Part 1: Planning Your New Website
What does your website do well? Keep this.
Take some time to understand the strengths of your current site. Too often, people throw out their whole website and start from scratch. But that’s a terrible idea if you’re redesigning an established website that gets a lot of visits from different places on the Internet.
Most of the time, websites aren’t all bad – there are plenty of web pages that should be reused on the new site. It’s really important that you separate the look and feel of the site from the structure and content of the site while making decisions about what to keep.
After you’ve been staring at the same website for years, it’s easy to focus on everything that’s wrong with it. The hard part is taking a step back and analyzing the good with the bad before making changes that can negatively affect your business.
How can your website be improved?
Maybe it takes forever to load on your phone (if you don’t know your site speed, check it for free using Google’s Pagespeed tool). Or it’s text heavy and there aren’t enough images. Start making a list of reasons you want to redesign your website and then separate them into categories.
Most website problems fall into the following four categories:
- Design issues
- Ex: the colors are weird
- Content issues
- Ex: we don’t talk about dogs enough
- Technical issues
- Ex: the site doesn’t work on my phone
- Strategic business objective issues
- Ex: we don’t mention a new, profitable service
Typically, the design issues are the main reason for starting a website redesign. But the content, technical and strategic reasons for doing a website redesign can’t be overlooked. The following sections will help you think beyond design and address other issues with your existing site.
Who are your customers?
Established websites often have a diverse range of visitors (if you’re not tracking site visitors, start for free with Google Analytics). Some of these people are going to be potential customers. Others might be interested in something you wrote but will never do business with you.
As you think about your redesign, you want to visualize your ideal customers. Let these individuals be the decision makers for your redesign process.
Ask yourself, “What’s important to them?” “What would they expect to see from a business like mine that would encourage them to work with us?”
And remember – it’s not about what your company likes. If the CEO likes the color green, but you have proof that potential customers hate green – don’t make your new site green. The website is a marketing tool. Build it for the customer.
How will the website redesign achieve business goals?
You shouldn’t be redesigning your website just because you’re tired of how your old site looks. The redesign of your website should be more strategic than that. A new website should help your business complete objectives.
For example: If most of your customers visit your website on their phones, and your website is super clunky and takes forever to load, then a redesign objective could be to get more customers from the website by making the site faster and easier to use on phones (see this article for tips on being mobile friendly).
Have a brainstorming session with people who have different ideas of what success looks like. Maybe you have an HR manager who wants more talented people to join your company. A website redesign could include a careers section. Or your accounting people want clients to pay their invoices online. The website redesign may include a “Login” portal. Come up with a clear idea of how the new site will benefit the company so you can prioritize the features.
Which features do you want to pay for?
In most cases, these new features will require extra costs. For example, a web portal to allow client payment on your site could cost thousands of dollars. An eCommerce system could costs tens of thousands or more. There’s additional design, development, content management and sometimes hosting costs with all of these options.
But a “new feature” could also be as simple as adding more video content to your website. Adding video may increase the level of user engagement, or allow you to connect better with your ideal audience. In most cases, this wouldn’t add too much to the costs.
If you don’t have experience with web development, you’ll need to lean on your development partner to quote out these costs for you.
Pick your Content Management System (CMS)
Choosing a content management system (CMS) is one of the most important components of redesigning a website. It can drive the direction of the entire project. Your CMS selection will determine who’s going to develop the site, who’s going to end up managing it and how easy it is to add new features onto the site. Not every web designer or developer is comfortable with every CMS and in most cases they specialize on a specific platform.
A lot of businesses will migrate their existing website to a new CMS in order to achieve specific business goals. For example, some companies want to move from Drupal to WordPress because they can’t find enough Drupal developers or they can’t find people to manage their Drupal site at the rate that they want to pay. This is popular enough that there are companies that specialize in this (see Another Cup of Coffee).
This is simple supply and demand. Less people are familiar with Drupal than WordPress, so you will likely pay more to work with talented Drupal specialists.
But moving to a CMS that is more widely used, like WordPress, allows you to hire people to manage the website at an affordable rate. It also gives you access to more affordable developers.
Your reason for migrating to a new CMS could also be that your team, or whoever manages your site, is more comfortable with a different CMS than the one you’re currently using.
Ideally, that’s not the only reason you want to migrate to a new CMS, but regardless of why you want to migrate, WordPress is a good option because:
- It has a large user base
- It’s well documented
- It’s been around for awhile (released in 2003)
- If you need a feature, most likely it has already been developed and is available to you for little to no extra cost.
Use a high quality web hosting company
Your web hosting is truly the foundation of your website. If you don’t have a strong foundation with your web hosting, you are going to have a very weak user experience. And if your website is not performing well, your entire web presence suffers.
A lot of the time, websites will be on the same hosting platform for years. But once they’re redesigned with a lot of new, resource-heavy features, they get extremely slow. You’ll then find that not as many people are using the site because it takes forever to load pages.
An option we recommend for hosting is SiteGround because they offer excellent hosting options for businesses of all sizes, especially for websites built on WordPress.
Siteground hosting is fast, their support is knowledgeable and they have 24/7 support. When you select a new hosting provider, ask yourself:
- Is my web hosting going to be faster?
- Is my web hosting support going to be better?
- Do I need dedicated IPs, a private server or other technical requirements?
- Am I paying the right amount for my web hosting?
- Does the hosting help me deliver these features and this experience that I want to deliver to my audience?
Start budgeting for your website
Your budget is going to be a huge factor when it comes to redesigning your website because it’s going to restrict your features and the people that can work on the site.
