SEO for Website Redesigns: Why You Should NEVER Have a Decline in Search Traffic
There’s an untruth that many website design firms still shockingly tell clients when working on a redesign project: You can expect a decline in search traffic after going live. This, I can say with 100 percent certainty, is false. In fact, the expectation of any website redesign should be both immediate and long-term improvement to search visibility.
So why is the search decline myth perpetuated? Usually that’s the result of two things:
- Improper content planning.
- Misunderstanding the technical aspects of search.
It goes without saying you need someone who understand search engine optimization at the table during the website redesign process. Often, though, SEO is neglected because the firms working on your site are only tasked with design and development, while business keep the content updates in-house. Even if content is part of the process on the agency side, it’s focused on brand messaging and not going after new search opportunities. At the same time, then neglect maintaining the search mojo for highly trafficked and highly ranked existing content.
It’s true, I’ve been part of redesigns where there was a strategic reason to decrease search visibility for certain keywords. But that doesn’t mean you give up on search visibility. A dedication to content planning and technical details should be part of any redesign. So what do you look for?
Content: Should it stay or should it go?
It’s accepted that those old keyword pages that companies built years ago need to go. Bland, rank-focused keyword content doesn’t help anyone will just result in people quickly leaving a page that doesn’t meet their expectations of content. But if you look at the data, chances are you’ll see pages that were previously built this way that carry search weight that need a facelift.
In Google Analytics, you can cross reference Landing Page data with Source data to find those keyword focused pages with clout.
These pages are often eliminated in content planning with a redesign firm because the content structure was designed for old SEO. But if they rank and get traffic they should be retained and rewritten so as not lose the search traffic. Even if you’re updating brand messaging to not include the feature in your product or service as an offering, you can update the content to guide people to the solution you’re really offering without putting it in the structure of the new site.
Technical: Helping developers build with the basics in mind.
I don’t expect website developers to know everything about SEO. They’re tasked with bringing the designs and content to life on the web. That’s a big task for any front-end person. That’s why you need to know the things to look for to help them build a website that’s optimized for search.
Each page should have a topic focus, represented by a primary keyword phrase. And that primary keyword should be used in specific locations throughout the page for basic on-page optimization.
So what do you need to know? Here are five important technical aspects of on-page SEO you should ask about when talking to a redesign firm.
- URL – Include the primary keyword phrase in the URL, as cleanly as possible. Ideally like this http://www.yourwebsiteURL.com/primary-keyword-phrase
- Title Tag – Structure the title that appears in the browser tab like this: Primary Keyword Phrase | Brand Name (60 characters max)
- Meta Description – Copy promoting page containing primary keyword phrase but treated as marketing copy for the page so that people who see it in search will be enticed to click. (150 characters max)
- One and Only One H1 Header Tag – Use the primary keyword phrase in a headline coded with the H1 tag, but never have more than one H1 coded on a page.
- Alt Text & Image File Names: Describe image with primary keyword phrase included. For example, “seo-redesign-chart.jpg” with the alt text “SEO Redesign Chart.”
Of course the content on your page has to be rich, valuable content that tells a story about the topic or helps solve a first time search visitor’s problem. But with these basic technical pieces in place, the content has the best chance of getting the search attention it deserves.
Content: The value of brand messaging and rank.
When it comes to redesigning with search in mind, it’s beneficial to think of the pages on your site like a single film and a big movie franchise. Even people who haven’t seen any other films in the series should understand what’s going on. For the people who have seen everything, you need to re-inforce the greater brand story.
Brand and search go hand in-hand. The better your brand reputation through third-party validation and offline interactions, the better your content will perform. That’s is why it’s hard for startups or small businesses to compete with larger more established companies for competitive keywords. Because of this, brand positioning is extremely important within the context of search.
Your brand is the key differentiator when it comes to the content you’re producing and its value to the searchers. Even if you’re not #1 on a Google SERP, you might be #1 for the brand value you’re providing. Never forget to make that part of the content on every web page.
Technical: Remember the little things.
I’ve written in the past that SEO isn’t a strategy, it’s maintenance item. But those technical maintenance items can make or break search visibility after your new site launches. So here’s a quick hit list of things you need to be concerned with:
For every URL you eliminate, you need to have a corresponding, and relevant, page that it redirects. And if you’re making any URL structure changes (like removing /service/ from the middle of a URL or adding /blog to blog post URLs), those need redirected too. This is where the biggest loss in search visibility and mojo takes place. So be sure to use the proper redirection when you make big changes to your site architecture.
Robots.txt and Unchecking that Box
I’ve seen this happen many times. A website goes live and suddenly it’s no longer in search. Almost every time, it’s an oversight from dev to live, and it’s usually in the robots.txt file. If you type www.yourwebsiteURL.com/robots.txt file, this is what you should see (using a WordPress site as an example):
And if you are using WordPress, the reading settings themselves might be the issue, meaning you need make sure “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is unchecked like this:
In either case, the fix is easy and you can resubmit your site (or individual URLs) to Google with the next steps.
Search Console and Sitemaps
Cleanliness is Googliness. The search giant likes to know you’re keeping your house clean and the best way to do that is making sure you have Search Console setup for your site. Most importantly you should have a sitemap (check www.yourwebsiteURL.com/sitemaps.xml) and should submit that to Google in Search Console:
Note: Bing has a similar tool for Webmasters, which you should also keep up to date.
Speed and Image Size
Google has said over and over again that site speed impacts search visibility, especially on mobile. If you’re redesigning your site, you have the opportunity to move to a host that has a CDN to improve the speed of your site. (WP Engine, for example, offers this as part of its system.) If you have the budget, a service like Cloudfare or other CDN providers are even better options than host-based CDNs. But at the very least pay attention to image sizes so that they aren’t huge files that will slow page load. Here’s a really helpful guide for that.
If you’re investing in a website redesign without including search in the scope, then you’re diminishing the overall investment in your digital marketing strategy. Don’t let a redesign tank your web presence and make you invisible to the 71 percent of B2B buyers and 81 percent of B2C shoppers who start their journey with search.