Keeping SEO rankings after redesigning a website

Table of contents

In today's digital business landscape, your website is your most important tool to stay competitive. And just as every tool needs to be sharpened from time to time to remain effective, the same is true for your website. Customer expectations evolve over time and you must learn to change with the ebb and flow of customer demands.

Therefore, it is necessary to redesign your website every two to three years.

The purpose of a website redesign is clear: to keep your business in the sights of your target audience to maximise your chances of converting them into paying customers. It's to help raise awareness of your brand. But if it's not implemented well, it will do more harm than good. How exactly? By rendering all your previous SEO efforts ineffective and useless.

You have invested a lot of time, effort and marketing money to achieve your current ranking. You can't lose that in the redesign. Some businesses make the tragic mistake of thinking that one doesn't affect the other. But in reality, there are certain steps you need to take to make sure you don't sacrifice your SEO ranking when you switch from the old website to the new one.

Perform an audit of the SEO of your current website

Before making any changes to your current website, it is important to take stock of your existing website. This will help you decide what works and what doesn't.

- Analyse your current keywords

Find out for which keywords or phrases your website ranks well. You can use rank checker tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush. Likewise, check which pages generate the most organic traffic based on these keywords. Make sure that these pages are included in your new website and that you keep them as much as possible. This includes migrating the images, videos, metadata and file names exactly as they are. In order to keep track of all components, it would be helpful if you create a table where you can store all relevant data. You can use this as a reference and for comparison during and after the redesign so that you do not lose all the important assets.

- Understand your website architecture

There is a good chance that your URL structure will change slightly when you redesign your website. This is fine as long as the change is gradual and you inform the search engines of any changes. This means that once you have worked out the internal links of your redesigned website, you need to submit your updated XML sitemap and ensure that your 301 redirects, navigation links and page structure are consistent with it. This will help ensure that your new site structure displays seamlessly and provides an improved user experience. Site architecture doesn't just refer to how your pages are built. It also includes navigation and internal linking, as changes to your URL can lead to broken internal links on your pages. They have a lot to do with the user experience and are therefore essential to your website's SEO ranking, so you need to include this in your audit. There are plug-ins designed for this purpose that make this part of the redesign much easier. In addition, you can keep an eye on your internal link structure with the help of crawling data.

- Check the backlinks of your website

Backlinks are crucial to maintaining your SEO ranking and you need to make sure they are not affected when you make changes to your pages. Check all current links pointing to your website. If any of them point to a page that you are changing or removing, invest some time in contacting the relevant websites and asking them to update the backlinks. If this proves too difficult or would take up a disproportionate amount of your resources, you can set up redirects to ensure that your redesigned website continues to benefit from the traffic these backlinks generate.

Keep your old website live

It is not advisable to implement all the changes you want on your live website. Redesigning a website is a lot of work and you may easily encounter some problems along the way. If this happens on your live website, it could affect the user experience or, worse, crash your website completely. The bottom line is that your efforts to improve your brand could end up damaging it irreversibly.

The common practice in website redesign is to keep the original website intact and live throughout the redesign process. Having the old website to refer to when you encounter problems during the development of the redesigned website could be crucial and save you a lot of time, effort and financial resources in solving the problems.

You can keep your old website running during the redesign by creating an exact copy and placing it in a dev subdomain where all development and testing processes can run in the background. However, you need to make sure that the dev website is not accessible to search engine crawlers as well as internet users, so that search engines do not devalue your search rankings and users do not accidentally stumble across your unfinished website.

Crawl your old website

Once you have a copy of the website under a temporary URL, save a crawl of your old website. In doing so, you can easily export all elements that are important for your on-page optimisation. This includes your title tags, meta titles, meta descriptions, headers and alt tags.

A crawl of your old website is especially helpful to get pages that perform well in search results. Also, crawling your old site is helpful to protect the dynamic content types on your site when you move from development to live.

It is important to note that while maintaining high-performing pages is essential, some situations render this practice useless or impossible. For example, if your web redesign was forced by significant changes to your products or services, this would require a separate content creation and optimisation process.

