Your technical performance is essentially the table stakes of SEO. Does everything work together the right way? Do links work? Are the correct tags in place? Does the site load quickly and correctly, no matter which web browser and what kind of device is viewing it? This is a good place to start—having a technically competent site will not make your site rank well on its own, but having an error-ridden site will guarantee it won’t rank well.
Planning a website redesign for website performance means picking a platform that can load content quickly, choosing hosting that is secure and high quality, and making sure there are no errors on the website.
The content of your website is what Google search bots crawl and index, helping them understand what your website is about and who it’s for. This has to do with the words on the page, the images on the page, the keywords present, but also the way the whole site comes together—do you have a library of content that suggests you’re an authority on the topic you’re writing about? Have you given yourself a space on the site to easily publish lots and lots of new content, like a blog section? It’s a great place for a resource center which includes posts like thought leadership, industry insights, how to articles, templates, white papers, and educational content around your core offering. Website content also applies to the “metadata,” which is information users don’t generally get to see, but tells search bots about pages, images, etc. These are things like title tags, meta descriptions, and alt text.
Planning a website redesign for onsite content means optimizing the content you do have, and making sure it all survives migration and is presented in a way that both visitors and search bots can understand.
What users do on the site informs a lot of how a site should be planned. If they spend a lot of time on a page, reading content, watching videos, and then click through multiple pages in a single session, that’s positive user behavior that search bots interpret to mean the content is of high quality, and should rank higher. On the other hand, they could bounce after just a couple seconds on the site, because it takes too long to load or it’s ugly or clearly not what they were looking for, that’s bad user experience that would be punished in the search rankings. It’s not just important for organic traffic—the users need to be able to navigate to and perform conversion actions, like filling in forms, buying products, and sharing content.
Planning a website redesign for user behavior means understanding what you want them to do, and making it easy for them to do it. It also means making the site appealing in any way possible for your target audience.
The biggest signal that Google receives about your site to help decide if it ranks or not is one that you have the least control over—how many websites link back to your site, and how high quality are the sites that do. Getting backlinks from high quality sources that are relevant to your website’s topic tells Google that your website is also reputable and likely to be relevant to people searching related topics.
Planning a website redesign for backlinks means preserving the ones that are high quality, and disavowing the ones that are of a low quality so that you don’t get penalized for potential spam, and keep all the good reputation you’ve already earned.
Following the above advice will get you in the right direction, but only you tailor your website to your specific needs and situation. That’s why you must understand what you want from your website and how it is performing right now.
Audit Your Website’s Performance and Your Business Objectives
Start by figuring out your baseline metrics and establish your benchmarks, including:
Ranking well for keywords is essentially the whole point of SEO, but if you’re here worried about a redesign potentially tanking your SEO, you already know that. Make sure you have all your desired keywords chosen, and take the current position in Google searches for all of them. You can use the basic SEMrush reports to track position for free, as a starting point.
How often do people who look at a link also click on it? Click-through rates (CTR) show how well your page performs in terms of (a) getting the attention of people who see it in search results, and (b) getting them to click on it. Learn how to calculate your CTR for SEO.
How fast do your pages load? Page speed is an essential metric because searchers are impatient. People really only read something to solve a problem or gather information, and they love to skim. Don’t lose traffic to a page with great content because you didn’t check to see if it loads fast enough: A good rule of thumb is between 0 to 4 seconds. Google PageSpeed Insights is a great tool for auditing this.
Bounce rates AKA Engaged sessions
Do people leave your website after looking at one page? A high bounce rate in general is 70% or higher, and means the page in hand provides a poor user experience, perhaps because the content itself is not informative. After pulling a page together in a way that satisfies you, check the bounce rate over time to confirm that you were correct.
Also important to note: while bounce rates are a metric marketers traditionally paid attention to, this is starting to go away with the introduction of Google Analytics 4. This update now gauges the “Engaged sessions” you have instead of bounce rates—higher is better, and you can choose how long a visitor has to stay before it gets logged as engaged.
Time on site
How long do people spend on your website? Time on site is a good measure for understanding the value of your website holistically to visitors. The more time they spend on various pages, the more value your overall digital presence has to them.
How often do people who took one action (e.g., click a link) take another that you intended (e.g., buy a product)? This is one of the more important metrics to focus on. Conversion rate optimization means understanding your audience well enough to increase the percentage–hopefully between 1 and 4%–who take actions that you want them to take. Eventually this means doing business with you.
Take your time with the website metric audit. The more accurate and complete your data is at the start, the better you can understand how well your site is performing post-launch.
Redesign SEO Planning Checklist:
After your website metric audit, you now understand performance well enough to make some decisions about what pages to keep, which to significantly improve, and which to remove. Check through these major factors.
Review each page’s content
Run an audit through SEO tools like SEMrush or Yoast, or have your agency do it for you. See what keywords each page ranks for currently if any, and what they’re currently optimized for. Is there enough content on the page? Is the target keyword and synonyms repeated enough, in key places? And if so, does the page still read well? Also check technical things like load times on page and non-optimized visual content. Load speed is a major factor in SEO.
Check the user experience
Another big SEO factor is the length of user sessions and “engaged sessions,” which are measured by things like time on page, and how many pages they visit during one session. Good user experience (UX) would include things like obvious buttons and navigation, and directions telling users where to go. The easier their journey is, the more pages and time their sessions will have.
Create site architecture
Sketch out the site architecture (the organization of your website from top to bottom) you want for the redesigned site. Create wireframes, simplified outlines of all your pages, to trace the journey that visitors will take from the page they enter to the page they convert on. You can do this on paper or a whiteboard, but it’s most effective to work with digital tools like Figma or Sketch for easy iterating and working with the redesign team and your web design agency.
Put an XML sitemap in place
Have an XML sitemap in place. To put it roughly, it’s like site architecture that a search engine algorithm can read. Have your developer put one together and send it to major search engines like Google and Bing. If you’re using WordPress to develop your site, most sites install the Yoast SEO plugin that generates a sitemap living on your site like this: example.com/sitemap.xml. Another good resource for mapping out your site visually is Octopus.do.
Minimize URL disruption
Plan to change as few URLs as possible to minimize the amount of work you’ll have to do later on. For the URLs you do change, have 301 redirects (linking old URLs for the same location to new URLs) planned in advance. This ensures that you won’t send visitors to nowhere and cause search engines to drop your website in the organic results.
Leave high-performing pages be
This is the final and very, very important point before you move on to the design stage. Use the metrics we just discussed to identify your best performing pages–and then leave them alone as much as possible in your website redesign. You can tweak things to make sure they match your overall new design, but overall if you like the organic traffic a page is getting, its content, URL and links should be left to keep on winning.
Migrate or create a blog to store SEO content
It doesn’t matter what you call it—news, resources, help articles—you need what is functionally a blog on your site if you intend to do well in SEO. The more content the better (provided it’s unique and of high quality). And on your core pages, like the homepage, about page, services/products, industries served, or whatever they may be, there’s only so much room. Cramming content on core pages can help with keyword optimization, but will be so unusable for readers that they don’t stay on the site long or share content—a net negative for SEO.