A website redesign can improve your site’s appearance, conversion rate, visitor experience, and more — but it also can put your search engine rankings and traffic at risk.
During the redesign process, you might change your domain name, subdomains, page-level optimization, and URL structure. You might add content or move it within your site’s hierarchy or remove it altogether. You might also add new sections or new features and run into some technical issues. While it’s unlikely that your redesign will include all of these changes, any one of them can be problematic for your rankings and organic traffic without careful planning and execution.
To ensure you reap the benefits of a redesign while avoiding the potential pitfalls, we’ll flush out a website redesign SEO strategy in this post. By following the checklist below, you can not only retain your existing search engine rankings and traffic — you can improve them.
Website Redesign SEO Checklist
Analyze your current site.
Inventory your high-performing content.
Determine your SEO goals.
Optimize your existing content.
Set up 301 redirects.
Update your site architecture.
Optimize your page speed.
Update your XML sitemap.
Step 1: Analyze your current site.
Before redesigning your site, you need to benchmark your current site’s performance. In addition to looking at your rankings for important keywords, look at bounce rate, time on site, domain authority, number of form submissions, number of unique visitors, and the total amount of sales generated.
With this information, you’ll be able to tell what’s working and what’s not working on your site. You can then preserve what is working and improve what isn’t in your redesign, rather than starting from scratch.
When pulling the rest of this data, you’ll also want to run a link audit to check on the health of your link profile. You can analyze all your backlinks with SEMrush’s Backlink Audit Tool to identify any spammy, irrelevant, or low-quality links that might be hurting your domain authority and rankings.
Step 2: Inventory your high-performing content.
When analyzing your site, take note of the pages that have the most shares, views, and inbound links and which keywords these pages rank for. These are assets on your current site that you need to protect during your redesign. If you don’t, you may seriously damage your SEO.
For example, say you delete a page that has a high number of inbound links. Since inbound links help search engines gauge the quality of your content and drive referral traffic to your site, removing this page could decrease your keyword rankings and traffic.
You can avoid this mistake by finding out what content is currently performing well on your site. You’ll want to minimize changes to these pages to retain their SEO during the redesign process.
Step 3: Determine your SEO goals.
Now that you understand what search engine rankings and traffic you need to retain, consider how you want to improve. Do you want to increase your keyword rankings by 10% this year? Do you want to double the number of unique visitors per month? Do you want organic traffic to make up more of your search traffic than paid traffic?
To ensure your redesign project is both realistic and aligned with your overall marketing strategy, make these goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (or SMART).
Step 4: Optimize your existing content.
To achieve your SEO goals, it’s essential that every page on your site targets one to two keywords that are important to your business. That ensures your content strategy is built around what your users are actually searching for instead of making assumptions.
Once you determine the keywords for each page, implement on-page SEO tactics to improve your chances of ranking. One best practice is to use your keyword in the title, introductory paragraph, heading, URL, body, meta description, and image alt tags of each page. Another is to add links to related content, which helps search engine bots and readers navigate your site and understand the relationship between your posts and pages.
Updating your content in this way will take time and that’s okay. Content optimization is not something you can do once and check off the list — it’s something you must continuously do to improve. With that in mind, aim to work on 5 to 10 pages per week.
Step 5: Set up 301 redirects.
When auditing the content on your site, you’ll discover some low-value pages that aren’t worth updating. These pages might be outdated, redundant, or irrelevant to your business, which is why they’re bringing in virtually zero qualified traffic.
To maximize your crawl budget, these pages should be either be removed or redirected. This process, known as content pruning, is not always as simple as clicking Ctrl + Alt + Del.
While you can safely archive pages that don’t have any backlinks or meet any other performance criteria, you’ll want to redirect any pages that have at least one backlink or are ranking lower than another page for the same set of keywords.
You’ll also need to set up redirects if you change your URL structure. Say, for example, you install an SSL certificate on your site. In that case, you’ll need to redirect all http://yourwebsite.com pages to https://yourwebsite.com.
Redirects ensures that any visitors or search engine crawlers that end up those pages are sent to existing content on your site. That’s why setting up 301 redirects is considered one of the most important steps in retaining traffic and rankings (if not the most important).
Make sure to create a spreadsheet to record and map out your 301 redirects to stay organized.
Step 6: Update your site architecture.
Once you’ve pruned our content, you’ll want to make sure the remaining pages are organized in a way that allows visitors and search engines to easily find them and understand their relationship.
For example, your homepage might link to your About Us, Products, Services, News, and Contact Us page as well as your blog homepage. Each of these pages will link out to different content on your site. For example, the blog homepage might link to category pages, which each link to individual blog posts. These, in turn, link to author pages.
This structure helps search bots not only understand the relationship among pages but also the importance of individual pages. Because more pages link to your blog homepage than an author page, for example, search engines give more importance to the blog homepage.
Now let’s look at a specific example of how one business changed its site structure during a redesign.
When Vertical Measures was redesigning its site in 2018, it realized the blog homepage linked to too many similar category pages, which was making it difficult for visitors to find the exact posts they were looking for. So the company renamed, reorganized, and consolidated 14 categories into eight.
This makes navigating the blog more intuitive for both visitors and search engine crawlers.
Step 7: Optimize your page speed.
We know that today’s online consumers expect fast load times. In fact, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. But site speed isn’t just important for user experience — it’s also a ranking factor for search.
To improve your average page load time, consider compressing your files, adding a content distribution network (CDN), minifying your code, and using a caching plugin on your site. Following these steps will reduce page load time and improve your site’s technical SEO.
Step 8: Update your XML sitemap.
Once your site is live, you’ll need to update your XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing. A sitemap is like a floor plan of your site. It lists all of the relevant URLs so that search engine crawlers can understand the structure of your site and evaluate and rank it more easily.
If you’re not using a platform like CMS Hub, which automatically updates your sitemap, you can do so manually or use a tool like InSpyder.