There are lots of good reasons to redesign a website: new branding, expanded functionality, improved mobile performance. But one thing a site redesign won’t do for you? Fix your SEO.
The reason why is demonstrated in a great and somewhat horrifying tale from Andrew Shotland. Andrew worked with a law firm who’d been hit with a Google penalty and thought redesigning their site would be the cure. Instead, they completely destroyed their remaining traffic.
Site redesigns can be extremely beneficial and, done right, are perfectly safe for your SEO. But they have to be managed very carefully with SEO team involvement, for a few reasons that Andrew points out:
- Changing the site changes its link structure. As much as we all love external backlinks, the internal links of your site carry a lot of weight with Google. Your link structure communicates which pages are most important (linked more often) and for which keywords. A reckless redesign undermine key pages by chopping off pages that linked to them.
- Content waffle. Changing or rewriting the content on a page can mean it no longer ranks for the same keywords. The result is that the shiny new page gets no traffic.
- Mutation. This is what Andrew calls changing the “SEO DNA”of site: removing pages until it has a totally different structure and content than the old site did. If your site looks completely different to search engines than it used to, the result on organic search traffic is completely unpredictable.
How To Do a Redesign Safely
Ultimately, a redesign is not the ideal solution to a Google penalty (see our guide on lifting a penalty for the right way). But if you are redesigning your site, there are ways to do it right—and preserve your SEO power. For example:
- Face lifts are always okay. If your redesign is purely aesthetic—change the colors, make things load faster, rebrand—then it’s not going to affect your SEO (or will help it, since search engines prefer faster and more functional pages).
- Make sure any flashy new elements load smoothly on all devices. Every few years there’s a new trend in cool web design features, from the flash animation intro pages at the turn of the millennium to an animated full-bleed backsplash today. Trendy features that work well are fine; those that don’t will aggravate users and hurt your SEO. Run your site through Google’s mobile friendliness analyzer as early as possible.
- If old copy performed well, keep it. There’s no law against using the same content on your new site.
- If new copy is replacing old copy, consider the old copy’s SEO footprint. Look at what keywords that page was ranking for and build the new pages around the same ones.
- Make sure all the old URLs still go somewhere. If a new page isn’t replacing the old one at the same URL, set up a redirect.
- Be conservative in deleting pages. When facing a Google penalty, consider whether pages can be fixed (by rewriting) or simply neutered by blocking them in the robots.txt file (so Google won’t crawl them). These solutions can lift a penalty without drilling holes in your site structure.
- Never throw out an old website. Back up the old site in full before rolling out the new one, so you can roll back to it if you need to.
If you need help with your redesign—or getting rid of a Google penalty without doing a redesign at all—EverSpark Interactive can help. Get your free consultation today.
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