How to Avoid SEO Disaster During a Website Redesign
Redesigning or migrating your website is a huge undertaking. Protect your investment with this SEO checklist for website redesigns
The word “disaster” probably got your attention and in this case, it’s not the least bit hyperbolic.
Website migrations that don’t account for SEO or are undertaken with hasty and/or weak plans for SEO can be disastrous.
If you’re doing a website refresh, migration, and/or relaunch, you likely have solid reasons for doing it and expectations for improvement in specific areas like UX, brand perception, and conversion goals.
SEO is essential for helping you achieve all of the above.
In this column, you’ll find important pre-launch and post-launch steps to ensure that SEO is prioritized in your relaunch so you can avoid disaster and enjoy the best possible outcomes for your business.
Work through this piece as a checklist as you plan and execute your website redesign.
Think about what it is you’re hoping to accomplish with this investment in reimagining your website.
Whatever else you hope to gain, you definitely want to protect the value and equity your site has built up over time. You don’t want to lose current rankings, link value, or traffic — and you don’t want to spend months to recover or rebuild them, either.
On top of that, you likely also want to improve organic search performance.
Goals & Project Plan
There are likely some pretty compelling reasons why you are embarking on a website redesign.
Those could be tied to:
- Business use-cases.
- User experience improvements.
- Marketing initiatives.
- SEO improvements.
Setting appropriate goals is a key aspect of ensuring the project’s success.
Establish your baseline and benchmarks, as you’ll want to be able to confirm improvements and ROI on the project.
Most web projects follow a specific plan or agile methodology. The project owner typically manages this plan in an account of service, project management, product, IT, marketing, or other aligned roles.
Make sure your plan accounts for SEO at every step so you aren’t surprised by any unintended consequences.
Content & Information Architecture
Both the context of the website subject matter overall and sub-topic your themes are critical to SEO success.
This affects the specific content on the site and how that content is organized.
Changes to the information architecture, sitemap, and overall content plan in the redesign can impact SEO, and ensuring that everyone on the project understands how is important.
You want to make sure pages valuable to your SEO strategy are not omitted from the site going forward, and that the overall message and theme of sections of the site are not diluted by the design.
Use a crawling tool (e.g., Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl) to find all pages of your website.
Then, with your team, work from your current sitemap on requirements for the new one. This will be your guide through the rest of the steps in the redesign process for SEO.
There’s a basic user experience case to be made for ensuring that you map out 301 redirects for all pages that are getting new URLs and those that are going away in the redesigned site.
We never want to serve up a 404-error page to a user if we can avoid it.
Search engines are okay with 404s if we are hoping to have the content removed from the index. However, any link equity you’ve will be lost if backlinks to your site result in a 404 error.
Ensure that all pages with links pointing to them are (at the very least) properly redirected, especially if you don’t have control over ensuring that the links are updated to the new destination page URL.
If you have a large website, this could very well be the most time-intensive and important part of the redesign SEO process.
Use the crawl that you did earlier for your sitemap planning to determine all URLs that need to be redirected.
You can also gain a lot of insight from Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools as to which pages the search engines crawl on an ongoing basis, to make sure you don’t miss any redirects.
When you have all redirects mapped out, ensure that they are implemented at the server level or in a site plug-in or utility and are ready to go for launch.
It is difficult to do this work after launch, as the damage has often been done with search engines and users getting 404 errors. Every passing minute, hour, and day equals more lost opportunity here.
Even when your SEO professional can use forensics to find the old site URLs and implement redirects, you’ve lost precious time. You’ll have to take the short-term hit and hope to get back the relevancy and authority status you had with the old website.
At launch time, follow along with the go-live checklist and perform any possible quality control checks of the work you have done on the staging site to date.
Don’t give the go-ahead for launch if any of your on-page work or redirects are not in place or tested.
It is much easier to slightly delay launch than to undo damage later or – exponentially worse – to have to roll back to the old website (ouch).
It feels good to be done with the hard work involved in SEO for the relaunch and the migration overall. Now, it’s important to shift your mindset to a monitoring phase.
For the next 1-2 months, closely monitor Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to watch for reported 404 errors, crawl errors, and any HTML on-page issues detected. Tackle these quickly.
Remember that SEO is not a one-time thing.
Once the dust has settled and the monitoring phase is in motion, you can go back to your original plan and goals and measure the new site’s performance.
From here, you can resume your normal ongoing optimization plan.
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