Redesigning your website is a gargantuan task. Too often, the project manager will consult an SEO specialist a few days before the website relaunch, or after it already happened.
This is the wrong way to do it.
You want to involve all stakeholders and specialists as early as possible in the process. If you wait until the last minute, it’s often to late to make changes in time and within budget.
Hopefully you have a complete strategy for your website relaunch, and you take inspiration from The Checklist Manifesto. If it’s good enough for brain surgeons, it’s good enough for you.
Your website redesign checklist will involve sections for design, development, UX, content creators, SEO, and more. Here are three quick questions to include in your website redesign checklist for SEO.
Hand these to your development and SEO team and get confirmation that these are properly planned for in your next website relaunch. You’ll thank me later!
The 3 Most Important Website Redirect Questions
- Will we 301 redirect the old URLs to the new URLs?
- Will each page in the new site have it’s own URL?
- Will we be able to edit the HTML Title Tag and Meta Description for each page of the new site?
1. 301 Redirect SEO: Will we 301 redirect the old URLs to the new URLs?
A redirect means your old page on your old website will automatically go to your new page on your new site. Often the user won’t know the difference. So if your old website URL was /banana-stand-2013.html and your new page is /best-banana-stand-2016, the user will automatically be rerouted form the old page to the new one and not know the difference.
A 301 redirect means the page and URL have permanently changed to the new location. The other popular alternative (unfortunately) is a 302 redirect. A 302 redirect means that your new website URLs won’t appear in Google search results. The old ones will, but this is not an ideal situation. A 301 redirect SEO strategy is time consuming, but absolutely essential for the health of your new site.
Many developers get this right, but here are common problems that occur:
- 302 redirects instead of 301
- Redirecting all old URLs to the home page of the new site
- Not doing a 1-to-1 redirect strategy
- Not accounting for trailing slash “/”
- Allowing redirects to slow down the website loading
- Overloading redirects into the .htaccess file
During the website relaunch process (redesigning, replatforming, moving domains, restructuring), developers are often overworked and under-appreciated. One more set of things to remember just makes their job harder. They want to get the project out the door, make the website work to specs, and get paid. We all do.
Having someone hold this process accountable is key. Whether it’s the marketing manager, project manager, SEO, or lead developer, it should be a separate person from the developers doing the work.
2. Every page must have its own URL
I never thought this would be needed to be added as a part of a website relaunch checklist, until it happened to me. I was managing a website relaunch with a nice new tab-based design where we kept a collection of related pages together for a better user experience. That part was great, but what wasn’t great was the fact that they all shared the same URL.
If you’re going to just have tabs with a minimal amount of information and content on each tab, then it could be ok to have them all grouped under one URL. FAQ pages, about us pages, parts of services or features pages can get away with this, and it’s often better that way.
However, if you want each page to stand on it’s own and stand a chance of ranking in the search results, it must have it’s own URL.
Designers and developers might not consider this up front, so the project manager must make this clear from the start. If you tell the development team they need to break out all the tabs they created into individual URLs, you just doubled there work.
In many platforms like WordPress, Magento, and Shopify this is pretty standard. If you’re using a pre-designed theme or template you buy off the shelf, that structure is already baked in. If you’re doing a custom website design, however, your designers fancy designs could cause problems down the line if it’s not communicated to the development team properly.
It should be obvious from the beginning that this is a best practice. Every technical person should understand this, but it can fall through the cracks.
This is a big one, don’t let it happen to you.
3. Can we edit the HTML Title Tag and Meta Description for each page?
Another one that I thought was pretty standard and didn’t need to be stated, until it was. Every page must have the ability for content editors to change the HTML title tag and meta description.
The HTML title tag shows up in the search results like this:
And the meta description shows up in the search results like this:
The title tag directly impacts your search rankings, the meta description only indirectly.
Although the title tag importance has waned over time, it’s still vital. You need to be able to edit this for every important page on your site. There are dozens of pre-made plugins out there for every platform to make this easier to do, so your developer doesn’t have to custom code it. For WordPress, Yoast SEO is popular. For every other platform, you’ll have at least a few choices.
The meta description is like the ad text for your page. If you were paying for Google AdWords ads, would you allow it to include unrelated text in it? No, you’d change it in a heartbeat. All to often this is a forgotten element, but also vitally important.
You need to be able to control the HTML title tag and meta description for every page of your site. If you can’t get every page, then at least the pages that drive traffic and sales.
Bonus: The Rel Canonical tag
It’s awkwardly named, and means nothing to people outside of development and SEO most often, but it can be vitally important in your site.
The rel canonical tag is a bit of code that is respected by Google and other search engines when you want to show which page is the main source of content. For example, if you have an ecommerce shop and you allow filtering by many different ways, you don’t want to show all the different configurations with the same content, so you would use the rel canonical tag.
One hidden thing that many might not look for, is a custom design whereby every page tab does have it’s own URL, but the rel=”canonical” is set to the main parent page. You’re essentially telling the search engines that all seven of these child pages are just the same as the parent page, when this may be false.
So add the rel canonical inspection to your checklist as well. It can be a game changer.