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Website Redesign and SEO: Avoid These 8 Common Mistakes

- By Eric Carlson - Updated Apr 18, 2024 SEO Website Redesign

When you work in digital marketing, website redesign is inevitable: Every few years, you have to roll up your sleeves and get it done. It’s always an all-hands-on-deck proposition, with brand, design, content, and dev teams getting in on the action.

But you know who is often left out of the planning all too often? Your friendly neighborhood SEO expert.

I’ve seen it time and time again: SEO is an afterthought, the site is redesigned and launched, and oops, your rankings tank. Years of hard work up in smoke.

But if you slow your roll and integrate SEO into your revamp plans, you’ll actually improve your ranking.

Business objectives that affect SEO

Maybe your aim is to show off a new brand and update the look of your site to get an edge over your competitors. Or you’re on a mission to improve your site speed and user experience. Or you’re laser-focused on doing everything possible, like adjusting the navigation, to better convert visitors.

To accomplish any of these goals with a redesign, inevitably core features will need to be changed. And while changing CTAs, reorganizing content, changing page layouts, or switching content management systems might appear to have nothing to do with organic search, there are often dramatic ripple effects that can torpedo it — the ultimate face plant when you work in digital marketing.

Mistakes to avoid

While lots of little things can go wrong that you can fix quickly and easily, here are major-league missteps that I’ve seen marketing teams live to regret with a redesign.

Mistake #1: Not establishing benchmarks for SEO performance before your redesign

Rankings, traffic, and conversions can all be affected by a redesign, often for the better, but you can’t quantify those improvements if you don’t have a baseline. A comprehensive SEO audit before launch will help you identify any fluctuations in rankings and traffic that are outside of the norm after launch.

An SEO audit tool such as Siteimprove SEO can evaluate your site’s performance across key SEO indicators. Areas that are especially important to measure include:

  • Keyword rankings
  • Click-through rates
  • Conversion rates
  • Page speed
  • Top landing pages
  • Pages that get the most traffic
  • Pages converting the best

There could be many more things you want to monitor depending on your site and your business goals; the important thing is to identify everything that matters and establish what your baseline is before you launch your redesign.

Mistake #2: Ditching high-performing content willy-nilly

As the saying goes, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you’ve got existing content that’s performing well, keep it. Otherwise, you risk losing hard-earned traffic, inbound links, and featured snippets.

Search engines prioritize user experience by aligning search intent with SERP results. If you remove or change high-performing content, you could hurt your site ranking. This is especially important for content-critical and competitive industry keywords.

Continually reviewing and updating your content should be routine even when you’re not doing a redesign — it’s a fundamental best practice regardless — but if you do need to tinker with it, be sure to retain important pieces, like the page title, H1 and H2 tags, and keywords, to ensure continuity and SEO integrity.

Updating high-performing content is always a balancing act: You want to make it the very best it can be in terms of research and the quality of writing, but you also don’t want to mess with it to the extent that you lose traction with SERP. If, for example, you lose keywords during the editing and updating process, you might see a decrease in ranking of that piece.

Mistake #3: Letting unoptimized code, uncompressed images, or incorrect JavaScript slow down your site

Page speed is a big deal when it comes to whether visitors stick around. (A shocking-but-not-surprising 93 percent of users will leave a website if it takes too long to load, and it’s common knowledge that speeding up load time by just one second can increase conversions by 7 percent.) Also, with Google’s Core Web Vitals and page experience officially factoring into rankings, speedy pages can also help you outrank competitors.

There are typically two culprits behind a slow site: unnecessary, unoptimized code and large, uncompressed images. Both bad code and bulky images can be introduced at any point during a redesign.

When building a site, there are lots of features that you can add that might come with code that you will never use and will slow your site down. I recommend using a tool like Siteimprove Performance on your staging site to check how fast your revamped site loads and see just what’s bogging down your pages. Fixing these speed issues is vital to a successful launch.

But there’s a third possible culprit when you’re dealing with slow page loads: JavaScript. Search engines don’t play well with JavaScript because even if they’re able to render JavaScript content, it takes longer and could be rendered incorrectly.

If you’re curious to learn more about this, Google has a great resource on how to fix JavaScript-related issues. The most important thing is to not try to fix JavaScript-related issues with ‘cloaking’ — deliberately showing different content to users vs. search engines, a black hat tactic that violates Google Search Essentials and can lead to penalization in search engine results.

Mistake #4: Not embracing the opportunity to adjust what’s above the fold

When you’re a designer working on web pages, obviously you take what’s above the fold — the top portion visible without scrolling — into consideration. But the same consideration applies to the content. A big hero image can be eye catching, but having valuable content that users will not have to scroll to find is more valuable from an SEO standpoint.

