Despite the focus on data and SEO, your website’s overall design can help you convert more traffic into leads with buying intent. It can also hurt your conversion rates. Thanks to big retail and the service industry, people want to do business with people who care about how their site looks and functions.
There are many horror stories, however, of poorly executed website redesigns that have gone wrong, including deleted content and significant drops in traffic from organic search. Check out the traffic data from SEMRush of a site that lost about 90% of their traffic following a redesign.
A drop in traffic like that could put nearly any business into collapse. In this post we’ll cover what you should do to make your website redesign a success.
Managing a website redesign without losing traffic involves coordinating several aspects including your redesign goals, current content, and the implementation of redesign strategies that will help you achieve the look and function of the website, while providing a foundation for increasing SEO.
This article covers the overview of each aspect of website redesign management, including:
Reasons for Redesigning a Website
Website redesign is a change done on an existing website that will affect the way a website looks, feels, how it’s structured or how it operates. There are a number of reasons why a redesign is important.
1. Updated Branding
The website is normally the first action item after a rebrand. It’s foundational for most marketing strategies and is a communication tool for both employees and customers.
2. Website looks Outdated or Off-brand
When a website looks old or like it doesn’t welcome your target audience, a redesign can help make the website, and your company, look like it belongs in the conversation.
3. Migrating to a better Content Management System (CMS)
Your current CMS may be slowing you down, both from a content and website speed perspective. Upgrading to a CMS that allows you to quickly display your content and effectively collaborate with your team will help you achieve your traffic and marketing goals.
4. Website Upgrade for better Web Navigation and Structure
Content that’s hard to get to and a website that’s difficult to navigate will cause website visitors to leave quickly. Better website navigation and structure can promote a better user experience and increase the indexability of your website.
5. Better Domain Name
Certain domain names can be better due to branding and SEO value, however, changing your domain name will come at the cost of loss in traffic. This is rarely done and should not be done without thoughtful consideration.
6. Increased Mobile Performance
Most businesses need to optimize their mobile experience separately from their desktop. You could have the best website on a computer while website visitors see something awful or too small.
Set Your Website Traffic Goals Before Planning a Redesign
You might love your current content, however, not all traffic is “good” traffic. Identify who your ICPs are and what content is most important to them. Your website is like a tree and sometimes you have to cut the dead branches to promote healthy growth.
This is a great time to do a content and website structure audit to determine what stays, what goes, what’s consolidated, and what needs to be added. A content audit will also identify what is quality content, but may need distribution to start attracting traffic. This step is important because it’s ok to lose traffic that doesn’t have a purpose, now we can discuss how to manage a website redesign without losing desired traffic.
General Website Redesign Concerns
Knowing how to manage a website redesign involves understanding what are the possible issues that could arise. This enables you to get ahead of these potential issues during your planning phase instead of after you’ve launched the new website.
“There is no way to guarantee that SEO will not be affected.”
Ignore the phrase above, just be wary of agencies who guarantee specific performance or traffic metrics. The fine print is deceiving and you end up either way with no leads and no money back.
Website Structure Changes
Your sitemap is the overall structure of your web content including all your website pages broken down into your pillar pages and the cluster pages nestled underneath them. Most sitemaps are a collection of URLs in tables on a page, almost like a spreadsheet. Sitemaps should be shared with Google, to give their “robots” (better known as Google’s spiders) a map to navigate your website.
Making any changes to your sitemap or the structure of your website and content without properly informing Google is a surefire way to lose traffic.
The best way to avoid losing traffic in a redesign is to not change the structure or sitemap of your website. Changing your site’s structure may be a good idea, however, consider the traffic risks before you make any changes to your sitemap.
Website Content Changes
Any changes to your website content could cause you to lose traffic. This could be a simple removal of a paragraph or replacing all the headings, photos, videos, links, code, etc. When your content changes, it sparks a change in the way Google sees your website. Google’s spiders crawl through your website taking snapshots of your content through a process called indexing. Google uses these snapshots to provide the search results you see when you use Google.
Deleting or altering website content may be in the best interest of your audience, however, you run the risk of losing traffic when you make changes to your website content.
How to Manage a Website Redesign
Managing a website redesign can be extremely difficult or fairly simple depending on the complexity of the website including the amount of content, the number of pages, the platform it’s built on, and any code, plug-ins or add-ons to your website.
Best Strategies to Maintain Traffic during a Website Redesign
There is no guarantee that you won’t lose traffic during a website redesign, however, there are strategies you can implement that will help maintain or increase your website traffic.
1. Do all Development on a Staging Site
Never make major changes like a redesign on a live site. Instead use a staging site. A staging site is simply a hidden site that is hosted online and allows you to make changes and test things without anyone seeing them. That way if something is botched, it has not impact on what the public (your customers see).
Some website hosting companies like Cloudways make it easy to create staging sites with the click of a button. If you’re using a service provider for the redesign, make sure they’ll do all work in a staging environment and get your approval before going live.
2. Keep your Sitemap, Structure and Content the same
This is the easiest way to prevent traffic loss in a website redesign. You can do this even if you need to change website platforms, CMS, or you're just looking for a new look to your website. This includes thinking through how you will reposition your content on each page after the website redesign.
In practice, you’ll want to go through your analytics software and identify your pages with the most valuable traffic, and then ensure that those pages contain the same URL and substantially similar content after the redesign. For some sites this may only be a handful of pages, while for others it may be hundreds of pages.
3. Add helpful Content to your Website
Add content to your website that your audience will find valuable and that search engines want. Guides, templates, listicles, how-tos, and other types of helpful content will attract the right type of traffic to your website.
4. Update and Resubmit your Sitemap
If you do make changes to your website’s URLs or structure, you must create and resubmit your sitemap to Google. This gives search engines the blueprint to the renovations you’ve made to your website.
5. Use 301 Redirects
301 redirects let search engines and website visitors know that a web page has moved to a new destination. This is useful if you changed the name of a particular piece of content or if you deleted it altogether.
Search engines can’t tell the difference between a page that’s been deleted and a page that’s changed its name, 301 redirects are what helps to bridge that gap and maintain your traffic. (Related: 301 Redirect Best Practices You Must Follow So You Don’t Lose Traffic)
Avoid Losing Traffic while Managing a Website Redesign
Losing website traffic and search rankings immediately after a website redesign is almost inevitable, however, a properly managed website redesign will bounce back from such losses, or increase traffic. The most important thing to remember to maintain traffic during a website redesign is to not make detrimental changes to your website content, structure or code.
If you do make changes, make sure they are in the best interest of your brand and that you’ve followed the proper procedures to communicate to Google and your site visitors the changes that have been made.