How do I use SEO when redesigning a website? Here’s our Technical Guide
Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the top services requested by clients but is often misunderstood as simply developing content with designated keywords. A holistic approach to SEO must be the strategy in order to be successful including technical SEO, content strategy, link building, and citations, among others.
When redesigning your website, you must be very careful not to harm the reputation you have already built up with search engines. We’ve developed a handy checklist of important tasks to consider when redesigning a website to also help ensure it achieves the rankings desired/doesn’t lose rankings. It’s also not a set it and forget it, the one-time task for SEO when redesigning a website but must be actively maintained. It’s important to set that expectation prior to the website redesign as well.
Audit your current site
If you haven’t done so already, it’s best to measure the performance of your current site and run it through some audit tools prior to the website redesign.
We like SEMrush for many reasons but their Site Audit tool is valuable for showing you where your site scores and for pointing out exactly how to improve it in the eyes of search engines. It also clearly prioritizes any issues into Errors (most serious), Warnings and Notices so that you can focus your efforts on the most important fixes.
We also like Screaming Frog for their SEO Spider Tool. At a basic level, you can clearly find any broken links/404 errors, page titles, and meta descriptions that are missing or need optimizations. We’ll discuss that in more detail below.
You should also set your site up on Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) if not already done. There are a number of valuable features in Google Search Console but with Google’s latest Core Web Vitals update, which began in mid-June 2021, the Page Experience Report in Google Search Console will be particularly valuable. If possible, you will want to fix any poor user experiences identified by this Page Experience Report or make note of them to fix with your website redesign.
Lastly, your current site should already have Google Analytics implemented and you’ll want to ensure you move that code over to your new website vs setting up a new account. You’ll just want to note in Google Analytics the date your redesign goes live so you can measure performance and quickly notice any potential user experience issues if there is a measurable dip.
If you don’t have it implemented on your current site already, it could still be beneficial to implement it immediately so that you’ll have some type of data on the performance of what is soon to be your old site design. This can and should help dictate some decisions in the redesign as well to improve the user experience or ensure you do not hinder an already optimal one.
Set up the redesign on a dev URL/staging environment
When starting your website redesign, you should always have a development URL/staging environment where the design and development are taking place. This is a given but everything should be tested on a dev URL vs in production on the live site.
Ensure that the dev URL is not open for search engines to crawl it and index it as that can harm the rankings of your live site with duplicate content penalties and more. Just like you’re not ready for the public to see your new site yet, you’re also not ready for search engines to know about it! Set the robots.txt file to User Agents: *Disallow to prevent this from happening.
Create 301 redirects
When redesigning your website, it’s best to keep your links and new URL structure the same if possible to avoid losing any link juice since those pages have already been indexed by search engines and have history, may have other sites linking to them, etc.
If that can’t be the case, you’ll need to create 301 redirects. An easy way to redirect the old links to relevant pages on the new site if your site is WordPress is by installing the Redirection WordPress plugin. Do this prior to launching your new site to avoid any users experiencing 404 errors when your new site launches.
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Designate page titles and meta descriptions
Page titles and meta descriptions are snippets of HTML code on every page of your website. They show up as previews on search engine results pages (SERPs) to tell a user what the page is about. Typically page titles should be between 50-60 characters and meta descriptions should be between 150-160 characters to avoid being truncated in SERPs.
If you run your site through the audit tools mentioned above, you should have a clear picture of what your current page titles (also called title tags or meta titles) and meta descriptions say. For any pages that are missing page titles or meta descriptions, have duplicate ones, or don’t have optimized ones, you’ll want to ensure to write new ones prior to or right at the launch of the new site. For WordPress sites, we like using the Yoast plugin to do this and find that the free version has enough features for what we need.
Identify opportunities for internal linking
Each page of your website should have at least 300 words of content and 600+ for maximum SEO benefits so that search engines can understand what those pages are about in order to serve up relevant ones to users in SERPs. Look for opportunities for internal linking to help distribute page authority and ranking power throughout the site. A good link-building strategy always includes third-party sites linking into yours but the easiest way to build links is to do it yourself on your own site as well!
Open up the Robots.txt file and submit the XML sitemap to Google
First, do not forget to open up your robots.txt file to allow search engines to crawl it when ready by setting it to *Allow and then block (*Disallow) any subdirectories you do not want crawled if any. If you installed Yoast, it will have a noticeable warning that lets you know if you are blocking robots.
After the site has launched, submit the XML sitemap to Google via Google Search Console to initiate a crawl of the new site. You can easily find the XML sitemap if you are using Yoast by going to SEO > General > Features and then clicking on “See the XML sitemap.” Copy that sitemap URL. Then In Google Search Console, you’ll see Sitemaps in the left navigation bar and paste that URL into the “Add a new sitemap” section and Submit.
Ongoing monitoring and optimizations
SEO is never just a one-time setup situation. After your new website launches, you’ll need to continue with ongoing monitoring and optimizations. The tools mentioned above are great resources to do this, along with an ongoing optimization strategy for on and off-site SEO including regular, robust content creation, technical SEO audits, and fixes, link building, citations, and more.