This article comes on the heels of a few website redesigns and relaunches that the SEO team and I have had to work through recently. People (namely me) and companies are always redesigning their websites, and while some really do it right there is always the potential for it to get really screwed up from an SEO perspective — which happens more than I care to admit.
Don’t get me wrong, when you’re doing a redesign think users and aesthetics first and foremost. A pretty design makes people go “Ooooh” and “Ahhhh”. But if you forget to think of SEO, then nobody finds your website and it doesn’t matter. The only twisted reference that I can come up with is, it would be kind of like if Jessica Alba had no backbone or skeleton. Sure, it may be really pretty to look at, but if there’s no framework to hold it up it’s just a big glob of nothing!
So after that “stark” reference, here are some SEO tips for a website redesign that should put you in a good place when relaunching your website. Do these things, and you should have a pretty smooth and successful website transition while avoiding any headaches after the fact.
#1. Your SEO Team & Design Team Need to Talk
This is something that absolutely needs to happen, and rarely does until right before the website is supposed to launch. The plain and simple truth is that designers tend to think like designers, and tend to think about what looks good before they ever consider (if they do at all) what is best from an SEO perspective.
Many people assume that designers and SEO’s can’t or shouldn’t work together, and I’m here to say that assumption is FALSE. I’m the first to admit, I think like a designer first and an SEO second. So whoever is managing the project needs get the SEO team and Design team together early, so that the designers don’t “write checks that that the SEO team can’t cash” so to speak.
Do this, and you’ll head off most SEO issues at the pass, while still giving the designers some freedom and flexibility to do what they do — only with SEO in mind as they do it.
#2. Don’t Go Backwards with Your Coding
In 1995, most websites were coded using tables, inline styling, etc. In 2010, most designers tend to use Div’s and CSS — it’s just cleaner. Now Google will say the there’s nothing wrong with tables, however Google also likes pages that load fast.
This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t use tables as your primary layout mechanism, but most of the table-based websites that I see have a ton of code bloat, inline styling, etc. These are all things that tend to slow down page-load speed.
#3. Get As Much SEO Done As Possible Prior To Launch
I’ve seen this time and time again. People/companies will have a hard launch date for a website, and will stick to it no matter if the website has the SEO implemented or not. What’s better, is they’ll wonder why the SEO isn’t working as fast as they’d like later on? I’ve seen this many times.
If you want your website to get as much bang-for-the-buck as it can right out of the box, then it’s best to get as much optimization work done as you can out of the shoot. If you have to push back the launch date a few days, then so be it. Your results will come much faster if your not putting the optimization together piece-meal after the damn thing has launched.
#4. 301-Redirects of Old URL’s
This is a very important SEO step that needs to be considered well before the new website’s relaunch. Think about it this way. Your website’s pages each have their own unique URL, which are currently indexed with the search engines, and have probably built up a certain amount of equity and trust over time.
Your launching your new website, and chances are that you are probably going to have different (maybe similar) pages with totally different URL structures. In turn, this would mean that all of these new URL’s would have to be indexed, and wouldn’t initially have any equity or trust within the search engines. In addition, when you launch the new website, all those old pages are now going to turn into 404-error pages. Google doesn’t like websites that have lots of dead pages in their index!
The good news is this can be avoided. Take the time to map out all pages and URL’s on the old site in terms of how they relate to pages on the new site, then set up a 301-Redirect (permanent redirect) from the old pages to the new ones — according to how closely related the pages are. And at the very least, make sure to redirect old pages that don’t match any new pages to the homepage.
This needs to be done for three reasons:
- To transfer the equity from the old URL’s to the new URL’s.
- To eliminate 404-Error pages from showing up in the index and a result of the new URL structures.
- To ensure the users who click on SERP results are still taken to relevant pages.
#5. Transfer of Analytics
Analytics are just as important (if not more so) that any SEO tactic that gets put into place. When relaunching your website, you want to ensure that you transfer your old analytics over to the new website, so as not to break the chain of data.
If you don’t do this, then how will you know how your new website and SEO are doing? If the chain is broken, then most future comparisons to the old website will not be apples to apples, making it hard to say whether or not you’ve improved statistically.
#6. Don’t Let Your SEO Lie
Just because you’ve launched your website with “built-in” SEO, doesn’t mean you can let it sit and forget. The Search Engine Optimization industry is constantly evolving as search engines change and update their algorithms, meaning what works today may not work tomorrow?
Competitors are always trying to surpass you, which means you need to keep plugging away with SEO — whether it be with Off-Site SEO tactics or On-Site adjustments and/or additions, SEO is something that you could theoretically do until the end of time.
Image credit: Mayo Nissen on Flickr