Nobody wants to redesign their website, but we’re all going to have to do it at some point. Eugh.
This post will make sure that your next website redesign won’t destroy your Google traffic.
It might not be useful to you right now, but I’d recommend reading it and storing it somewhere safe for when you next try to choose a website designer
When you need it, you’ll be happy that we went into this level of detail.
I blame the kitchen designers
When you decide to get a new kitchen fitted, you don’t try to find a plasterer, a plumber, an electrician, a store with a good range of electrical and gas appliances, a lighting store, tiler and more.
You try to find one company that can handle the whole lot for you.
However, the same rule doesn’t apply to website designers.
If you manage to find a good website designer, they probably know very little about real world SEO.
In fact, in all my years of working with SEO, I’ve never met a single website designer who knows more than the basics.
And the basics aren’t good enough nowadays.
When designers break your SEO
After surviving the hell of finding a good website designer, you then have to endure the stress of actually making it all come together.
It’s never a pleasant experience. And in fairness, this is probably more down to us (the customers) than the designers themselves. Not speaking from personal experience of course. I’m a dream customer.
But at some point, you’ll finally end up with a website that looks as good as you hoped, hopefully without having lost too many years of your life to high blood pressure and teeth-grinding.
And then someone you trust 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 plead, desperately.
When your friendly SEO person digs a little, she finds broken links, pages without descriptions, duplicate titles, mobile issues, 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.
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.
These are my personal recommendations for some good questions to ask, 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!
Eight SEO litmus tests
Question 1: What will you do to help Google index and understand my content?
Good answers: clear and logical links, sitemap XML file, compelling and informative page titles and descriptions.
Bonus points: anything to do with Google Search Console, incoming links, website auditing, schema.
Be vaguely concerned: any mention of “Google Best Practices”, any mention of their “SEO team or experts”.
Run away: Any mention of 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 – but it has to be an additional step.
Be vaguely 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 vaguely 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 few reasons to use a 302”.
Be concerned and run like killer bees are attacking you: “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 set up 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 (sometimes) pretty careful”.
Run on wings of fire: “you really don’t need to do that sort of thing”, “Google doesn’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 vaguely 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.”
Question 8: Will the new website be mobile friendly?
Good answers: “yes, absolutely” and “we follow all of Google’s guidelines”.
Bonus points: “we can prove it using Google’s mobile-friendly test and page speed insights tool”.
Be concerned: “I don’t see why not. Google is pretty good at this sort of thing”.
Run like a politician is walking towards you: “What do you mean by mobile friendly? You’ll be able to zoom in to the text just fine”
I’m not saying that all website designers know nothing about SEO.
I’m sure there are design agencies out there with an SEO team who actually know what they’re doing.
But good website design combines creative, visual, usability and marketing skills. To date, I personally haven’t come across an agency that knows more than the absolute basics of SEO. And most fail even in that respect.
Years of experience have demonstrated that putting your website’s SEO in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing can be disastrous. Please don’t allow this to happen to you.