Website Redesign & SEO: What To Get Right & Why (2019)
It’s no secret that SEO is vital during website redesigns.
Because website redesigns are times of major change, and major change impacts SEO.
In this guide, your ability to protect rankings, visitors and conversions from Organic Search through website redesign is going to take a big step forward.
You will learn what matters most and why, with actionable tips and helpful links.
We will also highlight the most common mistakes people make, so you can avoid them.
Chapter 1: Who This Guide is For & How To Use It
There are many guides to SEO and website redesign online, but they tend to be written for SEO practitioners and developers.
If you are not an SEO practitioner or developer, you may find them to be indecipherable.
This guide is different.
It exists to cover the principles of SEO that matter most during website redesigns in a way that appeals to technical and non-technical people alike, so you (and the people on your team) can best prepare for and address them.
It is not intended to be a replacement for an SEO professional. Nor is it a checklist.
Website redesigns can be so complex that it’s the job of the SEO professional to make the checklist.
Rather, it is a primer, here to help you:
- Have a clearer understanding of SEO requirements during website redesigns
- Prioritise what to focus on
- Be in a much better position to smoothly sail through every website redesign in your future
To keep the length of this guide manageable, this post is non-exhaustive.
It’ll probably be updated from time to time, too.
Chapter 2: Why Should You Care About SEO During a Website Redesign?
In the lifespan of your website, a redesign is a disruptive event.
Your old site (which search engines are accustomed to), will disappear and be replaced with something new.
This replacement will trigger search engines to re-evaluate where your site fits in search results, adjusting your visibility either for the better, neutrally, or for the worse.
And because redesigns can involve hundreds, even thousands of pages changing (at once!), taking the necessary steps to help search engines understand and process these changes has a wide-ranging impact.
When you launch your new site, you want the search engines to respond positively, or at very least, neutrally.
Fortunately, all the most important SEO elements are largely under your control.
Chapter 3: The 6 Areas of Major Change That Impact SEO
Within the website redesign process, there are certain changes that impact SEO more than others.
These changes fall into six distinct categories. They are:
- Changes to code
- Changes to content
- Changes to Information Architecture
- Changes to URLs
- Changes to internal linking, and
- Changes to user experience
The way you plan for and manage change across these six categories will determine whether the SEO component of your redesign succeeds or fails.
We’re going to talk about each category soon, but before we do, you need to know something now:
If a business or organisation depends on SEO, involving an SEO professional in the website redesign process is one of the smartest decisions anyone can make.
The SEO professional can prevent mistakes that are costly to fix later on, plus catch items that are unique to your specific situation and beyond the scope of this guide.
Neglecting SEO during a website redesign is a major risk because:
- There is a significant chance of dramatic rankings loss if SEO items are overlooked or performed incorrectly
- Recovery time with SEO can take months, even years
- New website redesigns should be a time of celebration, not a painful lesson
If you add a competent SEO professional to your team, the risk of negative consequences reduces greatly, and you may experience better results with your new site than were ever previously possible.
In addition, SEO activities benefit users, too. Whether that be hunting for bugs, pushing for a stellar mobile experience or enhancing the value of content so it reflects how people search and satisfies visitor intent.
So, in my humble and extremely biased opinion, including an SEO person on your team during website redesigns is a great decision!
Chapter 4: Changing Code – The Importance of Quality Code and How Search Engines Rely On It
Let’s cover our first major area of change during website redesigns: Code.
Quality code matters.
For users, it is integral to the functionality of your site.
For search engines, it does this and something else too, just as important.
“This is the title of the page”
“This is a heading”
“This is a paragraph”
“This is a subheading”
“This is a list”
“This is a table”
And so on.
When a search engine crawls each of your pages, it “looks” for the presence of particular code elements.
These code elements contain information that help the search engine determine what the page is about.
If the page is correctly coded and the elements that communicate meaning are in place, search engines will be more able to accurately interpret the content of the page.
In this situation, the page has a strong chance of ranking well.
If, on the other hand, the page is incorrectly coded and the elements that communicate meaning are missing, search engines will struggle to interpret the content of the page.
