Before you start work on your new and improved redesigned website, give careful consideration to the pages and posts your site is already ranking for as any alteration to them can cause a drop in rankings.
It doesn’t really matter whether the changes come from an aesthetic alteration or major backend CSS coding, altering your website in any way can confuse the search engines and cause them to demote your site. This is why having a checklist to protect your site’s SEO is a must.
Common SEO Website Redesign Mistakes
Before getting into what the SEO checklist should entail, it might be helpful to consider some of the major mistakes to avoid when beginning your redesign project.
Here they are:
Leaving Out Your SEO Team
This should be obvious as the people in charge of your SEO are the ones who are best suited to keep it protected. Your IT team will most likely not know a thing about SEO, and therefore will not give any consideration to securing it when they make any changes to your site. Alert your SEO team to the changes you wish to make and have them sit down with your IT team to discuss the possible impact the changes may have on your site’s rankings.
Hiring Web Developers Who Deal with Big Brands
Unless you are a big brand yourself, it is best to hire web developers who deal with SEO-reliant sites, businesses, and brands to attract visitors and get their message out. Big brands do not really need SEO as they are already popular and web developers who deal with such brands are more concerned about making sites look “pretty” and feel user-friendly than about being SEO compliant, therefore they may not take kindly to any SEO suggestions you or your SEO team might offer.
Using Cheap Freelancers
This is a huge mistake as many low-cost web designers and developers use tactics which turn your orderly SEO site into an unreadable mess for search engine crawlers. Make sure that if you hire a freelancer they are not going to use a bunch of in-page builders and plugins because this often overwrites the site’s theme and creates confusing code that messes up your entire site’s SEO readability. In the end, you will just have to hire another developer just to fix what the first developer messed up.
SEO Website Redesign Checklist
While avoiding the 3 common mistakes listed above can help you in securing your site’s SEO during a redesign, it must be accompanied by a more detailed checklist that lays out all the do’s & don'ts to really make sure that your site doesn’t lose any current rankings and optimization capabilities.
The following checklist has been split up into the 3 major parts of a typical website redesign campaign – Pre-Launch, Launch, & Post-Launch – for your convenience.
SEO Pre-Launch Checklist
1. Remove Site Crawler Access: This is best done by password protecting your site. The second option is to set the “noindex”, “nofollow’, and “disallow” in robots.txt file.
2. Switch Servers 2 to 4 Weeks Before Redesign: This will ensure that any SEO compliant issues are not due to your new server status.
3. Do Not Change Current Ranking Content: This includes any H1s as well. Of course, you can add new pages or remove any pages that are not ranking at this point.
4. Create 301 Redirects (Moved Permanently): This is especially important for mapping any old URLs to newer ones. This is perhaps the most important step during the redesign process for maintaining any search engine rankings as it informs the search engine crawlers that an old page has been permanently moved to a new location and should be ranked as it was in the past.
5. Keep Track of Analytics: If you use Google Analytics (GA) or any other third-party analytic software, be sure to keep track of your metrics and stats starting from this point as you can detect any SEO mishaps in real-time during the entire redesign process making it easier to catch mistakes and rectify them.
Some of the key metrics you will want to keep an eye on are:
- Domain Authority
- Home Page Rank
- Number of Google Indexed Pages
SEO Launch Checklist
1. Check 301 Redirects: Do they redirect to the proper page?
2. Google & Bing Webmaster Tools: Make sure that they are installed and working.
3. Check Google Analytics / Analytics Software: Keep an eye and see if the metrics listed in the Pre-Launch section are still holding up.
4. Home Page Links: Number should be less than 100.
5. New Content Crawlability: You can check if any added content is “crawlable” by accessing the “Fetch & Reader” feature in the Google Search Console.
6. Check Titles, H1s, and Meta Descriptions: Are they correct? Are they unique?
7. Submit New XML Sitemap in Webmaster Tools
8. Change of Address for Domain Switch: This can be done in Webmaster Tools.
SEO Post-Launch Checklist
Once your site has gone live, it is time to ramp up your checklist efforts. Keep track of the following metrics consistently – weekly, if possible – to assure that your site’s rankings and optimization are holding up.
1. Number of Pages Indexed: To do this use site:domain.com. Keep in mind that the number should dwindle right after your redesigned site goes live but will pick up as your 301 redirects get crawled. Be sure to keep a close eye on any duplicate pages being indexed.
2. Rankings (Home Page Rank, Home Page Authority & Domain Authority): These 3 metrics should stay the same. If they don’t, check your internal links.
3. Top Keywords: Compare the top keywords which were driving the most traffic to your site, pre-launch to post-launch. The number should stay consistent until any new content starts getting crawled or new content begins getting added to the site. Again, it may take 1-3 weeks for your site’s pages to get crawled after launch.
4. GWT Errors: There will inevitably be 404 errors at the beginning of your launch but these should diminish as you catch them and 301 direct them to appropriate pages.
If you follow the above steps you will increase the chances of maintaining your past rankings and keeping your site optimized during and after the redesign process. Keep in mind, however, that your overall rankings might fall a bit during the initial launch, but should return to normal after the search engines start crawling your site in 2-4 weeks after it goes live.
If for some reason, your rankings do not improve after a month, backtrack using the above checklist to see where any errors or omissions may have occurred during the redesign process.