How to Redesign a Website and not Lose Positions in Search Results
John Mueller, a webmaster and trend analyst at Google, argues that updating the layout design can impact search rankings, even though the site’s semantics and URLs remain the same.
John Mueller still points out the need to refine the standard templates, style them, and change CSS.
Neil Patel, the co-founder of NP Digital, also believes that completely changing the layout of the site and redesigning its structure can lead to a deterioration in rankings.
Such changes, according to Patel, lead to the loss of external links, the quantity, quality, and variety. These are the most important ranking factors.
However, internal links do not play a significant role.
A website redesign can destroy the center pages. Even changing the page level will break links.
Neil Patel cites a redesign of an English magazine. Each web resource requires improvement but the value of a magazine is the position that top articles occupy. When you move a site, date strings are removed from the URL and therefore the link is changed.
Changing the web layout can worsen the position in the search results. Due to the outdated design and the insufficiently thought out structure of the website, you can lose customers.
How to Update Your Site So that the Redesign Leads to Better Positions in the Search Results
Each platform has its own nuances of transfer but there are basic rules. Before moving a site, you should conduct a thorough audit. Check for the following:
- Broken or not-working links
- The presence of duplicate pages.
- Errors or garbage in the code
- Download speed
- The correctness of indexing, the number of indexed pages
- Site positions for key searches
- CTR for internal links, logo, and menu items
- The correctness of the breadcrumb setting
- The volume of texts and their uniqueness
- The presence of H1 headings.
- Content writing literacy, wateriness, and spam
- The correctness of linking and weight distribution between the pages of the web resource.
- Optimization of title and meta description. They must be unique for each page, reflect its essence, contain keywords, and encourage the user to go to the page.
- Pages closed from indexing
- Robots.txt and sitemap.xml settings
- Functioning of pagination
- The presence of filters on the site
- The uniqueness of the pictures, the presence of Alt-headers
Such an audit will avoid copying errors and increase the position when transferring a website. There is an excellent Site Audit service from Semrush.
The uniqueness of the pictures can be checked using TinEye.
The images published on the site mustn’t be duplicated on other resources.
The next stage is the preparation of the terms of reference for the transfer and update of the website. It should include the following:
- A user interface, design of the updated site.
- Nuances of animation
- List of title, snippet, H1 titles
- The semantic core for each page of the site with clearly defined URLs. It is important that they fully match the addresses on the old site.
Additionally, add organic traffic channels from Google Analytics. This way you will be able to see where the traffic is coming from and keep it flowing.
Go to the report Channels – Organic Search – Export – Excel. Do not forget to select the Login page in the parameters and specify the period for which you are retrieving data.
Download the list of external links from Semrush or Ahrefs.
The last stage is the transfer and audit of the new site. Pay attention to the following parameters:
1. Correctness and completeness of the information.
2. The correctness of the display of pictures, the work of animation.
3. The functioning of buttons, feedback forms, links in the menu.
4. The presence of a 404 page.
5. Displaying the mobile version on different devices.
The check should be performed on a test domain before transferring the site to the CMS. Before uploading a new web resource, be sure to make a backup so that in case of unforeseen circumstances you can easily restore the old site. It is better to do the transfer at night so that customers, when trying to place an order, do not end up on error pages.
6. Setting up a 301 redirect to a new site when changing a domain, transferring the previous table of redirects to the new website. Read the related article – 301 vs 302 Redirects.
7. Setting up sitemap.xml, robots.txt. For more information, see Sitemaps XML: Best Tricks, Tips, and Tools and Robots.txt: How to Create the Perfect File for SEO.
8. Auditing a new site.
9. Checking the positions of the web resource. Analysis of page indexing should be done no earlier than 3 days after the changes. Otherwise, the robot may not index them and you will see the old result. If the positions have not changed, repeat the check after a week. Google independently chooses the frequency and completeness of crawling pages and links on a web resource. It can crawl one site every 3 days, the other – once a week. You can check positions through Search Console or Semrush.
