By Paul Schmidt
Redesigning a website can be a huge project, with hundreds of technical, financial, creative, operational, and strategic decisions to think through. From planning out your goals to building your site from the ground up, it can take months of planning, designing, writing, and developing before you can show off your masterpiece to the world.
One key to making sure your launch goes off without a hitch is to ensure your website speaks the language of search engines—or SEO. How do you make sure that any SEO value you’ve built up with your old website is not only retained, but also enhanced in a new website? Here are 10 SEO mistakes to avoid when redesigning your website.
Mistake #1: Redesigning Without Goals
Before you start designing or mapping out content, you need to ask yourself:
- What are the primary goals and objectives for this new website?
If you plan to use your website to generate sales leads, your content and user experience need to align with your conversion paths, helping to nurture visitors into leads. This is a key element of inbound marketing programs. To find leads, you’ll want to generate awareness by increasing traffic. This means more blogging, premium content creation, social sharing, and reasons to keep people coming back. There is no one-size-fits-all website. So when discussing a redesign with your team, think through these core elements:
Goal of Redesign: What does success look like in 3-6 months?
Personas: Who are your ideal customers? Depending on your business, you may have several types of ideal prospects.
Buyer’s Journey: What are the core phases that a prospect experiences when making a decision to purchase a product like yours?
Key Elements: What are must-have features and components to help us accomplish our goals?
Mistake #2: Not Capturing Data
Now that you’ve made the decision to redesign your site, you should establish metrics based on the performance of your old website. These analytics benchmarks can be found in HubSpot or Google Analytics and will help you set goals for the new site, as well as overall business growth.
Some examples of the types of data include:
- B2B publishers who monetize based on ad revenue will likely be more concerned with benchmarking time spent on site, overall visits, and average banner clickthrough rates.
- A B2C company might only care about visitors to sales conversions of a certain product, focusing the entire user experience toward it right away.
- Or, a service-based organization may be more concerned with lead generation for their sales team and spend more time educating and raising awareness outside of its brand.
From an SEO perspective, in order to retain link equity and any value you’ve built on your current domain, you’ll want to benchmark these metrics at a minimum:
- Total traffic (from organic search, referrals, etc.)
- Conversion rates (ideally, each step between traffic and customers)
- Which pages are getting organic traffic (usually mapped to the best keywords)
- Usage metrics (geography, bounce rate, time on site, etc.)
- Inbound links (the sites that are linking back to you)
Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong CMS and Hosting Provider
The right content management system (CMS) is perhaps the single most important factor for a website. Depending on the scope of your new site, you’ll have to weigh cost, functionality, support, security, reliability, and speed.
A few features in CMS you should be looking for to ensure a perfectly optimized website are:
Responsive Design: The website should work seamlessly across across any computer, tablet, mobile device, or browser. Google specifically calls this out as an SEO signal.
Functionality: Does the CMS allow you to adjust the website and add the right metatagging or rich schema that search engines use to understand the layout, context, and content of your website?
Analytics: Does the CMS allow you to add analytics functionality or have analytics functionality built in? It’s important you are able to easily track visits, leads, bounce rates, time on site, and user flows and build out custom reports to answer specific marketing questions.
Support: Do you have access to a support team or an online community if an issue comes up with the CMS? More obscure CMSs are likely to have limited documentation or costly customer support. Keep this in mind as this could be an added cost.
Security: Bad security practices are detrimental to SEO. Search engines will remove your website from their index if your website has been hacked. Make sure your CMS has the right security built in or you are using a security plug-in to avoid this.
Speed: Search engines use site load speed as a ranking factor. Make sure your website is using an up-to-date CMS with a fast hosting provider. We recently migrated a website to HubSpot (which has a lightning-fast hosting provider) and saw an overnight improvement in rankings.
Mistake #4: Improper Use of Redirects
Redirects are important when redesigning your site if you have to change URLs. Redirects are a command that tells search engines where to find content that is no longer at a specific URL. One of the more common SEO mistakes is either using 302 (temporary) redirects, or even using the 301 (permanent) redirects the WRONG way.
