How to redesign a website without losing SEO rankings and traffic
If you feel that your website isn’t running properly anymore or doesn’t promote your business effectively, then it’s time to change something on your web resource. But what to choose: redesign, upgrade or replatforming? This depends on whether it is a design or functionality that doesn’t satisfy your needs and on how seriously it is broken. If you found your reasons to do a website redesign, then you must realize that everything is connected and a redesign doesn’t mean changing only a look. Many people don’t realize that deploying a new layout or adding new web pages and links as well as removing old ones also impact SEO. So, if you want to please your users with a renewed design and don’t want to lose your rankings on search engine result page, then this blog post will give you some hints.
Don’t work directly on a live website
It’s not a good idea to make changes to the design (or any changes) straight on live site because something might go wrong. The safest thing to do is work on a separate copy. Later, when the whole redesign process is over and approved, you can carry all changings from the development version to a live site. This way neither your site nor your users will suffer.
Use 301 redirects if changing URL structure
Try to keep the initial structure of URLs as much as possible. However, it’s often hard when you’re redesigning. In such cases it’s necessary to put in 301 redirects. This is the way to inform search engines which of your old pages has been moved permanently to new URLs, and that new pages should be indexed instead of the old corresponding ones.
Redirects ensure the correct work of all bookmarks, internal links, links from social networks and other web resources to your old pages. Redirects also prevent Internet users from seeing unwanted 404 error message and allow them to use your new pages to boost your organic traffic. The 301 redirects help you not to lose both rankings and users.
Take care of backlinks
Backlinks, aka inbound links, direct users from third party websites to yours. Having many backlinks means increasing awareness about your site and business that helps gain more customers. Sure, it would be a great loss to make backlinks acquired and accumulated over the years useless because of redesign and URL change.
To avoid this you can contact all the owners of sites containing backlinks (or at least, the most important ones) and ask them to swap for new links. However, this scenario isn’t always possible. The more realistic way is to provide your inbound links with 301 redirects.
Redesign your 404 error page
There will almost always be several 404 pages while redesigning a website. And this is normal, just be prepared for this in advance. Well-designed 404 page shouldn’t leave your users helpless, but show them a way out and direct them to the other content on your site. Typically it’s a button or a hyperlink directing them to the home page. However, it is even more useful is to insert a menu or a search box also. This allows users to shorten their way by navigating directly to a specific part of your website. If you haven’t had a link to your home page, a menu or a search bar on your 404 page on the old site, then consider adding them to your new site.
If your redesign includes changing logos, color scheme, brand symbols and representatives, or a general style — like switching to a flat design from skeuomorphism or something like that — then the design of your 404 page should match the design of other pages within the website to consistency.
Use creativity. As “Page not found” error message has a negative connotation, try to make your users smile instead. You may also entertain them with a simple game. Take a look at examples of creative 404 error pages to get inspired for your own outstanding design.
Review and update robots.txt file
The robots.txt file is used to close access to pages you don't want processed or scanned by search engine bots. If your URL structure was changed due to website redesign, then you should update your robots accordingly.
A development website, which is temporary used until deploying to a live version, mustn’t be crawled and indexed. Otherwise, you have duplicate content, which results in rankings decreasing. So check whether your development version of the site is blocked for search engines with the help of robots.txt.
Update your XML sitemap file
After you've taken care of pages that shouldn’t be indexed, it's time to think about the ones that should. Update your XML sitemap that contain a list of addresses, if they have changed. Then resubmit your sitemap in Google Search Console. This will help search engines index your redesigned website correctly.
Optimize your website content
Well-optimized content helps search bots better understand what your page is about, give more accurate results to users who enter keywords into search box, and lead them to your site.
If you have added new pages or changed content on old ones, don’t forget to set meta-titles and meta-descriptions corresponding to the current content. If there are images, don’t forget about relevant ALT attributes, as many people do image searches. It is also important to consider the format and size of photo, video and audio content to make it load quickly, without forcing users to wait.
If you notice that some old pages do not bring the desired result, then a redesign is a chance to optimize existing inefficient content. For example, add popular words that are frequently searched by network users. Google monitors these statistics and you can find keyword rankings in Search Console.
We mentioned the main issues for you to concern about. If you need professionals to guide the process of your website redesign or a SEO specialist to ensure high rankings during the redesign, then feel free to contact our team.