A website redesign is essentially the process to revamp one or several aspects of your website, — such as content, layout, navigation, etc. — to improve conversions and performance.
A redesign may include changing your domain name, updating your content repository, adding new website sections or features, improving the appearance (UI), optimizing everything for the mobile user experience (UX), rebranding, and so on.
While the goals and benefits of redesigning your website could be plenty, one thing remains common — you need to have a dedicated focus on retaining your website’s SEO performance.
Because if your website has been around for a while, then Google already has a fairly strong understanding of what it’s about, its structure and content, and its relevance to various search queries.
When you do a major revamp — such as a redesign — Google has to re-evaluate your website to update its understanding. The bigger the overhaul, the longer this re-evaluation might take.
So without a strong focus on SEO, your website redesign can lead to a substantial drop in traffic and rankings. For instance, if you delete a content page that used to rank high, your overall website traffic will take a big hit.
To avoid that, we’ve come up with a comprehensive SEO checklist you can use to not only retain your current Google rankings and traffic but to actually improve them with the redesign.
You can also use our Website Redesign SEO Spreadsheet that lets you easily document and compare all your URLs pre, during, and post your website redesign.
But before we dive into the SEO checklist for each stage, let’s quickly discuss the reasons for a redesign and the areas it may affect.
As mentioned in the introduction, there are plenty of reasons why you may consider a website redesign. Some of the top reasons include:
A business may want to change its customers’ perception of the brand to:
Rebranding is the process to achieve that. It goes beyond changing the name and logo and also includes repositioning your brand so it better resonates with your audience and business goals.
A major part of any rebranding efforts is a website redesign. For example, Mailchimp, the marketing automation and email platform underwent a complete website revamp in 2018. It included new website sections, brand colors, fonts, a new logo, and more.
Introducing a new product or service requires a website redesign to house the new features and functionalities.
While the redesign may be minor in this case, preserving your rankings and traffic is still important. The content of the new product/service pages needs to be optimized for search. You also have to connect the upcoming potential traffic to metrics that reflect business impact.
If your website is garnering the desired traffic but lacking in the conversions department, then a conversion-focused redesign is on the cards. Here, the core focus is to optimize your website so it converts more visitors into leads/customers.
To do that, you need data, which comes in two forms:
With the data ready, your website redesign must happen without severely impacting SEO, otherwise, you’ll lose traffic in exchange for increasing conversions, which isn’t ideal.
Mobile devices like smartphones now account for more than 54.8% of the global website traffic. Plus, Google’s mobile-first indexing means the mobile version of your website is the benchmark for how Google indexes and ranks your site.
Thus, your website’s mobile UX can make or break your brand visibility, conversions, and revenue. Revamping your website to make it more mobile-friendly includes:
During your revamp, you can check how mobile-friendly your new design is with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Again, redesigning for mobile responsiveness means putting SEO in the front and center.
This one is meta, but you could also be redesigning your website to achieve better search engine rankings. Improving SEO via a redesign may include compressing visuals, incorporating a comprehensive keyword strategy, adding fresh content, and much more.
Moreover, SEO ties closely with site speed. A slow website not only frustrates visitors but also hurts your ability to rank on the first page of search.
With tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights, you can evaluate the various factors that affect your speed and get a list of recommendations that you can use to boost your speed. For example, you may have heavy images you can compress or unnecessary redirects you can eliminate.
Even if you’re planning an SEO- and performance-focused redesign, the checklists outlined below would help you ensure your efforts bring maximum results.
A redesign can affect various aspects of your website. Of course, the exact impact depends on the goal and extent of redesign, but here are the four core components you need to consider:
Now that you’re clear about what a redesign is, how it can be beneficial, and the major areas it affects, let’s dive into all the website redesign SEO considerations to keep in mind before, during, and after your redesign.
We have segregated the checklists into four stages — pre-design, during-design, pre-launch, and post-launch — for easy reference.
A. Competitor research
First off, conduct competitor research to take inspiration from the site structure of the top-performing website in your niche. This includes sections, pages, and keywords they rank for.
Having a structure similar (not an exact copy) to your competitors builds a sense of familiarity for your audience. Input your competitors’ website into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and check how each section of their website contributes to their overall organic traffic.
Look at the Top Subfolders paths to take inspiration from the structure of their best-performing sections.
B. Keyword research and mapping
Keyword research and mapping allow you to:
Using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer or Google’s Keyword Planner, find and categorize your keywords for your high-ranking pages and content in a spreadsheet. Include monthly search volume and competition data, so you can optimize your keywords during the redesign.
C. Prepare to map website architecture visually
Make a visual foundation of your new website structure that you can share with your redesign team. Use a mind map software like Xmind to create a visual hierarchy of your website.
If you’re planning to have new landing pages, then it’s a good idea to have a rough draft of the keyword-optimized copy ready on wireframes.
A wireframe is essentially a skeleton of the new page that’ll help your design and development team ensure that the redesign results in pages that rank.
