Website designs are important.
In fact, the average person forms an opinion about a website in just 50 milliseconds. 94% of that first impression is related to the site’s design, and web design accounts for 75% of a brand’s credibility.
With so much emphasis on design, it’s common for websites to go through changes as a way to modernize a site and make it more appealing for visitors.
But SEO is often overlooked during a website redesign, which can be detrimental to website traffic. This guide will help you understand the importance of a web design’s impact on SEO and how to avoid critical SEO mistakes.
What is a Website Redesign?
Website redesigns focus on changes to a site’s appearance, layout, functions, and usability.
A website redesign is more than just updating an image or changing the background color on your landing pages. It’s a high-level overhaul of a website that modifies the content, code, structure, and visuals of an existing site.
Here’s an example of what a website redesign looks like:
This is a detailed and often complex project that requires the assistance of web designers and web developers alike.
In some cases, a website redesign can be associated with switching web hosts or changing CMS platforms. An existing design, theme, and page elements may not be compatible with a migration—forcing a redesign. Other times, a web redesign is prompted due to internal company goals, fixes, or specific initiatives.
How Does a Website Redesign Affect SEO?
It’s common for websites to experience traffic drops and lower SERP rankings for target keywords after a redesign.
But that shouldn’t discourage you from updating your site’s design. A momentary slip could ultimately lead to improved SEO in the long run. If you redesign your site properly, your SEO may not drop at all.
Short-term SEO hits after a redesign are related to the way search engines serve up content. Bots still need to crawl your newly designed site before the new content can appear in the SERPs. Once the crawlers understand your new site and layout, SEO should increase or at least go back to normal.
Top 10 Website Redesign SEO Mistakes to Avoid
While a momentary loss of traffic and drop in rankings is normal after a redesign, an extended drop deserves closer scrutiny. In most cases, loss in traffic after a redesign is tied to one of the ten most common SEO design blunders described below:
#1 — Not Having a Clear Redesign Goal
Changing your site design without a clear reason is a recipe for disaster. You must have a solid foundation for the change to justify it. Otherwise, your SEO likely won’t improve as a result.
Common goals for a website redesign include:
- Improve the UX (user experience)
- Align the website with your company’s new branding
- Reduce bounce rates
- Improve conversion rates
- Increase page loading speed
- Simplify the site navigation
- Appeal to new audiences
- Modernize an outdated design
Once you establish clear goals, you can put together a list of “must-have” design elements that will achieve this goal.
#2 — Not Doing 301 Redirects
Redirects are one of the most important aspects of a website redesign if you’re changing URLs. A redirect not only sends a user from an old URL to the new one, but it also tells search engines where to find new content that was previously on a crawled URL.
301 redirects are a permanent solution. Lots of sites make the mistake of using a 302 redirect, which is only temporary. Or they use 301 redirects the wrong way, sending traffic to the wrong page.
For example, let’s say you’re running a legal website and you’re eliminating a specific page for a service you’re no longer offering. Rather than redirecting that URL to the homepage, you’d be better off redirecting to a closely related service or similar category.
#3 — Using a Design That Causes Load Time Issues
Load times have a direct impact on SEO. If you add too many visuals or get carried away with large theme files, it could create loading problems on your website.
According to HubSpot, these are the top reasons why users leave a website:
As you can see, slow loading was the top response from visitors in the survey. This was even ahead of non-responsiveness, poor navigation, and outdated designs.
Fractions of a second are huge here, and can lead to significant loss of traffic. Not only will your visitors bounce, but search engines will also penalize your site for slow loading issues.
#4 — Dropping Content
Many websites have old and outdated content. While you might be tempted to start from scratch, those old pages still provide you with SEO value. Dropping them from your site can be a crushing blow to your SEO.
Rather than eliminating content during a design, you can run a content audit and refresh your old pages—bringing new life into their SEO value.
Lots of websites also move from text-heavy designs to visuals during a redesign, especially on landing pages. But removing text from your landing pages could affect the page’s ability to rank for target keywords.
While images are helpful, your pages should still contain plenty of text. Adding an expandable FAQ section is a great way to accomplish this. Here’s an example:
The text only appears when the question is expanded. This doesn’t overwhelm visitors with large blocks of text, but all of the valuable content for SEO is still on the page.
#5 — Forgetting to Benchmark SEO Performance
Once you’ve decided to redesign your website, you need to capture key KPIs and site metrics with the old design.
These metrics will ultimately be used as a benchmark to see how your new design stacks up compared to the old one. Benchmark metrics like:
- Total site visits
- New visitors
- Organic traffic
- Sources of organic traffic
- Top organic pages
- Top keywords
- Page speed
- Conversion rates
- Bounce rates
- Inbound links
By benchmarking these numbers ahead of time, you’ll be able to tell if the new design is helping or hurting you. If the metrics don’t improve, you’re doing something wrong, and you’ll need to go back to the drawing board.
#6 — Switching to the Wrong Web Host and CMS
Using a reliable CMS and web hosting provider is key for good SEO. So don’t just blindly pick a new CMS and web host without doing your research.
For example, there are some WordPress-specific web hosting solutions on the market that are obviously intended for websites using WordPress as a CMS. These hosting providers typically offer themes and support that are optimized for WordPress, ensuring your site functions well and loads quickly.
#7 — Neglecting Mobile
More than 50% of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices. If your redesign is solely for the desktop version of your website, it’s going to cause big SEO problems for you.
Mobile responsiveness is an important SEO factor for Google when it’s determining SERP rankings for different keywords.
Check our this complete guide to Google’s mobile-first indexing to learn more about the importance of having a mobile-friendly web design.
#8 — Failing to Submit Your New Sitemap
It’s important to keep your XML sitemap up to date. Sitemaps make it easier for crawlers to locate and index content on your website. This tells the search engine how your site is structured and which pages are the most important.
It’s always in your best interest to manually update your sitemap after a redesign.
Otherwise, Google and other search engines won’t be able to understand your site. That’s because crawlers only look at sitemaps the first time they go through a website. Unless you alert the search engine to a change, they’ll still be using your old sitemap for reference.
#9 — Accidentally Blocking Search Engine Crawlers
It’s common to block certain parts of your website from search engine crawlers. For example, most sites don’t want staging pages or thank you pages to be indexed on Google.
To manage this, you can make changes to your robots.txt file.
But sometimes, additional pages are added to the exclusions list during a website redesign. Your homepage, landing pages, and blogs shouldn’t be excluded from crawls. So make sure you verify the pages that are allowed and disallowed in your robots.txt file after you complete the redesign.
#10 — Trying to Preserve SEO Rather Than Improve It
“I want to make sure we keep our SEO value during the redesign.”
This is something that I hear all too often from website owners going through this process. While you obviously don’t want your rankings or traffic to drop, preservation shouldn’t be the goal here—you should prioritize improvement.
A website redesign is a great opportunity to assess your images, meta tags, descriptions, alt text, duplicate content, broken links, pages with no backlinks, and other areas of your site that could be hindering your SEO performance.
Rather than just keeping things the way they are, you can run an SEO audit and deploy the changes jointly when your new design goes live.
Website redesigns can be a great opportunity to improve the user experience of your site, add credibility to your brand, and update an outdated design.
Just make sure you’re taking SEO into consideration as you’re going through this process.
Use this guide as a quick reference for the SEO blunders to avoid during a redesign. If you avoid the mistakes and follow the best practices described above, your new design should increase site traffic and SERP rankings.