Any time you make a significant change to your website, you will experience some growing pains.
Significant shifts in layout, design, structure, organization, or appearance can make both your users and Google confused, if temporarily. People won’t know where to find what they’re looking for, may not be familiar with new features or offerings you’ve added, or may wonder what happened to the brand they used to like.
Google, of course, will have to take time to reindex, reprocess, and adjust your ranking accordingly.
You will likely experience gains and losses in traffic and ranking as things settle into place and your new ranking is determined.
On the one hand, a website redesign is an excellent opportunity to optimize many parts of your website for traffic, speed, and features. Even if it shakes up your ranking, you’re likely to come out on top when all is said and done. The tricky part is understanding what it means to perform an SEO-friendly redesign.
Luckily, there are many resources – including the one you’re reading right now – that can help you.
Whenever you make a significant change to your website, it can have SEO repercussions. However, what you view as a substantial change, and what Google views as a significant change can be different.
For example, you might view a graphical overhaul as a change. Still, if you don’t dramatically change site functionality, structure, or location, it’s not that big of a difference as far as Google is concerned. Pages are still where they should be, and the content is still the same. Those changes aren’t negatively affecting the fundamental value that your page provides to users.
On the other hand, you might want to change your blog from:
That’s not a significant change to you, but to Google, it upends the locations of every single blog post you’ve ever published, which can have considerable repercussions.
What constitutes a significant change as far as SEO is concerned?
A significant change in the content on your site will also affect SEO, but an in-depth content audit and revamp is often not part of a site redesign. If it is, bear in mind that you’ll have a much rockier road with SEO until Google reindexes and reranks your whole site.
Before you implement your redesign, it can be worthwhile to use SEO tools to benchmark your current site performance, including keyword ranking for your most important keywords.
Then, once the redesign is complete, you can track how it has affected your SEO.
If you’re performing a website redesign specifically to improve your SEO, there are several key aspects you should focus on improving. These will have the most significant beneficial impact if you do them right.
One of the most critical SEO factors for 2022 is the combination of site speed and the Core Web Vitals.
Core Web Vitals are sub-categories of page speed, in a sense. Google defines three of them.
LCP is the time it takes for the most significant chunk of content on a page to appear “mostly loaded” to your visitors. It doesn’t have to be loaded entirely, as long as the loading is gradual for those heavy elements.
An excellent example of poor LCP is when you load up a website where the logo and navigation structure load in immediately, but it takes several seconds for the actual blog post to appear.
FID is the time between when you click an element on a page for the first time and when the page can respond to that click. A website that loads links, and you can click on them, but it has to finish loading the page before it can process the click is a poor FID.
CLS is how the page shifts and shuffles around as elements load. If you’ve ever loaded up a website where you can start reading the blog post right away, but then an image loads in and shuffles all the content downwards while reading, that’s a layout shift.
There are many ways to monitor and optimize your core web vitals. Some have to do with having responsive hosting. Some require lazy loading or code to reserve space for elements that will load in later, rather than shuffling things around as elements load. The exact details you need to tweak depending on your intended new design and behavior.
In early 2021, Google shifted to “mobile-first indexing.” Since over 50% of web traffic comes from mobile devices today – and mobile devices have more restrictive requirements for functionality and design – they set the bar high.
Mobile-first indexing means that if your site has both a desktop and a mobile version, Google will check the mobile version first and rank/index your website based on it rather than your desktop version. Of course, both will still be indexed and accessible, but the mobile version has a more significant influence.
In the past, there were a lot of different options for implementing a mobile site. You could offload it to a third party, and you could use a subdomain or subfolder and shuffle people around based on user-agent, and so on.
These days, the generally-accepted best way to handle a mobile site is a responsive design.
In case you’re unsure, responsive designs are designs where the elements adapt in size and layout to the screen viewing them. They allow one website design to appear customized for everything from the oversized desktop screens to the smallest phone screen and everything in between.
Take your favorite website and resize your browser window, primarily horizontally, and you can see this in action. Elements will shift and shuffle as you make the screen smaller, stacking up, removing graphics and heavy images, and resizing, often with larger text for smaller screens.
If you’ve used a separate subdomain in the past, it can be beneficial to implement mass redirects from your subdomain version to your new responsive site to avoid loss in search ranking.
One of the harder-to-quantify aspects of SEO is how the user experience affects it.
This journey can include significant factors, like landing on your homepage and having to navigate to a particular sub-page. It can also contain minor elements, like landing on a blog post and finding a key passage in the article.
User journey, user experience, site organization, categorization, discoverability, and structure go into the overall banner of user interactions, and it’s all very nebulous. There’s no one “best way” to do it, and indeed a large part of Google’s resources go into analyzing disparate site structures rather than trying to enforce a singular ideal.
It would help if you viewed any structural or organizational change you make to your site through the lens of a user who will encounter and use it. Additions like a blog post table of contents, more visible breadcrumbs and content categories, or fewer hidden elements can benefit your performance.
Onsite SEO is the broad category encompassing every aspect of SEO on your site (as opposed to off-site SEO, like links.)
There’s no better time to perform a thorough SEO audit than when you’re redesigning your site. It’s an excellent opportunity to go through and reexamine, refresh, and optimize your existing onsite SEO factors. The most important ones to improve and check include:
This step is most of what you need to consider in a redesign. Some designers may create mockups that look great visually. Still, if there are many heavy images above the fold, it may be a nightmare for your developers to improve and avoid a failing Page Experience grade from Google PageSpeed. You can quickly dive into a seemingly endless well of minor SEO tweaks, but hitting the significant milestones is an essential baseline.
Once you’ve created your redesign and gone live, perform immediate audits to ensure that everything works the way it should. More importantly, audit things like links for noindex or nofollow tags, content for canonicalization when necessary, and pages for any no-indexing or other indexation issues.
Make sure to implement proper redirects as well. Any time a page URL changes, make sure the old version redirects to the new version.
Be particularly receptive to feedback from users in this initial period after launch. Some people will be angry about any change, but others will have more tangible feedback you may have overlooked, like “it used to be easy to find your blog categories, and now I have to dig for them.” These are usually things you can fix quickly, such as adding another item to your navigation, but they’re elements you may have overlooked.
Remember, nothing with a website is set in stone. If you decide that your website redesign will hurt your site, users, or ranking, you can change it again.
After all, the goal is always to grow, and anything that gets in the way of your performance should be optimized and improved.
Yes, a website redesign is not cheap. But, as the business saying goes: you’ve got to spend money to make money. If you don’t have a professional redesign your website, you may spend more time and money on SEO-related issues than necessary. Even with a completely redesigned website built for search engines, following these best practices will give you peace of mind when it comes to SEO and show Google that your site deserves top placement on its results pages.
If you need help optimizing your website, please get in touch with us to see how we can improve your current site or give it a facelift.