An SEO-Guide to Website Redesigning

Website redesigning is something you are always persuaded and sometimes compelled to do especially when you operate in a highly competitive environment. You are always itching to do better, wanting more traffic, sales, conversion and revenue, striving to keep people longer on your website to improve your user experience metrics especially bounce rate, wanting to do more to get better ranking and never satisfied with current performance.

Improving website performance is something you will always want to do and it is normal for ever goal oriented website owner and administrator to strive towards better performance. One way this performance is achieved is by improving your website design. As a service provider, we have been motivated by our goals to embark on several redesigns and it has become a part of our quality improvement process. But design changes can have some impact, positive and even negative, on your Search Engine marketing campaign and ranking goals if serious attention is not paid to their impact on website ranking. Because we've been through that road, this guide can be seen as our advice based on our experiences and what we think you should pay attention to when redesigning your website.

So, here is our take.


Does your website really need a redesign?

In the introductory paragraph, we shared some thoughts on redesigning a website as part of a desire to continually improve the marketing process and improve website performance. The question on whether a redesign is needed might therefore be sounding simple and having a straightforward answer. But no, the answer is not so easy.

Many times, people think their websites are not performing and a redesign is what is required  but that may not always be the case. Sometimes, a simple A/B testing will show that you only need to change some metadata and implement simple redirects.

To answer our question, above, quite simplistically, suffice it to say that before you embark on a redesign, you need to consider its impact on your current search engine ranking and marketing campaign. Also consider if you have the time to do a thorough work or should you hire an expert, will you be able to verify the design improvements with your in-house personnel, how much improvements do you expect from the redesign process and will you be able to measure the changes incorporated into your new design to help achieve those improvements. If the answers to these questions are to the affirmative, then you can embark on your website redesign process.


Key Reasons a Why Website Redesign Will Be Necessary

Here are the top reasons you should consider a website redesign:

1. Your design is outdated

Imagine that you built your website some seven years ago with a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla. You should certainly have an outdated website and a redesign should be of necessity. Your website look and standard is a key factor in conveying trust and authority. If you have a website that is no longer attractive and not in tune with modern standards, then you certainly need a redesign.

2. Website conversion is less than acceptable

Conversion rates are very important for business websites. If your website conversion rate is less than expected, then there will be a need to review the site and consider a redesign. Decisions about conversion rates should be relative. You will need to compare industry averages with your website conversion levels to determine if you are actually underperforming.

3. Poor user experience

User experience, UX, is an important aspect of website performance. UX is also a Google ranking factor. If you are having poor conversion, high bounce rates, low dwell time, poor sales, and performing poorly on other user experience metrics, you need to review your website UX and take action on the areas that need improvement.

A weak UX performance is certainly a good reason to consider a redesign because improving your UX performance will improve your website conversion rates and improve search engine rankings.

To assess your website UX metrics, your Google Search Console and Google analytic reports should provide significant actionable guidance. You will need to look at such analytic metrics like conversion rates, bounce rates, sales, dwell time, and more.

4. There is need to improve functionality or change your design framework

There are functionalities you may want to introduce to your website which may not be possible with your current design. There may also be a need to change your framework to achieve the design standards and functionalities you need. All these will justify a complete redesign.

Sometimes, you could find that your current design framework does not support your automation goals. Such situations will compel a redesign of your website.

5.  You need to implement improved SEO practices

Search Engine Optimization, SEO, is an important and critical element of every marketing campaign. If your website is not ranking well and you are able to determine that it is a design problem, then you have to quickly consider a redesign.

In some cases your SEO may be difficult to improve and current best practices may just be impossible to implement because of an outdated framework upon which your website was built. In cases of that nature, you simply have to consider an overhaul and a complete redesign.


SEO Guide During a Website Redesign

Now, if you have reviewed your website and decided that a redesign is absolutely necessary and in the interest of your goals, here is our guide for your redesign process to achieve a better SEO performance or at least, not to hurt your SEO.

1. List your goals

Begin with an SEO audit of your current website. For this purpose, there are a couple of free analytic tools that can be helpful and should provide sufficient insights into the report you need to act on.

Primarily, you should analyze and assess your website's SEO in the areas of On-page SEO, Backlink audit. Most of these are intertwined but your audit report should be a good guide to improve your SEO.

2. Audit Your Internal and External Links

You need to determine the internal links that generate lots of traffic and the links that need improvement. Keep in mind that internal links are also important to your ranking. You also need to audit your external links to put together the links you will need to disavow if necessary (although in modern practice, Google has said you may not necessarily be needing the disavow tool anymore as its algorithm is able to detect and ignore spammy links to your site). Google appears to understand that competitors can use this method against websites and so have simply decided to ignore spammy links instead of penalizing the sites. However, it should be mentioned that having a large amount of external links from spammy websites can be an easy road to a penalty from Google if not halted.

3. Decide on Your Redesign Method

Basically, this involves whether to design your website all from the beginning, designing or modifying your existing live website. The approach you choose will define how things will go.

