+ Optimizing Design for SEO
+ SEO Website Redesign Mistakes to Avoid
+ User Experience (UX) Considerations in Website Design
+ Launching a New Website Without Killing Your Rankings
+ Why the First Year of a Newly Designed Site is So Important
User experience is one of the most important aspects of any online business or online marketing strategy. Strictly defined, user experience is the sum total of a user’s impressions, feelings, and thoughts as he/she navigates your platform (for the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to a website as the target for user experience design, though any number of interactive platforms could be a worthy substitute). Making a user happy, giving him/her easy, convenient directions, and eliciting feelings of comfort and familiarity are quintessential to a positive user experience.
So what value is a great user experience? First and foremost, it gets a user to stay on your site for longer, and increases the likelihood that he/she will come back. Second, it increases the likelihood that he/she will tell others about the experience, peripherally increasing your traffic. Last but not least, it can affect your standing in other areas of the Internet—for example, great user experiences are correlated with higher search engine rankings, and if your user experience ratings are high, you’ll be more likely to establish relationships with other major players in the industry.
Updating the design and structure of your site from time to time is a requirement of the age of online marketing. Designs get stale, technology evolves, and your customers are always looking for the next big thing, so eventually, whether it’s two years or six years down the line, you’ll have to rebuild your website from the ground up.
It’s an exciting opportunity for the entrepreneur enthusiastic about the future of the brand. It’s a new challenge and another project for the design and development team. But for the search marketer trying to maintain and build on their site’s current level of success, the whole process can be a nightmare. Pulling one version of your website down and putting another one up is like swiftly pulling a tablecloth out from under a set table without breaking or moving anything; it’s next to impossible unless you know what you’re doing.
During the process of your redesign, you’ll want to pay careful attention to the design factors that can impact your search rankings.
if you are an online marketer, it pays to know and use crucial SEO and web design best practices when you create websites and blogs.
It’s not that you need to know about the technical details of html if you’re not a programmer. But you need to understand how SEO and design work to effect maximum search engine exposure.
Most SEO is based on keyword-optimized content. However, factors such as file naming, image tagging, use of coding, and ensuring that your website loads quickly also contribute to search rankings.
The search engines use several factors and sources to assess what a website’s content is all about. These include file and directory names.
Your site will get a much better ranking when all the elements, including file name, are keyword optimized. Assigning a keyword-based name to a file increases your chances of getting indexed properly without being penalized for re-using keywords.
Keyword-optimizing images and videos on webpages is one of the most neglected tricks of skilled SEO.
Search spiders or robots are actually unable to determine what images or videos are all about, unless they are accompanied by a descriptive text and coding elements. This is where Alt tags come in very handy.
Alt tags tell the search engines what’s in the images. When you assign Alt tags to graphics and videos, be sure to use keywords, so they show properly on search results. This elevates a site’s keyword association, and pushes its relevancy to targeted keywords upward in search engine rankings.
Including a sitemap makes it easier for search engine spiders to find their way around your site when they’re looking for something new to index.
It’s particularly helpful for search spiders to determine what your site is being optimized for if you use keywords in navigation links.
Headers and titles can also place emphasis on specific keywords. When you create titles or headers around content, try to keep them short.
Avoid using very long titles and headers with repeated keywords, or your site could be flagged for keyword stuffing. The use of headers also helps search engines identify important sections of a website.
The navigation is a critical component of your website because it directs your users where to go; if your users aren’t sure what to do when they get to your site, they’re going to bounce. As a result, many designers choose to make a visually impressive and intuitive navigation in the header of the site. This is great, but you’ll also need to ensure that your navigation is SEO-friendly. Otherwise, Google won’t be able to tell that your site has an intuitive navigation, and any benefit for your users’ intuitions could be compromised by restricted web traffic from a lower search rank.
In order to make your navigation clear, you’ll need scannable text and clickable links corresponding to each page and section of your website. Even if your navigation depends on images and visual elements for a better user experience, it still needs to be grounded in a crawlable format.
