Redesigns can make an ugly site pretty, but they can also make a high traffic site invisible. Keep these tips and no-nos in mind and you can keep yourself out of the CEO’s office.
SEO Redesign: Teamwork First
It should go without saying, but SEOs, developers and designers must work together cohesively during the site redesign process.
Too often, companies look to refresh the look of their site, and in the end, destroy their search engine presence. How? This can come from a myriad of reasons from coding errors, SEO unfriendly design practices, to even more disastrous practices (e.g., content duplication, URL rewriting without redirection, information architecture changes away from search engine friendly techniques).
Starting the redesign process with a collaborative call between the SEO team, designer, developer, and company decision maker(s) is always the best first step.
Often there are two attitudes present. Either, “We are redesigning our site and are not open to your ideas…but don’t let us do anything wrong,” or the other attitude (and my favorite), “Let’s work together to achieve a refreshed look and functionality and instill any missing SEO opportunities if possible.”
To satisfy both scenarios, your information delivery as the SEO should be to inform designers and developers of the mistakes you shouldn’t make and also to announce to all parties what SEO revisions should be made to the site along with what search engines have recently been paying attention to.
Page Load Time
A site redesign gives you the opportunity to re-code, condense externally referenced files, and achieve faster load times.
Don’t let the designer use the word “Flash” during your call(s). In an attempt to make a new site look pretty, the reliance on multimedia usage can have a negative effect on site speed. Ignoring this is bad, as Google has stated in the last year that site speed is a ranking consideration – also, slower sites annoy users.
Ensure that your development environment or beta sections of the site are excluded from search engine’s view. Relaunching your site when these elements have been indexed by the engines means your cool new site is a duplicate and you will be in a mad dash trying to redirect the development environment that was leaked. Also, make sure there are no live copies on other servers that have visibility with the search engines.
Another form of content duplication is the creation of new URLs without properly redirecting old URLs via a 301 permanent redirect. This will leave search engines wondering which page should be ranked.
It's also worth mentioning that 301s are a must and that 302 temporary redirects should not be used. Make it commonplace in the redesign process that no one used the word delete in reference to site content. You should never delete any pages, these should be permanently redirected to the most relevant launching page.
It’s important before you throw the site to the web that you make sure that you have identified what pages shouldn't be crawled.
Are there new parts of the site that shouldn’t be seen by search engines, login pages, etc.? Does the new site utilize dynamic URL creation or parameters that will need to be restricted?
Inversely, what pages might be restricted that shouldn’t be? Is there a folder in the robots.txt file that is inaccurately excluding pages that should be visible? Have meta robots tags been placed on pages that shouldn’t have been tags?
Make sure that your analytical tracking code is placed back in the page source before the site goes live. Additionally, any conversion pages should have the appropriate conversion tracking code appended. Nothing makes an SEO want to cry like lost data.
A redesign is the perfect time to rethink the direction of the site. Go beyond the need for a refreshed look and analyze the hierarchy of your content. Google is looking at this so be sure there is a clear view of the overall site theme as well as sub-themes flowing into the site through an appropriate folder structure.
If you're redesigning and shaking a site down to its core, there's no better time than now. You have the attention and devotion of the site developer to make your URLs right.
This is a continuation of the Information Architecture revisions. Be mindful of folder structure as well as relevant, keyword-rich text usage in page names.
Want to go the extra mile? Have the filename extensions removed so down the road if you redesign the site again and use a different script language you won’t have to do another URL rewrite.
Lastly, make sure all rewritten URLs include a 301 permanent redirect from the old URL to the new URL.
W3C/Section 508/Code Validation
Take advantage of this period to address code issues and how your site adheres to W3C and Section 508 compliance factors. Search engines want to see your excellence here and now is your chance to make their visit successful as well as your human site visitors.
Can you make the intended funnel of visit shorter or easier? This is great time for you think about what you want visitors to do. You may be able to remove a step in the purchase/goal funnel and increase your site’s convertibility.
To truly assess the success of the redesign from an SEO and sales standpoint, ensure that you have recorded several site statistics as well as focused monitoring in post-launch. You will be happy you did because it will either be a visible success story or a lifesaver for finding problems once the site launches.
- Run a ranking report.
- Check your pages indexed in Google and Bing.
- Run a page load time test.
- Perform a W3C code validation report.
- Note the bounce rate, time on site, pages per visits, and goal completions. Granted, this can be reviewed in analytics after launch, but be mindful that you should be watching this.
- Run a site spider crawl of the live site to get a good list of URLs on the current site. You may need this for any clean of missed redirects.
- Note the average time for Google to download a page and average pages crawled per visit in Google Webmaster tools. Also, “fetch as Googlebot” so you have a previous copy of what Google used to see.
Taking into account all of the mistakes you or the others on the redesign team shouldn’t be making will ultimately leave you much less stressed after the site launches. Meanwhile, minding all the opportunities that a redesign presents from an SEO and usability standpoint can lead to a successful launch and a fruitful post-launch environment.
Now get out there and show them how it’s done!
Meet Josh McCoy at SES Chicago, where he will further disuss this topic in the SEO & Website Migrations: How to Have a Smooth Transition session on Day 3 (Nov. 15).