How to Redesign a Website for SEO (Updated for 2022)

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Design Site for SEO

Design Site for SEO

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.

SEO needs to be a priority when you redesign your website. You might have another primary reason for changing the back-end structure, perhaps, or rebranding your business, but SEO needs to be one of the foremost concerns.

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.

Understand the SEO Repercussions of Major Changes

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.

Repercussions of Major Changes

On the other hand, you might want to change your blog from:

example.com/our-insights/

to:

example.com/blog/

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?

  1. Changes in URL, including everything from small changes in structure to a significant shift in the domain name.
  2. Changes to site structure and organization, such as reorganizing content silos or categorization.
  3. Changes in site architecture, such as switching from Joomla to WordPress or a custom codebase.
  4. Changes in mobile compatibilities, such as shifting from a subdomain mobile website to a responsive design.
  5. Changes in usability and the user experience. These are often hard to quantify, both in terms of the changes you make and how Google sees them.

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.

Significant Factors to Emphasis in an SEO Redesign

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.

Site Speed and Core Web Vitals

Site Speed and Core Web Vitals

One of the most critical SEO factors for 2022 is the combination of site speed and the Core Web Vitals.

  • Site speed is simple: it’s the amount of time it takes from a user clicking on a link to you to the time they can use your page. Attention spans and patience are at an all-time low, so fast-loading pages are necessary. The dirty truth is that if it takes anything more than 1-2 seconds, many people will leave instead of waiting for it to load. You can test your site speed here.
  • Optimizing your PageSpeed Insights score requires everything from ensuring that your web host is responsive and fast to serve content to using a Content Delivery Network to smushing down images and reducing file sizes to allow for faster loading.

Core Web Vitals are sub-categories of page speed, in a sense. Google defines three of them.

Largest Contentful Paint

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.

First Input Delay

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.

Cumulative Layout Shift

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.

You want as minimal a CLS as possible.

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.

Mobile Usability

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 Usability

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.

Any website redesign in 2022 should have a responsive design.

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.

Reorganizing the User Journey

One of the harder-to-quantify aspects of SEO is how the user experience affects it.

Consider: what is it that a user wants when they visit your site, and how much effort does it take for them to find 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 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.

Thorough Audit of Onsite SEO Factors

Onsite SEO is the broad category encompassing every aspect of SEO on your site (as opposed to off-site SEO, like links.)

Onsite SEO Factors

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:

  • Human-readable URLs. That is, example.com/blog/blog-post-title/ rather than example.com/blog/djfnew295951.
  • Proper keyword usage. Keywords can be present in the URL of the page, the page meta title and description, H1 and H2 tags, and throughout the content.
  • Uniqueness. Avoid covering the same subject too closely on multiple pages or using the same keyword in various pieces of content (even if they’re different enough to be unique.)
  • Structured data. Using schema.org markup for anything you can will help give you rich results in the search results pages.
  • Satisfying search intent. Users have a goal when they land on your page, and it might be informational, transactional, navigational, or commercial. Understand the purpose of a keyword and optimize content for that intent.
  • Formatting. Make it easier to read and skim through your content for value.
  • Internal links. Internal linking is a huge part of SEO that is often overlooked. Try to ensure as much cross-linking as possible, where relevant. Don’t just rely on a related posts plugin.
  • Image optimization. Every image on your site should be crunched to as small a file size as possible while still looking good, and all images should have descriptive URL/file names, alt text, and descriptions.

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.

Ensure Indexation and Functionality

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.

Ensure Indexation and Functionality

Make sure to implement proper redirects as well. Any time a page URL changes, make sure the old version redirects to the new version.

It’s best if you don’t change URLs unless you need to, but it’s sometimes unavoidable, such as a shift from bad URLs to human-readable URLs or a change in domain name associated with a rebrand.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

David Curtis
David Curtis
David Curtis is the founder and CEO of Blue Pig Media. With twenty years of successful execution in sales, marketing and operations, for both clients and vendors, he has a bottom line ROI driven mentality rooted in metrics driven performance across highly competitive global corporate initiatives.

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