In that situation, the page is unlikely to rank well, even with other types of SEO activity occurring.
As code is an item that impacts every page of your site, there is great SEO value in ensuring that it is functional and that the code elements that search engines rely on to determine meaning are being correctly used.
Key action points
During your website redesign, you want:
Semantic HTML, or put another way, HTML with meaning.
For each page of your future site, you want the following code elements to be in place, based on the content of the page.
- A title tag
- A meta description tag
- A single primary heading h1 tag
- Any subheadings using h2 tags (and if you have multiple levels of subheadings h3, h4, h5 and h6)
- Paragraph tags, p
If you are planning on using a Content Management System (CMS) to power your future site, ensure that these elements are easy to customise. If they aren’t, you risk being locked into limitations.
Avoid, or at least think carefully about, using technology that search engines have trouble “seeing”.
Search engines are best at processing plain text, and while they are making improvements in processing images, videos and other formats, it is not wise to rely on their ability in these areas for content you want to rank.
As a rule of thumb, avoid putting anything you want to make sure a search engine can “see” in:
- AJAX and AngularJS
Unless you are able to verify that search engines can correctly process.
Resources to help
How Important Is Semantic HTML? – An articulate explanation of how code communicates meaning (semantics), by Steven Bradley.
Choosing the Right CMS Platform for Your Website (from an SEO perspective) – If you will be using a CMS for your future site, this list of important SEO items to prioritise by Rand Fishkin is for you.
The Basics of Search Engine Friendly Design and Development – If you want to learn the fundamentals of SEO and development, this extract from the Beginners Guide to SEO by Moz is for you.
HTML Code & Search Engine Success Factors – If you would like an overview of the most important HTML code elements that search engines look for when interpreting a page beyond what is mentioned here, this guide from Search Engine Land is for you.
HTML Improvements Tool from Google Search Console – If you would like to see recommendations for code improvements to your current site, this tool from Google is for you.
The W3C Markup Validation Tool – If you would like to test the quality of a website’s code (such as your staging site), this tool from the W3 organisation is for you.
The Secrets of Semantic HTML5 for Document Structure – a Guide – For advanced users, if you want to learn about specific HTML5 code elements that you can use to communicate meaning, this guide from Jason Barnard is for you.
Google HTML & CSS Style Guide – For advanced users, here are HTML & CSS formatting suggestions as recommended by Google.
Chapter 5: Changing Content – Why Content Matters During Website Redesigns
You already know that content plays a huge role in SEO.
It is, after all, the content of your website that will satisfy the intent of searchers who are looking for answers, solutions and information relevant to their search queries.
And yet, during website redesigns, changes to content are often made without considering the SEO implications.
These changes include content being:
- Moved, or
- Transferred to new file formats like PDF or video
All of these content alterations can have SEO impacts.
If you are planning on making content changes like these, keep the following criteria in-mind to ensure that your updated content will be effective for SEO.
- Remain relevant to how your target audience searches, reflecting the keywords they use when they think about, discuss and ask questions relating to your products, services and brand.
- Be accessible to search engines. It cannot be locked behind forms or other gateways that a search engine crawler won’t be able to get through to discover.
- Be unique as an independently valuable resource online, bringing something new to the table versus what can be found at competing sites.
- Satisfy the human goal of searching by addressing the underlying need and objectives of a person who has clicked-through with the expectation of finding particular information.
Use these criteria to assess any changes to content, on a page by page basis.
Key action points
There’s a lot to do here, so consider using a three step process like this.
Benchmarking is about understanding the performance of your site, so you know the pages (and the content on those pages) that are earning you the most value from Organic Search.
For example, using Google Analytics, you can find out:
- Which pages of your site are earning the most visitors from Organic Search (top landing pages)?
- What the business value is of these pages, as measured by traffic, conversions and sales, segmented for Organic Search?
- Which keywords are these pages ranking for?
The goal of benchmarking is to gather intelligence because by understanding what pages (and content) is delivering results, you can make more informed decisions about any edits or deletions.
You can also look for content improvement opportunities:
- Which pages are not earning visitors from Organic Search, and what content is on those pages?
