John Maher and John McDougall talk about mistakes that people often make when redesigning a website, which can negatively affect your SEO.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Gloucester, Massachusetts. And today, I’m here with our president John McDougall, and we’ll be discussing the top five website redesign mistakes to avoid. Welcome, John.
John McDougall: Hey, John.
Leaving The NoIndex Tag On
John Maher: John, what do you think is your biggest mistake to avoid in a website redesign?
John McDougall: Well, sometimes a developer will forget to, when they launched the website to, delete the noindex. If they had no index in the development site and then they launched the site and it still says noindex, nofollow, Google won’t even crawl the website. We have seen that when a website goes live. One company came to us and was like, “It’s been like a month. We lost all our SEO. What the heck’s going on?” We’re like, “Oh, look, it says noindex, nofollow. You’re not even letting Google see the site.”
John Maher: Yeah, yeah. That was an eyeopener that time.
John McDougall: Yeah. Tick off the noindex, nofollow and don’t index the development site. Because if you do and when you launch your main new website, and if by chance, Google gets a hold of a link to the development server site where it’s the testing site, not the full intended live website, but the-
John Maher: Right, which you might have on a separate domain name or maybe on a sub domain like dev.yourdomain.com or something like that.
John McDougall: Exactly. That’s why sometimes you noindex that. So, while you’re working on it just-
John Maher: Yeah. While you’re working on the site, you do want to have it “noindex” for exactly that reason. You don’t want it to be crawling this other domain name where you have the development site. But then what you’re saying is that once you launch that onto the main domain name, you want to make sure you take that noindex tag off.
John McDougall: Right. So sometimes inadvertently the developer will not realize that was only for the dev site. That’s a big one because then you’re just totally invisible. I mean, literally nothing else matters at that point. I mean, you’re telling Google to F off, go away. Don’t even come here.
John Maher: Right. And it’s easy to do in WordPress. I think it’s in the settings, there’s sort of these general settings. And then there’s the reading settings. And if you scroll down under the reading settings at the bottom, there’s a little box that you can check off that says like, “Discourage search engines from crawling my site.” And if you have that checked off, that’s all it takes. That puts that noindex tag on, on all of the pages of your site. So you just have to make sure that little box is not checked off.
John McDougall: Yeah. So if you have WordPress, that’s a great suggestion, John, to go and look for that specifically.
Forgetting to Set Up 301 Redirects
John Maher: What’s another big mistake that people make when launching their website?
John McDougall: Forgetting to do 301 redirects is a huge mistake. Because when you launch a new website, if you change your URL structure, for example, if you change platforms and your old website said, page name.asp or something, and now it’s .HTML, or if it was .HTML and now there’s no extension or it’s used to be about-us, and now it’s just about, is the URL of the about page. If those page names change, Google will have indexed, assuming you’re letting Google index your pages and you’re worried about SEO. Google will have indexed all of the pages on your site. And it knows their names where their addresses like your mailbox address’ is basically your URL. And that tells Google, “Hey, check out this bundle of text and content to rank.” And if that URL changes and you don’t do a 301 redirect from the old name to the new name, Google won’t easily be able to find it and you will lose anybody that’s linking to that old URL, that link energy won’t be forwarded over to the new site. So-
John Maher: Because it’ll just be landing on a 404 not found error page, and then that link juice, if you will, just stops right there.
John McDougall: And eventually Google may figure out that, that “Hey, these pages have changed,” and indexed the new pages, but there may be a time where the about/us page is still indexed in Google as the old page, but you click it, and it’s broken, and you get the new one. And then you’re fighting with yourself in the search results. So eventually some of that stuff washes itself out and Google will no longer eventually index the old pages, because it knows they’re just broken. But what a shame, because you’re pissing people off when they’re searching Google and finding broken links or finding two versions of the page. If you just do 301s from the old page names to the new ones, you get the link energy, you have continuity, customers aren’t annoyed and you get all the power of the link and content energy that you should to the new pages.
John Maher: Right. I’ll add to that as well, that a 301 means “permanently moved”. So it’s a permanently moved redirect. Sometimes we see servers use a 302 redirect, which means temporarily moved. So if you accidentally use a 302 redirect, it does the same thing for the user; it redirects them to the new page. But in the background it’s telling Google, “Hey, this is only temporarily moved. So don’t index this new URL because we’re going to be changing this back to the original one later, it’s only temporary.” So if you really want Google to give that new page credit and have Google crawl that new page, it needs to be a 301 permanently moved redirect.
John McDougall: Yeah, exactly. So there’s a lot of different things like that that just get overlooked and they’re huge mistakes. We’ve seen them cause complete chaos. Yeah. So those are a couple big ones.
Conversion Related Website Mistakes
John Maher: All right. So, do people make conversion related website relaunch mistakes, have you found?
