The age of Google, that’s what I think we’re living in right now, and it’s a time where every single marketer, developer, web designer, webmaster and business owner realises the importance of ranking high in the SERPs (search engine result pages). The higher your website ranks in Google, the more visibility your site and brand get. It’s basically free traffic coming to your website, and traffic usually leads to conversions, which then leads to a higher business profitability and an improved brand awareness.
Let’s say that you were aware of all these things and you created a super optimised website that showed up on the first few pages on all major search engines (or just Google, as it’s really the only one that counts at the moment) for your target keywords, but for some reason you decide that your website needs a complete re-design. Whether you want to launch a new product or service, want to make your website mobile-friendly, or you want to change some important visual elements that would make your platform stand out of the crowd, you want a website re-design.
When it comes to re-designing your website, one of the biggest obstacles you will need to face is potentially losing your existing search engine ranking (ouch!). The good news is that you can still preserve (or even improve) your SEO rankings while giving your website a fresh, well-deserved and appealing design (though it can get a bit tricky, we also had to overcome some issues with our own website re-design). In the end, you really shouldn’t fear redesigning your website, because a modern-looking site with state-of-the-art features and clean graphics can dramatically boost your brand image and conversion rate.
In order to re-design your website like a pro and to ensure it keeps ranking well on Google, you will need to avoid one or more of the following 7 website re-design mistakes. Each one of these mistakes can seriously damage your site’s ranking, so grab a coffee and get ready to take a few notes.
1. Failing to Optimise your Images
The most common mistake webmasters have to deal with when redesigning their websites is not optimizing images for Google, Yahoo and Bing’s spiders or crawlers.
Matt Cutts (formerly the head of Google’s webspam team), has said that providing accurate and useful information in the alt attribute of each image is paramount for a successful image integration by Google’s crawlers and spiders. Every single image you add on your new website should have its own alt tag in order to be discoverable by Google (& Yahoo/Bing).
While most users online are able to perceive and understand images, there are others who are unable to understand your images. The list includes blind users who use screen readers, internet users who are unable to view images either because of browser errors or because they have disabled them, and search engine crawlers. In order to describe each image in a readable text format, you can use the alt image tag code. Additionally, you should add a title tag for each one of your images. The title tag is the text that appears on the image when someone hovers over it.
Some of the potential benefits of optimising your images with title and alt tags include an increased search traffic to your website, a higher number of engaged visitors and higher quality traffic from image searches.
2. Modifying Website Navigation
Changing your site’s navigation can come with huge negative consequences for both your visitors and search engines. After you redesign your website, it really needs to be as easy to navigate as it was before the re-design (ideally, it should be even easier).
Your loyal customers and site visitors were definitely used to your old site layout. If you choose to change it dramatically, most of them will probably get confused (yes, there’s such a thing as too innovative).
So if you choose to change your website navigation, make sure to keep your essential pages in place. You might need to add new pages or remove old ones, but keep the main layout intact. For instance, if you had a “Gig of the day” button in the bottom right corner of the page, do not place it in the left corner, or move it to a secondary page. Leave it visible so that users who were thrilled to check your gig on a daily basis will be able to find it just as easy as before. To make things even better, you can put it right on the home page, in the top right corner of the screen.
3. Increasing Load Time
Probably one of the most dangerous mistakes you can make when re-designing your website is to increase page load time. Decreasing page load times can dramatically increase conversions and improve retention rate. This infographic shows how a slower page response time can result in an exponential increase in page abandonment rate. Most users wait between 6 and 10 seconds before abandoning a website. Most shoppers who access a website expect it to load in less than 2 seconds. If it doesn’t load in less than 3 seconds, they abandon it.
Decreasing page load time has become paramount for success (a very good reason to choose an Australian based web host). Google actually puts a huge emphasis on page load speed. If you want to maintain your site’s ranking and not ruin it after a re-design, make sure to avoid this mistake as much as possible. To do that, start by removing unnecessary web design elements such as high-quality videos (or move them off-site), frames or flash elements (you shouldn’t be using flash anyway).