When you feel like you understand the situation, it’s now time to start Planning.
Planning is all about identifying exactly what content you’re going to keep as is, what you’re going to change and the extent of those changes, what you’re going to delete, and so on.
For example, you will want to protect your top performing pages and start addressing the lower performers.
Then onto Optimising.
Optimising is about giving your content the maximum chance of success.
It’s a good time to re-evaluate any content changes against the criteria mentioned before:
- Is it still relevant?
- Does it satisfy the goal of the searcher?
Make sure you can answer yes to all of these questions.
Optimising is also a good time to consider expanding your keyword targeting, perhaps with a fresh round of keyword research to discover any new trends in how people search for your products, services and brand, which you can target with new or existing content.
You can also perform the SEO practice of on-page optimisation, to help your target keywords stand-out to search engines, making it extra clear what your pages are about.
I recognise there is a lot to think about here, but it’s really important so time spent investigating, protecting and improving content provides a huge return on effort.
And one more point:
In the event that you will be moving content to new URLs in your website redesign, additional steps are required. These are covered in detail shortly.
Resources to help
Is the New, Most Powerful Ranking Factor “Searcher Task Accomplishment?” – Whiteboard Friday – If you would like to better understand the psychology of task accomplishment and how to optimise your content for it, this video from Rand Fishkin is for you.
What Does It Mean to “Write for SEO” in 2018? – Whiteboard Friday – If you would like to understand the evolution of content production for SEO, from 2001 to 2008 to 2018, this video from Rand Fishkin is for you.
On-Page Ranking Factors – If you want to make each of your future site’s pages perfectly optimised for specific keywords, this guide from Moz if for you.
How to Perform On-Page SEO – If you prefer a more visual approach to learning On-page SEO, this guide from Brian Dean is for you.
How to Use Google Analytics to Analyse Organic Search Traffic – If you would like to extract Organic Search performance data from Google Analytics, this guide from Search Engine Journal is for you.
How to Discover and Prioritise the Best Keywords – If you are unsure about which keywords to target, this video from Rank Fishkin is for you.
Advanced Keyword Research Tutorial (5 Step Blueprint) – If you would like an advanced guide to finding and targeting keywords, this video from Brian Dean is for you.
SEMRush Position Tracking – If you would like a comprehensive rank tracking SEO tool with several other analysis features, SEMRush is one that we use and recommend.
Ahrefs Position Tracking – Similar to SEMRush, Ahrefs is another excellent SEO tool capable of tracking rankings and performing analysis tasks. We also use and recommend it.
Chapter 6: Changing Information Architecture – Organising Your New Site
If you plan to reorganise where your pages and content will live during your website redesign, you’ll be treading into the realm of Information Architecture (IA).
A well organised IA will help users find what they are looking for in fewer clicks, and will give search engines indications of the topic and page relationships on your site.
Think of your site’s IA like you would a filing cabinet. A logical and organised IA will:
- Help your most important content get found quickly and easily
- Make your site intuitive to new users
- Enable future pages to be neatly categorised
If you can create an IA that is self-explanatory, user’s will be more likely to consume, share and link to your content, which has positive flow on effects for SEO.
Key action points
IA is a an exercise in categorisation, prioritisation, organisation and labelling.
Before creating it, arm yourself with research about your target audience by:
- Analysing common user paths on your existing site via data from analytics and session replay tools
- Performing user testing on your competitors websites, to watch how people navigate and uncover the assumptions they make about what content is where
- Hosting a card sorting session where participants organise information into topics and categories that make sense to them
Then, add keyword insights, so your site’s IA can naturally result in pages that reflect searcher intent, to increase your relevance.
For example, consider the IA of a travel site. The travel site will want to have pages closely relevant to popular search terms like “flights to location”, “flights on airline’”, “cheap flights” and so on.
