How to Redesign Your Website Without Losing SEO?
In the changing cyberspace, website redesign has become more of a necessity than a choice. But, many website owners have lost a sizeable chunk of their SEO gains during each redesign. Reason? Poor preparation and haste.
Fortunately, an equal number of webmasters have executed this task seamlessly. They have taught us how to redesign a website without hurting its SEO. A condensed version in 10 steps is given below:
1) Download All Your Pages
Backing up your current website is the most critical step. You have three options to do this:
a) Using a sitemap
Your learning Content Management System will have an automatic sitemap generator. Use the facility to download it for reference after the website redesign.
b) Using a crawling tool
Crawlers like Screaming Frog will give you a pretty accurate inventory of your pages. You can also use this tool to find broken links, issues with metadata, HTML tags, and image size.
c) Using Google’s Search Console
It will show you all your website URLs that Google indexed over one year. You can export this list into a CSV file.
2) Use A Temporary URL
You should not let users see the website being overhauled. This runs counter to your efforts to enhance User Experience (UX). So, once you have an inventory of pages, copy the website onto a temporary URL. This means your old website will still be accessible to users.
Before altering the site, however, prevent search engines from indexing your test website. You can do this in three methods:
a) On WordPress admin panel, tick ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site.’
b) Add ‘noindex’ directive to all your pages
c) Prevent robots from crawling the website
Doing this will help you save your SEO gains and enable a smooth transition to your new website.
3) Do Your Website Audit
Redesigning is the best time to audit your site. If you do it right, these are the benefits you will get.
a) Higher SERP rankings
b) Higher Click Through Rate (CTR)
c) Higher conversion
d) Edge over competition
The first item on your checklist should be SEO performance. Re-orient your content for users instead of search engines. Do away with excessive keywords and shallow content. If you have Screaming Frog data, check whether your website has any of these issues:
a) Missing meta descriptions
b) Missing or duplicate page titles
c) Missing/multiple/duplicate tags
If you think fixing these would be difficult, seek help from your developer. Alternatively, you can get a tool like Woorank to get the task done.
4) Give Proper Redirects
Website redesigning can restructure the URL. As such, traffic from your old URL will hit a ‘404’ error. This is why many websites lose their referral traffic after a website overhaul.
One way to prevent losing such traffic is to use '301' redirects. These act as a bridge between your old and new URLs. The '301' redirects will also transfer the SEO benefits from your old URL to the new.
How to do it
The process is easy on a WordPress website. Many plug-ins are available for this task. Download and install one to your admin panel.
If you are using any other CMS, chances are there might be a built-in redirect system. Most domain name providers also help customers set redirects through their DNS settings.
5) Mend Your Internal Links
While redesigning your website, you might: 1) Remove a few pages; 2) redirect them to a new URL. These actions make a few updates to your internal architecture necessary.
In the first case, remove all the links pointing to the deleted page so searches don’t return '404' pages. In the second case, update all the links with the new URL. This update is done to reduce the burden on servers and to prevent loss of link juice.
You can find which pages are linked to the deleted one in the copy of your original website. In the 'referral' section, you will see a list of internal links to the deleted page.
6) Activate Your New Website
Redesigning done, it's time for you to publish the website. Before that, however, you need to do two tasks. First, remove the curbs preventing search engines from crawling your website. Secondly, remove all the ‘noindex’ directives.
You can use Google search console to observe how your website is functioning. These will also find you any broken links on your new website. Fix them without delay to avoid any penalty from Google and other search engines.
Now that you have a new website, you can start building on your SEO. Turn to Google Analytics to find new avenues of improvement.
7) Inspect Your URL
This is part of the post-activation procedure and is done to speed up indexing. Here’s how to do this.
1) Head to Google Search Console and find the URL inspection tool
2) Paste your URL onto the search bar of the tool
3) Click on ‘Request Indexing’
(*You can do this only if the search returns a box saying: “URL is on Google". If this does not appear, you need to resubmit your website to the search engine)
The next step is checking the status of your robots files. These control the access of search engines to your website. Any wrong configuration of the files will result in your losing SEO gains. Use Google Search Console’s ‘robots.txt tester’ to check their status.
8) Submit Sitemap/Monitor Rankings
An update to your website will change its XML sitemap as well. You need to submit this new sitemap to Google to help them index your site faster.
Up next is monitoring the website's SEO performance. Tools like SEMRUSH can help. They will list your rankings for keywords and display your link score. You can also track your rankings manually.
A point to note
It's normal to see significant fluctuations in rankings at first. This can be negative and positive. It will take a few days/weeks for search engines to precisely place your site according to its SEO status.
9) Use A/B Testing
In fact, Google encourages webmasters to use such testing as the purpose is to improve UX. You can also restrict the testing to users from a specific campaign that you can design with a tool.
But, remember to not restrict Google bots from accessing your test. This may backfire as Google will take it as a violation of its guidelines and initiate manual action.
The key benefit of this method is the direct access to user preferences. Steady use of this technique for a while can accrue valuable SEO benefits.
10) Do Content Overhaul after Redesign
Don't try to significantly alter your content during the redesigning phase. This might affect your rankings and you wouldn't be able to find out what caused it. As such, alter/remove only those pieces of content related to the design of the website.
After you publish your new website, observe your rankings for a few weeks. If there is a slump in rankings, it might have something to do with the redesign. If there is no change at all, then you can proceed with any content overhaul that you have planned.
Note: All redesign, be it for SEO, rebranding, or aesthetics, should improve UX. Focus on this aspect and your website will be shielded from the vagaries of algorithms.
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