You’ll also want to make sure to include a clear sitemap for search bots to crawl and understand your site. There are several types of sitemaps you can include for your site, including an HTML sitemap found directly on your site and an XML sitemap submitted directly for Google through Webmaster Tools (though this is not an explicit design change). Redundancy is not an issue; just make sure your sitemaps are visible and accurate.
Some modern designs emphasize minimalism, which is valuable for a user experience—rather than getting bogged down by countless pages and potential destinations, users are simply presented with what they need. However, from an SEO perspective, you’ll want to have at least a solid foundation of page offerings related to your core products and services. Otherwise, you’ll have little hope of ranking for keywords specific to those offerings.
For example, if you offer three types of consulting services but you’ve consolidated your site to one streamlined homepage, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to highlight each of those consulting services in a separate, crawlable format. You don’t need to go crazy, but make sure you have a solid representation for all the major facets of your business.
Site speed is another important ranking factor that can be easily controlled during the design process. The faster a site is, the better experience a user will have, and the more Google will reward you, so do everything you can to keep your site running efficiently and quickly.
Your site needs to be optimized for mobile. At this stage of SEO and mobile development, that is a necessity. There are a handful of different methods you can use to make it mobile responsive, which you can address in your redesign if you haven’t already. These options include simply building out a separate mobile site, or converting your desktop site to a mobile version and setting up an automated means of toggling between the two based on the device accessing it.
However, the easiest and most efficient way to optimize your site for mobile is to make it responsive. With a responsive web design, your website layout will automatically flex and stack to accommodate any size screen that attempts to access it. It’s a one-time fix that makes your site perfectly compatible with any device or browser.
Social integration isn’t going to directly increase your rank on SERPs, but it will go a long way to tie your online presence together. Include social icons on your homepage and contact page, and if you can, include sharing functionality that allows users to share your content on their social profiles in as few clicks as possible. This will increase the likelihood of people following you, increase your social visibility through more social shares, and help keep your social and website presences in sync. A stronger social presence will lead to higher domain authority, so don’t miss the opportunity to grow it.
As part of the growing trend of minimalism in web design, some designers avoid including written content in favor of more images and more white space. Both these visual elements are important to draw users’ eyes and keep their attention, but without written content, Google will see your site as virtually empty. Even if you want to keep your content as concise as possible, be sure to include enough crawlable content to let Google know what your company is and what you can offer people.
Talented designers are very picky about the fonts they include on a website—and some will argue in favor of the most beautiful fonts available. Unfortunately, Google has an easier time reading some fonts over others, and the prettiest fonts around may not be as crawlable as the more basic choices. If you’re concerned about your font’s compatibility with Google search bots, or if you’re looking for one to start with, Google has a helpful list of available fonts.
If you’re redesigning your site, odds are you’re going to have a new site structure, complete with new pages and new URLs. When you go to make the switch, Google will notice new pages coming up and old pages coming down, and that might have a major impact on your search rankings. While it’s not necessarily an element of web design, it’s critically important to set up 301 redirects for your old URLs if you want to avoid potential ranking drops. If you aren’t familiar with 301 redirects, Google has a helpful how-to here.
When it comes to re-designing your website, you’re going to see a bit of volatility no matter what, but you can mitigate the effects by watching out for these three common vulnerabilities:
The biggest problem you’re likely going to face as you update your website is a disconnection between your old URL structure and your new URL structure. In a perfect world, you would maintain an identical URL structure, thereby preventing the possibility of a discrepancy, but then you probably wouldn’t need to be updating your site in the first place.
There’s one critical danger here, which can have a rippling effect that permanently damages your domain authority and crashes your ranks. Your URLs have history with Google, and Google likes links with history. Its search engine algorithm has come to expect your site to be in a very specific structure and a very specific order, and when it goes to crawl your new site, if it doesn’t see what it expects to see, it triggers a red flag. Historical links, with lots of credibility, that suddenly disappear in favor of entirely new links can wreak havoc on your domain authority, putting you in the same position as a site for a brand that just launched.
