A Step-by-Step Guide to Redesigning your Website Without Affecting SEO [2020]

A Step-by-Step Guide to Redesigning your Website Without Affecting SEO [2020]

From time to time, even an expertly designed website could use a redesign.

However, website design doesn’t just affect the overall aesthetics of the website; it also has the biggest impact on the website’s search engine ranking.

That’s why redesigning a website without affecting SEO in a negative way is so important – and precisely what we’re going to discuss here!

Take a look at the step we’re going to outline below, and follow them in order to avoid any negative impacts on your SEO rankings.

Why Redesign A Website

First of all, you should realise why websites need a redesign from time to time; not only is it welcome, but sometimes quite necessary.

And there are more than a few reasons for that. Among these, the most usual ones are:

  • Switching to a new website theme – changing the look and feel
  • Rebranding of the business
  • Migrating to a new platform – from WordPress to Joomla or vice versa (more often than not), for example
  • Switching to a theme that’s more mobile-friendly

Bear in mind that doing a redesign of your website doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily be changing its domain too; in the cases that we’ve mentioned above, we’re assuming that you’re going to keep your old domain and only change the looks of the website – in other words, its design.

And if you do this right, not only will this not have a negative effect on your SEO rankings, but it will have a positive one.

When SEO companies like moversdev.com provide their services to businesses, they focus as much on web design as they do on things like keyword rankings.

That’s because search engines like Google usually value an effort to keep improving the user experience, features, and design of your website.

Temporary URL

As we’ve mentioned above, redesigning a website from time to time is actually one of the major ranking factors for SEO.

But when you’re working on brand new website design, it’s generally a good idea to copy your website’s code and content to a temporary URL (or work in a staging environment).

That way, once you’re done tweaking and changing the design you can simply switch the domains (or push the staging website live), with everything working correctly and flawlessly.

In order to make this work, there are a couple of technical details to deal with, though it’s nothing that your hosting provider won’t be able to help you with.

And if you’re thinking of working directly on the website that’s already live, we can’t stress enough how much we don’t recommend doing that.

There are literally hundreds of things that could go wrong when you’re altering your website code, and that’s something you’re bound to do as you work on your redesign.

Keeping this in mind – you need to take all the precautions needed for your test website not to be indexed by search engines like Google; avoiding any bad rankings due to content that seems duplicate will help your SEO team quite a lot.

There are two different methods of doing this, and we’ll explain both of them here!

Method 1

If your website is in WordPress, this is actually a complete non-issue. All you need to do is to navigate to the Settings / Discussion panel, and you’ll see a Search Engine Visibility checkbox.

If you don’t tick it, the website won’t be indexed by search engines for SEO purposes; which is what you want with the test website.

Method 2

Otherwise, you can just open up your robots.txt file, adding these two short code lines:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

While these two settings seem simple, they’re quite powerful; that’s all you’ll need to stop search engines from being able to access your test website.

However, there’s still something that you need to remember. Once you’re finished with redesigning your website, you’ll be migrating the contents of the test website to your actual domain.

And at that point, you’ll have to delete these lines of code, if you want your live website to appear on Google!

Obviously, this is absolutely crucial for your brand visibility – the reason any person/business has a website in the first place.

Test For Broken Links

Once you finish redesigning your website, the next thing you need to do is to make sure that you have no broken links.

Luckily, you don’t have to do this by hand; there are completely free tools that will easily check if any of the links on your website are broken.

And believe us – chances are high that you’ll have at least a couple of broken links in javascript or CSS; these aren’t particularly impactful for your SEO ranking, but you still want to correct this before the new website is live.

List of Old Website Pages

When you’re redesigning your website, it’s quite usual for you to change the slug of a page and have a different URL structure, but it’s also very important that search engines like Google know about these changes.

Not doing so will be utterly detrimental to your rankings, and it will lower the trust in your domain. As a result, you will lose a lot of organic traffic in the long-term.

So, the first step to preventing this is making a list of every single URL that your old website had. That’s not particularly difficult – just open up your sitemap, and then simply save it on your computer like a text file.

301 Redirections

Okay, so let’s take it that all or some of your URLs have been altered. There are plenty of reasons why you would do this; maybe your old “About Us” page had a URL ending in “/aboutus”, and now you want it to be “/about-us”.

Obviously, you don’t want search engines to treat these URLs as two completely different pages. If there are any links out there still pointing towards the old page, you want to set up a 301 redirection to the new one.