If it's not broken, don't fix it

The fewer changes you make to your old website, the less likely you are to make mistakes. These mistakes may seem insignificant individually, but together they can derail your redesign project.

This approach is particularly pronounced when it comes to URLs. Keep as much of the original URL structure and page names as possible. Changes are fine as long as they are necessary and ultimately add value to your brand.

If you have content that is already performing well, it would also be in your interest to keep it. If you feel it needs to be reworked or could use a facelift, you can take care of it once the redesigned website is live and the content has been indexed and ranked. This point has already been mentioned in an earlier section, but it is extremely important and should be repeated.

Set up your 301 redirects

Once you have a detailed understanding of which keywords, pages and inbound links are most responsible for your current ranking, you can proceed with setting up your redirection plan.

For URLs that are affected by your redesign, you must use 301 redirects. A 301 redirect is applicable when you want to remove an old page and create a new page that is for the same purpose. You can also use them to move pages to other areas of the website without changing the page names.

Finally, a 301 redirect is also suitable for removing subdomains such as blogs or help subdomains, while all the components hosted within them remain in another area of your website.

It is important to note that you should set up your 301 redirects while the website is still in the staging phase. This will give you the opportunity to check every page you want to delete and not miss any redirects. You can also crawl the site to find any pages that need to be redirected. You can also export the scan data for further review. So once your website moves from the development phase to live operation, everything should work as planned.

So what happens if you don't set up a 301 redirect for a URL?

If you do not use 301 redirects or use them incorrectly, the page will display the error message "404 not found" when clicked. If someone visits your website and encounters this error message instead of being redirected to a page on your website, it affects the user experience and also hurts your search ranking.

Nevertheless, there are situations where a 404 error is useful.

For example, if you have pages that no longer add value to your audience or ranking, you can simply leave them as 404s instead of creating another page with similar content or redirecting to the home page and other non-relevant pages. Google rewards this approach over deleting the page or redirecting to any page on your site.

While a 301 forwarding permanently redirects from one URL to another, it also transfers the incoming links and with them 90 % to 99 % of link value. For this reason, this type of redirection is a much better option than the temporary 302 redirections.

A 302 redirect is only used when updating a web page, so the user experience is not affected as you only make your changes on that page. Still, using 302 redirects can be a little tricky. In some cases, it can even harm your SEO ranking. You need to be extra careful when using them.

Fix broken internal links

Once you have finished deleting pages and setting up 301 redirects, it is time to fix any defects in your internal link architecture. Any internal links pointing to permanently deleted pages must also be removed, while links pointing to pages that have been redirected to new URLs must be updated accordingly.

If you do not update the links to the new URLs, users could still reach the desired page because of the redirects. However, this would put unnecessary load on the server, which would affect the loading speed of your page. Ultimately, this will reduce the experience for your users and you will miss the opportunity to drive them to a profitable action.

Apart from checking the internal links of your content, it is also important to pay attention to your navigation links. Simple and stripped-down top menus and more functional footers are the trend today, which means that redesigning your website may involve removing some items from your menu and adding or removing new sections. Both could significantly affect your internal linking architecture.

Update your XML Sitemap

Once you have finalised your 301 redirects, your navigation and internal links, and your page structure, you can update your XML sitemap and submit it to the search engines. Make sure that all elements consistently reflect the new page structure so that search engines can more easily track the changes you have made.

Monitor the results

Once your redesigned website is live, you can now monitor the results to see if the changes you made were effective. While some fluctuations are to be expected at first, an effective web redesign will get you back to baseline within a month, if not sooner.

Take this opportunity to identify problems immediately so they can be fixed before they cause more damage. Monitor your performance on relevant keywords and pages to ensure that you maintain, if not improve, your previous rankings.

A technical site audit would be helpful to provide you with actionable information about existing technical problems. Online tools such as Moz and DeepCrawl are particularly helpful in identifying potential problems before they become issues.

Trust the professionals

The redesign of your website should reflect your SEO improve and increase your conversion. Why else would you go to all the trouble? Make sure you sharpen your tools the right way, so to speak, with a well-executed website redesign. Only use the services of reputable and reliable SEO experts in the industry, like those at wfDesign.

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