Let’s take a look at the details of transferring and redesigning web layouts on different CMS.
1. Site powered by Google
Since August 2020, there is a new Google layout. Before December 2021, site owners that use the classic layout need to update.
Google gives a detailed guide to the transition:
- Revise sites, delete those that you do not use for a long time.
- Disable the edit option in the classic version.
- Deny access to classic sites.
- Start transferring sites, changing them, or redoing them into new ones:
- Transform the most viewed and edited sites.
- Check the draft of the new site and manually edit.
- Publish the updated site at the old URL. This will keep your position.
For when you need to change the image in Google layout, save the alt-title of the image. The picture itself can be added through the menu Insert – Image. To use pictures found on the Internet, switch to the Internet address (URL) position, and write the address of the picture.
To add a picture carousel, click Insert – Picture carousel and add pictures. If you are not satisfied with the image layout, here are detailed instructions on how to change the Google image layout:
- Load the site in the new version on a PC.
- Go to the menu Insert – Layouts.
- Select the appropriate layout option and drag it to the site.
- Now add images and post your changes.
When migrating an old site from Google to WordPress, you will first need to install the platform and configure it. Next, you need to use a special tool for importing data, which is on the left in the admin panel of the site. Download your website in XML format:
Tools – Import – Run Importer – Choose File (select your site XML file) – Upload file and import.
If there is no pre-installed importer for the Google site, select Install Now.
To migrate website pages to OpenCart or Shopify, it will only work by copying content and links. It is important to install the SEO module so that you can manually enter the URL.
2. CMS WordPress
Before making changes, make a backup. Follow these steps:
1. Clean up the database using DBManager.
2. Remove spam from comments.
3. Delete unused pictures or unnecessary thumbnails with DNUI. Delete unused images.
4. When installing a new theme, see how the site will look. Changing the theme breaks the structure of the website. In the settings, adjust the font sizes, description, and palette.
5. If you make significant changes, test the site on a test domain before transfer. Be sure to save the URL of the old pages, if you change their levels and subordination, set redirects.
The best way to add updated themes is through Themes – Add. You can delete the old content of the pages and add the HTML code of the new page at the old address. It will take time but the risks of reducing positions are minimal. The main thing is to save anchors on the new page if external links were attached to them.
6. Conduct a thorough audit to avoid mistakes.
It is often necessary to transfer a site from Woocommerce to Opencart. In this case, you can upload site pages in XML format or transfer data using parsing.
3. Joomla platform
The redesign rules are identical to the previous sites. If you need to transfer your site from Joomla to WordPress, follow these steps:
- Install CMS WordPress.
- Download FG Joomla to WordPress.
- Start import.
- Choose what exactly you will import: categories, posts, pages, media, tags. Ideally, check the box “Delete all WordPress content”.
- Fill in the Joomla URL, provide the Joomla database parameters, username, password, and table prefix. This information is found in configuration.php or Common Settings – Server – Settings Database.
- Test database connectivity.
- Select import options: Import meta-keywords, then – Import as pages instead of blog posts and click Start Import.
- Then click Modify Internal Links if you have changed the domain. If you haven’t changed your modem, save the links.
- Next, check the links. Install the Broken link checker plugin and fix broken ones.
Do not forget about sitemap, robots.txt, and connection of analytics services. Conduct a technical audit of the new site and check the positions. Read the related article – Technical SEO Checklist – SEO Audit.
4. CMS Drupal
If you need to migrate your site to WordPress, use the FG Drupal to WordPress plugin. The principle of moving a site is similar to Joomla.
- Install WordPress.
- Download the plugin: Admin – Plugins menu – Add New – Upload – Select the zip file – Install Now – Activate.
- Run the migration: Tools – Import – Drupal.
- Make changes to the site settings.
Each site becomes outdated over time and needs to be updated. To benefit from the changes, keep the simple rules in mind: preserve semantics, link mass, URLs, and anchors.