When you plan a website design budget, you need to include the following main areas:
- Web Server
If you have a very limited budget, you are going to be doing a lot of this work internally or doing it yourself. If you have a more flexible budget, you can bring people onboard and you increase your chance of executing a successful website redesign.
Regardless of what your situation is, you really want to have someone on board who knows what they’re doing when it comes to redesigns.
Redesigning on a budget
If you don’t have a huge budget for a redesign, you might be able to skimp on the actual design phase. There are websites like Themeforest that have pre-made designs you can buy and tweak. This is a cost-effective approach to design that cuts out expenses and reduces time-to-launch.
For the development of the website, you’ll probably have to limit the site’s features in order to bring your development costs down. You don’t want to go cheap on a poor quality web developer.
Utilize internal subject matter experts to write content vs. using copywriters. You own team will often know your customers and services better than any outsider.
Average website redesign costs
It’s hard to ballpark the cost of a website redesign but expect it to cost $10,000+. $60,000 – $100,000 is not unusual for a larger redesign project.
Example website design quote breakdown:
- Design: 50 hours at $100 / hr = $5,000
- Development: 100 hours at $125 / hr = $12,500
- Basic site: 60 hours
- Client portal area: 40 hours
- Content Creation and SEO: 50 pages = $25,000
- Hosting: $360 / year
- Total: $42,860
The importance of minding your Search Engine Optimization during a redesign.
It really helps to have someone involved who knows about SEO in this process; it’s a very specialized field of online marketing.
When it comes to the search engine optimization (SEO) for your new website, you want to think about how it ties into the strengths of your site. Ask yourself, “What are the things we’re doing right with the SEO?” “What do we need to maintain?”
If you’ve received a lot of press, for example, you may have received a lot of links pointing to a specific page on your site. Don’t get rid of that page without getting someone involved that knows about SEO.
Your SEO can influence the design of your website as well. A common reason for doing a website redesign is to make a website more visual. But, oftentimes, the execution of creating a more visual website is where things go wrong. For example, an architecture firm may want to highlight a portfolio of their work using big images. They may remove all their text explaining the project and just use a gallery of photos to show the work or process. Are photos nice? Sure. But removing the text hurts the search optimization of the page because Google’s robot crawler can’t understand the context of the page as well. And big photos can slow down a website, too.
Getting somebody who understands SEO before the design process even begins and getting them involved in the process early on, especially if they’re experienced enough that you can utilize their skills at every stage of the redesign process, is highly recommended.
For a lot of designers and developers, even if they say they know SEO, it’s not their primary focus. They may dabble in it, but they’re not pros. Get someone reliable involved ASAP.
What to avoid during the Discovery phase
Starting from Scratch
Overlooking the strengths of your current website and throwing everything out in favor of a brand new design is a death wish.
Redesigning Your Site Without a Purpose
Not tying your redesign into concrete goals and only doing it for a new “look and feel” is great for your ego but bad for business.
Overlooking Your Target Audience
It would be a huge mistake to not consider your website’s speed and usability on a phone if 80 percent of your users are going to your website on their phones. You should really be designing for mobile first to please that audience if this is the case.
Choosing a Complicated CMS Based on a Recommendation
Sometimes, you see this internally from individuals who want job security and attempt to leverage their familiarity with an obscure CMS. In those cases, using an uncommon platform might be the best thing for that person, but it’s definitely not the best thing for the business.
Think about how the CMS would best serve the business. It should be something that a lot of people already know how to use or something that allows people to easily access it to edit and add content. You also want a CMS that’s well supported, updated and secure. Otherwise, you’re going to be doing this redesign process again sooner than you hope.
Staying with your current hosting company
This is a good time to move hosting companies if your current web hosting is not delivering a great experience.
Not having a realistic budget
You need a budget and it should be based in reality. Do some research before reaching out to people. If you have a serious business, expect to invest in a serious website.
Waiting until after the site launches to bring in an SEO
If you get business from search engines, you owe it to your company to invest in a quality SEO to work with you through the entire process, not just after things go wrong. An SEO can help prevent your business from crumbling due to a poorly planned website redesign.
Once you’ve completed the discovery phase, you’re ready to move onto structuring your content. Our content structure guide breaks down which content to keep, which content to get rid of, how to organize content on the new site, and more. Give it a read.
Part 2: Structuring Your Content
Now that you understand how to plan out a website redesign, you can start thinking about the meat and potatoes of the site: the content.
Keeping vs. Cutting Content
A common issue many website owners face is whether to keep, merge or cut content on their websites.
Some people will cut a large portion of their content because they think it makes their website too busy or it doesn’t apply to their business anymore. A reason to do this would be if products or services are discontinued. The problem is, these pages are often never analyzed to determine their value to the business. What if you’re removing pages from your site that bring in qualified sales calls?
Or maybe you cut a bunch of pages from the site and notice your search traffic visits drop like a rock shortly after launching the redesign. This has nothing to do with the colors, fonts and layout – it’s all about losing the context that you’ve built over the years with Google.
It’s important to think about your site’s content from a greater scope than just, “We like this” or, “We don’t like this” or, “We don’t think this applies to us anymore.” In general, you shouldn’t cut content without really thinking it through.
Here are alternatives to cutting content:
- Keep it, don’t do anything to it
- Keep it, update outdated information
- Keep it, make it clear that you no longer offer the product or service and let people know what you’ve replaced it with
- Merge multiple weak pages into one stronger page
Deciding What’s Important on the Page
When you’re planning out new pages on the site, you need to think about what information is most important on each page. Every page on the website should have a goal and it should be clear what the visitor should do after experiencing the current page. Let’s look at a few examples.
