The link between a website redesign and SEO is pretty clear and easy to understand. It’s this: unless you take some specific steps you’re going to lose traffic.
But before we get into why this happens and what you can do about it, let’s talk about what actually counts as a website redesign. I’m talking about completely changing your URLs, overhauling your entire site structure, or migrating all of your content to a new content management system.
For example, perhaps your original web designer put you on Perch. You discover it’s too clunky and difficult to deal with, so you decide to go with WordPress instead. You’re about to engage in a website redesign.
Overhauling or updating the content on your site does not count as a website redesign unless you’re performing a slash-and-burn on a whole bunch of pages on your site. If the URLs remain the same you’re in good shape.
In short, an actual redesign is a major undertaking.
A site that’s been around for awhile has typically built up a pretty complicated structure.
Internally, you might have blog posts linking to other blog posts, for example. This really helps your SEO, but this internal structure can become damaged or disrupted when you try to do the relaunch.
Why? Because if you don’t catch the URL changes on every single blog post you’re going to have internal links that are pointing to places that don’t exist anymore instead of strengthening and supporting your site the way they used to.
Externally, you’ve probably built up a series of backlinks if you’re ranking at all. If you launch the new site in a haphazard way those backlinks will also point to a bunch of places that no longer exist, and not to your site where they can do you some good. This means both the robots and the people who try the links will end up disappointed.
Finally, there’s the trust Google invested into your old site. If Google doesn’t recognize the new site as either the old site or as an extension of the old site then all of that trust simply goes away. You’ll have to build it all back up from scratch, which is hardly a pleasant thought. Remember how long it took you the first time?
What to Do About It
You can simply prevent the problem. Launch a good website from day one, put it on WordPress to begin with, and keep it properly maintained. If you do this you will almost never need this kind of an overhaul, even if you want to change your URL.
Why won’t changing the URL matter? Because you can use a redirect domain to give yourself a different URL without touching the old website at all. The two URLs will exist simultaneously, but they’ll both point to the same place.
If this ship has sailed then you simply need to be aware that a website redesign is one of those tasks that absolutely requires the help of a SEO professional.
Don’t believe me? Then prepare to go wading in the weeds for a bit. Take a look at Search Engine Journal’s take on the process: How to Avoid SEO Disaster During a Redesign – Top Marketer Concerns.
If any part of that post is Greek to you, then just get help. You’ll thank yourself later.