With desktop, mobile and social technology developing so rapidly, websites can all too quickly seem clunky and outdated. But whilst it might be tempting to start afresh on a blank page, don’t be too hasty.
Okay, so there might be times when a site is receiving little or no traffic anyway, or is so old that starting again might be the best option, but before you delete anything, you might find that there are more advantages to starting with what you already have.
Here are our tips for a successful redesign.
Although your old site might not look great, there are probably parts of it that work well. Unless you undertake a comprehensive review of what works and what doesn’t, you could end up losing important elements and negatively affecting your SEO ranking.
One main point to consider upfront is whether the server supports what you actually need. If you decide to move to a different hosting solution, make sure you keep in mind who will be running and maintaining the site – if it’s a non-techie, you might need to stick with something they’re already familiar with.
Analyse the data
Use your data to evaluate user demographics and to look at results of any usability testing you may have carried out. Do most of your website visitors use desktop or mobile devices? Which browsers are more popular? Are there particular pages that receive very little traffic? Is most of your traffic search-derived, referred or direct? Would it make sense to utilise responsive web design or have separate desktop and mobile sites? How can you best provide for what your audience needs?
Set up a development environment
Make sure you save a sitemap of your existing site before you start, just in case you need to revert back to it. Then set up a development environment for your new site, so that you can try out new things before going live.
Do you have access to source files or only the finished website? If you do have access to source files, are any of them useful or could they be repurposed? You might find that there are assets that could still be valuable.
Maybe the visual hierarchy, the images, icons, colours, typography or text might be salvaged and repurposed. If you can, try to reuse some visual elements that retain the identity of the site, so that your brand is still recognisable.
Embrace new technology
Having stressed the advantages of repurposing where possible, it’s also important to recognise when to let things go. So if your site is old and built with tables rather than divs, it’s probably worth building a new site from scratch. Similarly, rebuilding an old Flash site in HTML5/iQuery is likely to be a worthwhile use of time and effort. Find a balance and embrace new technology where it’s beneficial.
Be SEO smart
This is where website redesign can go wrong. If your website is doing well, rankings-wise, you’ll need to be very careful that your changes don’t impact negatively on this success. Here are a few rules:
- Don’t delete or rename pages or change URLs. Google has already indexed these pages and knows where they are, and there may well be traffic-rich links to these URLs which you don’t want to lose. So add new pages, rather than deleting old ones
- Do ensure that you correctly redirect old pages to the right location via a permanent 301 redirect to avoid losing traffic and search engine ranking
- Don’t duplicate content. Without properly redirecting old URLs, you will negatively affect SEO by inadvertent content duplication
- Don’t lose any of your site title tags or meta descriptions
- Do revise the content on existing pages
- Do think about page load time. Speed is now a ranking consideration, and slow sites are also irritating to users
Redesigning is about changing the look – but not the feel nor the functionality – of your site. So keeping on-brand is vital. Regular visitors still need to know how to use the site and be able to find their favourite parts easily. They certainly don’t want to think they’ve arrived at the wrong site and navigate away. Careful testing will ensure that you get this right.
Once your new website is functioning well and looking great, don’t forget to send a new sitemap to Google and place your analytics tracking code back in the site, so that you can see the results of all your hard work. If you’ve followed the advice above, you’ll have a fresh, modern, user-friendly site without losing any search engine ranking or traffic sources. Can’t be bad!