Website redesign SEO: mitigate risks and capitalize on opportunities
I had a web designer reach out to us not long ago looking for some insight into a website they built a month previous.
It was a fairly large project but everything seemed to go very well. They designed an amazing functional and lead-generating website and you could tell that they poured their heart and soul into the project and that they really cared about their client.
Which is why the reached out.
You see, they had received a call from their client the day before – a call that we hear about far too often – complaining about the drop in traffic and noticeable decrease in phone calls. They wanted us to take a look to see if we could diagnose and help recover.
And this is what we saw.
Unfortunately, we see this a lot. But it doesn’t have to be the case. This is why we’ve built a customized website redesign SEO solution for web designers.
What is redesign SEO?
During a redesign there is often significant changes to content, site structure, CMS & code, and functionality of the website. This is a perfect storm for huge (and potentially negative) changes in organic visibility. Website redesign SEO is the process of mitigating the potential risk to organic visibility while capitalizing on the opportunities that present themselves during the website redesign process. It is unlike a traditional SEO campaign or solution as it happens regardless of whether or not you’re ready for it.
What can I do about it?
If you do not have a good process in place to handle a redesign project with respect to organic search, then if you haven’t experienced the above situation it’s only a matter of time.
I’m going to map out a standard redesign SEO process below. If you’re interested in exploring a partnership with the SEO Brothers and learning more about how we can help you streamline your redesign SEO process, click here – we’re happy to help.
We’ll take you through our 9-step process to make sure you can cover the basics with SEO during your next redesign project. These steps include:
1. Get access to the tools you need.
2. Crawl & audit the old website.
3. Brief developer on significant organic performance metrics and indicators.
4. Conduct proper industry research.
5. Create an optimized keyword mapping document for the new website.
6. Prepare a website migration (301 redirect) document based on old and new structures.
7. Implement & Launch the website.
8. Conduct a post-launch tech audit.
9. Plan for the future.
The purpose of this checklist is to redesign your client’s website without losing any SEO benefit that you’ve already built over the years. However, as a secondary goal, we’d also like to experience a nice lift in organic traffic after the launch.
Let’s break out each point into more detail.
1. Get access to the tools you need
Lets cover this one off before it comes back to bite us in the ass. We’ll need to document and make sure that we have access to all the tools we will need to best prepare the website for a redesign. Depending on whether you are simply offering strategy and recommendations or you are the developer also implementing the strategy, the access and tools you may need might vary, so we’ll cover a few.
Google Analytics will be used to conduct the audit of the existing website and for the preparation of the brief for the developer. If you do not have any analytics installed on your website, we encourage you to do this now, as it may help establish a baseline of organic traffic before launching the new site.
Google Search Console
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console gives you insights into your website on the web. It’ll tell you if Google has a hard time accessing your website, if there were any pages not indexed, and highlight some technical limitations that may be impacting organic search performance.
We’ll use this tool mainly to monitor the website closely after launching – including support in the post launch audit. It can also be used to get an idea of keyword visibility for the pre-launch audit.
Website CMS and/or hosting access
In order to implement both the page-specific optimizations and the redirects, we’ll need access at least to a content management system, however, having access to a web host or control panel would help avoid any issues as well.
If you are also moving web hosts during the redesign you’ll need to make sure you have access to both both servers.
SEMRush & other industry tools
These aren’t really client-specific tools, however, they are worth mentioning.
We use a suite of tools during our industry research phase and our initial organic audit and discovery. The most important one here worth mentioning is SEMRush but we also tap into Majestic SEO and ahrefs.com.
These will help you get a better picture of what’s happening to the old site and better understand how your changes might impact performance.
2. Crawl & audit the old website
This is important. Don’t assume that just because you are rebuilding the website that you don’t need to pay any attention to the old website. This is likely the most common oversight that leads to a drop in organic performance.
This step is as much for the developer as it is for the end client.
If you’re the developer, pay even more close attention.
So to start, you’ll want to crawl the old site using a tool like Screaming Frog. Save this data as you will need to use it again later.
From here, you’ll want to do a quick audit on the old website looking specifically at the following:
Top organic landing pages
Having access to Google Analytics will make this process much easier.
Apply the 80/20 rule here and find the top 20% of the pages that generate 80% of the traffic. Depending on the type of site these could be the homepage, categories pages and/or service pages, and location pages.
Understand why the these pages do well
Use tools like ahrefs and SEMRush to dig into the link profile and ranking keywords of the top pages. Find out why these pages are driving such high traffic. Some reasons might includ:
- The homepage performs well because it has rich content and the majority of incoming links.
- Location pages rank well for geo-modified search terms as they are optimized in GMB and local directories.
- Category pages perform well due to great content silo structures on the category and product pages.
You get the idea. Put on your hardcore SEO hat and really do some investigating.
Understand what makes the old site do so well so that you don’t mess that shit up when you rebuild it.
3. Brief the developer
If you’re the developer, well, consider yourself briefed from the above research.
If you’re only wearing the SEO hat (like we do), then you’ll need to put together a brief that is more for the developer than it is for the end client.