An IA might look something like this:
- Flights (located at /flights)
- Domestic flights (located flights/domestic)
- Flights to Melbourne (located at flights/melbourne)
- Flights to Sydney (located at flights/sydney)
- Flights to Adelaide (located at flights/adelaide)
- International flights (located at flights/international)
- Flights to Paris (flights/paris)
- Flights to London (flights/london)
- Airlines (located at flights/airlines)
- Qantas (located at flights/qantas)
- United (located at flights/united)
- Delta (located at flights/delta)
- Flight Deals (located at flights/deals)
- Cheap Flights (located at flights/cheap-flights)
First, each page is unique to a particular intent. People searching for “flights to Melbourne”, “Melbourne flights”, “how much are flights to Melbourne” and other related search queries are all served by the page flights/melbourne. There is no need to create individual pages for each of these search queries as was once the case in the earlier years of SEO.
Second, the URL structure does not need to always contain the parent folder. For example, the page flights/melbourne is not flights/domestic/melbourne, even though the page may be categorised in the domestic section. Keeping the URL shorter and easier to read has taken priority.
Let’s now talk about blog IA.
Blogs are particularly unique because new content is added all the time. To help you receive maximum SEO value from this content, I recommend the ‘Topic Cluster’ model by HubSpot.
But, if you can, it’s better to place your blog in a subfolder (/blog) versus a subdomain (blog.yourdomain.com.au). Subfolders are treated differently than subdomains by search engines, so have a ranking advantage.
Resources to help
Information Architecture Basics – If you want a reference guide to IA, this guide from usability.gov is for you.
Planning your IA for Users: Creating the Optimal Experience – If you want a deep-dive into understanding the needs of users for planning IA, this guide from Peep Laja is for you.
How to Organise your Keyword Targeted Content – If you want to learn to make IA and SEO work together, this video from Rand Fishkin is for you.
Pillar Pages, Topics and Subtopics – If you want to learn more about clustering topics together in an SEO-friendly way, this guide from HubSpot is for you.
15 High-Performance Site Architecture Tips for SEO – If you are serious about leveraging every bit of SEO performance possible from your IA, this guide from Cyrus Shepard is for you.
Key Information Architecture Concepts Every SEO Should Know – A look at the individual skills required at IA (categorisation, prioritisation, organisation and labelling) and how they apply, from Search Engine Land.
Chapter 7: Changing URLs – Avoid Disaster by Using Redirects
If your website redesign will see changes to your URLs, speciality actions are required to help both users and search engines process these changes.
Let’s imagine the worst case scenario as an example of what not to do:
A freshly redesigned website with a new URL structure goes live.
All of the URLs that previously existed are now gone, replaced by the new structure.
Can you guess why this is a problem?
- If a search engine was ranking a URL that no longer exists, those rankings are now gone
- If users have bookmarked URLs that no longer exist, those bookmarks no longer work
- If external websites are linking to URLs that no longer exist, those links are now broken
Beyond this, further negative consequences occur:
- The site will be filled with ‘404 – File Not Found’ errors
- The broken incoming links from external websites will no longer pass SEO value, called ‘link equity’
The final result?
- Lost rankings
- Lost traffic
- Damaged user experience
- A costly time and recovery process
Please, do not let this happen to you. Plan URL changes carefully!
Key action points
You can protect yourself from URL change disaster by planning your new URL structure using best practices, then implementing redirects as soon as your new site goes live.
To plan your new URL structure using best practices:
- Keep URLs short, easy to read (i.e. avoid system generated numbers, random letters, etc.), and use keywords naturally where possible.
- Trim any webpage filename extensions like .html, htm, .php and others, so they don’t appear in the URL. Speciality file extensions like .pdf are fine to keep.
- Use lower case letters only (so never /Flights/Sydney but rather /flights/sydney).
- Use dashes to separate words instead of underscores (e.g. /best-practices/ vs. /best_practices/).
When this is complete, you can begin planning your redirects.
A redirect is a process of forwarding one URL to another.
If you have a URL at yourdomain.com.au/old-page and are planning on moving it to yourdomain.com.au/new-page, a redirect will automatically take anyone who tries to visit /old-page to /new-page.
When using redirects, keep these points in mind:
- There are several types of redirects. If you are moving a URL permanently (as is often the case during a website redesign), use a 301 redirect. This will instruct the search engine to update its index. Your web developer can configure this for you.