The problem is compounded by external links. Naturally, you’ve built a number of links on external sites pointing to various internal pages of your domain in an effort to improve your authority. If any of those links become no longer relevant, the page rank those links pass will become useless, and you’ll have a profile full of dead links pointing to nowhere, further damaging your domain authority and possibly interfering with your inbound traffic.
Fortunately, there is a simple—but admittedly painstaking—strategy you can use to ensure this outcome doesn’t occur. First, you’ll need to set up a Webmaster Tools account and crawl your site or use an alternative tool to generate a list of all the URLs found on your current website structure—and don’t forget about all your subdomains! Then, if you can, do everything you can to keep that link structure as similar as possible.
For any old links that do not have an immediate counterpart in the new site, or for backlinks whose names have changed, you’ll want to set up 301 redirects. Fortunately, setting up 301 redirects is easy, and once they’re in place, any traffic that would encounter your old URL will be automatically pointed to the new one. This should prevent any damaging crawl errors from Google, and will definitely keep all your inbound external link building accurate and functional.
Unless you’re working for a very small business, your new website is going to be in the hands of many individuals from many teams and many different departments. Everybody is going to have their own perspectives on what would be best with the site. Multiple opinions, collaborating together can ultimately culminate in the greatest final product, but you can’t forget about Google’s perspective.
Graphic designers want to make the most visually appealing site possible, but there are some design principles that need to be balanced in order to fit with Google’s priorities and prevent a nosedive in your ranks. For example, most designers would prefer a site designed with minimalism, with only a handful of links in the navigation and as little onsite content as possible. However, Google likes to see lots of high-quality pages, and without ample onsite content, the search engine may find it difficult to understand your purpose. There is always room for a compromise, so work with your designers to find a good balance that works for both of your goals.
Similarly, other members of your team may have strong preferences when it comes to selecting a CMS, either due to price or personal opinions. There are hundreds of CMS options out there, with varying compatibilities and functionality with SEO. Be sure to do your SEO research and vet your options when considering a transition.
Perhaps most importantly, transitioning to a new site is an opportunity to fix all the mistakes that were holding you back with the old site. Passing over this opportunity, or failing to give it its due attention, is a critical mistake and a vulnerability you cannot afford to neglect.
Next up, throughout the planning and design process, run an audit of your current efforts on your current site. Where are you ranking? How much traffic are you getting? Where is that traffic going and how is it behaving? What problems are inherent in your navigation, and what gaps are there in your meta data?
Your first priority when designing a new site, from an SEO perspective, is your navigation. It needs to be simple and intuitive, but fleshed out enough so that any new visitor will know exactly where to go. It also needs to have strong anchor pages with keywords related to your business, and clear sitemaps for Google to read and understand your site. Second, you’ll need to examine which of your pages tend to attract or retain the most traffic, and look for ways to replicate its success in your other pages (in terms of design, content, and purpose). While not directly linked to the process of getting a new site up and running, this is also a good idea to review your ongoing tactics and find ways to improve them.
Even though the process is ripe with SEO vulnerabilities that could shake up your rankings or traffic flow, your website rebuild is an opportunity, first and foremost. Treat it as such, and you’ll be able to reap the benefits.
Without a solid UX design in place, your design and web strategy will immediately fall apart. That being said, it’s important to understand some core truths about UX design before plunging in:
First is a core misconception about UX design, and it has to do with that pesky word “design.” When people think about design, especially when it comes to web design, they think of aesthetic choices like coloration, layout, structure, and so on. While these are all important to user experience, UX design and web design are not intrinsically the same. Web design can have all kinds of motivations—for example, you could make the most beautiful site possible, or make a site that only cares about funneling people to conversion. A successfully designed site from a UX perspective might be beautiful and have elements of conversion optimization, but its primary focus is always the user’s interaction.
