The Big Picture
The purpose of an SEO campaign is to make a website’s strategic pages rank high on Google for relevant searches.
Google’s complex algorithm considers a whole slew of factors when ranking a webpage, including relevancy and quality of content, images, metadata, user-friendliness, and inbound links, to name a few.
So, if the website redesign changes or removes a URL that was ranking and generating organic traffic – without regard for SEO considerations – your rankings for that page could literally disappear from Google.
A Few Examples
Let’s say you:
- Change the navigation and hierarchy of your website and an important page gets buried deeper in the hierarchy. Google crawlers may regard that page as being less important.
- Change the URL of a strategic page and forget to implement a 301 redirect to the new URL. All the inbound links that made that old page an SEO superstar will remain with that page and will not transfer to the new URL. With the links now gone, Google is left with a brand new page that will take time and effort to rank.
- Change the content of a strategic page, removing target keywords, reducing the word count, changing the title tag, and/or changing the overall message and focus of the page. These changes can significantly reduce rankings.
Connect the Dots
When do you determine the architecture and hierarchy of your new website? Very early on – and SEO needs to be considered at that time.
When do you finalize new URLs? Probably somewhere toward the middle of the project – and SEO needs to be considered at that time.
When do you write and finalize new content? Probably in the middle or late stages of the project – and SEO needs to be considered at that time.
Think Of It Like This
Suppose you’ve just built your $1 million dream house. You move in and call a bunch of tradesmen and ask: “Would now be a good time to install our electricity, plumbing, and HVAC?”
If you ask the SEO team to evaluate your new website just before or after launch, you’re doing the same thing.
The SEO Action Plan for Website Redesign
Here’s what needs to happen for your new website to retain all its SEO power.
Capture all your current keyword rankings as well as organic search traffic and conversion data for each URL.
Go back a year if possible, breaking your data out monthly. Use this data as a benchmark to evaluate how your new site performs after launch.
From Day 1 of the project, make sure your new site has clearly identified strategic SEO pages. Doing this will probably involve fresh keyword and competitive research.
Early on, create a sitemap, with SEO input, for the new site that includes every page, the complete hierarchy of all pages, the final name for each page, and the final URL paths for each page.
This not only helps SEO but will also make the new site easier to navigate and scale as new content is added.
Give content writers complete SEO inputs before they begin writing.
They’ll need guidance on title tags, meta description tags, heading tags, keywords, word count, and internal links.
Provide designers with input on SEO best practices for responsive design, layout, and page speed.
Slow page loading, which is bad for SEO and user experience, is often the result of large, unoptimized images.
Confirm developers are considering SEO impact on a very wide range of technical points.
This includes the importance of HTTPS, canonicals, render-blocking resources, and robots.txt configuration.
When new URLs are involved, extreme care must be taken with the setup of 301 redirects, as they lead Google crawlers from the old page to the new page.
Google Page Experience: The SEO-Website Redesign Connection Is About to Get Bigger
A recent development at Google is its introduction of the Page Experience signal.
This is a significant attempt by Google to increase the importance of user experience (UX) in its rankings. Google is putting more emphasis on these UX-related factors:
- Safe browsing (no malicious or deceptive content).
- No intrusive interstitials.
- And something altogether new: Core Web Vitals (CWV).
CWV is a new ranking signal that considers:
- How quickly a webpage loads.
- How quickly and easily a user can interact with a webpage.
- How visually stable the page is when users are interacting with it (for example, trying to submit a form and the form unexpectedly shifts while the page is still loading).
With the Page Experience signal, web redesign decisions clearly will have a greater impact on SEO. These signals should be considered at the early stages when planning a redesign.
Without up-to-date and knowledgeable input from SEO specialists, web design teams could easily underestimate the importance of:
- How images are created and served to users.
- How CSS and other client-side code is created.
- How PHP, ASP, and other server-side code is created.
- Which content management system to select.
On the other hand, if companies bring SEO into the redesign project from the beginning, the result will be not only a site that maximizes rankings, but one that also maximizes user experience.
Google is wise to put more emphasis on user experience.
Content, the traditional driver of SEO rankings, remains fundamentally important and will continue to be.
But a poor user experience frustrates and angers many users even if the underlying content is excellent. Google does not want frustrated or angry users – and neither do you if you have a business website.
Cultivating SEO: Web Redesign Teamwork
In some organizations, web redesign project leaders and other team members are leery of working with SEO professionals.
This is somewhat of a holdover attitude from the days when SEO insisted on heavy keyword usage, densely packed content above the fold, and other techniques that made websites hard to read and sometimes hard to look at.
Those days are long gone, however.
Google’s Page Experience initiative is proof positive that high rankings will depend more on the right content delivered with the best possible user experience. This puts the goals of SEO and web design in perfect harmony or at least near-perfect harmony.
There will be times when problems will have to be resolved.
For instance, SEO may want to prioritize a particular product or service page in navigation and hierarchy, while leadership regards that page as not being quite so central to the overall brand message.
The solution brings us back to the beginning of this article.
SEO needs to be involved in the redesign project from the beginning. If there is upfront agreement on which webpages are strategically important for SEO, where each of those pages belongs becomes much less controversial.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see how important it is for SEO leaders to make sure organization leadership, designers, developers, and content creators know the business value of those target website pages.
Solid analytics baselines, goal setting, and consistent communication will keep SEO fully engaged throughout the redesign process and will help minimize negative impacts to SEO performance.