How To Redesign a Website

How to redesign a website?

This “How to Redesign a Website” guide looks at a number of aspects relevant to both the process and the desired outcomes;

  • Most website owners think about redesign as a purely visual issue – making it “look better” to improve their online credibility
  • Some consider improving functionality, updating, improving and/or expanding content
  • Few evaluate current page rankings and strive to retain them
  • Almost no one applies best redesign practice by providing search engines with accurate 301 redirection from old pages to replacement pages…

Redesign Should Make Things Better, Not Worse!

Before you leap “boots and all” into a redesign of your website, its imperative to consider how you can ensure that you achieve more than a much prettier site that even fewer people will find. Its important to remember that the current site has some inherent value, and that this value should at least be preserved – and preferably, enhanced!

All too often, the old site is junked, and no consideration is given to the residual values within old pages. So, don’t go down that path…

Many website designers have limited understanding (or interest) in how search engines evaluate websites, and remain blissfully unaware of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.  However, most designers do instinctively know what looks good, and how best to achieve a professional looking site… Obviously, you want a positive outcome in terms of;

  1. Visual  Aspects – user experience, modern design, better business credibility, clear branding
  2. Functionality – social media integration & responsive mobile design access
  3. Structure – optimal navigation, cross-linking, indexing and error handling
  4. Security – preventative measures to minimise hacking opportunities
  5. Increased Search Engine Rankings & qualified traffic, higher retention rates and returns
  6. Improved conversion rates via clear Unique Selling Proposition & Call To Action (USP & CTA)

Therefore, when planning how to redesign your web site, take an holistic approach and try and identify and eliminate all possible inhibitors. As with any project plan, the more obstacles you identify and remove prior to seting out, the easier the route to a successful outcome!

What Google Wants

Actually, Google is pretty clear about what constitutes a “good” website, both in terms of content quality and technical aspects. If you would like to be rewarded with good Google rankings, it stands to reason that if you adhere to the industry’s guidelines and rules, you’ll stand a better chance of success. Perhaps a good first step is to take a read through the helpful and constructive suggestions that Google has provided on how to design a website for viewers…

How to Deliver Good Content

Write new, original and informative page content – don’t copy other’s efforts. Copying is both illegal and immoral and immediately portrays your website as second-rate. For example; in every niche of the travel industry there are dozens of websites that shamelessly copy and publish entries from Wikipedia verbatim!  The first to copy a page is at best 2nd best… If you’ve come to the party late, you might be the 25th or the 100th copycat… In those circumstances, expecting top billing on Google rankings is a leap of faith!

Modernity & User Experience

Older sites are characterised by table-based layouts, and/or generated by old-fashioned software such as MS Frontpage  etc. Modern sites are characterised by their adherence to the latest HTML/CSS standards, in the current version of content management systems.

There is a higher probability of the user’s experience being “better” on a modern website than on site that is still using out-moded design techniques in manually-edited, hand-coded pages.

Social Media Integration

Integration with social media is not really optional in this day and age, but you need to ensure your designer understands what aspects and elements are most important. Your FaceBook business page is never likely to become more important than your business website… Plastering a “Like” button for your FaceBook Business page on every page of your website is less useful than adding the option to “Like” each individual page on your site…

Mobile

This aspect of website design/ redesign becomes more and more important every day! The use of tablets and smart phones continues to increase at an extraordinary rate, and for many people, its the most common way to access the web. Engineering small-screen browsing for mobile users of your website could well be a make-or-break business decision in some niche markets.

A fixed-width business website does not render well for smartphone users. Not addressing that means you are effectively severing yourself from more and more potential customers every day!

The best solution is to use a mobile responsive design that adjusts automatically to the screen resolution of the device, regardless of it being a PC, laptop, netbook, tablet or smartphone.

Design Functionality

Think of this from both a visitor’s and a search engine’s perspective. Their requirements are similar, and both will reward you if you give them what they need…

Visitor Expectations

Visitors expect consistency across pages, with logical navigation that makes it easy to move around (and get back to) the various sections of your website. Visitors want the answers or information that their search led them to believe your site contained…

They also expect that you will provide pathways or indications of what actions you would like them to take in order to initiate a relationship with you. They will respond positively to  obvious credibility indicators such as testimonials, privacy policies, terms and conditions, your unique selling proposition etc. Calls to action are required – don’t make your guests guess what you want from them… Do provide obvious contact options.

