When you’re considering redesigning your website — something that inevitably needs to be done every few years to keep current with web standards, trends, and to keep your site looking fresh — there are a number of SEO concerns that you’ll want to keep in mind. Certainly you want to make sure you’re working with a designer or company with good SEO website design practices. But if you have a site that already ranks well in the search engines, you need to be careful that your redesign doesn’t harm those existing rankings.
While it’s true that a poorly handled site redesign could end up hurting your rankings and lowering your search engine traffic as a result, a well-executed site redesign will almost always result in improving your site’s rankings, even if all of the content on the site stays exactly the same.
As long as your designer or web design company is paying attention to the SEO impact of their design, the fact that the code of your site is completely changing makes it appear to Google that the content has all been updated, which it awards with a freshness boost.
Will a Redesign Put Me In the Google Sandbox Again?
The Google sandbox effect is a term used to describe the way Google algorithmically punishes new sites (new domains) by artificially lowering their rankings for the first few months after they’ve been discovered by Google. The sandbox effect specifically applies only to domains that are being indexed by Google for the first time. If you have an existing site and redesign it, it will not put you in the sandbox, as long as you’re staying on the same domain name.
Again, the Google sandbox effect is only for brand new domains that are being indexed for the first time, and has no impact on site redesigns.
SEO Website Redesign Checklist
Here is a checklist of the items you want to be sure your website redesign includes. Some of these are items specifically targeted at maintaining any current keyword rankings, and others are SEO items that you want to look for in any CMS — the Content Management System, or the backend admin that you’ll use to edit and update your site.
Before you begin a website redesign, be sure your designer or design firm can answer all of these questions positively and understand the SEO impact of their actions.
- Tag Editing: The CMS should allow you to edit the title tag, meta description tag, and primary H1 tag for each page on the site.
- Don’t Duplicate Tags: Be sure that every page of the site has a different title and a different meta description. Don’t leave them blank, and don’t duplicate them.
- SEO Titles & Descriptions: Be sure that titles are written from an SEO perspective — short, keyword rich, with keywords at the beginning and the site name at the end of the title. Be sure that meta description tags are written from a user and conversion perspective. Include your keywords, but write to encourage people to click on your listing.
- SEO URLs: The CMS should allow the use of SEO URLs, which can contribute to rankings and are more user friendly. This means the URL would look like: www.domain.com/this-awesome-page.html instead of looking like: www.domain.com/id?=2341s23.
- Maintain URLs: The Site redesign should retain as many URLs as possible — in particular the URLs of any pages that are ranking well you really want to remain the same. Part of what enables pages to rank well is the backlinks from other sites pointing to that page — if you change the URL, you are losing those backlinks.
- Redirects: The Site redesign should use 301 redirects for any pages that are going away, or where the URL changes. This will prevent your site from collecting 404 errors, and allows some benefit from backlinks to those pages to pass through (thought not the full benefit).
- Load Speed: Optimize your page load speed. Not only is this good for usability, but page load speed is an increasingly important part of SEO. Slow load speeds can be a difficult thing to fix after the fact, but when your site is being redesigned is a perfect time to make sure that you’re limiting code and flyouts, using CSS sprites for common images, and optimizing images and style sheets.
- Indexable Content: Be sure that your site design includes plenty of room for indexable content — which means text. While a minimalist site using graphics for navigation might look great, to search engines it looks like an empty page. Include room for that text in the site design, so you don’t have to add it on later in a way that looks bad.
- Keyword Stuffing: Don’t keyword stuff your site. A fairly common mistake in site redesigns — especially by designers who have a vague idea of what SEO is but don’t really understand it — is stuffing in as many keywords as possible. Not only does this look bad and make your site read bad, but it can be detectable by search engines which will then punish you for it. Remember, no more than a few (and preferably only one) keyword phrase per page, don’t duplicate the same keywords on multiple pages, and don’t stuff your keywords meta tag. In fact, you’re safest not using the keywords tag at all — it doesn’t help you, but some theorize that stuffing it can hurt you.