What’s important on a service page?
If you have a service page that describes a service you offer, the goals could be to let people know:
- That you do what they need (explain the service, relate to their problem)
- Your service area (map)
- That you’re good (show customer testimonials)
- How to reach you (contact form, phone number)
If you get a ton of phone calls from people who don’t want to pay your rates, then you may want to include estimated pricing as well.
What’s important on a product page?
The goal of a product page is to encourage the visitor to purchase the product. This is done through meeting their product and pricing expectations. Think about a product page on Amazon (they’re doing pretty well). You should include:
- Photos showing the product
- Product pricing
- Product description including sizing if applicable (furniture, clothing, etc)
- Reviews / ratings
- Add to cart / buy now button
That’s really it. They might dig into the details, but the most important things for customers are price, images, and answering whether or not other people had a good experience with a product. If all of those things match their expectations, they’ll likely buy.
Click Depth vs. Importance
Make it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for on your website. Use as little clicks as possible to get people to the right information. Improving the usability of your website has a wide range of benefits from improving search rankings to improving the number of leads you get from your contact methods.
Put your most important pages or categories into your top navigation header. This is going to be the first place a visitor looks. Don’t make them dig for your phone number and contact page, put it right up there in the top of the site.
It can help to map out your pages and create a user flow chart for your site. There should be a planned out journey that your users take, don’t just throw together pages and call it a website.
Top navigation should include links to your most important content and it should really build on that content in a silo-like fashion.
For example, if you’re a photographer and you have a “Services” link in your top navigation bar, you might have a drop-down menu that includes the following options:
Or you might have a “Weddings” link with a submenu like this:
- Wedding Photography
- Wedding Videography
- Photo Albums
- Wedding Website
Whatever your different categories of services are, they should be organized in the top navigation menu in a logical fashion.
As you’re structuring your content, think about how your web pages relate to each other. This is the starting point for building your sitemap, which is a table of contents for all the content on a website.
Think about how the information in a Wikipedia entry is nested under a parent topic; there’s the title of the entry, and then there’s the “Contents” box below it that links to several different related subtopics.
A sitemap works in a similar way. You’ll have a few main categories but then you’ll organize each specific page under those categories.
Here are a couple examples:
- Our History
- About the Owner
- Our Team
Each of those items listed is a separate page. The “Handyman Services” page will include blurbs about the bullet items underneath and will link to them. Each bullet item is its own page specifically about that subject matter.
Write out the different pages that are going to be on your site and determine which topics each page falls under. You don’t need to get too fancy here; you could do this just with bullet points in a Word document. What’s important is that you start thinking about how to organize the information on your website on a basic level.
From there, what you can do is begin wireframing the content structure of your site to create a more visual layout of how your content is connected. There are a ton of tools you can use to create your sitemap. I like to use a program called Simplemind. You could also get by using Excel just fine.
If you’ve ever used mind mapping software, you should be familiar with the wireframing process. If you haven’t, it essentially boils down to this:
- Create rectangles with the names of pages inside and lay them out visually.
- Start assigning connections between different pages.
This is a really important part of your content structuring because it allows you to see which pages are connected and gives you a feel for what’s required to structure the content visually on the web. This helps you connect relevant topics between silos.
This step is easier with a small website. The more pages you have, the more complicated your wireframe will become.
Counting Design Templates
Now that you have a clear idea of your content and its structure, you can start thinking about design. In this phase, you want to assign design layouts to each page. The reason you’re doing this is because each unique layout will be designed by a designer and developed by a web developer. The number of layouts has a direct impact on the cost and completion time of your website.
To understand when you need a different layout ask yourself “does this page include different features or information?”
For example, you may have an “About Our Team” page that shows a grid of images for every employee. When a user clicks on the employee, they will go to a new profile page for that user.
You have two layouts:
- Our Team Page
- Employee Profile Page
Think through all your web pages and develop an outline of page templates. A lot of pages may use the same layout. For example, each blog post can likely use a similar template that displays content and has a sidebar with similar information.
During the content structuring process, there are a few common problems you may encounter.
Cutting Content That’s Helping Your Business
You really want to be careful about removing content that could be driving sales for your business. In the process of determining which content you want to keep and which content you want to get rid of or you may throw out pages that are generating leads.
If you don’t have someone on your team who understands website analytics, bring in a consultant to help you understand what impact a redesign will have on your business.
Not Knowing What’s Important On a Page
What’s considered the most important content varies from page to page. For example, on your “contact” page the most important piece of content is likely a contact form or phone number.
But on your “about us” page, you may not have a form because it’s more important for users to be learning about your business than hard selling them to contact you.
In general, you always want to have most of your call to actions (CTAs) and sales content on a page that’s closer to the selling point on your site.
Not Mapping Out the Content
You want a very clear and intuitive web experience. Failing to create a sitemap or map out the pages on your site is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. It can add a lot of costs, confusion and it can stall the development of a website.
That’s why it’s important to have a good idea of the number of pages on your site, how they relate to each other and what kind of layout each is going to use before you hire a designer or a developer.
Part 3: Keeping Data & Analytics Clean
Keeping all your website’s data and analytics during a website redesign is important. If you have website analytics on your existing website, you’re going to want to carry this over to the new site so you can monitor performance chances.
