Guest post by Alex Berg.
Understanding the aspects of design, technology, and content that affect search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential skill for any web team, but they are particularly important when undertaking a major website redesign effort.
During a redesign, there’s a lot that can go wrong from technical issues and audience reaction to traffic loss and falling revenue. Below are six simple tips your design team can follow today to ensure your site stays on page one after you throw the switch.
1. Use descriptive links
As UX designers, you know the value of a good call-to-action (CTA). And historical best practice says verb-noun pairs work great for users in terms of setting expectation and enticing action. The problem, from an SEO perspective, is that this practice has led to vague and repetitive CTAs on our homepages.
And homepage CTAs are one of the most important tools we have to tell Google which content is the most important. So, before you litter your page with “Learn more” or “View details” links consider, providing more context. For example, “Learn how to prevent DDoS attacks” is a far more descriptive link that just “Learn more.”
2. Reduce your links
Per above, what we say in our links matters. What also matters is just how many links we have. Every link on a page dilutes the link equity that can be spread to the linked pages. For example, a link from a page with only 50 links on it is more powerful than a page with 200 links on it.
This can be challenging in a world of mega-menus and super footers that result when everyone wants a piece of the homepage or global shell. One way to mitigate this is to avoid over-linking to pages that are unimportant for search ranking purposes. For example, policy pages can often be combined into one page.
3. Limit H1s to one per page
Every page should have just one h1 tag. It should be specific to the page. The more descriptive and more that it matches a user’s search query the better. For example, About (Company Name) is better than About Us.
4. Hand roll your sitemaps
It sounds old school in a world of XML sitemaps submitted to Google and Bing, but you’ll want a hand-edited sitemap too. Hand-edited sitemaps give you an opportunity to use different words and phrases than you might use in navigation.
One example is spelling out common acronyms or using long-form references for key topics vs. shorthand ones. This gives search engines more information about your pages. Since the sitemap has a lot of links into it throughout your site, you could also prioritize how you list the links and keep the more important ones near the top.
5. Use PDFs selectively
Search engines prefer not to send people directly to PDF pages. This does PDF content a real disservice as it’s a common format for in-depth information like research, specifications, white papers, and thought-pieces—the kind of content Google loves. You can still have the content available in PDF format for easy offline reading, but by also integrating it into the page you greatly expand your unique content footprint. Additionally, if others link to the page, rather than bypassing it and linking directly to the PDF, you’ll improve your site’s overall link ranking.
If you’re using PDFs as lead generation bait, common on B2B sites selling costly software and services, try integrating a strong sampling of the content into your page body. This will not only help Google, it will also help your would-be customer determine if she wants to provide the lead information sufficient to download the rest.
6. Check your landing pages
Redesigns often entail shifts in content strategy and information architecture. Before you revise your navigation, look at your analytics. Some long-forgotten pages might be functioning as landing pages and generating valuable organic (free) traffic. Make sure these pages retain a presence in your sitemap so search engines can continue to find them.
It would be irresponsible to suggest that these were the only SEO implications of a site redesign effort. The potential considerations are myriad, but so are the resources. Try some of these blogs and resources for additional help as you approach your redesign.
Alex Berg is the Director of Strategy & Analytics for Fell Swoop – a digital design firm in Seattle. Prior to Fell Swoop Alex held leadership roles with Ritani, Wetpaint, Expedia, and Blue Nile. Follow him on Twitter @alexwberg.