Matteo Monari is speaking at the next brightonseo on the 22nd of April.
Redesigns are key steps in the life of any website, and they are generally good. If you are not updating you site’s design regularly it means you are not taking full advantage of your user data, of most recent design patterns and of the latest technologies (it may also mean you are so busy with client work that you forget updating your own site, as in the case of my agency 😉 ). However, as most changes in the design of a website are potentially critical in terms of SEO, any redesign entails a series of SEO risks, and even small mistakes in the redesign and migration processes can lead to traffic losses. So to help you limit these risks, here are 3 SEO safety checks you should always perform before launching a new design.
1. Make sure your new design has no obvious SEO pitfalls
If you are changing your old design for a new one, it goes without saying that the latter should satisfy all basic requirements in terms of SEO. Despite seeming obvious, this is not always the case, as sometimes the latest design trends are not necessarily SEO-friendly. Typical examples of sub-optimal design trends concern AJAX and searchboxes.
These are of course just two of the most common macroscopic mistakes one may make during a redesign. In general, before adopting a new design, architecture or platform it is always recommended to perform a thorough SEO assessment of it.
2. Make sure your new design is faster and better structured than the old one
Once your new design is ready, before launching it you should make sure it is not slower than your old one, as this can compromise your users’ experience and ultimately also your rankings. As a redesign may involve changes both in the front-end and in the back-end, before launching a new design it is always advisable to extensively test both back-end and front-end performances.
A tool which can help you in this task is Google Pagespeed Insights, which will also offer you specific advice on how to improve your site. Notice however that even after testing the new design’s performance in a staging environment, it is always advisable to keep testing it also once the new site is live on the server that will host it permanently. As a matter of fact, also your choice of server and its load will influence your site’s performances.
Another reason why your new design should make your website faster is that search engines need to carefully allocate their resources when crawling and rendering sites, and they will more easily get tired of crawling and rendering the deep pages of a time-consuming, slow website than those of a fast one. For this reason, apart from being faster your new design should also make your site’s most important content reachable from the home page in the lowest possible amount of clicks, and give it extra “power” in terms of SEO.
To make sure you did not commit any mistake in redesigning your site’s architecture, you can use ScreamingFrog to perform a massive analysis of your new design, making sure your new design will give your site a “flatter” structure.
[URLs’ depth before and after a successful redesign, as displayed in ScreamingFrog]
Another architectural aspect that is good to check before launching a new design link distribution. Essentially, a link distribution analysis will give you an idea of how internal links are distributed across pages. In other words, it will give you a hint of how the “link equity” of your site is distributed. Conducting this kind of analysis needs a bit more manual effort than the previous one, but can help you find out whether your website’s new design boosts your top pages or decreases the gap between them and the rest of your site’s content. A basic way of performing it is by exporting the reports on internal links per URI generated by ScreamingFrog and processing them in Excel to create graphs comparing them in absolute and proportional terms, similar to those below.
[Internal link distribution before and after a redesign: notice how in this case our website’s new design assigns proportionally more “link equity” to the site’s top 40 pages]
3. Watch out for internally duplicated content
Since changing a site’s design basically means changing the way in which its pages are composed, a redesign can result in the same elements being used across several pages, and your new site may end up with more pages presenting an almost identical content (duplicate content). This situation can damage the site lowering its perceived quality – especially in the eyes of Google’s Panda algorithm.
In order to avoid accidentally lowering your site’s perceived quality, it is important to make sure your new design is not excessively re-using content. A tool which can help you to assess this risk is Siteliner.
[Siteliner‘s analysis of a page presenting significant amounts of internally duplicated content]
…and keep an eye on your redesigned site!
After making sure your new design has no technical, performance or content issue you can proceed launching it (actually, the launch and “migration” phase a is highly delicate matter per-se, especially when your site’s URL and/or database also get modified as part of a redesign, but to know more about this you will have to wait until April 22nd 😉 ).
Even after successfully launching your new design, your job is not finished though. To check whether you really did a good job in optimizing your site’s new design, you should closely monitor any significant changes in Google‘s Search Consolle. If your site’s code an architecture really has improved, you should see more pages getting crawled, and less time spent by Google to download each page.
Apart from crawling stats, you should of course also keep an eye on your rankings and traffic. More specifically, analysing your rankings and traffic at page-type and site-section level will help you to see how the redesign impacted different areas and page-types, hopefully allowing you to draw meaningful conclusions and identify any potential issue arising from design choices.
As we have seen, redesigns are potentially risky in terms of SEO, but can also bring benefits in terms of speed, crawling rates and ultimately rankings and traffic… so do not be afraid and good luck for your next redesign!