Keeping the Same Analytics vs. New Analytics
A lot of times, developers will add a new analytics tracking code to the site or people will think, “Hey, I’ve got a new site and I don’t want all that old information in there,” but that’s a bad approach. You want the old data and new data seamlessly in the same place. This way, you can see if the new design helps you reach your business goals, and how it changes or affects user behavior on your site.
In order to carry over your analytics to the new website, you need to have your analytics tracking code available so you can provide it to your developer.
Again, it’s important you use the same exact tracking code. It can be very time consuming and difficult to compare a new analytics account to an old analytics account when they’re not using the same tracking code.
If you’re using Google Analytics, you can easily locate your tracking code by following these steps:
- Sign in to your account
- Click on “Admin”
- Choose an account from the “Account” column
- Select a property from the “Property” column
- Click Tracking Info -> Tracking Code
You’ll see your tracking ID and property number at the top of the page. If you didn’t have Google analytics hooked up on your old website, installing a new analytics account should be included in your web development. All you have to do is insert a code snippet on the website in a specific place. Your web developer will know how to do this.
All you have to do is make sure the developer working on your site has access to the snippet. You can either send it in a notepad file or you can give them access to the analytics account so they can get it themselves.
Using Google Analytics Goals to Track User Behavior and Collect Data
If you’re using Google Analytics, you can setup different goals to monitor on your website. For example, you can setup a goal called “Contact Form” to trigger whenever someone fills out a form on your website. This lets you understand how changes to your website affect your most important goals.
There are four basic ways to trigger Goals:
- Destinations: when a user visits a specific page on your site.
- Duration: when a user spends a specific amount of time on your site.
- Pages: when a user visits a specific number of pages on your site.
- Events: when a user completes a specific event that has been tagged on your site.
When Goals Break
Website redesigns can mess up your analytics goals. Let’s say you have a goal set up for when a contact form is submitted that triggers when a visitor visits your “Thank You” page. In order to keep that goal functioning, you need to make sure each component making up that process is the same or has been updated to match the new website. If you change the URL for your “Thank You” page, you may have just broken your goal.
This can be really bad if you’re running Google Ads campaigns that use a conversion tracking bidding method. If the analytics program no longer registers conversions properly, the bidding will come to a halt or go haywire. Make sure you mind your goals.
Decide on Important Metrics You Should Track
Think about your business goals and create analytics goals that support them. For example, reducing your bounce rate or increasing how much time users spend on your site may accomplish the business goal of having users engage with the brand more. You can create goals to monitor changes in these website metrics using Google Analytics or most any analytics program.
Know your baseline metrics
Before you can improve something, you need to understand how it has been performing. Make sure you have a clear idea of your baseline and where your analytics goals are at on your existing site.
If your new website is supposed to improve certain metrics, it’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet of reporting to measure changes over time. Predict how you expect those metrics to change as a result of the redesign. Thinking about this before you design the site can help you create a more focused design that will help you reach your goals.
Setting New Analytics Goals
You want to create new analytics goals and get them added to your site while it’s being developed.
For example, if one of your new features is to sell items on your site, you want to create new analytics goals for those sales, such as something to measure the eCommerce conversion rates.
If video is a big part of your redesign, you may want to create new goals for the length of time users view your videos. You can do a lot with analytics – don’t get overwhelmed. Keep it focused on business objectives.
Common Analytics Issues
Here are several common web analytics issues you may run into while working on a website redesign.
Creation of a new analytics account and abandoning old data
The biggest issue you’ll see during the analytics phase is not keeping the same analytics account and creating a brand new analytics account for your redesigned site when instead, you should transfer your existing analytics tracking code to the new site. You want seamless data so you can monitor the results before and after.
Forgetting to add analytics to the new site
In some cases, the tracking code will be left off the redesigned site entirely, which will result in no data at all when the new site launches. Pretty understandable why this is bad – how will you know what improved if you can’t measure it?
Failure to monitor the analytics
If no one’s even looking at the bounce rate or the average amount of time users spend on the site, and suddenly those things go way up after new site launches, how are you going to know there’s a problem?
Part 4: Creating & Migrating Content
In this part of the Website Redesign Guide, we’re going to discuss your web content including text, images and video.
A few notes about content types
Let’s start with written content. Think about the existing copy you have on your site. Again, like we’ve mentioned before, make sure you keep content that’s doing well. You also need to think about the words that link to pages on your site. A lot of times, these links will get wiped out during a migration and it causes search optimization headaches down the road.
For image content, there are a few questions you should ask yourself in order to determine what you should do with the images on your existing website:
- What kind of image content needs to be migrated to the new design?
- Are there important testimonials with client or customer images we definitely need to have?
- Are there a lot of photo galleries on the new site?
You need a plan for migrating these images to the new design.
Whereas 99 percent of all websites contain text and images, not all websites have video, or at least not a lot of it. But, maybe you have a real estate website that has video walkthroughs of properties, or, maybe you have learning courses on your site. How will you display these videos and where will they be hosted? If you have a lot of media-heavy content, you may need to consider finding a new web hosting company or upgrading your plan.
Creating New Content for a New Website
In addition to the existing content you want to migrate to your redesigned website, you want to think about new content. For example, a goal of the new design may be using case studies to showcase client work.
Start by thinking about everything that would go into this new content. Case studies, for example, would include text. You would also need testimonials from clients, and possibly even images of clients and their companies’ logos.
Some other items you could include in case studies are as follows:
- Images of products you worked on
- Images of team members involved
- Video testimonials from clients
- Specific metrics or facts
Writing the case study isn’t the hardest part. Getting everything together and organized often is. Think about the challenges you will face with new content and plan accordingly.
