’re building a new site, you basically have 3 choices:
- “We’ll worry about SEO after it’s live.”
You don’t think you have the time or resources right now. But, the new site goes live with no SEO value. You actually drop in the rankings as you undo what you’d previously earned. Now, your site isn’t ranking or producing leads. You scramble to retroactively optimize your site…. Which may take months.
- “We’ll Worry About SEO After We Finalize Design”
Using the minifying code example from above, you now have to fix hundreds of pages that were built without SEO in mind. This could be massive rework. And rework destroys budgets and delays deadlines.
- “We’ll Worry About SEO Right From the Start”
Now, you’re thinking about SEO, right from the whiteboard stage. All considerations are met as SEO and design can work hand-in-hand to create something that is built the right way from the very start.
The site works out of the box, your previous SEO wins come with you to the new site, and you can start earning new clout right away.
Are you facing a site rebuild and want to make sure you do it the right way? We can help! Get in touch with SEO Toronto for a free consultation today.