Don't redesign without SEO

We see it all the time: brands shelling out the big bucks for a website redesign. “Domain 2.0” is bright, shiny, and too often able to distract them from noticing their digital budget disappear down the drain, creating a whirlpool and all. Website redesigns can be critical steps for companies, especially if the older versions contained outdated or unrecommended design elements, such as Flash (a personal grievance of mine, along with certain typefaces, but I digress). The problem arises when this newly constructed site fails to incorporate basic SEO components, such as meta descriptions, alt text, and proper URL structure.

In other words, the problem arises when brands are too lazy to fill in the cracks or are simply unaware of the importance of doing so. It’s likely that these brands are trying to compensate for the unanticipated amount of work that goes into building a site, revising, and revising some more. But honestly, in an age that has completely redefined the way society discovers a brand, narrows down the contenders, and ultimately decides upon one, it seems uncanny that we have to justify the cost of being digitally relevant.

Don't redesign without SEO

To those in the midst of a site redesign, lean in a bit closer: you have an extraordinary opportunity to start fresh. When the redesign is done right the first time, there will be fewer issues holding your site back in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Do it right the first time. Here are a few tips:

Meta Data

Nobody said it would be buckets of fun to write title tags and meta descriptions for every web page. You’ve still got to do it. Title tags summarize a page’s content to search engines and users alike. This element is critical for ranking in the SERPs, as it can alert Google of your relevance (or lack therof). Meta descriptions, while they do not directly contribute to a website’s ability to rank in the SERPs, act as free ad copy. That said, we strongly recommend you write descriptions that are unique, specific, and most of all, relevant. Those who uses the Mighty Goog knows how frustrating it is to be mislead by cruddy meta descriptions. Every page of your site needs this meta data. Every page. Period.

Know what you’re trying to rank for

Keywords, people! They are the key to getting clicks. Think of them as more than just strings of words; keywords represent humans. By knowing which terms you can strive to rank for, you will be able to enhance your page titles, URLs, and content in a way that reflects your website’s expertise. Does that mean keyword stuffing? No, never. SEO continues to evolve into an industry that focuses on refining website usability for people, not search engines. Still, keywords are ultimately people, so know who your audience is. Then reach them.

Define what’s crawlable

Google’s bots are relentless. They never stop crawling, and they’ll creep over every page of your site unless you tell them to do otherwise. There are certain pages that aren’t meant to be exposed in SERPs, such as the WordPress Admin login page. Additionally, you might have multiple pages with similar content that will compete with one another if you do not clarify to Google which one is the preferred URL.

Focus on usability

Users come to your website at different stages in the sales funnel. Some are ready to go, searching for the “Sign me up” or “Contact me” call to action. Most will need convincing first. Your website should be organized so that it answers more specific questions as visitors progress through pages. We recommend using the data you’ve collected from Google Analytics to determine which specific pages from your old site had high bounce rates; this should illuminate which areas of the new site need some tweaking.

URLs

Last week we wrote a quick post about proper URL structure. To recap, web addresses should be precise, should separate words with hyphens (as opposed to underscores), include keyword(s), and should properly describe the page. Redesigning a site is the perfect opportunity to start fresh with URLs, but make sure to avoid Duplicate Content by adding 301 Redirects and rel=”canonical” tags to pages that require them. For more information on this, visit the guest post we wrote on SpinSucks.

The cost of a quality website redesign isn’t cheap, but it is worth the effort in the long run. It boggles my mind that brands spend tens of thousands of dollars on advertising, just to direct viewers/readers to a website that functions terribly in the SERPs. Whether your redesign project is a brand new domain or an upgrade to your current one, we recommend performing an SEO Audit simultaneously. The checklist we designed addresses all of the points here (and much, much more) so you will have confidence that your site looks as good to the search engines as it does to your viewers.