The big picture
The purpose of an SEO campaign is to get a site’s strategic pages to rank high on Google for relevant searches.
Google’s complex algorithm considers a number of factors when ranking a web page, including relevance and quality of content, images, metadata, usability and inbound links, to name a few.
So if the redesign of the site changes or removes a URL that ranked and generated organic traffic – regardless of SEO considerations – your ranking for that page could literally disappear from Google.
A few examples
Let us tell you:
Change the navigation and hierarchy of your site so that an important page is buried deeper in the hierarchy. Google Crawlers may consider this page less important. Change the URL to a strategic page and forget to implement a 301 redirect to the new URL. All the inbound links that made the old page an SEO superstar stay with that page and are not transferred to the new URL. Now that the links are gone, Google is back with a brand new page that will take time and effort to rank. Change the content of a strategic page, remove target keywords, reduce the number of words, change the title tag and / or overall message and focus on the page. These changes can significantly reduce placement.
Connect the dots
When do you determine the architecture and hierarchy of your new site? Very early – and SEO needs to be considered at that point.
When do you quit new URLs? Probably somewhere towards the middle of the project – and SEO needs to be considered at that point.
When do you write and complete new content? Probably in the middle or late phase of the project – and SEO needs to be considered at that point.
Think of it this way
Suppose you just built your dream home for $ 1 million. You move in and call a bunch of craftsmen and ask, “Would that be a good time to install our electricity, plumbing and HVAC?”
If you ask the SEO team to evaluate your new site just before or after launch, do the same.
SEO action plan for redesigning websites
Here’s what needs to happen for your new site to retain all of its SEO strength.
Record all your current keyword lists as well as organic search traffic and conversion data for each URL.
If possible, go back a year and share your data every month. Use this data as a benchmark to evaluate how your new site performs after launch.
From day 1 of the project, make sure that your new site has clearly identified strategic SEO pages. Doing this is likely to involve new keywords and competitive research.
Create an SEO sitemap early for the new site that includes each page, the complete hierarchy of all pages, the final name for each page, and the final URL paths for each page.
This not only helps SEO, but it will also make the new site easier to navigate and scale when new content is added.
Give content writers complete SEO input before they start writing.
They need guidance on title tags, meta description tags, headline tags, keywords, word count, and internal links.
Give designers input on SEO best practices for responsive design, layout and page speed.
Slow page loading, which is bad for SEO and user experience, is often the result of large, unoptimized images.
Confirm that developers are considering SEO influence on a very wide range of technical points.
This includes the importance of HTTPS, canonical, render-blocking resources, and robots.txt configuration.
When new URLs are involved, extreme care must be taken when setting up 301 redirects, as they take Google crawlers from the old page to the new page.
Google Page Experience: The SEO-Website Redesign link is getting bigger
A recent development at Google is its introduction of the Page Experience signal.
This is a significant attempt by Google to increase the importance of user experience (UX) in its rankings. Google puts more emphasis on these UX-related factors:
Mobile friendliness. Safe browsing (no malicious or misleading content). HTTPS. No intrusive interstitials. And something completely new: Core Web Vitals (CWV).
CWV is a new ranking signal considering:
How fast a web page loads. How quickly and easily a user can interact with a web page. How visually stable the page is when users interact with it (for example, trying to submit a form and the form changes unexpectedly while the page is still loading).
With the Page Experience signal, web redesign decisions will clearly have a greater impact on SEO. These signals should be considered in the early stages when planning a redesign.
Without up-to-date and knowledgeable input from SEO specialists, web design teams could easily underestimate the importance of:
How to create and serve images to users. How to create CSS and other client page code. How to create PHP, ASP and other server side code. Which content management system to choose.
On the other hand, if companies bring SEO into the redesign project from the start, the result will not only be a site that maximizes ranking, but one that also maximizes the user experience.
Google is wise to put more emphasis on user experience.
Content, the traditional driver of SEO rankings, is still fundamentally important and will continue to be.
But a bad user experience frustrates and upsets many users, even though the underlying content is excellent. Google does not want frustrated or angry users – nor do you if you have a corporate website.
Cultivating SEO: Web Redesign Teamwork
In some organizations, project managers on the web design and other team members are very happy to work with SEO professionals.
This is something of a holdover attitude from the days when SEO insisted on heavy keyword usage, tightly packed content across the fold and other techniques that made sites difficult to read and sometimes difficult to look at.
These days, however, are far away.
Google’s Page Experience initiative is proof that high rankings are more dependent on the right content delivered with the best possible user experience. This puts the goals of SEO and web design in perfect harmony or at least almost perfect harmony.
There will be times when problems need to be solved.
For example, SEO might prioritize a particular product or service page in navigation and hierarchy, while management views that page as not quite as central to the overall brand message.
The solution brings us back to the beginning of this article.
SEO must be involved in the redesign project from the start. If there is agreement in advance about which web pages are strategically important for SEO, where each of these pages belongs will be much less controversial.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see how important it is for SEO executives to ensure that organizational management, designers, developers and content creators know the business value of these target websites.
Solid analytics baselines, objectives, and consistent communication keep SEO fully engaged through the redesign process and help minimize negative impacts on SEO performance.