Most companies will undergo a website redesign at one point or another. Whether it’s because you’re changing your company’s vision and goals or you want something that is easier to navigate and understand, there is one thing you have to keep in mind during a redesign—SEO. Too many company owners focus on the aesthetics of the new look or how it’s going to make it easier for visitors, and while this is all great, making sure you don’t lose all of your hard SEO work is crucial.
In short, your SEO is not going to automatically transfer during a redesign. If you don’t follow a few simple steps to keep your SEO intact, the link building and authority you’ve built would essentially be wasted. You will have to start all over in the rankings.
Three Things to Keep In Mind When It Comes to SEO and Your Redesign
Fortunately, the steps you have to take to make sure your SEO doesn’t go anywhere are pretty simple. Your first step is to decide which pages should stay and which pages should go. Those with a unique and relevant content and high CTR should be kept on your site, while deleting some of the cluttered pages is a must.
Once you have made this decision, you can begin to go through the pages you want to keep and employ the following tips to make sure the SEO for those pages remains unharmed:
If you do nothing else, use 301 redirects for your pages and your backlinks. Using a 301 redirect means that all visitors will be directed to your new pages, but it also passes PageRank from the old page to the new one. You can use a 301 redirect manually by going into your .htaccess file, which you can learn more about here, but I have always used a WordPress plugin. With WordPress SEO by Yoast, all I have to do is click edit files and then select redirect.
To double-check that the 301 redirect is working, use a tool like Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs to check to see which pages have inbound links, or links that are pointing back to your website, on them somewhere on the web. Then, make sure those are being passed to your new website. Click the link and make sure you’re redirected to the new page and not the old.
Extra Tip: If your URL structure isn’t going to change from the old page to the new page then you don’t have to worry about 301 redirects. People will already be going to the correct page, so everything will transfer over.
What about a canonical attribute? The canonical attribute is not the same as a 301 redirect, but company owners still sometimes get confused. Using this tag is necessary when you either have duplicate content or pages and you want them both to stay live, or you have multiple pages out there and you want Google to index only one. This will help you avoid duplicate content issues. When redesigning a site, the last thing you want is the same content out there being indexed twice because this could hand you a penalty. Learn more here.
What about a 302 redirect? You might hear about a 302 redirect as a potential option for you during a redesign. What a 302 redirect does is let Google know that your page is only temporarily moved, while a 301 says your site is being permanently moved to a new URL and you want Google to index your new pages. In most cases a 302 redirect might be used if you’re doing temporary work on one or two pages. An entire site redesign typically requires a 301.
You always want to make sure that Google can crawl and then index your site, which is done through an .xml sitemap file. If your site isn’t part of the Google index, no SEO work you do will matter because Google won’t be able to find your site. Unfortunately, during a redesign sometimes the .xml sitemap file gets lost or deleted.
A 301 redirect isn’t going to be enough to let Google know it need to index your new site, so you have to create a sitemap for your new site in order to give Google more information. You can learn more about creating and implementing an .xml sitemap here.
Letting Google Know about Your Redesign.
Your last piece of the puzzle in terms of SEO should be to let Google know that you have done a redesign by using the Change of Address tool in Webmaster Tools. This will let Google know what changes you are making, and those changes will be taken into account for 180 days. After that mark, your new site should have already started being indexed. You can find this tool by clicking the gear icon in your Webmaster Tools, selecting your site, and then clicking on Change of Address.
Do you have any tips that you have used in the past when redesigning your website with SEO in mind? Let us know in the comment section below.