Refreshing your website makes it a vibrant presence that ensures visitors see the latest info about your organization and encourages them to interact with it. In a few months so much can happen – think of the changes in your industry and the impact on your business – that information becomes outdated quickly. A periodic refresh ensures your website stays relevant and useful to your audience; these are qualities that search engines prioritize.
Search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on the trends in how people search for what they need and how that process impacts web design and development; every step of a website redesign is influenced by SEO.
SEO’s role in a website refresh
The redesign process outlined below shows SEO’s role in these eight steps of designing and developing a website – from planning how the site is organized through tracking how people and search engines respond to the changes.
Identify your goals
Start by identifying your goals for the website and the purpose of the site redesign. Being clear about your reasons and the results you want helps everybody on the project share your vision.
When your goals include better SEO (better rankings, more website traffic, or anything to do with people finding the website in the search results) it’s essential to start with an SEO evaluation. Learn about the organization’s digital presence, identify problems, and figure out what can be improved. But should your organization have a stellar online presence and rankings, be sure to keep what’s working.
To get you started, here’s a guide to a quick SEO evaluation.
Define the scope of the project
What new content and features will be added in order to fulfill your goals? For example, do you need the help of a copywriter to add or revise content with the intention of ranking better for relevant keywords? Do you need a landing page as part of a promotional campaign? Do you need to add something that visitors can interact with, e.g. a lead generation device?
Your priorities, goals, and budget determine the scope. If your goals are ambitious and resources are limited, consider doing the project in phases.
Create a sitemap and wireframe
Determine the layout of the sections and pages, and how the content and features will interrelate.
A sitemap is a representation of how content on the website is organized so that people can find what they want. Search engines bots also follow the links in the navigation to discover the content to be crawled.
The SEO evaluation often comes into play at this stage of the project. Your research into keywords, competitors, brand perception, and website data reveals what’s important to your clients. Prioritizing their needs in configuring the website sets the stage for everything that follows – clients finding your content in the search results and engaging with it on the website.
The wireframe is a template for how content should be laid out on the page, e.g. columns, call-out boxes, header, footer. SEO often weighs in to advise on elements such as tabs, accordions, and pop-ups.
With the big picture of the site in mind, create content for the individual pages that you are adding, and edit content on the pages you are revising.
Each page can be optimized for search engines, known as “on-page SEO.” Always begin with well-crafted content, and the configure the page to help readability – by people and search engines.
As you organize and create content, bear in mind that a page that contains just a few lines of copy feels like wasted effort. In SEO parlance, that’s called “thin content.” What users expect is a “satisfying amount” of content.
Ace it visually
Communicate visually in ways that build affinity with the people you want to attract and engage.
A great design makes the website “sticky,” i.e., people stay on the site to read, learn, use and share features. All that behavior that tells search engines the site is worthwhile. An experienced web designer takes the design from good to great and builds a visual brand that users recognize and seek out.
SEO’s role in this step is to ensure the technical choices are search-engine friendly. For example, a one-page website has limitations that would make it a poor choice if your objective is to rank for hundreds or thousands of keywords. An SEO expert can flag any areas of concern; your designer, developer, and SEO should work as a team so that the website looks awesome and is search-engine friendly.
Test and correct
Make sure everything works – the navigation, the display, internal and external links, page speed etc. This is the time to test browser compatibility, find and correct user experience issues.
Before a site launches, have 301 redirects in place: Whenever a URL is changed or eliminated a 301 redirect gets users to the right content, rather than a 404 error page. A 301 redirect also transfers the SEO value of the old page to the new page; otherwise, links to the old page would be lost.
Plan and execute your site launch.
Tell your customers and users about the redesign so that they anticipate changes and feel reassured that they’re in the right place. Panicky users might otherwise bounce away – behavior that can negatively impact rankings.
You can help search engines capture the changes to your website by submitting a new XML sitemap in Google’s Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. The XML sitemap is sort of a cheat sheet for search engines. In WordPress it can be configured through the SEO plugin, e.g. Yoast SEO or All in One SEO Pack.
Measure before and after
You’ll want to know how the refreshed site performs. Let data collect for a month, and then compare the trends in Google Analytics and Search Console with your strategic goals in mind. You might see immediate results, or you might need to be patient for several months as the site is re-crawled and the new content is indexed.
This entire process – establishing goals, evaluating, prioritizing, strategizing – preserves what’s working and lets you focus on what needs to change. Coordinating web design and SEO ensures the changes you implement will maintain and improve the website’s visibility in the search engine results.