- Implementing redirects is a time-sensitive activity. As soon as your new site goes live, you want your web developer to put redirects in place. You do not want ‘404 – File Not Found’ errors on launch day. To act quickly, you must give your web developer a list of URL redirects in advance.
- When you are planning your redirects, sometimes it is difficult to figure out where to redirect a URL to if there is no new equivalent page on the new site. In this case, redirect to the closest matching page or the parent folder.
- Ask your web developer if your site currently has any redirects in place, such as from your last website redesign. Plan to update these redirects to point to the new URL destinations.
- Be careful changing http to https during a website redesign. This protocol change is best handled before the website redesign, so that search engines have an easier time adjusting. If you change your protocol and your URLs all at once, it adds extra complexity to the process.
To help you plan 301 redirects, here’s a quick summary of action points with further detail linked to in the resources that follow:
First, identify all of the URLs on your site at the moment. You can do this by using:
- Google Search Console
- Google Analytics, and
- A speciality crawling tool like Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl
Next, organise your URLs into a spreadsheet, including any redirects that are already in place and that will need to be updated
Then, designate where you would like each old URL to be redirected to, e.g. old URL ‘flights/domestic/melbourne’ to redirect to ‘/flights/melbourne’ when your new site goes live
And lastly, provide this spreadsheet to your web developer in advance of launch day, to give them time to prepare. Educate them on the importance of this critical task happening immediately after the new site goes live.
Resources to help
Google’s Guide to Changing URLs – If you would like a reference resource from Google explaining the steps of changing URLs with minimal SEO impact, this is for you.
How To Plan Your New URL Structure – Tips and best practices for picking the perfect URL structure for your new site.
The Difference Between URL Structure and Information Architecture – If you are planning the URL structure of a larger site, this video from Moz is for you.
An Advanced Guide to Mapping 301 Redirects using the Screaming Frog SEO Spider – if you would like help determining all the URLs to redirect, this guide is for you.
FAQ About URLs: Subdomains & Subfolders, Structuring & Placing Content, 301 Redirects (& more!) – if you are wondering whether to use a subdomain or a subfolder in your URLs, this video from Moz will help you get your answer.
SEO Best Practices for Canonical URLs + the Rel=Canonical Tag – Whiteboard Friday – If you are worried about duplicate content appearing across multiple versions of URLs, this video about the canonical element is for you.
Chapter 8: Changing Internal Linking – How to Plan for Users and Search Engines
Internal links perform a few vital functions:
- They help users navigate your site
- They help search engines discover your content, as search engines follow each link on your pages as part of crawling and indexing the web
- They provide search engines with indicators of page importance, the idea being that the more internal links a page has pointing to it, the more important that page must be
To help explain the SEO value of internal linking, it’s useful to be aware of the term ‘link equity’.
Link equity is a search engine ranking factor based on the idea that certain links pass value and authority from one page to another.
A page that has several internal links pointing to it will inherit link equity from those links. This link equity will boost the ability of the page to rank in search results.
A page with no internal links pointing to it will not have as much link equity. It could be considered a stray page on the site, and will struggle to rank in search results.
Key action points
The optimal internal linking approach is one that:
- Links to your most important pages – the pages you want to rank – frequently and from highly visible locations (i.e. your navigation menu, footer, in-page content)
- Uses keywords in link anchor text elegantly, signalling to users and search engines what the page being linked to is about
- Enables all pages on your site to be found in just two to three clicks from the homepage. This can be accomplished by creating a Site Map page (e.g. Apple Site Map), and linking to the Site Map page from your footer.
- Includes, where appropriate, breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a navigational device that help users and search engines with context about the size of the site and their location within it.
Resources to help
Should SEOs Care About Internal Links (video) – If you want a video tutorial on creating your internal linking strategy, this video from Rand Fishkin is for you.
Comprehensive Guide to Creating A Perfectly Optimised Internal Linking Structure – If you want an in-depth guide to internal linking best practices for SEO, this guide from CognitiveSEO is for you.
Understanding & Harnessing the Flow of Link Equity to Maximise SEO Ranking Opportunity – If you want to learn more about link equity, this video from Rand Fishkin is for you.
