Choosing the right person or company to re/design your website is hideously difficult. And I’m about to make it a lot harder. Or easier. Let me explain.
Every few years the dreaded website redesign looms. We know how important it is, but we tend to put it off as long as possible. Because ultimately all we’ll have is a shiny new version of what we already have. And inevitably an enormous amount of pain is involved.
You can probably relate to the following scenario:
Step 1: You ask your peers, colleagues and friends for recommendations, but almost all of them either share their horror story or point you towards their best friend’s neighbour’s daughter’s friend.
Step 2: You go searching on Google. I won’t labour the point here – you’ve been there and done it. Eugh.
Step 3: You eventually find a company with a nice looking website (this is fairly important), impressive testimonials, slightly-above-average pricing (but you probably get what you pay for). They’re quick to respond, seem friendly and professional, and think the whole thing will probably take five to six weeks at the most.
Ten weeks later the end is nowhere near in sight, the designers are getting grouchy about your “additional demands“, and you wish you’d never started.
But at some point you’ll end up with a website that looks as good as you hoped, without having to spend too much more money, and without having lost too many years of your life to high blood pressure and teeth-grinding.
And then, at some point, someone you trust who knows what they’re talking about with SEO points out that your website is an SEO disaster.
But wait! Joe Friendly from Really–Cool–Websites–.com said they had an SEO team and always followed Google’s best practices, you point out desperately.
When your friendly SEO person digs a little, she finds dead links, pages without descriptions, duplicate titles, WWW and non-WWW versions of all the pages, keywords meta tags and more. She may even find content that the designer blocked from Google during the design, but then forgot to re-open. All of these are real-life examples that I’ve seen within the last three months by the way, and any SEO will know exactly what I’m talking about here.
I can’t over-stress how common this situation is. And depending on the severity of their failings, there may be no quick fix to instantly restore your website to its optimised glory.
And this will almost certainly happen to you at some point, unless you use the following guidelines.
Seriously – bookmark this page, Evernote it, print it, share it, just keep it to hand. You really don’t want to fall into this mess.
So here are my personal recommendations for some good questions, and how to rate their answers. I won’t go into why my answers are correct, you’ll just have to trust me on this!
Question 1: What will you do to help Google index and understand my content?
Good answers: clear and logical links, sitemap XML file, descriptive and informative page titles and descriptions.
Bonus points: anything to do with Google Search Console, incoming links, website auditing.
Be concerned: any mention of “Google Best Practices”, any mention of their “SEO team or experts”.
Run away if they mention tricks, clever techniques, scripts, hacks or voodoo.
Question 2: Will you keep all the URLs the same?
Good answers: “yes”, “where possible” and “will redirect where appropriate”.
Bonus points: mentioning 301 redirects.
Run like the wind: “why do we need to do that?”, “don’t worry Google will figure this out for themselves”.
Question 3: When the new version of the website is being created, will Google be able to see it?
Good answers: “no”, anything to do with blocking through noindex tags or even password protection.
Bonus points: additionally using robots.txt.
Be concerned: “Google won’t know about it”and/or “Google won’t care”.
Run like wildfire: “yes but this doesn’t matter”, “you’ll double your chances of being found”.
Question 4: Is it okay for me to have some of the same content on multiple websites?
Good answers: “not ideal but we can work around this”, “which site is the most important?”
Bonus points: rel=canonical, ” far from ideal, so let’s work out some best practices for the future”.
Be concerned: “nothing to worry about”.
Run like a zombie swarm are on your heels: “absolutely fine. The more websites your content is on, the better your chances of being found”.
Question 5: Which is better, a 301 or a 302 redirect?
Good answer: 301, but there isn’t much in it nowadays.
Bonus points: “There are very few reasons to use a 302”.
Be concerned and run like killer bees are attacking you: “302”, “it doesn’t matter”, “what are they?” or “we don’t use those.”
Question 6: Will you be able to take a snapshot of how things are setup now, and make sure that the new version uses the same titles, descriptions etc? And if so, how?
Good answers: “yes absolutely”, any mention of a “page by page comparison”.
Bonus points: “full site audit before and after”, “we’ll actually improve your existing setup”, “we’ll send you a copy of the audit”.
Be concerned: “don’t worry we’re pretty careful”.
Run on wings of fire: “you really don’t need to do that sort of thing”, “Google don’t recommend this”.
Question 7: Will you be able to sort out some of our incoming links?
This one’s a bit of a trick question, but the actual answers will reveal a lot!
Good answers: “no, this isn’t what we do” and”we’ll make sure incoming links land on current pages”.
Bonus points: “we can run a link audit and let you know what we find”.
Be concerned: “sure, no problem”. If they say this, ask them what precisely they’re going to do.
Run like an axe-wielding maniac is after you: “links? We can get you loads of links.”
Never forget: most self-proclaimed SEO experts aren’t telling the truth!
I’m not saying that all website designers know nothing about SEO. And I’m not saying that there aren’t design agencies with an SEO team who know what they’re doing. But good website design combines creative, visual and persuasive skills. To date, I personally haven’t come across an agency that know more than the absolute basics of SEO. And most fail even in that respect.
Years of experience have shown me that putting your website’s SEO in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing can be disastrous. Don’t allow this to happen to you.