While redesigning your website can lead to better visitor experience and increase organic traffic in the long run, it can also ruin your search rankings if you fail to incorporate SEO into your strategy. When you make changes to your website’s structure, search engines redo the process of crawling your site to determine the best ways to serve it to users.
The good news is that you can mitigate some of this damage. Here are a few tips to save your SEO/organic traffic and make the transition smoother.
Tip #1: Maintain your old site’s most popular content.
Search engines reassess edited pages to determine their relevance to the targeted search term. Before launching your new site, identify your current most popular pages (including blog posts). Looking at your analytics, take note of any patterns in the types of content visitors prefer, and make sure to keep high-ranking content with priority keywords, low bounce rates, and high numbers of conversions.
You can edit stale/outdated content to ensure you’re delivering the best information possible, but look to maintain H1 and H2 tags and core ranking keywords.
Tip #2: Pay attention to your page load speeds.
Creating a beautiful new site is meaningless if visitors cannot load the pages. It’s a mistake that can tank website traffic and increase bounce rates. In fact, 1 in 4 people leave a website if it takes more than four seconds to load.
Take this redesign as an opportunity to do some housekeeping that speeds up overall load time: resize and reformat images, ensure embedded videos load properly, reduce the number of HTTP requests, and clean up your HTML.
Tip #3: Configure URL redirects.
When you redesign your website, some pages will get moved around and others will be removed entirely. Restructuring like this can create broken links that frustrate the people searching for your content/relevant keywords. Ideally, you should keep the URL structure and page names the same.
If changes are necessary, you can avoid leading people to dead ends (the dreaded 404 error notice) with 301 redirects that tell search engines your page is permanently moved. These redirects help you maintain the page’s SEO to avoid starting over. A tool like Google Search Console can help you identify which pages search engines crawl on a regular basis to avoid missing any redirects.
Tip #4: Update your XML sitemap.
With redirects working properly and other SEO measures live on your new site, you should submit the XML sitemap—a file that lists your important pages to ensure search engines like Google and Bing can find and crawl them to understand your website structure. This allows for better website indexing. Make sure you have zero URLs that lead to 404 errors and that you are using destination URLs rather than the redirects.
Tip #5: Audit your website before/after the redesign launch.
This is the perfect time to critically analyze your SEO so that you can launch your new user experience on the right foot. When investing time and money into a website redesign, you should take every measure to improve your organic search strategy and extend reach to new visitors/supporters.
Look at broken links, duplicate content, length of page titles, and the size of images and videos. If you were not previously vigilant about writing meta titles, descriptions, and alt text, do so now. When the new site is launched, you can better monitor for dips and gains because you have a deeper understanding of what was working and not working previously.