What are breadcrumbs and why are they important for SEO? – If you would like to find out more about the benefits of breadcrumbs to users and search engines, this post from Yoast is for you.
Chapter 9: Changing User Experience – Optimise for Click-Through Rate & Dwell Time (On All Devices!)
In 2015, SEO took a big leap forward.
Google announced RankBrain, an artificial intelligence system designed to help guide its ranking algorithm.
In summary, RankBrain aims to:
- Determine the intent behind a search, i.e. “what is this person trying to accomplish?”
- Figure out which pages are best at satisfying this intent, and for which queries
Among many things, RankBrain closely measures:
- Which results people click on the most in search results (and which results they don’t!)
- The extent to which people engage with the page they have clicked-through too (i.e. dwell time, activity, etc.), or if they bounce
This data is then used to tune search results on a near real-time basis, lifting up the results that seem to provide a superior user experience and lowering those results that do not, on a query by query basis.
A final note:
RankBrain is measuring and monitoring this activity for users on all devices, so ensure that your mobile and tablet experience is just as good as your desktop one.
Key action points
To help you optimise your user experience during website redesigns:
- As previously discussed, rigorously evaluate the value of your content versus the search terms you want it to rank for. Do your pages do a superior job of answering the searcher’s query, helping them accomplish their task, versus the competition? To answer this will require research into what drives your target audiences to search and what leaves them unsatisfied, which can be discovered via classic marketing tactics like interviews, surveys, user testing and competitor analysis.
- Create compelling, descriptive title tags and meta descriptions for all key pages, and optimise for featured snippets and other schema.
- Protect currently top performing content through your website redesign, so it can continue providing value to users. Address under-performing content that may be sending negative user experience signals to Google, to enhance the value this content provides on your new site.
- Bug test to ensure your site works across major browser versions and device types. Bugs lead to bounces.
- Be conscious of the role of design. Great design subconsciously communicates quality and competence. Poor design communicates the opposite. This sends your visitors a powerful first impression across your entire site.
- Speed matters. Neither users nor search engines like a slow site.
Resources to help
UX Design Guide – If you want an overview of UX design with links to tools, diagrams and further resources, this guide from Austin Knight is for you.
How to Optimise Your Site for RankBrain: The Definitive Guide – If you would like to optimise your future website for RankBrain, this guide from Brian Dean is for you.
A Reintroduction to Google’s Featured Snippets – If you would like to further improve your site’s click-through rate in search engine results, this resource from Google is for you.
3 Proven Methods to Achieve Featured Snippets in Search – If you are looking for practical methods for achieving featured snippets in search, this post from Reef is for you.
Page Speed As A Ranking Factor: What You Need To Know – If you want to learn how to speed up your site, this post from Yoast is for you (and your developers).
How to Optimise Your Site for Google’s Mobile-First Index – Provides 5 tactics for optimising for Google’s mobile-first index update.
Chapter 10: The Launch Day Race – Get Your Redirects Done Fast
Let’s imagine that your new site is going live tomorrow.
What can you do now to help make sure it goes smoothly?
If there was just one thing, it would be this:
Make sure your web developer is ready to implement redirects as soon as the new site goes live!
Because when your new site goes live, a race starts.
That race is between you and Google.
To win the race, your web developer needs to put your redirects in place before Google arrives to crawl your new site.
If your redirects are in place by the time Google arrives, it won’t find any broken URLs (which would make for a damaging first impression).
Rather, it discovers a new and improved site, which you have been working so hard on.
Keep this in mind:
Google can arrive to crawl your new site at any time.
That could be 5 minutes after launch, or it could be 5 hours.
Win the race by getting those redirects in immediately!
Chapter 11: Most Common Mistakes (and How to Prevent Them!)
Of the hundreds of activities that happen during a website redesign, here are the top five most common SEO mistakes from my experience:
301 redirects not done, or done too slowly
Long before launch day, the 301 redirect planning should be completed and the web developer briefed on what redirects to put in place on launch day. There should be no delay in launching the new site and implementing redirects.
