Any website redesign, whether iterative or an overhaul, is stressful enough. Add in the pressure most inbound marketers are to maintain (or grow) SEO health during a redesign, and the stakes are even higher. While SEO checklists for redesigns abound, a few key areas always stand out that can spell disaster for your website’s search engine optimization health when skipped.
Changing URLs? Map out your 301 Redirects and Canonicals Early
Any redesign that involves changes to URL structure immediately puts your redesign into a “high risk” category for SEO impacts at launch. The most common reason for a drop in organic traffic for most redesigns is typically missing, inaccurate, or the type of redirects used.
If you’re changing your URL structure, here are a few things to make sure you keep in mind:
- Use Permanent (301) redirects: Using a 301 redirect informs a Search Engine that the content that once lived at this URL now permanently resides at a new URL. This suggests to a Search Engine to update their records accordingly. There’s rarely if ever, a good reason to use a Temporary Redirect (302 or 307) when it comes to SEO.
- Map out your URL Redirect Map early: If you’re changing domains or URL structure, mapping out your site’s old versus new sitemap should happen as early as possible. Waiting to match up URL changes from your existing site to the redesign site until the last minute is one of the most common reasons why redirects are rushed and eventually missed. Note: Mapping these out early also helps update internal links, manual sitemaps, and external marketing campaigns.
- Include Canonicals: Redirects and Canonical tags should agree with each other. Therefore, include mapping out your canonicals when mapping out your 301 redirects to avoid having conflicts.
- Make Redirect Verification part of QA: Don’t leave verifying the implementation of your 301 redirects/canonicals a simple checklist item. If SEO is a core part of your marketing mix, ensuring that validating your redirect/canonicals before launch is part of your QA process is vital.
As with any critical item, redirects should be on the top of your list when a redesign is on the horizon. Overlooking a redirect strategy when redesigning is the quickest way to a long road of rebuilding your site’s organic health.
Pay Attention to your Robots.txt and No-Index
Alongside redirects, a common miss for many redesigns (especially for those using a staging server pre-launch) is launching with a restrictive Robots.txt file or accidental Meta No-Index tags.
- Add Robots.txt and NoIndex to your Pre-launch & Post-launch QA: Launching a redesign with a Robots.txt file that disallows search engines from crawling all of your sites can be a panic moment. Launching with a noindex meta tag can be even worse. These can often sneak in from a staging server set to be removed from public consumption and should always be checked.
Make Core Web Vitals Part of your Front End Design Process
With the continuous release of the Page Experience update by Google, making sure Google’s Core Web Vitals is part of your front-end process will be more critical over the next few years as front-end page speed becomes more ingrained into the Google algorithm.
Note: If you’re looking to get up to speed on Core Web Vitals, check out our latest on How to Optimize for Core Web Vitals.
Your next front-end redesign should keep in mind a few common Core Web Vital pitfalls you can avoid:
- Use Font-Display with WebFonts: If you’re using web fonts, getting familiar with Font-Display can help your website save precious time waiting for a web font to load. Font-Display instructs a browser to use a system font temporarily during your web fonts load.
- Consider Mobile Optimized Imagery and content: Including mobile-optimized versions of your Hi-res desktop images can vastly improve your mobile load times. In addition, with Mobile-first indexing now the law of the land for websites, making sure you focus on the mobile experience can give you a significant leg-up on your competition when most redesigns still focus on desktop content during the wireframe/mockup phase.
- Add preload link values to critical requests: Identifying critical front-end resources and adding the preload link value to indicate these elements should be loaded first can help reduce front-end bottlenecks that Google may penalize you on.
- Explore Lazy Loading of offscreen content: While Lazy Loading is a front-end practice that could have its writeup, incorporating the practice into your next redesign can help reduce the number of time browsers take to load content a user may or may not view.
There are several Core Web Vital areas that every redesign may want to keep in mind. Making moves towards Increasing your front-end load times will continue to impact your next redesign’s SEO health positively.
Using localization? Consider your Hreflang Alternatives from the Start
International SEO can get complex quickly based on your approach. If your redesign includes localizing your content, there are a few items to consider before launch:
- Map your Hreflangs and their alternates early: As you map out your content plan (depending on the scope of your redesign), consider including denoting the hreflang makeup of each piece of localized content as well. Determining the Hreflang x-defaults and alternates of each page at the start can significantly increase the chance of your launch with localization as a top-of-mind priority.
- Include Hreflang mapping in your XML Sitemap: While including your Hreflang in your HTML is the most common approach, you can reinforce your desired alternates and x-default pages in your XML sitemap as well.
Again, international SEO is more than just two bullets and can differ on your approach (subdomain versus ccTLD versus subdirectory). Still, for redesigns with hreflang alternates, the above can help you skip the most common pitfalls of an international redesign.