There are 4 words that strike fear into the heart of any SEO marketer: “I’m changing my website.” That’s because a website update creates the potential for SEO problems.
Search engine optimization is based on the publishing of strategic content. When you make the decision to redesign a website, even for legitimate reasons, it can change the entire profile of your marketing work.
It can be frustrating from a marketer’s standpoint because they aren’t always kept in the loop when the decision is made to update the website. Then the SEO efforts begin to fail, so that means the marketer or content creator is blamed.
SEO problems create bad feelings all around.
Communication must be the top priority when an update is required in the midst of an SEO effort. Otherwise, the update may affect the strength of your organic traffic, which would reduce your revenues instead of growing them.
4 Big SEO Problems During an Update
1. Changes in URL Structure
The biggest SEO mistake that happens during a website update is the creation of inconsistent URL structures.
“Changes in your URL structure affect more than just your domain authority,” writes Jayson DeMers for Search Engine Watch. “There’s also a potential problem with your external inbound links.”
There could be hundreds of offsite links which are pointing back to the different pages that are included with your domain. Should those pages change suddenly without a proper redirect, then they won’t point to a destination that is relevant.
This can cause your rankings to drop dramatically. It may even reduce the amount of inbound traffic you receive from external referral resources.
Google likes to see URL consistency over a long period of time. When your site is crawled, the historical structures of your URLs, with new pages related to this past content, shows that you are updating your site and have expertise to share.
Combine that with external links that point to these pages and some social sharing. That gives you a great SEO recipe.
It goes away if you do not setup 301 redirects to transfer your link equity from the old page to the new one.
2. CMS Changes
The second mistake involves changes to your CMS platform.
Although many websites use WordPress, which allows you to alter your meta information, there are some platforms which do not allow this change. Some require numerous fundamental changes to your back-end structures to make the changes that are required.
“There are meta tags beyond just descriptions and keywords, though those two are picked on the most,” notes Kate Morris for Moz.
Your good meta tags include the content type, title tag, meta description, and the viewport.
If you use social meta tags, robots meta tags, language tags, or geo tags in Bing, then these must be updated as well with the website redesign.
There is one advantage here.
You can remove the tags which are not necessary for your SEO efforts. Your author, distribution, generator, and copyright tags are not really needed for the modern website.
3. Website Design Interference
“Websites are built with a number of teams working together,” says DeMers, “which sometimes leads to conflicting goals.”
The SEO marketer is working toward search ranking improvements, higher domain authority, and improved organic incoming traffic.
The design team is concerned with an improved user experience (UX) that leads to a more dynamic sales funnel.
A website that looks great and is easy to navigate may be terrible for SEO. A great site for SEO may not be customer-friendly. The two teams must find some common ground somewhere in the middle.
Without common ground, you’re guaranteed to have SEO problems creep up.
There will need to be some compromises made.
Perfection from both sides will be difficult to find. When you have both teams working together, however, you have the chance to find some innovative content without a complete alteration of the SEO work you’ve already finished.
4. Using Poor Quality Content
“Two popular ways of creating a large quantity of content include hiring low-paid article writers and using article spinners – software that takes one article and ‘rewords’ it to make it look like several unique articles to search engines,” says Neil Patel.
This is not a good idea. Even though this content might be optimized from a technical standpoint, the impression it leaves a visitor is far from positive.
Good SEO means producing content that is worthy of earning a link.
What often happens is that most of the budget gets spent on the navigational structure and base pages of the new site, leaving little for the actual content creation.
Updating optimized content with poor future content will affect the quality of your link equity, which can lead to severe SEO problems.
It’s like having a tall glass of water, then adding mud to it. No one wants to drink muddy water, no matter how pretty the glass happens to be.
How to Update a Site Without Killing Your SEO
To make sure your SEO efforts remain intact as you go through a website redesign, the first step to take is to crawl your current site.
Document your current structures, meta data, and URLs. This will allow you to identify what is going to change and why it is necessary.