E. UI Design
When your team is designing the user interface for new pages (or redesigning for existing ones), one specific thing to keep in mind is creating 404 pages.
Google suggests creating useful 404 pages. So if your visitors get lost or visit URLs that are no longer available, they should see a 404 error message along with a redirect CTA that leads them to another relevant page on your website.
This helps create a better user experience, and you’re able to retain lost users and minimize the bounce rate.
A: Take inventory of all pages from your existing website
Audit your existing website using Google Search Console. After navigating to the Search Results report, extend the date range, filter by pages to see a list of all your URLs that Google has indexed. Export it to generate a CSV list.
You can also use a tool like Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider to crawl your website and take inventory of your current SEO data like broken links, redirects, content, etc., and export it to a spreadsheet.
In particular, take note of the pages that have the most traffic, shares, and inbound links and the keywords these pages rank for. These are your website’s biggest assets that you must protect during the redesign.
B. Setting up the test/staging site with noindex attribute
Have a staging website ready. It will serve as a testing environment for your new design. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
C. Update new design with the old database
On pages where the content is left untouched, use the same content, title, and meta as on the old design. Update new pages with new content, title, and meta description.
D. Crawling & auditing the test/staging site
Using the same crawl tool (such as Screaming Frog), crawl your test site (initial crawl). Verify that all of the issues discovered in crawling the original site are not present in the test site crawl.
Next, make a copy of your original site crawl, with all the change notes, and perform a search and replace operation so that the URLs have the same structure as the test site. This is your testing crawl text file.
Now set the crawler to List Mode and crawl the test site using your testing crawl text file. This will check each URL to see if there is a corresponding page on the new site for every page on the old site. Export this as your final test site crawl.
E. Matching up your content, title, meta description, H1s, and URLs
Follow these tips to match up your content:
F. Replace old URLs with new from the new website navigation
Determine old URLs that have been changed and don’t have redirects set up:
If you find a 404 on your final test site crawl that doesn’t have a matching title tag, search for keywords or meta descriptions that match. If there are no good matching pages on the test site, note this in your spreadsheet and leave the 404 as is, but ensure no links are pointing to this page.
G. Make consistent internal link architecture. Especially for new pages
Ensure all links on the new website are pointing to the correct pages.
H. Optimize your page speed
As mentioned earlier, page speed is a ranking factor and pivotal to the user experience. Even a one-second delay in mobile load times can impact mobile conversions by up to 20%.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to pinpoint and fix as many speed-reducing errors as possible. This may include compressing your files, using a content distribution network (CDN), minifying your code, and implementing a caching plugin on your site, among other things.
Oh, and while on the subject of mobile…
H.1. Make sure the new website is mobile-friendly
Again, as described above, mobile devices now constitute the bulk of your website traffic, and mobile performance plays a primary role in determining your rankings.
A. Configure Google Analytics and Google Search Console
If you haven’t already, set up Google Analytics and link it to Google Search Console. Learn the step-by-step process here.
B. Prepare 301 redirects for all the changed URLs and domain versions
301 redirects are permanent redirects that tell Google to pass all the SEO link juice to the new URL. So, setting up the right redirects is crucial before you launch your new design.
You’ll also need to prepare redirects if you update your URL structure. For instance, if you install an SSL certificate on your site, you’ll need to 301 redirect all http://xyz.com pages to https://xyz.com.
Learn how to set up 301 redirects for SEO here.
C. Set canonical URLs throughout the website
If you have multiple pages that target the same keywords or have similar content, use the rel=”canonical” tag to tell the search engines which one is the master version of the page that you want to show in the search results.
Ideally, each URL on your website (except the homepage) should have a self-referencing canonical tag.
For instance, you have a product page for shoes of different sizes, and the page has statically generated content. For each size, you will have a page with the same product and content. Using the “rel=canonical” tag, you can clarify which one to show in the SERPs.
D. Set Hreflang attribute if applicable
If you have a multilingual website with a global audience, the Hreflang tag tells the search engines which version of your website to display based on the user’s country.
Use the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”xyz” tag to show the right language or regional URL in the search results. Update the language annotations in Google Search Console if your website contains multilingual or multinational pages.
Check out Google’s Search Gallery and you’ll find various rich snippet types, such as reviews, recipes, products, etc. Pick the relevant ones for your redesigned website.
E. Decide the best time to launch
The best time to relaunch your website is the time when it gets the least visitors. Consider launching it after midnight in the timezone of your primary traffic source country.
A. Create annotation in Google Analytics
After the redesign launch, consider adding an annotation in Google Analytics. This helps you mark when the redesign happened and the key changes you made.
B. Ensure that .htaccess is operating on the correct URL structure, not the URL structure of the test/staging site
The .htaccess redirects you made earlier must be on the updated URL structure of the new website.
C. Make sure that the new website pages are allowed to be crawled
Check your robots.txt file to verify it only blocks the pages you don’t want to be crawled and allows crawlers to access all the important pages on your new website. Test your robots.txt with the robots.txt Tester by Google.
