About 9,999 times out of 10,000, companies that begin a redesign of their Website do so with the following reasons in mind:
1. "We want to freshen the look/feel."
2. "We need to update our content, to be more relevant for where we are today."
3. "We have too much information on our Web site...we need to clean house and provide a slimmed down version."
It's rare, even in 2009, that companies will speak to things that also matter a great deal: usability and SEO.
Usability and SEO go hand-in-hand. Search engines want to rank Web sites that provide a quality user experience for the searcher. How that's defined can be somewhat subjective (every Web site is unique and its target audience will also be unique).
So, rather than speak to usability, let's look at common mistakes that can happen when you're redesigning your Web site.
If you're building a Web site to do well in SEO, you must begin with quality keyword research and competitive analysis. Many tools are available for keyword research, including Google's AdWords Tool, Wordtracker, and Keyword Discovery.
Another great source for keyword research is your existing paid search campaigns. After all, you can see actual impressions and historical data on how these words have performed in terms of CTR, time on site, pages visited, and -- most importantly -- conversion rate.
OK, so the keyword research is done, but we're not quite ready for the graphic designer yet.
Once you know which keywords you want to target, you need to determine what it will take to compete (or if it's even feasible to try). If you determine that "travel" would be a great keyword, make sure have loads of content and links already, or have the patience to ride out the long process of building up this kind of authority. You may want to re-think this keyword, unless your brand is already a household name.
A quick and easy way to check the competitive landscape is to do a Google search for your targeted keyword(s). Find the top 10 ranking Web sites, then do a "site:www.example.com" search on Yahoo and see how many pages (and backlinks) are indexed for these Web sites. From there, you can also see how these other Web sites have built their information architecture and structured their content.
Your goal should absolutely be to have a Web site that looks good, is search engine friendly, and provides a quality user experience. This stage of the game is very important. You don't want to just throw together a bunch of pages with little meaning or pages that don't add to the user experience.
That said, there are ways to generate quality, useful content that is good for SEO and adds to the user experience.
The expression, "you don't know what you've got until it's gone," is so true for many redesign projects. There's such a rush to get the new look/feel live that you fail to review your analytics to see where you've been getting your traffic.
Perhaps you'd want to run a ranking report, as well? Perhaps you had rankings and traffic for a page that was about to disappear from your Web site, with the new launch? Maybe you want to reconsider dumping that page? Perhaps you could, at a minimum, 301 redirect that page somewhere else, so that you have a chance of maintaining that ranking or at least keeping the links that were pointing to that page from now pointing to a 404 page?
If there's one piece of headache-saving advice I can give you, it's this: make sure you 301 redirect every page of the old site to the new URL structure. If you can remember nothing else from this column, remember this.
If you can keep your URL structure the same during the re-launch, that's ideal. If you're like most, your URL structure will change. Remember that even a small change in the URL is a change and will require a redirect.
I've seen Web sites that were built out on a staging environment by their design agency, but lacked password protection. These development versions of sites were indexed by Google and, once launched, didn't do well at all because their content on the new site was a duplicate of the staging site.
The search engines didn't know they were the same company. Once this is live, it's very hard to correct. The design firm would have to 301 redirect every URL on the staging site to the new site's URLs.
Hopefully, these tips help spare many of you from the pains that often go along with a redesign and, more importantly, save you time and money.