Make sure you have unique content above the fold to optimize visibility and search engine rankings. While it may be tempting to replicate messaging across all pages, that’s a lazy move that will hurt you in the long run. Prioritizing unique and engaging content can improve user experience and search engine performance.

Also: Don’t forget to include a CTA above the fold. If you want people to scroll to a specific point on the page, click a link, or watch a video, put that action near the top of the page so you can get your preferred interaction on your site.

Remember to cater to mobile users as well, since unique above-fold content holds even greater significance on smaller screens. By focusing on quality content placement during the redesign, you can maximize SEO impact and attract a broader audience to your revamped website.

Mistake #5: Missing out on mobile optimization

Never forget that about 50 percent of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices, so making sure your site is fully optimized for mobile users is absolutely essential. While mobile-friendliness doesn’t figure into search algorithms quite the way it used to, you still have to prioritize it.

Because click through rates are lower on mobile, clicks are harder to come by. That means that getting to the top of the SERP is vital to capture any conversions from mobile. Users are less likely to click on any links on mobile at all, so everyone is fighting for a smaller piece of the pie.

Your mobile version also needs to be fast: Just like with desktop, if the pages don’t load quickly, visitors will bounce. Use Page Performance to check the speed of your mobile site, but also use a tool like SEO Advanced to make sure your mobile visitors can pinch and zoom on content to be able to read it.

Mistake #6: Not fixing broken links before launch

If you push a revamped site live with hundreds of broken links, by the time you’ve identified the problem and fixed the links, your rankings will likely already have suffered, and you’re going to spend a lot of time (and therefore money) getting everything straightened out, if it’s even possible to fix after the fact.

Backlinks are important signals to search engines that your site is a credible, trustworthy source of information. Maintaining those backlinks through your redesign is vital for making a smooth transition from your old site to your new one.

Not only will you need to set up redirects for your page (see Mistake #7), but you also may want to reach out to websites that link to your site and ask them to update their link to the new url. This will avoid redirecting users and will make a better experience for search engines and users.

Mistake #7: Forgetting to set-up redirects

404 errors spell more than just inconvenience for users: Every broken link can ding your brand because it sours the user, and if the page has a CTA, then you’re possibly losing a conversion, too.

But 404s affect SEO, too, because every page that receives a backlink has added value. From an SEO standpoint, it's crucial that pages receiving backlinks, especially high-value backlinks from other sites with a high SEO trust score, aren’t dead ends.

This is where proper, permanent 301 redirects with new or modified URLs are critical: The redirects inform search engines of the page's permanent move, its new location, and how to access it. Furthermore, 301 redirects transfer the former page's SEO ranking power to the new location, saving you from starting over. The 301 basically inherits the power of the original page.

Now, it can be tempting to redirect all lost pages to the home page so you don’t have any 404 errors. That’s a rookie move, and lazy, too. Always direct traffic to a relevant page so you don’t frustrate or lose the user.

If you have a large website and are facing a seemingly endless list of redirects, you can use a crawler to identify URLs and backlinks so you can focus only on the most important redirects.

As soon as your new site goes live, scan it for broken links immediately. That way, you can quickly fix any links that might have gone astray or that are subject to crawl errors that prevent your pages from surfacing in the SERPs.

Time is of the essence with redirects — you really don’t want them to fester long enough to degrade your SEO.

Mistake #8: Forgetting to update XML sitemaps

XML sitemaps are special files that list the essential pages of your website to make it easier for search engines to crawl and index it. After a website redesign, it's important to update your XML sitemap so search engines can quickly check out and index the fresh changes. If you skip this step, your site might take longer to show up in searches or could even miss getting fully indexed.

As soon as you’ve completed and launched the redesign, make sure your sitemap is updated as well. Many CMSs will automatically update your sitemap, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to get an updated version. Once you have the updated sitemap, you’ll need to send it to Google Search Console and other search engines.

It may take days, weeks, or even months for web crawlers to get around to your site on their own. When you resubmit your site map it can cut that time way down. There is no way to force a search engine to crawl your site immediately, but submitting your page for a crawl alerts a search engine that something has changed.

Slight dips in traffic are normal after a redesign

So, if you avoid each one of these mistakes, that means your metrics won’t drop when you launch your redesigned site, right?

Nope. You’ll likely still see some loss in traffic and keyword rankings after a redesign, but it won’t be as bad as if you’d not been as on the ball. There’s no need to panic, though, because any dips will likely be temporary. Keep in mind that search engines need time to crawl your updated site before presenting it to users, and that lag time inevitably leads to a temporary decrease.

Once search engines have worked out your new site’s structure, you’ll likely see a quick return to business as usual. Bringing your SEO team to the table at the very beginning is your best insurance against major, immediate, though. They’ll be able to set you up for success before launch and monitor and mitigate after.