D. Make sure that the new website pages are allowed to be indexed
Check the meta-robots tags. They should be set to ‘index, follow’.
E. Run a final crawl right after the launch
Ensure there were no issues in migrating the test site to its final location by running a final crawl post-launch.
F. Check if 301 redirects are set correctly
Double-check your 301 redirects as these are one of the most important aspects of retaining traffic and rankings.
G. Check if canonical URLs are set correctly
Avoid duplicate content issues by ensuring that your canonical tags are set correctly.
H. Check if Hreflang attributes are set correctly
If you’ve implemented Hreflang attributes for new pages on your site, verify that they’re set correctly so your multilingual pages display correctly.
I. Submit sitemaps to Google
If you haven’t already, submit your new sitemap to Google to facilitate the crawling and indexing of your redesigned website.
J. Request to index site from Search Console
After launch, you want your new website to be indexed as quickly as possible. In Search Console, head over to the URL Inspection tool → enter your page URL.
After your page is found, select Request Indexing.
K. Monitor Google Search Console errors
Keep an eye on your Google Search Console messages to see if there are any errors or warnings to fix after launch.
L. Monitor ranking and compare the results
For a few months after launch, monitor your Google Analytics to see if there are improvements in rankings, traffic, bounce rates, and conversions when compared to the previous design.
The improvements may not be immediate, but if the redesign is carried out keeping all these SEO best practices in mind, you’ll realize better results in a matter of weeks.
Also, it’s a good idea to frequently test the various elements of your redesigned pages — links, forms, buttons, speed — to ensure a flawless user experience.
M. Check the number of pages indexed in Google
Type site:yourdomain.com in Google to see the number of your URLs indexed.
Also, keep track of the cache date of your indexed URLs by using the cache:yourdomain.com operator in search. If the cache date is recent and regularly updated, it means that Googlebot is visiting your site frequently. If the date is old, check for any indexing issues in Search Console.
N. Check and compare search traffic and SEO visibility
Last but not least, check and compare your search traffic and overall SEO visibility with your original design.
Head over to the Search Console → Performance report to see how your search traffic changes over time, average position in search results (your SEO visibility), click-through rates, traffic sources, the search queries that show your site, and more.
Select a period before the redesign and a period after the launch to compare your organic traffic performance.
Clearly, a website redesign is no cakewalk. While a minor temporary drop in traffic is expected, your traffic won’t suffer in the long run provided you don’t make the following mistakes.
Design first, SEO later — this is not a good approach. You must involve an SEO specialist or a team in planning your website redesign. Only then can you ensure correct redirects, the right URL structures, and little-to-no content and traffic loss after the website redesign.
As much as possible, avoid changing the URL structure. The more URL changes you make, the more complex your redesign becomes, and the more time it takes for Google to pick up your new website.
During your redesign, if you’re switching to a new CMS and it’s not possible to retain the old URL structure, or if your existing URL structure has too many subfolders (three or more), then changing your URL structure makes sense.
If your redesign entails dropping some pages, then don’t just redirect those URLs to the homepage. That’s because, over time, each of those pages has gained some authority and ranking juice in the eyes of Google. Redirecting them to the homepage means throwing it all away.
Rather, carry out redirects on a page-by-page basis. Point those pages to the most relevant new pages on your website that are valuable for your audience.
For that, get a list of all your URL using these sources:
Gather your URLs in our spreadsheet and filter out duplicates. Use this list to make a redirect map. And always set up 301 redirects as they are permanent redirects that tell Google’s crawlers to pass all the link juice to the new URL.
Along similar lines as above, make sure to highlight the most important pages on your website — high-traffic blog posts, high-converting forms, etc.
During a major redesign or migration, it’s easy to overlook pages. And the last thing you want is to unwittingly lose the benefits of a page that drove amazing SEO results. So, make sure to create a structured spreadsheet with important URLs highlighted to correctly map out your redirects.
A website redesign — especially a conversion-focused revamp — is so much more than improving its appearance. There’s plenty of technical stuff to take care of, from duplicate/thin content, XML sitemaps, and redirects to basic things like H1 titles and meta descriptions.
Always take a backup of your website and save all data (pages, content, and metrics) before proceeding with the redesign. After the redesign and relaunch, submit the new sitemap and spot SEO errors by thoroughly monitoring your Google Analytics (pages indexed, URL traffic, mobile performance, etc.). Also, check for errors in Google Search Console and compare your SEO performance in terms of overall rankings.
Phew, that’s a lot to take in!
If you need a helping hand, we’re an experienced SaaS SEO agency with the necessary tools and chops to help you ensure you have a successful website redesign while avoiding an SEO disaster. We make sure to not only retain but improve your search engine rankings and traffic.
P.S.: Don’t forget to copy our Done-for-You “SEO Redesign Checklist” Spreadsheet to make the process streamlined and successful.