A 301 redirection is basically a way of informing search engines that your page has a new URL.

Plus, you also want to make sure that any social media links or bookmarks of your page will still be operational once the redesigned website is live; as you’ll see down the line, this is important in terms of maintaining social media relevance through user interaction.

Take a look at the list you’ve made of your pages in the previous section. If your platform of choice is WordPress, you can easily put the redirections from the old URLs in the .htaccess file; it’s in your website’s root.

Furthermore, the specific configuration of your 301 redirections will depend on the platform that you utilise. There are plenty of specific guides on this online, though; none of which are too difficult to follow.

Switching To The New Website

Now we arrive at the most critical step of redesigning your website without affecting SEO; it’s something you’ve probably waited to do for quite a while.

After spending hours upon hours of hard work on your redesign, as well as testing and developing – your brand new and polished website is ready to be utilised by users; in many ways, it’s basically one click away.

Right now, however – you will need to switch websites like we’ve discussed in the beginning when we’ve mentioned the setting up of a test website.

Generally, you can do this in two ways – all at once, or in stages. While sometimes big websites simply have to do it in stages due to logistics, the generally accepted best practice is to do it all at once; that’s also what Google recommends doing, as it makes crawling faster.

Google Search Console

Once your website goes live, you need to check if everything works fine. Also, we recommend running one more check for broken links, just in case the previous one missed anything.

After you do that, you should log into Google Search Console (& Bing Webmasters Tool) to check that your website is verified. If it isn’t, you will need to verify it once more, in order to monitor Google’s (and potentially Bing’s) indexing of the more recent version of the website.

Indexing Inspection

Once you’re in the Google Search Console, you’ll have access to the URL inspection tool, found in the top bar. Use that to check if Google is able to index and read the newest version of the website that you’ve deployed correctly.

If you find no apparent problems, you can safely use the “Request Indexing” option; that will just expedite the indexing process.

Checking Robots.txt

At this stage, you will also want to check your robots file, via the robots.txt testing option. This is a relatively simple file that webmasters use to either deny or allow access to Google and other search engines when they attempt to crawl through the entire website or certain pages.

Remember – not configuring robots.txt well could result in search engine crawlers not having access to your website; a very bad thing if you want to finish redesigning a website without affecting SEO.

Monitoring Rankings

Finally, here’s the cherry on top of the cake of redesigning your website in accordance with SEO standards; if you’ve done it right, you’ll see it by monitoring rankings.

It is crucial that you monitor your website’s rankings both before and after you’ve finished your redesign.

For this, you could use a myriad of methods. First, there are ranking tools like SEMRush, Aherfs etc which provide an easy-to-access analysis.

Also, you could just do this manually, by just keeping records of all the ranking positions for relevant keywords.

However, the latter means doing a lot more work; while you’d save some money on SEO tools, these are probably things you’ll need in other situations as well, so investing in them isn’t a bad idea.

What To Look For

So, here you need to identify any sudden and large changes in your rankings; regardless of whether they’re positive or negative.

In the latter case, you will need to do some corrective work to make sure you don’t lose SEO value. Don’t worry, this is nothing to get too worried about, as you’ll see below.

Bear in mind that seeing some fluctuations once you change the design is normal, at least for a couple of days (or even more).

So, if you get a big increase – don’t think that it will last a long time, as it all evens out eventually.

And conversely, if you spot a drop – don’t get too worked up about it, as it’s probably not going to be permanent.

Before you start celebrating or worrying, give it a few weeks and only then see if there are some further tweaks to be made. Also, monitor your bounce rate before implementing a new design, and the one afterwards.

Social Media Counts

Once you change the URLs to your pages, you may see your social media counts changing; we’re talking about stuff like pins, tweets, and likes.

Once your redesigned website is live, expect your social media counts to suddenly drop to zero. This is normal, and nothing to worry about.

It may take a certain amount of time for social media websites to catch up to your 301 redirections. But once that happens, the social media “points” you’ve earned before will be transferred to the new website.

Conclusion

As you can see, redesigning your website without affecting SEO isn’t very simple.

But if you take all of the necessary precautions, and follow all of the steps we’ve outlined above, you’ll see nothing more than a minimal hit to your SEO rankings, and even these won’t be permanent.

On the other hand, the fact that you’re making a modern, contemporary design will turn out to be a huge boon for your website; both in terms of SEO and in terms of brand value.

Having a website that’s easy to use, decluttered, mobile-friendly, and overall faster will do a lot for your user experience!

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