Every businessperson will be faced with a major website overhaul at some point in their career. It may be because your website isn’t responsively designed, making it difficult for customers to use on mobile devices; your company has rebranded or been acquired; you have started a new company and need to build a site from scratch; or your website is old and simply needs a refresh. Whatever the reason, updating your website can have a significant impact on how your site ranks organically in search engines.
However, it is possible to redesign your website without losing SEO. With careful planning — and understanding how your website’s content plays into your search engine rankings — you can preserve (and even improve) your SEO, regardless of how drastic the changes are to your website.
Minimize negative impacts correlated a website overhaul
The first step to preserving (or increasing) SEO performance when planning a major website overhaul is to get buy in from every team involved in the project. Everyone — from the branding and content team to the web developers and coders — should agree that SEO is vital to the long-term success of your new website and will be addressed throughout the redesign.
Many companies use a website redesign to increase their organic traffic post-website launch. One way to increase your SEO during a website redesign is to look for timeframes where your business and/or organic traffic dips naturally. For example, if you are part of the tourism industry on Cape Cod and you do the most business from May – October, planning a website redesign for the months of November/December will allow you to take advantage of a naturally slow period in organic search traffic. By the time customers start to search for your business again (March – April), your website will be up and fully optimized for search.
How to redesign your website without losing SEO
Audit your existing site
After receiving commitment from your organization, you should perform a SEO audit of your current website and note how different pages rank in search engines. By performing a SEO audit, you’ll be able to immediately identify areas of the website that are underperforming once the new site goes live and quickly take corrective action so there is no lasting damage to your website SEO rankings. It will also give you a concrete list of areas that already need to be worked on, so that you can incorporate them into your SEO goals for the redesign.
Consistent use of alt tags helps your rankings
Employing alt tags or alt text throughout your website may seem like a minor concern in terms of your overall digital strategy, but this practice can actually have important implications on your SEO performance. Alt tags are one of the most overlooked aspects of web design, and they can easily be left behind whether you are building a website from scratch or embarking on a significant rebranding effort.
You need to make sure that your alt tags are employed consistently throughout your website, accompanying every image no matter how prominent or subtle. Best practices for alt tags dictate that you keep the text as specific and brief as possible. Describe the content of the image in clear and precise language, but resist the urge to use this space as a place to force keywords. As in all circumstances, keyword stuffing will do far more damage to your SEO rankings than it will improve it.
Optimizing your website navigation for users and SEO
Most people are aware that the structure of your website navigation plays a big role in shaping a customer’s experience with your brand. It’s estimated that improvements related to issues such as navigation and information flow can deliver up to an 83% ROI for your company. What many business leaders don’t realize is that website navigation practices also affect SEO performance, and even small changes can make a major impact on your numbers.
Imbuing your site with a sound structure means first understanding specifically why users visit your site, what search terms they use to get there, and how they interact with your site once they’re in. It also means that important pages that are dense with value-added information for users are easy to locate and logically placed in the customer’s journey. You also have to ensure that your URLs follow your site structure as well. For instance, a visitor should be able to look at the URL: www.daveselectronics.com/tvs/4kultra, to know that on the Dave’s Electronics website they can click on the TVs menu and then the 4K Ultra submenu to get to the same page.
The benefits of proper internal linking architecture
Proper internal linking is crucial to spreading high-ranking pages throughout your website, rather than concentrating them in a single area. Every page on your site needs to link internally somewhere, but just as with keywords this practice can be done well or done poorly. Including internal links that don’t make sense alongside irrelevant content is akin to keyword stuffing; it confuses users and reduces the effectiveness of your SEO initiative overall.
Beyond SEO concerns, good internal linking practices allow you to guide users through your site in a way that prepares them to purchase. You can give them exactly the information you want them to have at the right times, controlling the experience in a coordinated effort to provide them with the most value.
Combatting high bounce rates
High bounce rates can negatively impact your organic search rankings.
If users are quickly leaving your site after clicking through, it could be a sign that your website either fails to engage users, lacks the information they seek, or is just generally uninviting and unusable. Consistently housing high-quality content on your site is one of the clearest paths to SEO dominance, and your bounce rate can provide you with a clear picture of your results on that front.
Remember that website changes are perfect fodder for testing
Building a website from the ground up, working on a top-to-bottom redesign of your digital experience, or visually rebranding can all seem like daunting tasks. After all there are so many elements to consider, and any number of them could be the key to a future filled with robust growth or disappointment. However, innovative leaders look at these experiences and see countless opportunities for testing strategic changes and receiving real-time results.
Almost every component of your website—from alt tags to images themselves to navigational menus to internal links—can be tested and tracked according to your desired metrics. The good news is that you don’t have to flail in the wind wondering if certain changes are going to have the impact you had hoped. As long as you are dedicated to tracking everything, you can know exactly how the various changes are impacting both your SEO performance and your relationship with your users.