Here are the main reasons why people redesign their websites:
- "We want to freshen the look/feel."
- "We need to update our content, to be more relevant for where we are today."
- "We have too much information on our website...we need to clean house and provide a slimmed down version."
It’s typically not until launch is around the corner that folks start asking about SEO. “Sometimes” they have serious discussions about usability.
As you’ve undoubtedly read in recent years, Google cares about the “quality” of a website. “Good looking” doesn’t have to be tossed out the window in order to incorporate SEO. You can find that perfect balance of “good looking”, “usable,” and “search engine friendly.”
Usability and SEO go hand-in-hand. Search engines want to rank websites that provide a quality user experience for the searcher. How that's defined can be somewhat subjective (every website is unique and its target audience will also be unique).
So, rather than speak to usability, let's look at common mistakes that can happen when you're redesigning your website.
Content Management System
This happens to be a sensitive topic for me, at the moment, as my company has recently completed an SEO audit of a large, e-commerce website that was built on IBM Websphere Commerce. Mind you, they are on an earlier version of Websphere (and newer versions have addressed issues that we’ve identified), but this system isn't (and the earlier version wasn't) exactly “cheap”, yet it has created numerous challenges for their SEO initiatives.
Newer versions have addressed these issues, so I don’t want the takeaway here to be “IBM Websphere is not good for SEO”. That’s not the point.
It is very important to understand the pros and cons of any platform you're considering. I’ve launched some very successful websites on WordPress and Magento (websites that do well with SEO), but you have to find the platform that is robust enough for your needs, while still having the ability of being SEO friendly.
Once you’ve moved past the selection of your platform, you must begin quality keyword research and competitive analysis. Many tools (both free and paid) are available for keyword research, including Google's AdWords Tool. For more on keyword research, check out these posts:
- End Dirty SEO Keyword Research Now!
- How to do Awesome SEO Keyword Research for a Standard Website
- How to do Awesome SEO Keyword Research for a Large, Templated Site
- A 6 Step Process for Keyword Research
- How to Find Profitable Keywords For Your Website
- Keyword Clustering for Maximum Search Profitability
Another great source for keyword research is your existing paid search campaigns. After all, you can see actual impressions and historical data on how these words have performed in terms of click-through rate (CTR), time on site, pages visited, and – most importantly – conversion rate.
OK, so the keyword research is done, but we're not quite ready for the graphic designer yet.
Once you know which keywords you want to target, you need to determine what it will take to compete (or if it's even feasible to try). If you determine that "travel" would be a great keyword, make sure have loads of content and links already, or have the patience to ride out the long process of building up this kind of authority.
You may want to re-think this keyword, unless your brand is already a household name. If you’d like to know how much content you – or your competitor – has around a specific topic/keyword, you can perform a “allintext:keyword site:www.example.com” search in Google to see what’s indexed.
A quick and easy way to check the competitive landscape is to do a Google search for your targeted keyword(s). Find the top 10 ranking websites, then do a "site:www.example.com" search on Google and see how many pages are indexed for these websites.
Make a note of these in a spreadsheet (first column – list your site and your competitors; second column – number of pages indexed, etc.). You can then, in your spreadsheet, use OpenSiteExplorer (or a similar tool) to determine the number of websites that are linking to each; not important for the redesign, but important to know from a competitive landscape perspective).
After you’ve done this, I highly recommend SEMRush. You can drop in these “top competitors”, see the “value” of their natural search engine traffic and identify which keywords are driving this traffic. You might note their “most important keywords” in another column of the spreadsheet.
Once you come to understand which competitors are most effective in their SEO efforts, you can dig deeper on how they have structured their websites. At this point, you’re starting to gain the intelligence that you’ll need to take into your information architecture.
Your goal should absolutely be to have a website that looks good, is search engine friendly, and provides a quality user experience.
This stage of the game is very important. You don't want to just throw together a bunch of pages with little meaning or pages that don't add to the user experience.
That said, there are ways to generate quality, useful content that is good for SEO and adds to the user experience. I can’t think of an instance when I haven’t recommend that someone add a blog to their website redesign plans (unless they simply don’t have the time or resources to post to the thing more often than once every three months).
The expression, "you don't know what you've got until it's gone," is so true for many redesign projects. There's such a rush to get the new website with the new “look/feel” live that you fail to review your analytics to see where you've been getting your traffic.
- Perhaps you'd want to run a ranking report, as well?
- Perhaps you had rankings and traffic for a page that was about to disappear from your website, with the new launch?
- Maybe you want to reconsider dumping that page?
- Perhaps you could, at a minimum, 301 redirect that page somewhere else, so that you have a chance of maintaining that ranking or at least keeping the links that were pointing to that page from now pointing to a 404 page?
Now that you’ve actually started to get into the “look/feel” part that everyone’s been so excited about, let’s make sure that the design is SEO friendly. As for our earlier reference of the client on IMB Websphere, they had category and product pages with some of their best content embedded within a graphic.
Once the website is in “full-blown staging,” you’ll want to check URL structure to make sure that there’s a logical flow and that main navigation is clear to focus on the key elements (most important) of your website.
Good URL structure would follow something like www.websitename.com/category/product-name with further “drill down” showing / category/product-name/more-specific-product-name/.
Be consistent. If you can, incorporate a breadcrumb trail within the website design.
To save yourself some headaches, make sure you 301 redirect every critical/important page of the old site to the new URL structure. If you can remember nothing else from this column, remember this.
If you can keep your URL structure the same during the relaunch, that's ideal. If you're like most, your URL structure will change. Remember that even a small change in the URL is a change and will require a redirect.
I've seen websites that were built out on a staging environment by their design agency, but lacked password protection. These development versions of sites were indexed by Google and, once launched, didn't do well at all because their content on the new site was a duplicate of the staging site.
The search engines didn't know they were the same company. Once this is live, it's very hard to correct. The design firm would have to 301 redirect every URL on the staging site to the new site's URLs.
Spare yourself. Make sure that the staging version of the website requires a login.
Network Solutions provides website redesign services. You can see how many different websites are listed on their netsolhost.com domain.
Hopefully, these tips help spare many of you from the pains that often go along with a redesign and, more importantly, save you time and money.