Same goes for your mobile users. With the number of mobile users on the rise, you need to make your website mobile-friendly and give your mobile audience an unforgettable experience. You can either choose to create a separate site for your mobile users or just go with a responsive website. The choice is totally yours, but again, make sure the site loads fast!
4. Keyword Stuffing or Keyword Missing
Over-using keywords in content (or keyword stuffing) is (still) the one of the biggest mistakes made by webmasters who choose to re-design their website. In an attempt to make the content more perfectly optimisable for crawlers, they overuse certain keywords, which is a really old & bad habit… Google sees right through it!
If your website was well optimised and was already attracting visitors, it is wise to use the same articles you already had. Updating content might negatively affect your site rankings if you change too many keywords or you simply choose not to use any more LSI keywords and phrases just for the sake of simplicity. You can use Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool in order to choose the right keywords for your posts.
While not including keywords in the content is quite bad for your site, keyword stuffing is even worse. This is considered a black-hat SEO tactic and is punished accordingly by Google. Do not use too many keywords just to rank high in Google. Write your posts for humans and you will be rewarded by Google, instead of being punished.
5. Changing the Existing Social Integration
Even though Matt Cutts and others from Google said that Google does not take into account social media platforms when ranking a website, most SEO consultants do believe that social media integration has become a deciding factor from an SEO perspective. Many webmasters and SEO experts have declared that social signals have a profound impact on how websites are ranked by Google.
If you somehow forget to incorporate social media sharing buttons on your website, it might negatively impact your SERP ranking. Frequent social media activity makes your brand more valuable in the eyes of your customers and also drives more targeted traffic to your website. When Google sees that, it will add another “check” to your overall SEO profile and bump you up in the SERP.
To better understand how social media and SEO go hand in hand, let’s look at the following example. Let’s say a smartphone brand posts an update on Facebook which explains all the features of their latest smartphone. This post is shared by several users. One of those users runs a high authority blog on high-tech gadgets. If this blogger decides to write about the smartphone and includes a link to the brand’s website, a backlink is automatically generated from his high-authority blog, and the website gets a free high-quality inbound link.
If you want to be successful online when re-designing your site, it is important to keep any existing social media integration functionality intact.
6. Having Duplicate Content
If you have multiple URLs that load the same page on your site, Google sees your website as having duplicate content. The real issue here is that search engines are unable to determine which page to index, which will make them rank your website lower in search engines. For instance, if you have a PRINT only version of your page, Google might index it instead of your actual page and it might end up appearing on Google’s search pages. Poorly implemented mobile websites can also cause a wide variety of problems.
If you have duplicate content that can be found at several URLs, you need to canonicalize it. Here’s a good article on moz about it.
The good news is that you don’t get penalized for having these kind of duplicate content problems. However, you DO get penalized if you copy content from other websites or share it on your website.
Duplicate content is also content that already appears on another website. If you want to rank high in Google, it is imperative to create your own content or hire a freelancer to do it. Always verify your new article or webpage with Copyscape before uploading it on your website. The last thing you want to have is a website categorized as SPAM by Google…
7. Changing URL Structure
Lastly, many webmasters and website owners forget to let Google know that they’ve changed their website’s URL structure. You can move your whole site to a new location as long as you let search engines know which changes you have made. If you change the URL structure without informing Google about it, you will definitely lose all the equity you’ve built over the years for the old URL. This can instantly drop your organic traffic.
So create a sitemap and re-submit it to Google (and the other search engines)!
The Bottom Line
When it comes to re-designing your website, it is wise to keep all the SEO and social media elements from the old site that work. Search engines love websites that are easy to index and that follow their guidelines. By staying away from these 7 web re-design mistakes, you will hopefully get to keep your site’s ranking intact, or even improve it!