Plus, most UX design includes more than just the “aesthetic” part of design. There’s also sitemapping, branding, navigation, and similar subjects to consider.
This is a hard concept to accept, because we’d like to imagine that the world always behaves rationally. Because user experience depends on the instincts, intuitions, first impressions, and emotions of the individual user (none of which are standardly predictable), some of the best UX design choices are inherently irrational.
Let me illustrate with a simple example. Imagine a navigation bar with a horizontal layout. It might make sense that your user’s eye is drawn to the leftmost item first, as most American users read from left to right. But you might discover in testing that the middle item is usually the first seen and first clicked. Depending on your priorities, this could demand a redesign. In UX, you can’t trust your instincts—you can only trust the tests.
On the surface, UX seems like it would be a fun, relatively easy experience. It might seem like designing an amusement park, adding new features that look fun and experimenting with different combinations until you find the perfect layout. But the reality is, UX is a hard, tedious, and arduous process. As we saw in my previous point, your instincts and beliefs are constantly called into question by real data, and in many cases, you’ll end up with a product you don’t subjectively “like” because it happens to work best.
The unpredictability of users makes the process even more difficult. You might find that a portion of your audience loves your site, but another portion hates it—what do you do then? The unfortunate answer is usually start from scratch.
In other ways, UX design is really quite simple. In theory, it can be reduced to a single process: find out what your users want and give it to them. Your users are the only thing that matters—it doesn’t matter what your company wants, what you want, or what the design award organizations want—if your users are happy, you’ve been successful. If they aren’t, you’ve failed. Conducting surveys and tests can help you uncover what people are actually thinking and feeling, but that human factor is still the simplest and yet most complicated part of the whole process.
UX isn’t something you do once. It isn’t a phase of the web design and development process that you go through, settle on, and then ignore for the remainder of your online marketing campaigns. It is a constantly ongoing process. New technologies emerge, new competitors grow popular, and user needs constantly change. If you want to build (and keep) a successful UX design, you have to learn from and adapt to those changes. It’s an ongoing process that can’t be abandoned.
When it comes to UX design, your best bet is usually working with an expert. That means recruiting an outside consultant, hiring an in-house expert, or working with a professional agency. Taking it upon yourself to handle all the UX changes to your site will likely end up in disaster, or at least unmet potential. It really is the most important element of your business as it stands online, so don’t underestimate it.
Luckily, there are strategies you can use to ensure that redesigning your website isn’t the “deathknell” for your SEO. These are several steps you should work into your redesign process to guarantee your rankings go unaffected.
If you have any say or control over the matter, it’s best that you steer clear of changing your URL or its structure. Your URL is part of your brand; many of your customers can think of it off the top of their heads without having to refer to their browser Favorites list, or a scribbled down note. When you decide to change your URL and/or its structure, you are playing with fire. A change of URL has the potential to confuse existing customer and make it incredibly difficult for them to find your website.
However, if you must change your URL structure, there is still hope. You can still retain existing, current traffic by implementing the use of 301 redirects. A 301 redirect is used when you want users to be lead to a page that has relocated to a permanent location. As you would expect, this could work in a situation where a website changes URLs, or even a situation where a website has many different URLs. 301 redirects can be set up and maintained via the .htaccess file on your server.
Before you touch or manipulate a single piece of content on your website, your first move should be to research why your website is successful. Why is it higher up in the search results than many of your competitors’ websites? This means you will have to take a look at what keywords are working the most in your favor, and which landing pages are seeing the most traffic. Knowing which words and pages are keeping your website afloat will help you out immensely when the time comes to redesign.
This research won’t only give you an idea of what makes your website so accessible to traffic, but it will also give you a chance to see which areas of your site aren’t performing well and either need chopping or revising. For example, maybe a landing page you designed isn’t doing so well or receiving much traffic. This gives you a chance to study the problem areas and modify them as well. In turn, you can wind up with an even better SEO strategy after the redesign.
Along with your website redesign, you will also want to incorporate the use of a sitemap. A sitemap is useful in a handful of ways. If a user has trouble finding something on your website, they can easily use the sitemap to get an overhead of idea of where your various pieces of content are kept on your site. You can think of your sitemap as a table of contents for your visitors.
However, a sitemap is perhaps the most useful for search engines, in that the maps are used to help search engines get an idea of what has changed about your website. Likewise, the search engine can use the sitemap to determine if any content was moved around to new URLs. Once you’ve launched your site redesign, it is imperative that you submit the sitemap to search engines. This will make it incredibly easy for the search engine to crawl the site and locate/index modified, edited, or new content.
It probably seems incredibly obvious, but it’s wise to ensure that the new page is compliant with basic SEO practices. As you make changes to your websites, add content, revamp the navigation, and so on, it can be easy to forget that making sure your title tags, META descriptions, and originally used keywords are still important.
If you opted to make changes to your landing pages or keywords, be sure to incorporate these changes into the redesign. Pay attention to title and description tags, and make sure that they’re fully optimized for search engine crawling. You will also want to incorporate more of the basics of optimizing a website by checking for broken links and matching anchor text and its (current or new) keywords up. Editing your anchor text and keyword combinations will depend significantly on the changes you made if you edited your search engine optimization strategy in the beginning.
Lastly, to keep your website amongst the ranks that it originally had before the redesign, it is imperative that you take the time to closely monitor what happens with your rankings and traffic. If you don’t have it already, link a powerful analytics tool to your website to keep track of keyword performance, traffic origins, bounce rates, social media implementation, and much more.
From the day you launch the redesign and on, there are several questions you should continually assess your website with. Determine whether or not the SEO strategy is either helping your website’s performance or hurting it. Are you moving up or down in the search engine rankings for your chosen keywords? Also, keep an eye on the traffic coming to your website. Are you seeing more traffic since your design overhaul, or less? If you added more ways for your users to engage your content, consider whether or not the engagement has increased. If your users aren’t engaging your content, it’s your job to determine why before you allow it to do damage to your site.
Additionally, you will want to pay attention to conversions. That is why your website exists after all. How are conversions holding up now that the site has been redesigned? Are you finding that one landing page is now performing better than another that once did well before the redesign? Keep a close eye on what is and isn’t working on your new website design and edit accordingly. If you find that a keyword or landing page that once performed well isn’t doing diddly-squat now, find out why.
Some people seem to think that once a website goes live, their job is done. They might need to add some new content now and then but overall, the majority of the on-site work is done. And sure, the design and layout tasks might be finished for the moment — at least until you decide to redesign — but the work of managing a website is never done.
And that’s never more apparent nor more important than in the year after it goes live. Let’s spend some time going over why that is exactly and how to make sure you’re all set up for post-launch success.
Before you even launch your site, it’s important for you to benchmark your stats. This will give you a sense of where the domain currently ranks and if there are any issues present. Registering a domain only to find it had a penalty levied against it in the past is highly problematic. You’ll be put in the sandbox before you can get started!
That’s why it’s important to take an inventory of where your domain is at before the site itself goes live. A few things you’ll want to pay attention to include the Google cache date, how many pages are indexed by Google, domain authority, and any errors that show up in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. While you’re at it, make sure you’ve registered your site in Webmaster Tools. You’ll need it later.
After a site launches, your primary goal should be to steadily increase site traffic. The more eyeballs on your site, the greater the likelihood of getting signups, making sales, or accomplishing whatever your site goals are.
This is also the time you begin to establish yourself in your chosen industry. It’s a critical time that you can begin to build a reputation for yourself. You’ll make connections with industry leaders and build authority.