Merging Existing Content to Create Better Content
An alternative to getting rid of content is to merge it, especially if you have a lot of existing pages that aren’t performing well. With those pages, you can create entirely new pieces of content.
First, think about what kind of new resources you could create by merging multiple poor performing pages. This is a very common thing search engine optimization pros will do. They’ll find a lot of related topics out of a handful of pieces of content, and merge them to create one new larger, more robust piece of content.
One difference, however, is this new, more in-depth piece of content will answer multiple questions instead of having a lot of smaller pieces of content that only cover the surface level of a topic.
Merging content may also happen naturally. If your company is consolidating services, for example, you can easily merge multiple ideas together into a new, more inclusive idea.
Common Content-related Issues
Here are common content issues we see during the redesign of a website.
Lack of resources
Before you move forward with a website redesign, it’s important to nail down who’s going to actually do the writing and who’s going to create or source images and video. Companies frequently run into problems answering this question in the process of redesigning their website: “Who’s going to actually make this content?”
If you don’t have employees to take on the work, getting outside help needs to be factored into your budget. Things like stock photo websites are OK for sourcing some images and video, but if the content doesn’t fit into your redesign because you’re going for something a bit more customized you’ll need to pay a designer or media company to do it for you.
This is something that only needs to be considered if you don’t have the adequate resources to migrate your existing content and create new content internally. And, when hiring a company to help with the redesign, make sure you’re filling positions you don’t already have.
Removal of text
An overall lack of text is another issue we see companies run into when they redesign their websites. This happens when companies decide to move toward a more image-heavy or video-heavy site, and a lot of the text is removed. But text is essential for showing up in search engine results and removing it can reduce visits to your website from search engines.
Part 5: Designing Your New Website
Alright, here we are at the design phase of the website redesign. A lot of people consider design to be the first step of a website redesign project. But, in reality, there are several steps both before and after that are equally or more important.
If you’ve made your way through all the previous steps in this website redesign guide, you should have an idea of how to lay the groundwork for redesigning a website, which means it’s time to move on to the actual design phase.
Use design to achieve your business goals
In previous chapters we’ve discussed how a website redesign should help accomplish business goals. During the design phase, we’re going to use the design of the site to achieve these goals.
For example, if one of your business goals is to get more sales on your website for a specific product or service, you could add the product or service to a prominent banner on your homepage.
Or, if one of your business objectives is to increase the number of contacts you get from mobile users, a design goal should be to create a mobile-friendly user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).
Design Websites for People
When you design a business website, you’re designing it for a real human being.
Make sure you design your new website for the people who are your potential customers. It doesn’t matter how much your CEO likes the website if your customers hate it.
Here are things that potential customers do with websites:
- They have problems, so they want solutions
- They have questions, so they want answers
- They are busy, so they don’t have a lot of time to click things
- They are scared, so they need to be reassured
- They get overwhelmed, so they need less choices
- When they’re serious about buying, they will read and watch everything
- When they see typos and grammar mistakes, they will leave
- When the website takes forever to load, they will leave
- When they don’t know the general price range, they will leave
- When it’s hard to contact you, they will leave
It is really easy to leave a website. It takes a split second. You want to make sure your new design doesn’t make potential customers leave. Do this by providing solutions, answers and easy navigation that appeals to your ideal customers.
Use an SEO-friendly Design
Search engines are still an excellent source of qualified traffic so your website should show up when potential customers are searching.
In order to do that, it really helps to work with someone who knows about designing websites for search engines. Ideally, they get involved in the design process sooner rather than later. You’d get the best results by working directly with a search engine expert instead of relying on a designer who knows a little about SEO.
That being said, you shouldn’t prioritize designing your website for search engines over designing it for people. The value of optimizing your site for search engines is that it will help your business show up in Google search results, which helps create more potential leads by getting the right people to the site. The right people focused design will often result in a strong search engine ranking.
Prioritize Mobile Over Desktop Design
Simply put, more and more people are using mobile devices to connect with businesses.
In 2018, Google switched to mobile-first indexing, meaning they are using the mobile version of your page, or what shows up when people go to your website on a phone, as the ranking.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to design the mobile version of your site before designing the desktop version.
A lot of people think of responsive design as creating a desktop version of a site and then translating it to a mobile-friendly version. But it should be the other way around: the design process should really center around mobile devices first, and the desktop version should be based on that design.
Be Web Developer Friendly
Most developers will require you to send specific design files and they may have their own process for organizing the files. Make sure you discuss with the developers before your designers start working.
Design files should be set up in a way that helps, not hinders, the developers working on the site. The last thing you want to run into are last-minute hurdles that prevent your developers from working on the site and delaying things.
The Importance of Layouts
We discussed page layouts in our content planning phase. You need to know the number of web page layouts you will need for your website. Failing to know this will cause your costs to skyrocket as designers do needless designs that then get developed.
Common Design Phase Issues
Here are common issues you may encounter during the design phase.
Trying to launch at 100% instead of 85%
Don’t spend too much time trying to get everything to be 100 percent perfect. It’s better to launch at 85 percent perfect versus never launching at all. Should you launch a mediocre, broken website that will hurt your business? Of course not. But know when something is good enough to make it live and tweak it to make it better.
You’re never going to be able to replicate “real world” testing during the development phase. Use the data you have, launch something good and then test it to make it great.
Letting a person of authority derail the design process
I’ve seen websites drown in the design phase for over a year because of things that were important to somebody internally who had authority. I’ve worked with CEOs who insist on designing the homepage themselves using Microsoft Paint.
