I speak to so many business owners that desperately need their website redesigned but are terrified of losing their existing rank on Google, Bing and other search engines. Without causing alarm, they’re right to be concerned.
I’ve witnessed websites that have previously ranked well on Google simply fall out of the search results following a redesign. The business owner is left facing a huge drop in traffic whilst the web designer is left puzzled.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If the correct planning is done beforehand and a few simple steps are followed then the new website will retain, if not surpass the ranking positions that the old website had.
If you’re planning on redesigning your old site then follow the steps below. If you are hiring a web designer to do the redesign for you then ask them what steps he / she intends to take to preserve your Google rankings. If you don’t hear something very similar to what I’ve written here then I’d advise you to choose another designer as you’re likely to lose a lot of traffic. Alternatively, contact me for a website redesign quote.
Let’s take a look at the steps that you, or your designer should take when redesigning a website.
Make A List Of Your Existing Website URLs
This is a simple albeit time consuming exercise, don’t skip this step though, this is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your existing search result rankings and here’s why. If you’re planning on changing the platform that your website runs on then chances are, even if you keep the same page names, your final urls will look different. For example, your current home page may currently look like this:
After the redesign, you website home page may simply be:
Equally so, your ‘about us’ page may currently be:
Whereas, you new ‘about us’ page may simply be
So, what we need to do, is to make a list of all our current URLS and then as we design the new website, we can then do what is called a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL. This ensures that any links that may point to your old webpages will automatically redirect to the new replacement pages once the redesign is done. In addition, it sends a signal to Google that says “Hey! that old ‘about me’ page that I had, you can now find it here!
Skip this step and Google will think you’ve closed your website and in no time you’ll find your existing ranks dropping from the index like lemmings.
There’s a few tools that can help you to find your existing URLs, ideally, your website will have an XML sitemap already. If so, then this can be opened by Excel or similar. If you have Google analytics installed, then you’ll be able to get a list of URLs visited within a predetermined timescale.
If you don’t have analytics or an XML site map then you can simply go Google and type your domain name proceeded by site: (site:yourwebaddress.com) into the search bar. Google will return a list of every URL that is in it’s index. By default Google shows ten results although you can increase this by clicking on the little cog icon in the top right hand of the screen, select search settings, and then increase the number of search results shown, (see image). Once you have your list of URLs, keep it safe in a text file. We’ll need it later on.
Research Your Search Phrases
There are several ways to do this, the most basic is to simply type your search phrases into Google and look at the websites that occupy the first few positions ( not the ads at the top, the organic listings below these).
If you spend some time looking at the page titles, the meta descriptions and the actual pages themselves, you’ll see a pattern, you’ll notice the amount of content, the page structures, the mentions of the search terms or synonyms that the search engines have picked up on.
Don’t just think about SEO whilst doing this, take note of how the content is delivered. The calls to action, is it easy to contact the company, if you were a potential client, does the website earn your trust, fire your desire etc?
It’s entirely possible that you’ve not even considered some search terms. I use a handy little piece of software for finding search terms with high traffic and low competition. You can get a free trial here.
Get To Know Your Typical Customer
Do you know the demographics of your typical customer? Are they male or female? What age group? What are their interests and hobbies? Where do they hang out online? What on average do they spend with you on each visit?
There is a wealth of information on Google Analytics that can help you build up a profile of a typical customer, chances are you may have two or three typical customers, maybe one is female, aged 35 -45, car owner, who like cooking and accesses your website on a tablet running Android software. Maybe another is male 55 – 65 retired who likes fishing and uses an Apple Mac.
Facebook page insights can also provide some valuable insights for this exercise. By taking the time to know who your customers are you can plan your website and it’s content better. If more people access your site on a mobile then put your time into making sure the website looks it’s best on mobile rather than desktop. Use big buttons etc so it’s easy to navigate on a small screen.
Plan A Logical Menu Structure
Now that we’ve got some ideas on on what our competition are doing we can start to think about our business and our search terms and from that we can create logical pages and titles. So for instance. If you are a beauty salon owner you may want a home page, a nails page, a lash page, a spray tan page and so on.
Draw it out as a flow chart either on paper, or a board, you could even use sticky notes, one for each page so you can get a visualisation of the website structure.
One thing to consider during this planning exercise is content. Ideally, once you start to add content to your pages, you’ll want a minimum of 300 words per page. So, using the salon example again, if you offer manicures, pedicures, acrylic enhancements, gel nails etc. then rather than have a page for each with just a paragraph of text, consider putting them all on one page called “Nails” and having a section for each within that page.
This achieves two things. First, it makes it easier for the client to navigate and read the information, secondly, it makes your nail page highly relevant in the eyes of the search engines. One page with 500 words is much better than 5 pages with 100 words each.
Create Meaningful URLs
As we create new pages we should give some thought to our URLs. If you’re a local salon and you’re creating a nails page like we’ve just spoke about then try to include your town name in the URL like this:
Makes sense right? This sends strong signals to the search engines to let them know where you are geographically.
Submit A New Sitemap To Google
Once you’ve completed the redesign and populated your pages with content then you need to get your list of old URLs and set up all your 301 redirects. This is a complex subject that could take another article up in itself. Depending on what system you’re using to design your new website, you may find the feature in the settings that allows you to simply enter the old URL and the corresponding URL. If like me, you use WordPress then you’ll find that there are some plugins available to make creating 301 redirects quite simple.
Once this is done, it’s then time to generate a new sitemap and submit this to Google via your search console (previously webmaster tools). This will alert Google to your new page structure. After a week or two you may want to check your account to see if Google has picked up any missing pages. It’ll show these as a 404 error which means it can’t find the page. Go through to check, you may have missed some out when your did your redirects. If so, make a note of them and redirect them to the relevant new page on your website.
The Basics Of Redesigning A Website
We’ve now covered the basics of redesigning a website and still preserving any existing rank that you may have. There are plenty more tips and tricks that go into a perfect website redesign but if you follow these basic steps then you’ll not go far wrong.
Spend twice the time planning the redesign than you do actually executing it and you’ll find that the effort will reward you many times over.
Looking For A Web Designer To Redesign Your Website?
If all this sounds a little too much then I’d be happy to help you bring your new website ideas to life. Redesigning a website every few years is a great idea. Technology moves along so quickly and it’s important, especially with the advances in mobile search to present your business in the best way possible. I spend a great deal of time redesigning websites for clients. Hopefully you’ve seen from this article that it’s important to do lots of behind the scenes work if it’s to be a successful transition.
For an informal chat, fill out my contact form and I’ll give you a call to discuss.