In a word, Yes. Website redesigns do affect SEO. Losing ranking is often the biggest fear surrounding a website redesign, and this concern is valid. If your website redesign is not done correctly then you could see you website disappear overnight. However, if you do it right, a website redesign will have you ranking better and bring you more traffic.
A website redesign usually improves SEO
If your current site has some SEO problems, is not coded correctly, or is not mobile friendly, then a website redesign addressing those issue will improve your SEO ranking. A redesign also gives you the opportunity to take advantage of any advances in technology – for example making it mobile friendly, using new techniques that help improve load times or provide more meaning to the content. Sometimes just updating the code without changing the design or content can increase your SEO ranking.
Making it Mobile Friendly
Non-mobile websites don’t rank as high as mobile-friendly websites so a redesign that makes your site mobile friendly will increase your ranking in mobile search. It also makes it easier for your mobile visitors to interact with your site and will increase the amount of those visitors that will contact you. Fun Fact: Phone numbers convert better on mobile, while forms convert better on desktop.
Correcting SEO Issues
SEO guidelines also change over time. Something that may have been recommended when your site was built may now be against the guidelines. This often happens because people abuse tactics, so search engines find different ways to determine your ranking. When you redesign your website, taking the time to make sure that your website is now in accordance with those guidelines will help you rank better over the long term. You might see a temporary drop in SEO ranking however over time you will rank higher.
Additionally, if your website redesign corrects SEO problems that your old site had, then you will see an improvement in your SEO ranking.
Except when it doesn’t
A website redesign doesn’t always result in improved SEO rankings. There are a few ways a website redesign can go horribly wrong, and most of them are a result of poor planning.
Removing and Modifying Key Pieces of Content
Removing, merging and modifying content should be done carefully. Getting rid of key pieces of content can impact SEO. Before starting any website redesign – take a look to see what pages are a key part of your sales process, how much traffic those pages have, and how much of an impact they have on your business. This will tell you what pages you can remove, and what pages need to be improved. If a piece of content isn’t bringing the right kind of visitor, or your business has changed, then removing or modifying it might make sense.
Not Redirecting Moved Pages
One of the biggest mistakes when redesigning a site is not setting up redirects. Setting up page redirects is key if you want to keep all the past SEO work you’ve done. This is often overlooked when doing a site redesign. To prevent that, before starting any work on the site make a list of all the pages on your site, and where those pages will be redirected to once the site has been redesigned . If you don’t redirect your pages, search engines will see that the page no longer exists and remove it. If your page depends on links from other sites, those links will stop working.
Not Following Webmaster Guidelines
Another mistake that will reduce your rankings is to go against SEO guidelines. While your site might improve it’s rankings in the short term – over the long term you might be worse off than when you started.:
The basic guidelines are:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.
Blocking Search Engines in Robots.txt
Blocking search engines is another SEO mistake made when doing a site redesign. You might wonder why anyone would want to block search engines, however, it’s a common practice when developing sites. Blocking search engines on development sites prevent future problems by preventing search engines from seeing them. Sometimes, developers forget to unblock the search engines when the site goes live – and that is where the problem is.
Adopting technology without knowledge of its SEO impact
Just because some new technology is the latest and greatest trend, doesn’t mean that it will be good for your website’s ranking. For example, sites that rely heavily on Flash, and more recently AJAX, to load content don’t rank well.
Short Term Loss – Long Term Gain
There are cases where a website redesign will see your SEO ranking temporarily decrease before it improves. We’ve already mentioned following SEO guidelines, here are some others
Could Go Either Way
There are some changes that can be hard to predict no matter how much planning you do. These changes are mainly structural ones.
Major Structural Changes
If you’ve made significant changes to the structure of your site during the redesign, you will see a change in your rankings. If you have done your research
It’s not all about SEO
What should be more important than SEO when doing a redesign is the user experience. The better the user experience is, the more likely that users will be to do what you want them to do. This translates in more business.
A better user experience will also translate into SEO improvements. Search engines focus on giving users what they are looking for. The number of users “bouncing” or hitting the back button within seconds of landing on your site is an indicator that Google uses to determine the quality of a site. The more people hit back, the lower your site will rank.
A small case study
Let’s put that in perspective. We had a customer that was hit by some penalties after dealing with a shady SEO firm. We did a small redesign that focused mostly on the user experience. We also addressed some of the SEO issues, mainly dealing with duplicate content and thin landing pages.
Within a few months, they had double the sales despite having half the traffic. After a year, their site was ranking higher than before, and their sales were over 6 times higher. In comparison – a few of their competitors who used the same shady SEO firm disappeared completely within a few months, and only one – who took a similar path – recovered.