While there may be some benefit to the end client, it’s goal is to inform the developer as to why the old site performs well, and what makes it do so while calling out specific aspects that should be carefully considered.
I’ll give you an example.
We worked with a client once that had specific location pages on their old website. Each page was optimized well for specific geo-modified search terms in which they had a physical address. These pages were used in verified GMB profiles and tied to many citations around the web.
The performed very well and drove a significant source of targeted and high value organic search traffic.
Unfortunately, the client combined their locations pages into a location app on their website, letting the user select their location and having data load based on their filter criteria.
It looked and functioned very well.
But it destroyed their organic search traffic.
Unfortunately, in this case we weren’t hired until well into the development process – at which time both the developer and the client were too invested in the new functionality that they did not want to reconsider our recommendations.
Don’t be too late. Your SEO for website redesign needs to start as soon as the project comes in.
4. Conduct proper industry research
Now that we’ve briefed the developer and we have a better picture of why the old site is doing as well as it is doing, we’ll look deeper into the industry to best understand what’s happening.
We’ll use this data, along with the old website’s audit to develop our on-page strategy.
There are two main areas of focus during our industry research.
A) Competitive analysis
Real competitive analysis. Not simply scraping domain authority and dumping backlinks into a spreadsheet. Really understanding what’s happening in the industry. What key high-ranking competitors are doing and why they are achieving their results.
This is somewhat of a reverse engineering process that will help us not only put together the on-page recommendations but also map out an ongoing plan for the client.
B) Keyword research
Our keyword research process has evolved over the last couple years and will likely continue to do so into the future.
Since we’re talking about a redesign and rebranding project here, our keyword research starts with the existing keywords that the old site currently ranks for and from there moves into new opportunities and low hanging fruit.
Remember. The goal here is to make sure we don’t tank our organic performance. Not to over-spend on trying to capture every opportunity under the sun.
If the right structure and foundation is laid in the beginning, we can always add on services after the launch.
5. Create an optimized keyword mapping or on-page document
We talk about the keyword mapping document here, so I won’t go into too much detail on how to create one.
However, it’s important that our optimizations and recommendations are based off of both the audit of the old website AND the industry and keyword research completed in the meantime.
This will give us our best chance at not only maintaining organic performance but also improving upon it.
This document will likely be implemented by the developer close to the end of the development stage.
Wait there is more!
While it is important to get the brief over to the developer before having a finalized sitemap, don’t shy away from making specific structure recommendations in this on-page optimization document.
If there is too much confusion and not enough siloing off content – call it out.
Better to mention it and have it ignored than never to mention it at all.
6. Prepare the website migration document (301 Redirects)
Before starting this document, make sure you see a development website. Don’t blinding make 301 redirect recommendations without knowing both the URL structure and what content lives on the page.
Please don’t miss this step.
I’ve seen too many SEOs miss this step.
I’ve also seen too many people ONLY DO THIS STEP and call it redesign SEO.
Redirects are really important, but only if they are done well.
Remember Step 2 when you crawled the old website? Pull in that data to a spreadsheet and start mapping the old URLs to your new structure.
Be sure to check the pages and don’t blindly map until you’ve verified the page is relevant to the old one.
I like to be nice and then export the file to a proper apache htaccess format – but even a mapped excel will be find.
Deliver the document to your developer or implement.
7. Implement, Check and Launch
Be sure you get eyes on the development site one last time before the final launch.
Crawl the new development site with screaming frog to make sure all the data was implemented properly.
Take a once over by hand to make sure the content is good and that nothing jumps out.
Launch the website.
8. Conduct a post-launch audit
I guarantee you 100% of the time that there will be some things that are missed and some other things that go wrong.
But I probably don’t need to tell you that.
You don’t launch a website and then go on holidays for a week.
Same goes for SEO.
I like to do a post-launch audit anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks after launch depending on the authority and traffic levels.
Now that the site is live, you’ll check a few of the following:
- That all on-page optimizations were implemented.
- Page speeds of the new site.
- Internal link structure.
- Robots, sitemap, etc.
- Check that the 301 redirects were implemented.
That’s a good start. Basically, your standard SEO audit.
Be sure to keep an eye on Analytics and Search Console. You’ll 100% find missed redirects that end up being caught as 404s in Search Console. Likewise, you’ll be able to keep an eye on organic traffic from GA.
Here’s an important piece of information.
Write this down.
Just because organic traffic is increasing a couple days after launch doesn’t mean you’ve done a good job.
It’s more than possible that the launch of the website is also paired with other promotional activities that may drive additional organic traffic.
This is why it’s always wise to check in on organic traffic a month or so after the launch. Make sure that things are still going well even after the honeymoon phase is over.
9. Plan for the future.
Congratulations. You’re through the thick of it.
But don’t stop now.
You have the research and the data.
You have the ability to leverage your efforts so far to really push things forward.
This is when things can really get exciting. Chat with us about how to best support your clients after a redesign solutions. Click here to get in touch.