What if I have to eliminate pages from my old site? In this case, redirect your old page to the most relevant new page with similar keywords. For example, if you are a bank and are eliminating a certain financial product page, then redirect that old URL to the main financial product-category page or a similar product page. This is a much better option than just sending people to your homepage or your blog.
Mistake #5: Not Submitting a Sitemap
Every website should submit a sitemap to search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. These can be submitted through the respective search engine’s Webmaster Tools feature. A sitemap shows the URLs for your entire site and helps search engines understand the organization of your website.
Mistake #6: Not Telling Search Engines About Your Domain Change
Just like you tell the post office when you’re moving, you need to tell search engines like Google that your new website is no longer the same. In addition to submitting your new sitemap, use the change of address tool in the Search Console for Google to give them an update.
Here are the 3 steps to submitting your change of address:
STEP 1... Move your content over to the new domain.
STEP 2... Verify Google Search Console on the new domain.
STEP 3... Submit your change of address in Google Search Console.
Mistake #7: Not Using the Knowledge Panel or Rich Snippets
Fifty percent of search results get a knowledge panel result on Google. This is up from 25 percent, two years ago! We can expect this percentage to rise, especially for businesses. Knowledge Panels provide key information that users often seek. Google’s data highlighter tool helps you build a knowledge graph by letting you suggest how your data is structured across your website. The data highlighter supports the following:
- Local Businesses
- Software Applications
- TV Episodes
Another way to get your results in the knowledge is the more explicit use of rich schema. Rich schema is HTML markup that tells search engines specifically what a piece of HTML is communicating to your website visitors.
Mistake #8: Accidentally Blocking Search Engines
The domain.com/robots.txt page is how you can talk to various robots that crawl websites—like search engines. Called The Robots Exclusion Protocol, it publicly tells robots how to read your website.
Staging pages, internal pages, and simple thank you pages are some of the most common pages you’d block from search engines. Many sites don’t need one but during a redesign, your new website may be on a staging URL that is being blocked from search engines. On new website launch date, make sure your website domain is NOT listed within robots.txt.
If you want search engines to crawl your entire website, make your robots.txt page read:
Mistake #9: Poor Keyword Optimization
There are hours of work that go into content creation, design, analytics, and strategy before launching a site. Keyword research is one of the best places to start to ensure content is seen by search engines. Keywords should:
- Reflect your buyer personas and buyer’s journey
- Use key phrases that reflect pain points, goals, challenges, and non-branded terms
Keyword research has a big impact on SEO. Using your keyword list, you’ll want to optimize the following pieces of each web page:
- Meta description
- H1 header tag
- Body copy
- Image alt-text
- Internal links from other websites (ideally)
- Video descriptions, etc.
At SmartBug, we like to use a few different tools for keyword optimization:
- The Google AdWords Keyword Tool is also a great resource to find recommendations for new keyword categories and better understand your overall rankings and opportunities.
- Moz’s Keyword Explorer Tool is one of our favorite tools that can provide 100s of keyword suggestions as well keyword difficulty, opportunity, and more.
- HubSpot’s Keywords and Page Performance tools track rankings of keywords and provide easy, on-page SEO recommendations. If you're tracking local rankings, you'll want to use Moz or another local rank tracking tool as HubSpot only tracks rankings at the national level.
Mistake #10: It’s Not Easy to Share Content
Social sharing features improve overall traffic and awareness of your content. It also generates more links to your website and encourages conversations about your brand and/or products. All of these increase your SEO success. Make it easy to share your content by following these three simple steps:
STEP 1... Make your content shareable in the first place. Remember, people generally share something they endorse or stand behind—unless it’s for negative reasons. Make sure it’s interesting, valuable, and not overly sales-focused.
STEP 2... Keep it aesthetically pleasing. Use graphic design, engaging photographs, or videos. Use a clear catchy title, description, and large image in your posts.
STEP 3... Use other best practices like social buttons and mimic some of the most shareable websites like Buzzfeed and Wired.
To get the complete list of website redesign SEO mistakes download our guide: