Redesigning a website without losing SEO

By Tim Priebe on December 2, 2020

By Tim Priebe on December 2, 2020

For most organizations, it’s essential to be findable in Google and other search engines. That means SEO—Search Engine Optimization—is necessary for digital marketing. And while there are many ways to improve your website’s SEO, sometimes you need a new website even if your website already ranks well in search engine results.

So what happens to your ranking when you redesign your website? Can you redesign a website without losing SEO?

Let’s dive into that question, why your mileage may vary, and what you can do to mitigate any negative impact.

Why SEO is important

Full disclosure: SEO isn’t essential for every organization. At least, not to the same degree. Yes, you want people to find your organization online, but maybe you already have all the business you can handle. Or perhaps you have a dedicated sales team that brings in leads. I’ve seen a variety of situations over the last couple of decades, and not all of them required investing time or money in SEO.

However, if it’s important that people who don’t already know about your organization can find you online, then SEO is likely to be important for you.

SEO brings traffic to your organization’s website, social media, and anywhere else your organization is represented online. It’s as much about people as it is about search engines! SEO is one tactic to let people know you exist.

There are a million different strategies to begin or maintain SEO, depending on what resources you have available and what platforms you’re already on. But your website is a crucial component of any SEO strategy.

Why your SEO might drop

Okay, time to get a little technical. Your website is made up of a bunch of files, including files with HTML code in them. So when you redesign your website, even if the text is exactly the same, the HTML code is completely different.

When Google looks at your site, it sees that underlying HTML code. So when you launch an entirely new website, it knows that all the code has changed. Back in the old days, people used to change that underlying HTML code to trick search engines into thinking they’d updated content. Google quickly caught onto that trick. So now, if you try a trick like that, Google will penalize your site, which causes you to drop in the rankings.

If you do something like that regularly, Google will definitely penalize you. But Google is smart. It tracks your website over time, so it can guess pretty accurately whether you redesigned your website or are trying to trick your way into better rankings.

However, your website will still most likely take a temporary dip in rankings. That’s Google playing it safe. Over time they will check again, and if the underlying HTML code stays roughly the same, you should recover.

How to fix the most critical technical SEO issues 

If you are already doing well in Google, you may still be worried about your SEO impact. That’s completely understandable, especially if you somehow lucked into good rankings and don’t know how that happened.

Remember, your website is ultimately made for people, not search engines. So if you have tons of traffic but people think your website is out of date, you probably still need a redesign! The key is to be on the lookout for technical SEO issues.

We’re partial toward WordPress for creating new websites, and it has great SEO capabilities, especially if set up by a professional.

We highly recommend the WordPress plugin Redirection if you had decent SEO before your redesign. It will allow you to monitor 404 errors, which are when Google—or people—look for files your previous website had, but they are either gone or just not at the same address on your new website.

The plugin will keep track of all the files that Google or people think are there, but they’re actually gone. Then you can go in regularly and point those broken links to the new location. We usually recommend checking daily for the first two or three weeks, then weekly for as long as it seems necessary. If you stop seeing 404 errors in the plugin’s log, you don’t need to keep checking.

When you redirect those bad links, pick the page or file on the new website that’s most similar to the old page or file. Do NOT just redirect everything to your home page, or that can hurt your SEO.

And if you don’t have a WordPress website—or even if you do—Google Search Console is a great free tool from Google that can help with 404 errors and other technical SEO issues. It can help you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot the technical SEO on your website, even a newly launched one. Warning: You do need some technical expertise to utilize that tool.

While 404 errors are certainly not the only technical SEO concern, that’s a huge one if you’re worried about losing SEO in a redesigned website.

Other tips to avoid losing SEO

Taking care of those 404 errors will make a huge difference, but there are other steps you can take to avoid a negative impact on your ranking in Google. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Be proactive about keeping your web pages’ addresses the same as they were on your old website. That will help you avoid many of those 404 errors in the first place.
  2. Before launching your new website, check the entire thing to ensure there are no broken images or broken links.
  3. Use a professional digital marketing agency with SEO experience to help with the redesign. I’m obviously biased, but this will help avoid tons of issues.
  4. Be sure your new website is NOT set up to discourage search engines. You can use the Noindex Tag Test to check that for free.
  5. Whether your new website is on WordPress or not, be sure to connect it to Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
  6. Actually use those tools to monitor things and make necessary changes. Google Analytics and Google Search Console are reporting tools, so if you don’t do anything with the information, it won’t help.
  7. Search for your organization on Google regularly. If you don’t like what you see, change what you’re doing!

Should I still redesign my website?

That may all have you stressed out, and that’s understandable. Redesigning your website may still be the best choice for you! Many people will judge you based on your website’s appearance, so it must look professional and updated to appeal to your ideal prospect, customer, donor, or even volunteer, depending on your organization’s goals.

Do any of these apply to your organization’s website?

  • It no longer reflects your brand accurately, even if that’s just the look and feel.
  • It looks old, which will almost always happen eventually because of ever-evolving design trends.
  • It isn’t mobile-friendly or is just a bad mobile website.
  • It uses technology that’s now outdated.
  • You want to update it yourself but don’t have access to do that. Instead, you have to call your “website guy” to make any changes.
  • It’s not optimized for search engines, and you’re worried about that.

Maybe concern over time or money investment is keeping you from redesigning your website. Or perhaps you’re worried about finding a new web design company that can handle your needs.

If either of those sound familiar, we would be happy to talk! All of our websites take SEO into consideration, and we’ll also help you understand the SEO impact a redesign is likely to have.

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  1. Avatar Gloria on December 3, 2020 at 5:43 am

    If I decide to do a total redesign of my website — starting from scratch with a new theme and some of the old content and bringing in some new content, does that hurt SEO? I would keep the same page names as mentioned in the article. I also have a blog and am going through it to either update or remove old and out of date content. But I’m planning on bringing the blog over after it’s been updated. I do realize there are right and wrong ways to do a content audit and I’d follow those.

    Or is it better to take my current website and put it in a sandbox and change the theme and redesign from the current website?


    • Tim Priebe Tim Priebe on December 9, 2020 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Gloria! Both options would have similar effects from an SEO standpoint. However, we’ve found that it’s typically a better idea to start with a new, fresh installation of WordPress from a functionality standpoint. Over the years, active websites get a lot of junk that needs to be cleaned up that can slow them down. A newly installed copy of WordPress helps a lot with that. And since the SEO impact isn’t vastly different, we prefer that route.

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