One of the key messages that we hammer home to our clients is the importance of keeping their websites updated. Google’s algorithms love seeing sites regularly updated with new content, and returning customers enjoy a reason to keep coming back for more. Design standards are constantly changing and it doesn’t take a lot of neglect to make your site look old and dated. However, some websites experience a huge plummet in traffic after a full-scale redesign. So what’s going wrong?
A complete redesign of your site can wreak havoc on all the hard work you’ve ploughed into SEO rankings. Changes in page content and site architecture can really set you back, but there are things you can do to minimise the damage.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Chances are that you’re not reading this BEFORE work begins on your site. But on the off chance that you are, it’s key that your website redesign doesn’t sacrifice the site elements that are working really well. Whether it’s a top-notch user flow with a high conversion rate or a high-authority backlink that boosts your traffic flow, it’s important to keep them!
Preserve your backlinks
Of all the ranking factors for SEO, backlinks are perhaps the most important. They act as an endorsement from other sites as to the quality of your content and form the backbone of SEO strategy.
The highest value backlinks are from editorial content on well-respected pages, which you’ll have no control over and cannot update. Make sure that these aren’t lost when your site is redesigned by preserving the URLs of your highest-ranking pages.
Internal links matter too
404 errors are enough to have visitors repeatedly hitting the back button on their browsers, generally interrupting the user experience. If your site redesign also incorporates a change in page hierarchy and structure, it’s important to make sure that you’re not left with broken links. Small changes can create a ripple effect across your site, with one or two broken links becoming hundreds or even thousands. This will, in turn, cause your SEO rankings to plummet.
Fortunately, Google Search Console can help you spot broken links under the Crawl Report. There are also specific tools to detect and correct broken links, such as Screaming Frog.
Another way to side-step the problem of broken links is by setting up 301 redirects. These are ‘permanent’ redirects, telling search engines that the new page has now replaced the old one. These are easy to set up and manage and are recognised by Google as content that has been moved to a new permanent home.
As effective as they are, 301-page redirects should be used sparingly. Overloading your site with redirects can have a knock-on effect on page speed, another key SEO ranking factor.
Don’t forget your meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are effectively the cover blurb of your web pages, offering customers and search engines insight into the content contained within. It helps Google determine whether your site belongs in organic search results and lets customers see if they have found the content they were looking for.
Unfortunately, metadata can become an afterthought in the redesign process. It might be copied and pasted from old pages, and no longer be relevant to the new content. It may also be duplicated across numerous pages of the site, or forgotten altogether and left blank. All of these elements can affect the SEO ranking of your new site.