I don’t want to talk here how your new website should look like, but I will mention a few aspects you should take into consideration before you start with website redesign. First aspects will be about design (to understand what visitors are doing on your website) and secondary aspects will be focused on SEO.
When is the right time for website redesign?
If your website has 2000 look, yes it is time for a redesign, but what if you updated your site two years ago. Is it still the right time? Well, it could be. Crazy Egg will help you to answer that question. Crazy egg is visual website analytics and heatmaps tool. It helps you to understand how visitors view your website, where they click and where they come from. I use the free version of this tool that comes along with SumoMe WordPress plugin. There I have just a basic heatmaps and clicks report, but with premium version (you can take 30 days free trial if you don’t want to pay for it) you can have heatmap report, scroll report, confetti, overlay report etc. Confetti report will show you all the clicks you get on your website segmented by sources, search terms and more.
For example with confetti report you can find if visitors click on non-clickable elements on your website. That could happen if you put screenshots of your web app as picture on your website. I had an example of that when I used web app search field screenshot as photo on my website in order to describe one of the app’s feature. After this report, I find out that I have made an obvious mistake.
I find out one more mistake by using scroll report. Within a Service page of one of the sites I was managing, there was a scrollable box. Scroll option was not visible enough and visitors never used it, so I decided to remove it and find other solution to present services. Those are just a few examples what you can discover from reports and they can tell you if you need to think about website redesign again. Check out this heatmap demo and see all options you can get.
Let’s say you’ve decided you need a website redesign. How will you decide in which way to go? How your site should look like? I will always suggest visiting awwwards.com and enjoy in some great designs. Of course, it will be hard to find the one that you could apply to your website, but you can try. Besides that, I have a better solution, use Wayback machine to find out how the websites of your competitors looked like before the redesign. That could give you some good ideas. E.g. I like Squarespace, they change their design very often. Check their design from 2011-2014 on the picture below and go to their website to see how it looks now.
Don’t forget SEO while updating your website
If you didn’t know the whole SEO structure of your website now is the time to write it down. This is important in order to save your current SEO data. Also, in this way you will see where you made a mistake and which pages don’t have SEO tags. Find Crawl SEO tool that you like and that can list all your URLs, inlinks, outlinks, meta tags, images… I use Screaming Frog for this. Go to their website and download the software for free. Enter your domain and start crawling. You will get a list similar to the picture below, that you can export Excel file. After that, open that file and check all parameters that are important. From URLs to H tags and inlinks and outlinks. Inbound links are very important for building SEO, so it could be a huge risk losing it. Image URls are also important so pay attention to that.
Once you have a list of all URLs along with their SEO data you can proceed with the redesign. I suggest you to finish whole website design and make it live, but with no index tag. In that way, Google won’t index your site until you are ready. In WordPress, you have the option “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” Go to Setting than Reading and you will find the option. When you have your site online you will be able to crawl it once again and search for defects. To understand what should be improved on your new site, visit Woorank and check their suggestions for website improvement. Also, use all of the free SEO tools that could help you to improve your SEO.
Never leave broken links
This is very important! And that is the way we created the list in the first place. Each URLs you listed above should be used within a new website and if it’s not, old URLs must have redirection to the new site. If you use WordPress I suggest you to install Eggplant 301 Redirects plugin. All you have to do is to enter your request URL and redirect URL, or you can upload CSV file if you have a lot of pages.
Moving domains in Google Webmaster Tools
If you don’t plan to change just a website design, but also its domain name, you have to tell that to Google. Go to your Webmaster Tools and in upper right corner click on a drop down menu, choose change of address. Pick your new site (you have to verify the site before this step) from the list. Keep in mind that it is restricted to root level domains only and you have to be site owner in order to access this feature. Here you can also confirm that 301 redirects work properly.
Do crawling part the best you can and create the list that will help you to track each URLs, title, H tag, image, internal and external links. Don’t forget to return all as it was and to optimize your new pages. Of course, you will have a new sitemap that should be submitted on Webmaster Tools. Even if you decide to remove some pages you should have redirection for them.
That would be it, I hope you will be able to do a website redesign properly without destroying your SEO.