Then you’ll be ready to audit the older site. You’re going to be looking for the following problems to avoid a future SEO issue.
- Duplicate or missing page titles.
- Missing, duplicate, or multiple H1 tags.
- Duplicate or missing meta descriptions.
- Internal/External broken links.
- URL structures.
- Site speed and performance.
You will also want to search for canonical issues with your website. Duplicated content will automatically revert to the most relevant page on your site, based on the search engine’s decision.
Then give your current SEO content the value it deserves. Don’t store it on historical pages or change every URL. Redirect the old ones to preserve your link equity and overall domain authority.
SEO Elements to Include with Your New Design
Although there can be some SEO issues to avoid when you’re redesigning a website, there are opportunities to boost your organic traffic too.
Your new website is the perfect opportunity to incorporate SEO techniques directly into the site design from a content perspective.
“It’s very helpful to have an understanding of what the important keyword phrases are for your website in the design process,” says George Aspland for Search Engine Land.
Aspland notes that there are four sources of information where you can obtain this understanding.
The first involves keyword research that you do on your own.
A tool like Keyword.io can help yo identify alternative keywords that may be suitable for your SEO efforts. You can also use a free keyword research tool, like Wordtracker, to identify profitable long-tail keywords for inclusion in your new site design.
Then check on your PPC campaign.
You can see the keyword phrases which brought targeted traffic to your site. Check your analytics to see which metrics led to conversions, then target these keywords and their alternatives to enhance your on-site SEO during the design process – even if they are intend for VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) sites or applications.
If you’re not running a PPC campaign, then check your website analytics. This data should let you know which keywords brought the highest levels of engaged traffic to your website.
Aspland also recommends using Google’s Webmaster Tools. You’ll receive information about the keywords your site is being found through various searches.
“If you only use analytics or site reports to determine what keyword phrases reached the site in the past, you may be missing many important keyword opportunities,” says Aspland.
“Your site many not have the relevant content or the link popularity to have attracted search traffic for many important keywords, especially competitive keywords.”
Once you have found these keywords, include them.
If that means adding more content around these targeted phrases, then do so. Optimize your pages to target these phrases. Then make sure you’re developing relevant tags that keep the focus on these keywords to maximize your SEO through your website design.
On-Site SEO Issues to Avoid Before Launch
SEMrush collected anonymous data from over 450 million pages on 100,000 websites using their internal audit tool to determine errors and issues with search engine optimization. These are the issues they discovered during the audit.
- Half of the websites examined faced at least one issue with duplicated content.
- 45% of the websites had missing ALT tags.
- Another 10% had broken internal images which needed correcting.
There were title tag issues discovered during the SEMrush audit as well.
Some of the sites were missing title tags, while others had less text than necessary within the title tag. The research discovered that meta description issues were also quite common.
The major issue, however, was with the internal links. 35% of websites had broken internal links, with 70% of those links returning a 400 code to the user. 1 in 4 websites had broken external links as well.
Although these issues may not impact SEO rankings directly, they do impact the value of the site to the visitor. If you’ve got broken links, duplicated content, and these other common issues happening, what was the point of the website redesign in the first place?
Don’t rush the process. Let your development team work with your marketing team. Dig into these potential issues to avoid having your traffic affected by them.
The 404 Error Page: What to Do
When the server is unable to locate the file or page that a visitor wants, then the 404 error is displayed by your website.
The 404-error page is like a dead-end road. The only thing the visitor can do at that point is turn around. Without customization, it tends to be a blunt, unfriendly experience. “Error 404. Page not found.”
That leads to a higher bounce rate for your site.
No website is perfect. Design mistakes are going to happen. There might be technical errors which cause the error page to load. That is why part of your website redesign must include a focus on this error page.
Here are some ways that you can use the 404 error to improve the user experience on your website.
Give visitors a link to a new location.
Try including a set of internal links which go to the most popular pages on your site. That will prevent the visitor from going back to your home page or trying to rummage through search results.
Keep it a welcoming experience.