A website redesign isn’t creative playtime so it should be left to the professionals and your customers. Think about your most important customers first and prioritize their experience over internal feedback unless the people have really good reasons. Generally speaking, this excludes the sales team. They usually have a great idea of what customers want and you should include their feedback in a redesign.
Failing to understand where the website generates customers from
It’s really important that you understand how leads are generated on the website before you go changing things. It’s easy to break page URLs, remove content and generally screw up your lead generation machine. Understand your website analytics and if you don’t, get someone involved who does.
Part 6: Developing Your Design Into A Website
This is the web development portion of our website redesign guide. After you finish the design phase, you will need to work with a web developer to turn these designs into a website.
Sending Design Files to a Developer
First, you’re going to need to send your design files to a developer. A simple way to do this is to use a file sharing program, such as Dropbox, so you can easily pass the files back and forth. Generally speaking, design files can be placed in a large zip file that contain images and the main files (Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, etc).
Gather Logins The Developer Will Need
You also should gather and send to your developer all the logins they’ll need to access the files.
They may require login information for the following:
- Your domain registrar hosting (wherever yourwebsite.com is registered with)
- Your web hosting account (wherever your existing website files are hosted)
- Your database via your hosting account
- Your File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Also accessible from the hosting account
- Content management system (CMS), such as WordPress
Ask the developer for a list of login requirements they need, and securely share it with them. Call and read them the information instead of sharing it electronically.
The best method to share login information, if you can’t create a new user, is to reset your passwords and give the developer temporary access, then change the passwords when they’re done.
Create a Site Specifically for Development
During the development phase, your developer should create a development website; there’s no reason to edit your live site during the redesign. Everything, including the hosting and the domain name on the development website should be separated from the live site so there’s no interference.
Don’t Include Analytics on the Development Site
There are some things, however, that you do not need to include on the development website.
Your analytics tracking code, for example, should not be added to the development site. If you do add it, you’re going to collect false traffic data from the developer and anyone who tests the site.
Block the Development Site From Search Engines
You’re going to want to also block your development site from search engines. If you’re using something like WordPress, there is an option within the dashboard settings. But you also can use a robots.txt file to block crawlers from the site, which keeps search engines from indexing it.
There are several reasons why you don’t want your development site showing up on search engines.
First off, you don’t really want people finding it while they’re searching for your live website. Not only could it confuse them, but it could also give them a false impression of the quality of your website and your company when they find a website that looks incomplete.
You also don’t want search engines to think the development site includes duplicate content and links to your live site, which will look really spammy.
Creation of Page Templates
During development, your developer is going to create several web page templates using the designer’s layouts. These layouts should have been identified during the content structuring part of this project and designed during the design phase.
Here’s a quick overview of what page layouts your website may include:
- Blog page layout
- Blog post page layout
- Homepage layout
- About page layout
- Contact page layout
The developer will use those web page layouts to create templates that will be filled with your content. However, adding your content may or may not be included by the developer and paying them to do it can get costly.
Migrating Existing Content and Adding New Content
In order to reduce costs and stay within a budget, a lot of businesses will have internal team members add the content. This is when you’ll see the website come together and start looking like a real website.
In addition to migration of existing content, you’ll also need to add your new web pages to the site. And, since that content wasn’t on the old site already, it’s likely stored on a computer, Google Drive or some other file storage system. Adding your new content to the website should be as simple as copying and pasting text and uploading images.
The easiest way to do this is to have a main content tracker Google Sheet or spreadsheet of some sort that lists a minimum of the following for every page on the site:
- Page title
- Page URL
- Text Content Status (Added = Yes / No)
- Image Content Status (Added = Yes / No)
- Optimized for Search (Yes / No)
- Page Proofed (Yes / No)
- Published (Yes / No)
- Page complete (Yes / No)
As your team adds the content, tick off the boxes and compete each row. Once each row is completed, you’re almost ready to launch.
Common Development Issues
There are a lot of issues that arise during the development phase. Possibly more than any other phase of the website redesign process. It’s critical you plan ahead to avoid these problems.
Allowing the Developer to Adjust the Design
One of the issues people run into during the development phase of their website redesign is letting developers play with the design, which is where colors, fonts and font sizes get tweaked.
Although changing some of those components may not be a huge deal, allowing a developer to make changes to the designer’s page layouts can get really messy.
That’s because most developers view web development from a very technical perspective, which makes it hard for them to visualize things the same way a designer would. Ultimately, it’s best to lock down your designs first and then hand those off to a developer to create the final web pages.
Sending Working Files Through Email
Another issue businesses encounter is sending files back and forth by email. This quickly gets confusing, and it’s less efficient than using a cloud-based file sharing system. Plus, by storing everything online, you don’t have to worry about anyone accidentally deleting the most recent files.
Not Properly Blocking the Development Site
Sometimes, developers won’t properly block the development site, and they’ll remain accessible via search engines or include analytics, which causes data spikes and anomalies.
Not Finishing Design Before Moving On to Development
If you fail to create all the design templates during the design phase, your costs will be hugely inflated. You’ll have to pay the developer to design the new layouts in addition to turning them into web pages.
Creating Layouts and Pages for Content That Doesn’t Exist
Sometimes, businesses will pay for design and development work for content, including text, images and videos, they haven’t even created. At this point in the process, you really need to have your content and wrapped up before a developer even gets involved.
Part 7: Redesigning Without Losing Your SEO
A lot of businesses will wait until the development of the redesigned website has been completed to hire an SEO expert. Although it’s best to bring them in at the beginning of a website redesign project, bringing them on once the site has been developed doesn’t hurt.