Redesigning an entirely new website

In this case, we strongly recommend that you set up a different folder. You will be able to test and implement new templates, adopt a completely new framework for your website and make all the desired SEO improvements before you move your content into the home directory folder or redirect your homepage to your new directory using the .htaccess file.

4. Warning: Backup your website

Before you commence making changes to your website, it is important to keep a safe and healthy backup. If things go wrong and you are locked in, unable to revert, restoring your backup will be the safest and last option available.

Please do not commence the process of modifying your website without having a safe and healthy backup.

If you redesign offline, you will be able to save browsing data and time with improved speed of your desktop computer but you can't test the performance of your live website until it is uploaded.

Redesigning by modifying your live website.

Usually, this option can have a lot of impact on your live website. Changes made to your pages, especially your homepage can affect your website rankings temporarily. We recommend that you decide on the changes you wish to implement, possibly take notes of them before you begin making changes.

5. Implement SEO changes

Based on the notes you have taken down during your initial website audit, you need to implement the necessary changes to enhance your SEO performance. Very important at this phase will be your On-Page SEO as well as your technical SEO.

6. Speed up your website

To a large extent, this will be affected by the framework used in building your website. If you have implemented a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, OpenCart and so on, we advise that you speed up your website with SEO plugins applicable to your framework. Pay particular attention to images and compress them to the best sizes possible in order not to lose quality. Take note that speed is a Google ranking factor and will also significantly influence user experience.

For a simple guide on website speed optimization, follow these guide: A detailed guide to web page optimization for better ranking

  1. Optimize your images. Using some online optimization tools will help here.
  2. Minimize redirects. It is better to always redirect to the destination pages to avoid a redirect loop. Minimizing the number of redirects can be very helpful.
  3. Implement page speed recommendations using the .htaccess file. Usually, this will imply adding some simple codes to enable mod-deflate, Gzip and the page speed modules.
  4. If using a CMS, there are optimization plugins that should achieve all these for you. You may want to check the applicable developer for the best recommendations to implement.

Use the Google pagespeed insights to get additional recommendations and how to improve speed performance.

For a detailed guide on how to speed up your website, read this post on: A Practical Guide to Page Speed Improvement

7. Improve Core web vitals

Core web vitals are part of your overall page speed improvement strategy. Here is a quick guide to improve core web vitals:
  1. Minimize heavy background images.
  2. Minimize third-party scripts and widgets likke facebook widgets, live chats, etc.)
  3. Compress your images
  4. Avoid third-party fonts
  5. Avoid pop ups
  6. Reduce and compress HTTP content

8. Set up 301 redirects

Ensure that your entire website homepage redirects properly to a single destination to avoid duplicate content issues. Whether you choose to use the version with or without www, you need to implement a 301 permanent redirect to avoid duplicate content issues. Check your website to be sure that the versions including http, https, www and non-www all point to your preferred page.

You can look up the detailed tutorial on this at: How to Properly Use Redirects on Your Website

Implement 404 custom error page

Ensure that deleted pages are properly redirected to a 404 error page to avoid displaying the offensive "page does not exist".

You can look up the detailed tutorial on setting up 404 pages at: Best Practices for Managing 404 Error Pages

9. Implement Canonicals

Make sure that your preferred URL is set as the canonical URL for your page. With most CMS this process is automated but static pages built with HTML need to have the code inserted into each page.

10. Audit the structure of your new site

Testing the structure of your website will involve checking its use of Headings (H1 - H6), and the structure of the headings. We recommend that you use just one H1 heading on a page and make the content of your headings relevant to the keywords you want to rank for.

You will also need to look at the link structure on your website. Please keep in mind that you should be focused on your real visitors and not to impress the search engines. You should have some reasonable number of internal links, your links should not use dynamic parameters meaning that they should be search engine friendly links and your links should not be too long.

Note that there is nothing wrong with having a few external links on your page, especially the links to your social channels.

11. Create a new sitemap and submit it to Google

If you did a completely new design then you should create a new sitemap and submit it to Google. Sitemaps help Google understand website structure and can help the crawling of your website too.

12. Review your new website

Now, once you have completed all SEO mplementations, check your website with good SEO tools and compare your score with those of leading competitors.

It is strongly recommended that you review your website with the Google Pagespeed insights. The tool now assesses your website SEO.

13. Make your website your default live web page

After you confirm that everything is okay and the scores are good, you now can make your newly developed website the default. For most development tools, you will simply need to move your old website into a different folder and copy the content of your new website into the public_html folder.

If you find some errors, check the paths to your files, directories, permissions and database.


Final Words

As the internet changes, there will always be a need at some point to redesign your website. In doing so, you need to preserve rankings and improve SEO performance. In this post, we have shared what we consider the best practices that should guide your website redesign process to protect your ranking gains and also improve other aspects of your SEO.

Make sure that you tidy up your on-page and technical SEO. Remember to prioritise your website speed very and guide against large errors especially 404 errors which might emanate from URL changes. As much as possible, therefore, try to retain existing URL structure except they are not search engine friendly.

Finally, continue to review your page and improve on its performance by checking for errors and fixing them. SEO is an ever changing activity and you need to constantly review your website performance in light of new developments.

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