Visitors will be frustrated by the 404 error. Instead of offering blunt phrasing, offering something humorous and creative to help this page be an ambassador for your new website.
CreativeBloq put together a list of 35 brilliant 404 error pages to help give you some ideas for your own page.
Leverage your SEO.
By customizing the 404-error page, you’ll be able to give your website more value.
Even if the boost is small, any SEO benefit is better than nothing, which is guaranteed to happen when you allow the default error to display to the visitor.
Create more links for your site.
A creative 404 page will generate new links for your site. New links means you get more traffic.
To create a custom 404 page, you’ll need to do a little design work and have a little coding knowledge. If you’re using WordPress, there are plugins available that will help you create this page without touching the code.
Start by creating a standard page for your site. Include every element that is needed for a good page. That means including a search box, important links, and a little humor. Making your website visitors feel dumb for reaching the error page is a guarantee that you’ll lose any chance of a conversion.
Then you’ll need to configure the site to recognize the 404 page. When using Apache, you’ll need to find the .htaccess file. You can find it within the root directory of your site, which is accessible through your regular FTP client.
If you don’t have one, then you will need to create one.
Once you get into the file, you’ll need to add the following text: “ErrorDocument 404 / 404.html”. This is the name of your page, so make sure the names match to have this process work properly.
Then save the file. Upload it into the root director of your server. Then check to see if your new page is working as it should.
Just remember to keep any redirections from the error page on your site. You don’t want to send them to a different site. Going back to the home page on an automatic redirect is a bad idea as well. That will only create more confusion for the user.
My New Site Is Built – Now What?
Once you have your new site built, it is time to test it. Before you do that, you will want to noindex the test site.
Although this step is simple, it is the one that is forgotten most often. When you’re not ready to have visitors see your new work, the last thing you need to have happen is for Google or other search engines index it.
Your new content will be indexed without this step, without exception.
If you’ve pulled your new content from successful SEO content published in the past, your new site will have zero value.
Because it will be seen by the search engines as duplicated content. Google doesn’t care that you have a site you’re retiring and a new one under construction. It sees that you have two pages of the same content, so it will treat one as a direct copy.
For some developers, that results in a Google “penalty” because the noindex command was not issued.
Google automatically filters for duplicate content when you make a keyword search. If you add &filter=0 to the URL, you’ll remove the filtering agent. This will help you to see every page of duplicated content.
You can also click on a link that Google provides that allows you to see other pages that were deemed to be irrelevant when the search was initiated.
Here’s the problem: the average person is not going to eliminate the filter. If Google chooses your test site over your older site for display, then how is that helpful to your future customer?
The Two Methods Used to Noindex Your Test Site
The first option is very easy. Just check the noindex box provided by the CMS platform. In WordPress, you would check the box found under the Search Engine Visibility heading that says to discourage search engines from indexing this site.
By checking that box, you’ll be adding a line of code on each page for the noindex command.
You also have the option to manually block the site through your Robots.txt file. You’ll need to place “user-agent: *” on one line, then “Disallow: /” on the next to create the noindex result.
If you’re not using a CMS platform, then you can use this line of code to create the results which are needed: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”/>
How to Update Your Domain’s Sitemap
Your XML sitemaps provide information about your website to the search engines.
This file makes it easier for you to be found. Then the crawlers will navigate through your page, in order of indexing, to determine the value of your content comparative to user searches.
That means a new sitemap should be submitted whenever a website redesign occurs. When you create a new sitemap and set your priorities, the information displayed to users through search will serve your needs better.
You can take care of this redesign chore online through the Google Webmaster tool.
First, you’ll need to go into the Google Search Console. Select your website. Then click on the crawl command.
Then click on the red sitemaps button that is in the upper right of the screen. You’ll see your domain come up. Next to it, type “sitemap.xml” into the empty box. Then click on the Submit button under the box. Google will take care of the rest.