If you have a serious, established business your SEO work should be performed by a team that knows what they’re doing. It’s very easy to make mistakes that can hurt your website’s ability to drive new business.
Organizing the URL Structure
One of the most important items for an SEO expert to look at is your URL structure. In general, when you redesign a website you want to keep your URLs the same unless there’s a great reason to change them. This is because changing your URLs has a huge impact on how search engines index your web pages.
Google will store the original URL of a page in their search engine results cache. But, if you change the URL, Google will think it’s a completely different page. That can lead to a lot of problems, such as duplicate content and broken links.
If you do change your URLs, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. For example, if you’re wanting to change your URLs in order to stuff them with keywords, you may want to re-think that. This has been confirmed as a poor tactic for ranking and should be avoided.
Valid reasons for changing your URLs include:
- The URLs are extremely long
- The URLs are filled with spammy words
- The existing content structure or platform creates confusing and strange looking URLs
In addition, cleaning up and shortening your URLs can help you create a more logical structure for all the content on your site.
Let’s say you have a URL that looks like this:
That URL could be shortened to:
In this instance, the URL is easier to read which increases the likelihood of a person clicking it in search results. Remember, at the end of the day you want people clicking your results and coming to your site, not robots.
The Importance of Keeping Backlinks Intact
A backlink is a link pointing to your website from another website. They’re really important for your website’s search engine rankings. If you have quality links pointing to your website then you will have a greater chance of outranking websites that don’t have quality links.
But, the thing is, backlinks are tied directly to your URLs. That means when you change the URL of one of your web pages, it’s going to break the backlink because the website linking to your website will still be pointing to the page’s old link which no longer exists. That’s where redirects come in.
How to Set Up Redirects for Your URLs
If you want to change a URL to send users to a new page that’s similar to an old page, you want to use something called a 301 redirect. You’re able to modify this through an .htaccess file. Or, if you’re using a content management system, you can typically set up 301 redirects in the settings.
On the other hand, if you’re getting rid of a page because you want to remove the content entirely from your site, and it does not have any quality links to it, t’s OK to let that page display a 404 error message. If you choose not to redirect a URL, a page will automatically display a 404 error.
Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions and Schema Markup
The meta title is how your page title is displayed in a browser tab. The title is a really important component of getting a page to rank.
A meta title is accompanied by a meta description, which is a brief phrase describing a page that shows up in search engine results.
These two elements, combined with your website URL, are the strongest factors for getting people to click through to your website.
Another key piece of your site’s SEO is schema markup. Not all websites use it, but a lot do. It’s essentially a piece of code that relays details about a particular page to search engines. Schema is especially useful for local SEO because it can confirm store hours, addresses and phone numbers. Unfortunately, meta titles, meta descriptions and schema are often deleted during the redesign process, which means your pages will no longer be optimized for search engines.
That’s why it’s important to bring in an experienced SEO after the development phase is complete, but before the site launches. After all, someone has to rewrite the meta titles and meta descriptions and make sure they’re optimized and add schema markup to your pages.
How to Format Content for SEO
Formatting is the process of using heading tags, such as H1, H2, H3 and H4 in HTML to format a document. It’s very similar to a table of contents: there’s part A and then there’s the subsection, part B underneath that, and so on.
Each heading tag serves a specific purpose. The H1 tag tells a search engine, “this is what the page is about;” the H2 tag tells a search engine, “this is a specific section on the page,” and an H3 tag tells a search engine, “this is a subsection of the H2 section.”
Formatting is one of the criterion search engines use to rank pages, so it’s important the structure and the hierarchy of information on a page is very clear.
How Click Depth Affects Search Rankings
Somewhat self-explanatory, the click depth measures how many clicks it takes for users to get to a specific page on a website.
Generally speaking, You want users to be able to get to your most important information in as few clicks as possible. Information is considered buried on the website if it takes four or more clicks to get to.
And, because that information is buried so deep on the website, it’s going to be harder for search engine robots to crawl and find it.
Migrating and Maintaining Internal Links
Internal links take users from one page to another on your website. Although the primary purpose of internal links is to make it easier for users to navigate and find content on your site, they also make it easier for search engines to crawl your site and find related content.
But, during a website redesign, the internal links don’t always get carried over when you migrate your content to the new site or between content management systems.
If those links don’t get carried over to the new site, the SEO expert you hire will need to recreate them. But once that’s done it’s important you maintain them by creating any necessary future redirects, and improve them by adding interlinks to any new content you add to the site.
Common Post-development SEO Issues
Common issues we’ll see during the post-development SEO phase including:
- Failing to put redirects in place when a URL is changed, which breaks the links pointing to those URLs.
- Not optimizing the meta title and meta description information for search engines, which will cause your rankings to drop.
- Information, such as schema markup, not getting carried over to the redesigned site.
- Formatting errors, such as using the H1 tag to style text instead of using it to tell the search engine robots what’s important on a page.
- Important content gets buried deep within the website and it takes way too many clicks to it.
- Broken internal links or internal links that have been removed altogether.
- Large image and video files that aren’t compressed.
However, if you follow the steps outlined in this guide, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your website optimized for search engines before it launches.
Just remember, on-boarding a knowledgeable team that knows SEO inside and out is extremely valuable, and it will help ensure you avoid all the issues mentioned above.
Part 8: Launching Your Redesigned Site
At this point, everything should be complete. You’ve structured your content; you’ve migrated your content; you’ve designed the pages; you’ve developed the site and you’ve optimized it.