Involving an SEO person too late in the website redesign process
Unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness about how much SEO work there is to do during website redesigns.
Perhaps this is because SEO is a niche item that can easily get overlooked during all the different activities involved in a website redesign.
What tends to happen is that a week or two before launch, someone will bring up the need for SEO and that will trigger the search for an SEO person.
But, because the site is so close to launch, many of the biggest decisions have already been made, for better or for worse.
If bad SEO decisions have been made, a lot of re-work will be required and deadlines will need to be moved. Or, if deadlines must be met, only emergency tasks can be done (which is better than nothing but still, not ideal).
Either way, better late than never because once the new site has launched, the difficulty of fixing SEO problems magnifies.
Accidentally blocking the new site from search engines
Many new websites go live with a directive that tells search engines “Do not access this site”.
This happens because there is a special file on your website that controls where search engines can and cannot go.
It’s called robots.txt and you can find out all about it here.
When your new website is in a staging environment, that staging site will likely have a robots.txt configured to tell search engines to stay away. The reason for this is that the web developers do not want the staging site appearing in search results.
Now, on launch day, when the staging site becomes the live site, can you guess what happens?
The staging site robots.txt file (which blocks search engines) becomes the real site robots.txt (which blocks search engines).
If you have ever seen a search result stating “A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txt – learn more”, this is why.
You can address this by reminding your web developers to check the robots.txt for the new site, and checking it yourself. Email language to use is:
“Can you please confirm that when the new site goes live, the robots.txt file will be updated to allow search engines? We do not want the staging site robots.txt going live”
Thinking web developers are SEOs
While some web developers can be very savvy technical SEO practitioners, the typical web developer would not have spent much time learning SEO.
Because frankly, they just aren’t responsible for it.
- Web development is a large enough field as is
- Web developers are usually focused on ensuring the functionality of the site works, rather than how well it performs in search results
- Technical SEO is a field in and of itself
Therefore, please be careful of placing unrealistic expectations on the SEO competency of a web developer who isn’t generally responsible for these items and hasn’t scoped the activity into their proposal.
Being unaware of the risks of website redesign
Every website redesign carries risk, beyond SEO.
This guide will help you control risk from an SEO standpoint, but what about managing risk from a website effectiveness standpoint?
This is a real possibility, and it is one of the reasons why the largest organisations stay away from radical change and instead use Evolutionary Site Redesign (ESR). ESR is an approach where the existing site is continuously improved in a measurable way.
The problem with ESR is that it can reach a limit. Sometimes, only radical change can lead to major improvement.
This is where the discipline of Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) shows its value. CRO is all about ensuring a website is effective for users, so talk to your agency about it.
Resources to help
Website Redesign Mistakes That Destroy SEO – A list of items to consider (the earlier the better) via Search Engine Land.
How to Avoid 6 Common Website Redesign Mistakes That Hurt SEO – More checks, via Search Engine Journal.
Chapter 12: Useful SEO Tools During Website Redesigns
Having the right SEO tools will help you multiply productivity during website redesigns.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider – A desktop application that will enable you to crawl any site to discover its information architecture and diagnose code elements like meta titles, meta descriptions, headings and code strings.
DeepCrawl – An online application that will enable you to crawl sites larger, enterprise sites, with additional sophistication for SEO diagnostics.
To discover and get the most value from keyword research tools, check out:
Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide – by Brian Dean
Keyword Research for SEO: The Ultimate Guide – from Yoast
For More SEO Tools
SEO Tools: The Complete List – by Brian Dean
Chapter 13: Checklists and Advanced Resources for SEO Practitioners
If you are looking for even more instruction on SEO during website redesigns, check out:
The SEO Website Redesign Checklist – from US based agency Seer Interactive
A Step-By-Step Guide to Updating Your Website Without Destroying Your SEO – by Richard Foulkes
And there you have it!
I hope this guide helps you prepare for that all important website redesign.
Now I’d like to turn it over to you:
What was your favourite resource from this guide?
Or maybe you have an excellent piece of content that you think I should add.
Either way, your contribution is welcome. Please let me know by leaving a comment below.
Co-Founder and Director
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