If you are transitioning to an e-commerce website, then your URL should be changing from an HTTP to an HTTPS. Activating your SSL certificate can affect your organic traffic. The steps are similar to follow to have Google crawl your updated site. You’ll need to enter the new HTTPS domain, then remove the HTTP sitemap from the site profile.
Begin the Link Building Process Again
Once your website redesign is live and your content isn’t setting your SEO efforts back, it is time to bring your message to the rest of the world once again.
“Most websites will have a hard time generating enough organic links to raise their rankings in search engines,” notes Patel. “This is why link building is such a popular service.”
Patel notes that there are 6 key ways for you to build quality links without waiting for the organic process to build on its own. After your website redesign goes live, consider using these options to expand your SEO profile.
Submit Guest Blog Posts
Look for popular blogs in your industry.
Then write content for that website which meets their design, format, and value expectations. In return for the content you provide, you should receive a link from the author box once the guest post is published.
Link with Like-Minded Businesses
Small businesses need to stick together to be competitive. If there are industry-related businesses which are not direct competitors of yours looking to “trade” links, it may be worth consideration.
Build a Local Search Profile
This includes an updated social media profile. Even if these links do not officially count as an external link, they do attract clicks. Clicks equate to more website traffic. You still get a win at the end of the day.
Submit Your Site to a Directory
Many directories are available online to provide consumers with information about local businesses. Be careful about which directory you choose. Low-quality directories are ones that link to unrelated industries or practice questionable SEO techniques to build their own branding and message.
Create Awesome Content
Once your website redesign is live, you’re ready to keep pushing forward with valuable content.
One popular method of offering interesting content to visitors today is the infographic. You can then offer to let others publish your infographics in exchange for a link back to your site for an organic traffic boost.
Use SEO Tools
There are several tools available today that will give you access to raw SEO data. Patel recommends using DataForSEO for this process. Additional SEO data tools include Builtwith, WhereGoes, Xenu, and Firefox Developer Tools.
Common SEO Problems After a Website Update
Once you’ve launched your new website, it is still important to keep an eye out for some common problems that can creep up over time.
Each website will experience these problems differently. Some might not experience them at all. You’ll still want to make sure you’re evaluating your online presence for these issues to avoid losing SEO value after you’ve launched.
Communication: Get your SEO people into the planning meetings from the very start. When your developers and marketers can get onto the same page, you have a better opportunity to achieve the results you’re wanting.
Content: Make sure you put the correct content on the pages where it will be most effective.
Not only will your content help to create conversions, it will provide the backbone for your future SEO efforts.
Meta Data: When a search engine crawls your website, the results may be incomplete. Don’t make Google guess at what your website is about. Make sure you have all your meta data published, then make sure that the crawlers are including this information for you.
Redirects: Once you’ve created your redirects, it is important to make sure they are working as they should. Make sure to test them every so often to ensure the results provided are what you want.
Use a CRM to Improve Your SEO Results
If you’re not using a CRM to improve your site optimization, then you may be losing valuable information every day.
A CRM allows you to record the conversations that you have with your current and future customers.
One simple way to expand the use of your CRM is to ask each prospect and customer what keywords they used to find your website. Then you can plug those keywords into your preferred research tools to find close alternatives which may help you reach more interested consumers.
Although this requires detailed notes with the system, you’ll be able to track similar problems, identify areas where you’re able to create resolutions, and add relevance to each pitch you offer.
A CRM will help you identify purchasing trends within your customer base as well. With relevant information, you can identify patterns in customer behavior.
You might see that certain customers tend to purchase specific goods or services at specific times during the year. By understanding this, you can adjust your SEO strategy to accommodate this seasonal trend, allowing your website redesign to maximize its overall value.
It all boils down to the information you gather and how you use it. When you redesign your website, without prior planning, you may inadvertently compromise the integrity of this data.
There are times when a website redesign is necessary. You may have errors, improper user navigation patterns, or low-value content which needs to be updated.
Make sure that you keep your SEO efforts intact during the update process to ensure your rankings, expertise, and domain authority remain at the top of your industry.