Now, it’s time to launch it.
Approving the Redesign for Launch
First, you need to approve the site for launch. This is based entirely on your individual company’s approval process, but don’t approve the site for launch until you’re 100 percent satisfied with it.
The last thing you want to do is launch the site and then suddenly have to revert back to the old one. Not to mention it can be really demoralizing for developers to have to do this.
Migrating the Development Site to a Live Site
In order to launch the site, the developers are going to have to migrate the development site to a live site, which means they’ll need login information for any new hosting accounts you set up.
Everything on the development site will look exactly the same on the live site; the only difference is that it will use your live site’s domain name, which means the site can be viewed publicly.
As far as executing the migration, it essentially involves moving files, including images and videos, from the development site to the live site. If you’re using a content management system (CMS), the developer may migrate a database as well.
Don’t Forget to Remove Crawl Blocks
You also need to remove any crawl blocks you had in place on the development site. That way, Google will have access to your site again and be able to continue ranking it. Except now, the rankings will be based on the new design and any new content that was added to it.
However, if you fail to remove those crawl blocks, you run the risk of Google dropping it, which will cause your web traffic to plummet.
Check the Live Site for Quality and Crawl it for Errors
Start with a general run through of the site just to make sure everything looks good. We’re not talking about typos and things like that; that should have been done on the development site.
Next, ask Google to crawl the site to check for broken links and any other issues. If it finds any broken links, fix them as quickly as possible.
It’s possible for your hosting account to cause issues on the new site as well, especially if you moved to a different hosting provider. It could be causing performance issues, such as slow load times, or a more specific issue, but the live site should operate perfectly on the new hosting environment.
Website Redesign Announcements
Before sending an email out, take some time to really think this through.
Who needs to know about these website changes?
Break your site users out into groups. You’re going to have multiple groups who may require different messaging and delivery methods.
For example, you may have:
- First time site visitors (no need for a message)
- Subscribers to your blog
- Users of a resource like an online tool or class
- Sales people who use resources on the site
At the most basic level you have two groups of individuals you need to think about when announcing your website.
These are employees of your company or partners who use your website frequently. For example, sales people may use your website as a reference while on sales calls. You can cause a lot of chaos if you switch it up suddenly.
This would include everyone else like customers and subscribers. If you have an educational site, you’ll want to let people know where new materials are, how to login, etc. If you have an eCommerce site, you’ll want to let customers know how to access their saved shopping carts. In general, let people know what changed and how to do the thing they used to be able to do. Or if you removed something, explain why.
How to announce a website redesign
Don’t overthink it. You don’t have to use all of these, but here are some ideas we’ve seen in action that work well:
- Place a sitewide banner at the top (or bottom) of the site that states the website change and where to find more details about the changes.
- Send an email out to segments of your customer and subscriber base explaining the changes and benefits of the changes.
- Post on your social media channels and pin the posts to ensure visitors see the note about the changes.
- Update employee email signatures to include a link informing customers about the changes.
Think about expectations your customers have and then meet those. If your changes are minimal, there’s little need to inform the masses. If an online tool has increased in price and moved to a different location on the site, you should probably let people know!
Common Website Launch Issues
In some cases, launching a redesigned website is critical. For example, if your customers are aware of the redesign, you want their first experience on the new website to be a good one. However, if they’re not aware of the redesign, it’s not as big of a deal if some issues arise.
That being said, there are several potential issues that may or may not come up during the site launch, including the following:
- Failure to remove crawl blocks such as a robot.txt file
- Not everyone was on board with the approval
- Scrambling to get login information because something was changed at the last minute
- Picking a bad time (if you have a traffic-heavy site, you may want to launch it during a slow period, such as a holiday)
The launch phase is all about preparation; all the hard work has already been done. A smooth launch means your business can continue moving forward at the same pace.
Part 9: Post-Launch Checkups
Once the site launches, it’s time to start monitoring changes in metrics. This is the only way to know whether or not the redesign is helping you accomplish your business goals.
Monitor Your Website’s Metrics
For example, if you wanted to know before redesigning the site if it would help reduce your bounce rate, start tracking that metric. Follow it for 30 days or even 60 days after the site launches and analyze how the metrics change.
Do the same thing for other metrics and ask yourself, “is the redesign doing what I want it to do?”
See How the Redesign Affects Your Search Rankings
The impact the redesign has on your rankings should be apparent within 30 days. But keep in mind, it’s common for your rankings to fluctuate, due to the changes, but you should be on the lookout for huge traffic drops, as that could indicate a specific issue with the redesign.
Unfortunately, this is the point that search engine optimization (SEO) experts are brought in. to audit the site and see what happened. But it’s much better to get an SEO expert involved earlier in the redesign process.
Collect Feedback Your Sales Team and Customers
You want to gather feedback from both your sales team and individuals who actually handle the sales process to find out if the new site is benefiting them.
You also want to ask customers if the new site has had a positive or negative impact on their experience. A lot of the time, talking to customers is also how you discover problems with specific functions and tools on the website. You can’t fix something until you know it exists.
Common Post-launch Issues
During the post-launch phase, the number one issue businesses have is not monitoring metrics. In order to know whether or not the redesign is accomplishing what you had originally set out to do, you have to track your site’s performance.
Another common problem is not carrying over the analytics properly. Obviously, in order to track metrics, your analytics account must be connected to the site.
Some businesses also refuse to take into account feedback from its sales team or customers, but it’s extremely important to communicate with both those groups once the site has gone live. And, if you get a lot of traffic, gathering feedback is easy because you have access to so much information.