Of course, that’s assuming everything goes right. If you make the most of this time period, you should see an uptick in the chatter about your site. As you might imagine, what people say about you is really important. Make regular site updates, engage with visitors, and build a rep as a thoughtful industry voice and you’ll make a good impression. But if you slack on making regular updates and fail to respond to email or comments, you’ll only hurt your site in the long run. Which actually leads me to…
Along with first impressions comes the all-important task of building a brand. Your brand includes absolutely everything having to do with your site, including its design, its graphics, the kind of content you produce, your products or services, your social media presence, and your customer service. Branding is wrapped up in every little aspect of a business, so it makes sense that it would be wrapped up in your website, too.
Branding is something you build prior to launch, of course, but its reception will help dictate what direction to go in next. And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be consistent. Those first 12 months after launch are when you clue people into what your site is all about. Do you post on time? Do you offer original analysis? People will get a sense of who you are and what you stand for just in how you communicate and interact with/through your site.
You have this valuable tool at your disposal here. So use it!
I’ve already talked at length about the importance of making a good first impression. But that was directed at site visitors. You know, real people with real eyes. But it’s equally important that you make a good first impression on search engines. You absolutely need to pay attention to the SEO side of things, too, if you want your site to do well in the first year and beyond.
Remember how I told you to sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools earlier? Now’s the time to dig into those tools and really use them. Follow the webmaster guidelines to the letter. You should do this before your site even launches, in fact. But it’s important to make regular checks on your accounts to make sure there aren’t any crawl errors or messages. You also want to make sure that you have your 301 redirects in order.
Be sure to hop over to whatever analytics you’re using to make sure your site is logging traffic, too. These are things you’ll need to check on a regular basis, not just for the first year, so it’s best to get into the habit now.
Taking a lackadaisical approach to your site’s launch could come around to bite you later on, especially if you don’t pay attention to the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Mistakes you make during this first year could result in penalties that knock your site down in the search results by a considerable margin.
And let me tell you, trying to fix an SEO problem is a lot harder than just doing well outright. It can take months to reclaim your former positioning in the search results, and that’s only after you’ve a) fixed the issue and b) filed a reconsideration request. And that’s assuming all goes well with the reconsideration and you don’t have to provide further details on what you’ve changed.
Take the lyrics site, Rap Genius, for instance. It got caught for an unnatural link scheme. They sent out emails to bloggers asking them to include links to their lyrics pages in exchange for tweets on the official Rap Genius account sharing their posts containing the links. The company got caught around Christmas last year when Google slapped it with a penalty. Many of the site’s lyrics searches were knocked far back in the search results overnight. Even worse, the site no longer ranked for its own name!
Rap Genius was able to have the penalty lifted after just 10 days because they took swift action to remove the unnatural links. And it probably helped it made for a prominent SEO story, too. Most of the time, it takes a few months to have a penalty removed.
All of this is to say, making SEO mistakes — intentional or not — is basically a big headache that you want to avoid if you can help it. That’s why from the moment you register your site’s domain name, you need to be ever vigilant in how you approach working on your site, including what content you publish, what SEO tactics you use, and how you approach site maintenance.
During the first year, you’re setting the tone for the life of your website. So make sure days one through 365 end on a high note, okay?
While content is still king, that doesn’t mean you should take other page elements for granted. You will find that you rank higher if each design element of your site also gets the SEO treatment. If you pay attention to that, you will make it easier not only for humans to identify what your site is all about — you will also make it easier for search engine robots to give your pages their proper weight.
No matter how much you plan or how closely you monitor the progress of your site design or redesign, it’s likely that there will be some hiccups in your web traffic and search standings. Try not to obsess over them; as long as you dedicate yourself to following the same (or improved) ongoing best practices as you did with your old site, you’ll see similar patterns of growth with the new one. Remember that quality SEO is a long-term strategy, and any short-term volatility you experience during the site transfer (as long as you’ve accounted for the critical vulnerabilities) is temporary.