Redesigning your website isn’t just an exercise in aesthetics. It’s true that the purely visual elements of your newly designed website will likely get the most attention, but remember: a great website redesign also requires that you consider (and improve) what’s under the hood. If people can’t find your website via search, and if they can’t intuitively navigate through your site’s pages and easily understand what information those pages contain, it doesn’t really matter how great the site looks.
While the way we think about search engine optimisation (SEO) is always evolving – with the focus now shifting toward optimising content for the searchers themselves as opposed to the search engines – it’s still something you can’t afford to overlook.
Here are seven SEO mistakes to avoid during your next website redesign:
1. Not thinking about SEO from the start
When contemplating a website redesign, it’s easy to focus only on those features that are appealing to the eye. But to ensure your new site will truly resonate with your target audience (and to save yourself from some major headaches down the road), you need SEO to be ingrained in your redesign strategy from the very beginning.
Think of it this way: you could spend all the money in the world on building a new, beautiful hotel, with all the bells and whistles. However, if no one knows how to find your hotel, you’ll never do any business.
When planning out your redesign strategy, make sure to take discoverability and accessibility into account.
2. Failing to identify (and include) commonly searched keywords
It’s a new era for SEO, an era where you can no longer find your way to search ranking success by keyword stuffing. Nowadays, if Google finds out that you are blatantly overusing (or hiding) keywords on your site, your credibility (and rankings) could take a serious hit. However, this doesn’t mean that keywords are totally irrelevant. In fact, if you’re doing what Google wants you to do (creating high-quality content), keywords will work their way naturally into your website’s pages.
3. Not setting up 301 redirects
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another. Whether you’re switching domain names, restructuring your URLs or consolidating content as part of your website redesign, setting up 301 redirects is crucial to ensuring that users and search engines are directed to the correct URL from your old website URLs.
For example, if your current site has a ‘Team’ page (at yoursite.com/team) as well as a ‘Culture’ page (at yoursite.com/culture), and, as part of your website redesign, you want to consolidate the content from those two pages into a single ‘About Us’ page (at yoursite.com/about), you will need to transfer the SEO authority of those pages to your new page. Therefore, you will need to set up 301 redirects so that yoursite.com/team and yoursite.com/culture both send visitors to the new URL, yoursite.com/about.
Failure to set up 301 redirects for pages you move or delete can result in a drop in rankings as well as an influx in ‘404 Page Not Found’ error messages for your site’s visitors.
4. Failing to consider your URL structure
If your site is littered with lengthy, indecipherable URLs that don’t align well with the actual content of your site pages, restructuring your URLs should definitely be a priority during your next website redesign. Just like the searchers themselves, search engines prefer URLs that make it easy to understand what your page content is all about.
A general rule to follow when creating your new URLs: use dashes (-) between words instead of underscores ( _ ). Google treats dashes as separators, which means it can return results when you search for a single word that appears in a URL and when you search for a group of words that appears in a URL. In contrast, Google treats underscores as connectors, which means it will only return results when you search for a group of connected words that appears in a URL. The bottom line is that using dashes creates more opportunities for your pages to be discovered.
5. Leaving low-quality backlinks in place
Getting backlinks (or ‘inbound links’) from trusted websites is a great way to give your website’s search rankings a boost. However, there’s also a dark side to backlinks.
If Google suspects that there are spammy, low-quality sites linking to your site, your rankings could suffer. This is known as ‘negative SEO’. (In some cases, spammers will purposely direct lots of low-quality links to your site in order to cause negative SEO.)
A website redesign presents the perfect opportunity for you to analyse your backlinks and remove the low-quality ones. If you use Google Webmaster Tools, you’ll see a ‘manual penalty’ appear if Google detects one of these low-quality links. You’ll then have the option to make such links ‘no follows’ so Google stops paying attention to them.
6. Not implementing responsive design
As Google’s preferred configuration for mobile-optimised websites, responsive design is your best option for delivering a great search and browsing experience to mobile users.
With responsive design, all of your website’s URLs are the same across all devices, and they all serve up the same HTML code. This isn’t the case with other mobile configurations, like setting up a separate, mobile-only site (which requires a different set of URLs) or implementing dynamic serving (which uses the same URLs but serves up different HTML).
With responsive design, the only thing that changes across devices is the styling (which is controlled by CSS). This configuration makes it easier for Google to crawl your pages and retrieve your content.
7. Failing to think like a human
With the Hummingbird update of 2013, Google gained the ability to recognise full-sentence queries, in contrast to simply picking out the individual words that make up a query. As a result, search has become much more conversational.
Google doesn’t want to deliver you ‘results’ anymore, they want to deliver answers. And the best answers don’t come from content farms; they come from websites that are crafted with their visitors – human beings – in mind.