John McDougall: Yeah, one funny one is that we say, “sometimes ugly works”. So they launch a new, beautiful website and well, I’ll combine this with the other thing I was going to say, which is not having a good call-to-action at the top of the site, and I’ll tell the story of how these two things go together in context. So a customer of ours launched a new website. It was beautiful, but it didn’t have a call-to-action form on the top right of the main pages. It had a video rotating on the homepage that it didn’t have before. So it loaded slower. It was prettier, but overly graphical with video playing and it was kind of flashy and again, they dropped the form on the top right.
John Maher: So they used to have a whole form on the old website. And then when they launched the new website, that form got dropped.
John McDougall: Yeah. But to put it this way, the old site was a little bit ugly, looked like a 1990s website with a form on the top right, free consultation form or free… Do you remember what it was, John? It was it like-
John Maher: It was something like that. Like a consultation.
John McDougall: Yeah. They sold high-end products, but the B2B-level thing. And it was like a consultation with $10,000 or $20,000 products. So they got tons of daily inquiries from that lead generation form. And even though it was a little ugly and kind of a basic old website, it was not overly flashy, it loaded fast, had a great SEO, had tons of content, ranked well, and they redesigned it. Not only was it prettier, but had less good, converting calls-to-action.
It also chunked off a lot of the content. So the web design company said, “Well, we don’t need all this text. Why do we have so much text on every page? What a pain in the ass for the reader.” And so then the SEO rankings went down, the conversions went down, it was just a complete nightmare. So coupled with those two big conversion issues of making it prettier — you can make your website prettier, but they made it prettier while not paying attention to calls-to-action at the top of the page.
John Maher: Mm-hmm. So you really have to look at the user experience and what the actions are that the user’s taking on the site. And don’t forget to include those on the new website. Don’t drop those things.
John McDougall: Yeah. And just because the website’s prettier by a fancy $50,000 web design company, that doesn’t mean it’s going to convert. And we’ve just seen that time and time again.
John Maher: You brought up another point, which was that they sort of cut out a lot of content when they moved to the new website. Should people be thinking about cutting and pruning their content before a relaunch? Or was that a bad idea?
John McDougall: Yeah. It is a good idea to think about your content archive before you relaunch. But that company had made kind of a whole, as I said, multiple of these mistakes. If you go and cut too much, it’s going to hurt your SEO. If you cut stuff that’s fluffy, that if you look in Google Analytics and nobody’s gone to the content in a long time, that doesn’t say everything because maybe it’s just not ranking well. So just the fact that people didn’t go to it doesn’t mean it’s not useful content. It might mean it’s just not SEO optimized.
And Google, in general, likes longer, deeper content. So just because a marketing company says, or a web design company says, “Oh yeah, we totally agree. That’s way too much content or it’s way too long.” Cut it if it’s long in a bad way, like it’s fluffy and not meaningful, but if it’s reasonable content and it’s an archive, even if some of it’s a little bit on the older side, it is probably providing Google with a point of reference that you’ve been historically covering these topics for a long time. So if you go and cut all that out, you’re kind of cutting your SEO legs off.
Website Management Issues
John Maher: What about mistakes in terms of who’s managing a website design project, is that important to consider?
John McDougall: Yeah. We’ve seen everything from, “Let’s get this young person who’s an intern, or a first year, first job ever, out of college person to handle the website redesign project. Because we just don’t have time for this and…
John Maher: Right. Hand it off to somebody who’s not busy.
John McDougall: Who’s not busy and has the time and is young and full of life and energy. And then that person, again, they probably don’t know what a 301 redirect is. They don’t know that you need long, in-depth content for SEO. They might not understand writing for conversion optimization. Writing blog posts or writing a paper for school is totally different than trying to get a B2B company to convert with powerful headlines.
John Maher: Right, “Hey, that form on the top of our site is really ugly. Let’s just get rid of that.”
John McDougall: “Oh, and look, I love Nike’s site,” or whatever. “I love how Facebook works.” A young person might be in their own bubble of the things that they like, but if they’re working for a lawyer or a bank or some local E-commerce site, which might be just entirely different than what they’re used to. So, who strategizes what the new site should have in terms of content, the technical SEO elements, how it should look?
An example – right now we’re working with a law firm who wants a new website and they’re looking at some more flashy sites and saying, “Geez, we kind of don’t want to just have just another personal injury lawyer looking website.” Well, the only problem with that is if you have flying pigs or guitars or mountains on the top of your website, because you’re trying to make a fun theme like, “we’re about vision and climbing mountains”, and then you go to the site and it’s like “Where am I? Am I on the How to climb Mount Everest website, or REI or Dick’s Sports, or am I on a personal injury lawyer’s website?”
