Protecting your SEO when redesigning your website.

Craig Greenup 17/12/22, 09:08


There comes a time in every website’s lifespan when the old layouts, designs and features are starting to look a little dated and may even begin to contribute to slow loading speeds and high bounce rates.

Sadly, this is inevitable because the digital landscape changes so frequently that something that was current and cutting edge 3 or 4 years ago may no longer be fit for purpose. Not only this, but there is a good chance that your brand and wider company direction has changed over the years, so your website no longer appropriately represents your company.

If this sounds familiar to you, then the chances are that your website could benefit from a redesign to refresh it and give it new life. This all sounds simple enough, but when you have invested significant time and money into getting your website to rank through organic SEO, you need to be aware of the ways that a redesign can potentially impact your search engine rankings. You’ll also need to plan how this will be handled ahead of time, so you are much less likely to encounter any unexpected problems throughout the process and after your redesigned site is launched.

This is something that every website owner dreads because it takes a scientific approach to take on the task of refreshing a site without undoing all the hard work it took to cultivate a strong online presence. The risks are very real and can spell disaster for new and established brands alike. Luckily, there are plenty of things that can be done to protect your investment and help to ensure there is minimal disruption to your rankings.

Monitoring everything is key

It probably goes without saying that you will need to monitor your website’s performance in detail before and after your redesign. Keeping a close eye on what has been changed on your site and when makes accountability easier, and by closely watching the results of each action, you can dramatically reduce the time it takes to correct any potential mistakes because you’ll know which actions need to be reversed or countered to prevent your rankings from slipping. The most important things to closely monitor throughout are:

  • Organic traffic
  • Keyword rankings
  • Backlink profile
  • Loading speeds
  • Site security
  • Inventory of your pages
  • Site structure

Keep things familiar

Your customers love familiarity, and a loyal, returning customer may find it jarring to one day load up your site and see that everything is unrecognisably different. Of course, you can make changes to the structure, layout and overall appearance of your website, but this needs to be done with care, so it still feels consistent – especially in terms of structure. The best way to do this is to use website crawling software to create a map of your website and use this to inform your new website design. Maintain similar content clusters, and help prevent your customers from getting lost by having clean, clear and familiar navigation.

Save your original content and site info

If your website content and info was in a strong position before your website redesign, then you will likely benefit from saving and reusing it in your newly refreshed website. To ensure continuity between your old and new site, create a list of your pages, and if the URL is going to be changed for any of them, you’ll need to make sure the correct redirect procedures are followed. This will help maintain the trust of your visitors and reduce any potential losses to your organic traffic. It’s also a good idea to retain your previous sitemap so you can use this to plan your new site structure.

Customise your 404 pages

When it comes to websites, it’s virtually impossible to guarantee that every page will work perfectly at all times. For those times when a page is unexpectedly broken, you will want to make sure your visitors are not left in the dark with a standard 404 page. Custom 404 pages are the ideal solution to broken links and will tide you and your visitors over until the issue is resolved.

It is a fact of the redesign process that the odd page will get lost, or a URL won’t work as expected. Use a custom page to convey the problem to your visitors and to ease the frustration that can be felt when they can’t find what they are looking for. Ideally, your custom 404 page will provide them with an alternative page to visit that is relevant to the page they were looking for originally.

Avoid working on live websites

Unless you’re carrying out some minor changes, you will want to avoid working on a website while it’s live. The problem with altering a live website is that everything you do is visible to anyone visiting the site, and this can cause frustration and harms your site’s credibility.

If you are undertaking an extensive redesign, then you’ll need to either temporarily disable your website or will need to use a temporary, separate domain that you can then switch over when everything is ready to go live. By taking this approach, you can minimise disruption to your services and will avoid search algorithms from indexing an incomplete page and serving it in search results.

Navigating the process from start to finish

Before you redesign and migrate your website, you must think carefully about what you want to accomplish. Whatever your short and long term goals are, you need to ensure that your activities will not undo all the hard work you’ve put into making your site rank. Failure to do so can take you back to square one in terms of rankings, and that can take months or even years to recover from – not to mention the required financial investment in bringing your site back up to scratch. Below is a checklist that will act as a solid foundation when it comes to redesigning your website without causing an SEO disaster.

Establish your stakeholders and define their roles and goals

Having a dedicated task force to manage your website redesign prevents you from ending up in a ‘too many cooks’ situation. When using the skills of an agency to do this, you will need to work closely with them to establish your goals, and the agency will then take on the responsibility of assigning roles to the right people. Generally speaking, a well-rounded and highly skilled team will include:

  • Web designers
  • Front end, back end, or full-stack developers
  • Content writers
  • Strategists
  • Client managers to act as a point of contact

It is vital that your goals are clearly defined because this will make them much easier to achieve. If you are looking to provide a better user experience, then listing this as part of your strategy is vital to keep UX at the heart of your redesign. If you are more focused on commercial growth, you will need to think about how you want to go about achieving this and will need to work your preferred techniques into your overall strategy.

Audit your current site

A thorough audit will highlight areas that are most in need of improvement, such as your visuals, navigation, content, structure, and overall brand messaging. This part of the process gives you a clear picture of what you’re working with, what is working well, and what is just not doing the trick anymore. An audit should also factor in any SEO strategies you have used.

Review the user journey

The best way to make sure your redesign is a success and does not harm your SEO investment is to spend time considering the user journey. Search engines prefer sites that add value to users and are easy to use, feature-rich and provide an engaging experience. Taking an in-depth look at the journey your users take through the site will make any holes in the process very obvious, and you can make sure they are addressed in your new design.

Set a realistic timeline

Redesigning a website takes time, but as a site owner, you will naturally want to minimise the amount of time it takes to get your redesigned site up and running. Realistically, you can expect a site redesign to take anywhere from 1 to 6 months, though in some cases, it can be shorter or longer than this – it all depends on what you are trying to achieve. To avoid frustration, you should not wait until your redesign is very overdue because you may need to sit tight for some time after starting the process.

Hire the professionals

We do things a little differently here at Radical. Known for our straight-talking, down to earth attitude to web design, we balance creativity with a systematic, scientific approach because we know that this gives our clients the results they need. You’ll be in safe hands at every stage of the process and can be confident that your goals will form the foundation of everything we do – so contact us today to get the ball rolling.