Web Site Redesign and SEO – Plan to Win

If you have been considering a web site redesign, think of it as an opportunity to also improve your site’s search engine optimization (SEO). Many webmasters with sites that rank even relatively well in the search engine result pages (SERPs) worry that redesigning their site might destroy their keyword rankings and therefore their site’s free organic web traffic. But a redesign can actually be a golden opportunity to improve the SEO of your site and increase its organic search traffic dramatically.

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SEO Site Review

Before embarking on a site redesign project, you should take inventory of what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong with your existing site from an SEO perspective. Perform a thorough SEO site review of all on-site and on-page search engine ranking factors and document your findings. This document will be used later to set search engine optimization goals for your newly redesigned site Oliver Wood.

SEO Rankings and Traffic Baselines

You will need baseline measurements for your existing site’s keyword rankings and organic traffic volume prior to beginning any redesign work. These baselines can then be used after your newly redesigned site goes live to determine whether or not the SEO goals for your project have been met.

If you are not already using a web analytics package, you should consider getting one. Google Analytics is free and is excellent for gaining insight into your site’s traffic. Pay special attention to which URLs on your existing site are getting organic traffic from the search engines and the search phrases used to find those URLs in the SERPs. This information will be invaluable when optimizing the pages of your newly redesigned site.

You should also pull weekly ranking reports for not only the keyword phrases that you are targeting but also the keyword phrases found when reviewing your existing organic traffic using your web analytics software. It’s recommended that you pull the ranking reports weekly for a minimum of several weeks before beginning your site redesign project.

The Web Site Redesign

Once you are armed with your SEO site review, have reviewed your organic traffic via your web analytics package, and have keyword rankings for your site’s most important keyword phrases, you can begin planning and working on your site redesign. The first step in the process is figuring out what you would like to change about your existing site.

Document all of your site redesign and SEO goals thoroughly. This should include not only aesthetic and usability changes but also SEO related changes to things like the organization of your site, your navigation structures and interlinking of pages, SEO friendly URLs, coding standards, etc. If there is anything you want to change about the site from an SEO perspective, it is best to do it all at once as part of your redesign.

Work out your site design on paper before a single line of code is written. Use wire frames to design your page layouts. Create mockups of each type of page as it will appear on the redesigned site. Include as many of the SEO elements as possibly on the mockups – top navigation, left navigation (if applicable), footer links (if applicable), the h1 element, h2 elements, etc. Use the mockups to detect and solve usability and SEO related issues before you start coding. If you rename or delete any URLs on your site as part of the redesign then be sure to implement 301 redirects so that the new URLs will get credit for inbound links to the old URLs.

Once you are satisfied with your new site design, turn the developer(s) loose to implement your changes.

Testing Your Site Redesign

It is very important to thoroughly test your redesigned web site. Test all pages on the site from a functional, usability, and SEO perspective. Review the HTML source code for each of the pages on your site. Check all on-page ranking factors like the title, meta description, h1, and h2 elements. Make sure all links are either SEO friendly text links or image links. Check that all image links have the alt attribute set properly since it is considered the link text for an image link.

Do not forget to document and, if possible, test the process of upgrading your site. If you have a development environment, install a copy of the existing site and go through the process of upgrading. If you encounter any problems when testing the upgrade, modify the process and documentation to adjust for the issue, and try it again. Repeat the process until you are comfortable that you have a sound plan.

Once you’re satisfied that your redesigned site is working properly and meets all of your SEO goals, you will be ready to go live with the new site design. If possible schedule the upgrade for a non-peak time of day. If your site has seasonal traffic, schedule the upgrade for the off-season.

After Your Site Redesign is Live

Once your site redesign is live, you will need to monitor your site closely. Continue to pull weekly keyword ranking reports and to monitor your web analytics. Pay particular attention to pages that received lots of organic traffic before the redesign went live. Use Google’s Webmaster Tools to monitor things like 404 Not Found errors.