If you go look at something like Morgan & Morgan, arguably the biggest personal injury firm in the country, maybe one of the biggest legal advertisers around, it’s kind of like their faces, their team and really a right-to-the-point kind of personal injury site. And that’s what makes a good personal injury site because you’re looking for their verdicts and settlements, are they going to fit your needs? You’re not looking necessarily to be wowed with the latest, greatest whiz bang technical website that maybe someone selling laptops might need or something like that. And then even within the legal space, if you look at business lawyers, they may want to have a little more of a brandy, trendy site to a degree, that captures their brand and all that.
So, it really depends. The decisions you make on your website relaunch requires a skillset that encompasses SEO, conversion optimization, writing, branding. And so think about that for a second. “Let’s get the interns to manage the website project”. You’ve got to have, at the very least, if you have an intern or a young person, which is great to be on the project, they need to be kind of shuffling back and forth to make sure milestones are met, the company is approving content or writing content if they’re writing it, to get to the web design company to launch it, but not necessarily making those strategic decisions. So when that happens, all hell breaks loose.
And lastly, I’ve even seen the other way. I’ve seen, well, two things; one, very high-end, seasoned, senior-level executives that appear to know a lot about strategy, that don’t understand a damn thing about SEO, 301 redirects, long content, conversion optimization, calls-to-action above the fold, making decisions. And just because somebody is older on the other side of the spectrum from the intern or the one year out of school, the new hire that you made, is the very seasoned marketing person that knows marketing, but often, or sometimes, those are the people that do say, “Yeah, let’s cut half the content, put a flashy video rotating on the top of the page.”
And then on another spectrum we’ve seen developers be project managers. One in particular I won’t name, but it was — we had to do 10 pushups if you said the guy’s name because it was just known that the person was so into the weeds on the programming that he lost sight of the SEO, lost sight of the user and did things more from a programmatic perspective and thought that was the be-all end-all. Launched a website, ranks went spiraling down, and conversions went spiraling down, even though they had 20 years of programming and backend development experience and some marketing experience.
Again, even if you think the person has some experience, do they have specific experience relaunching websites? And if SEO is important to you, understanding the issues therein, and if not, that’s not the right person for the project. The only person that’s going to properly get that site relaunched is people with SEO experience, with writing and conversion experience and all the other people can be part of the project, but they shouldn’t be making those strategic decisions or you’ll have big issues with your prelaunch.
Should You Hire an SEO Marketing Agency?
John Maher: So, if you don’t have that person in-house, what’s the answer? Is it hiring a good SEO marketing agency to handle the website redesign?
John McDougall: Yeah. Either an SEO agency or a consultant that could come in and advise you. Whether that’s us or anybody similar that understands SEO work and/or conversion rate optimization. Again, ask yourself, what’s your goal? If your goal is to be number one at the top of Google, you’re not going to get there with an okay SEO site that’s super flashy. You need, okay, the competitors all have 1500 to 1800 word or 3000 word pages. And we relaunched a website with 300 word little dinky pages. No matter how good it looks, you’re not going to get there.
So yeah, hire a consultant or an agency. And even an SEO agency, they may be able to help solve the SEO problems, but they might not even understand conversion optimization issues. So if you really want a successful project and you think your SEO team is good at SEO, but if you say, “Hey, do you guys understand conversion optimization and writing to make the conversion rate go up?” If they don’t understand that, don’t assume that the web design company can relaunch successfully for conversions.
John Maher: Yeah.
John McDougall: So, there’s all these little specific things, and people wonder why they launch their website and, all of a sudden, leads are less. Why did it get worse? And those are the reasons.
John Maher: I’d also say that the SEO agency doesn’t have to be the same thing as the website developer. We’ve had plenty of cases where we are the SEO agency, but the company hires another developer to actually build and develop the website. But we’re sort of the go-between between the company and the website developer, making sure that all of those correct things happen and that they don’t make these big mistakes that are going to affect their marketing.
John McDougall: Yeah, no, the people that are the “Jack of all trades, master of none” are the worst. If the web design company claims they know SEO, just make sure they really do because that’s when you get into trouble. And I think good SEO companies like us, we’re saying, “We don’t have to be the ones to build your website. We can, we’ve built 300 websites, but we don’t have to be that person. So if you want to get a better deal or you like a certain type of a web designer, we’ll work with them,” But make sure all those teams work together. That’s how good website relaunches happen. And otherwise, is a website relaunch your best bet? Because if you don’t have all that together, you’re better off just editing your existing site and improving it because if you don’t do all those things and you relaunch — you could spend a year or two, tickets get delayed, which also is not uncommon — then you end up worse. So those are good things to avoid.
John Maher: All right. Well that’s really great information, John. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
John McDougall: All right, sounds good.
John Maher: And for more information about digital marketing visit mcdougallinteractive.com and please subscribe, rate and review this podcast on Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher — see you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.