Your website has been live for over five years and has served you well: generating business, gathering new clients; but now you feel it’s time for a change. You have come to believe that it is outdated, or sales are not as strong as before, and your web development company has suggested it needs an update. Sound familiar?
Over the years, I have heard many a horror story of a once successful website, the owner then decides to change the look and feel of the site, only to see it drop off Google’s radar and hence compound the issues you were trying to correct in the first place. So before you take that big step to make changes, first determine if you need to do it and, if you do, make sure you do it the right way – so you keep your hard earned online gains and not lose them.
The first step is to determine why you need a redesign of your website. A couple of reasons are:
1/ Traffic numbers are down – while it can be easy to blame a dated website for this, be sure to investigate if there are any other possible reasons why traffic is down. Could the site be better optimised on its current platform with minimal changes to achieve the same result? Remember, an SEO-optimised site five years ago needs to be updated to allow for current algorithm changes etc, but this does not always mean you have to start from scratch. This can save time and money, as well as reducing any risks that a full website change involves.
2/ Web developer says site needs a revamp – it’s always nice to have a fresh website, however first ensure it is something that is actually required and not simply what your web developer wants. Get a second opinion from someone who has no vested interest in the site being re-designed, be it your customer base or an outside SEO expert. If people are accustomed to using your website in a certain way, changing things dramatically could alienate your user base if it is not needed.
If you still wish to launch a new website, make sure you have processes in place to ensure a smooth transition, and to minimise damage to your online rankings and traffic levels. If done properly, a new look for your website can help invigorate sales and increase rankings; if transitioned incorrectly, changes to your website can have disastrous effects, ruining years of hard work. To avoid this, follow a few simple rules:
1/ New site or new skin? – to give a site a fresh new look with minimal changes might mean simply applying a new skin, rather than fully redesigned website. The benefit is that the underlying site structure remains constant, so in turn remains indexed, and any links to those URLs are still valid. In addition, your current customer base is still familiar with the site and more likely to adapt to the change.
2/ Redirects – If the site must be fully overhauled you must plan for the change. When you change the URL structure of a site, it will affect rankings, as web pages that were indexed are suddenly not there. If they disappear, Google search bots will assume they no longer exist, and simply drop the ranking unless you tell them where the content has gone. Make sure all old URLs are redirected to the new relevant pages at launch, so you do not lose the current rankings those pages have.
3/ Get an outside expert opinion – Do not wait for the website to launch to get expert SEO advice, as the damage to rankings will be already done, and it’s easier to keep ranks than gain new ones. Employing an outside SEO expert from the commencement of the redesign means he or she can assess it and advise from an unbiased viewpoint as to what should and shouldn’t be done, and help avoid possible issues before they have unintended consequences for your new website.
So if you’re planning on launching a revamped website, take the time to talk to your local SEO specialist before, during and after the design process for the best results.