  • Aside from good navigation, a site map page is also a useful tool that can save time in zeroing in on the right information.
  • Ensure page names reflect their contents, and have consistent Titles and page headings that minimise confusion.

Search Engine Needs

Search Engines want clear paths throughout the site to all content therein. A high priority item should be an automated XML sitemap that updates whenever new content is added, be it pages or blog posts.  The location of that sitemap must be specified in the robots.txt file. Both of these files are frequently overlooked by website designers, who don’t always appreciate their significance.

Navigation is also crucial to search engines. Not only does it provide pathways through the site, it allows mapping of the sites structure and interconnectivity. Elements such as cross-linking, number of links to pages, links from Home page to internal pages etc also profile the respective importance of pages throughout the website.

Search engines, even more so than visitors, are reliant on the descriptive elements such as page names, titles and headings. As they index a site, they calculate its relevancy to specific search phrases based on the content and its descriptive indicators! Getting that right is the difference between prominence and obscurity…

Search engines are not engineered to reward mediocrity, duplication, plagiarism or sneaky tricks… They can’t read or index Flash slide-shows or JavaScript-generated content…  Feed them quality fodder and they will smile down apon you!

Visual Aesthetics

Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder… That said, no matter how much makeup you apply, a pig is still a pig – even in a pink dress and a parasol… There are design fundamentals that you ignore at your peril. If you are gushing with enthusiasm for mixed fonts, funky colour combinations and whizzbang Flash slide-shows, your website designer is probably looking progressively less enthusiastic…

Conversely, if your website designer is waxing lyrical about whizzbang Flash slide-shows and JavaScript etc, you’d best cripple that at the outset. Thank him for his interest and tell him you’ve just remembered an urgent appointment for a frontal lobotomy and that you’ll be in touch…

Seven Redesign Fundamentals

The possibilities for woe are many and varied, including the flip-side of many of the positive suggestions above. Conversely, the risks are almost entirely mitigated by a little bit of careful planning! The devil is in the detail, and many website designers are blissfully unaware that there is in fact a “best practice” alternative to the more usual ‘brute-force’ redesign methods…

The smart way to approach the process is to get an expert overview, by way of a website SEO audit report. That will give you a benchmark of the current site’s performance,  an outline of the negative aspects, and recommendations of remedial actions. Use that to help guide your website designer in the right direction.

  1. The most common failure, and arguably the biggest single risk, is not providing a site-wide 301 Redirect pathway from all old page names to all new page names. That immediately sets you on the path to having your entire old site de-indexed, vapourises your rankings, and resets your website back to zero at Google HQ. Your 404 Page Not Found error rate will skyrocket… very bad form indeed, old chap! Build a URL LIST in a spreadsheet, to ensure you know which old pages go where. Get that translated to into a 301 Redirect list for your .htaccess file…
  2. The second is not identifying which pages are currently contributing most visitor traffic. Your website traffic logs will show you which pages generate the most activity AND what search phrases are currently pulling in the most visitors to your website. Review, ponder, preserve and preferably enhance those in the redesign… Then, ensure you have pages that fill the void where you are not getting any qualified traffic.
  3. Thirdly – getting sucked into inappropriate technologies such as Flash animations with built-in navigation, or JavaScript menu systems. Crippling a website redesign with impenetrable navigation can never, ever be seen as a step in the right direction.
  4.  Fourthly; choosing to not use every available mechanism by which the website’s content can be accurately described and categorised. That includes search-engine-friendly (verbose) page and image file names, accurate descriptive titles, headings, image alt tags and site maps etc. This is very basic stuff, but most websites I review are devoid of even SEO 101 For Dummies tactics.
  5. Fifth; understand and ensure you avoid anything that can be considered in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines…
  6. Sixth; get over your aversion to Social Media and ensure it is used correctly, and to best effect…
  7. Seventh; while you are at it, embrace the concept of mobile access. Give very serious consideration to a mobile responsive design that renders correctly on all screen sizes from desktp PCs down to tablets and smartphones!
  8. Last but not least – do prepare original, thoughtful, helpful, constructive and informative page content with good illustrative images as and where appropriate. Rebuilding the website will serve little or no purpose if it’s content is not clearly better than that which went before!

How To Redesign a Website – The Bottom Line

If you address as many of the above content quality, structural and functional aspects as you can, you will significantly increase your chances of a successful outcome. Think it through, get some expert assistance and advice, and plan it all carefully.

None of this is overly complicated – its merely attention to detail and avoiding known pitfalls. Still, it never ceases to amaze me how many people get it so wrong and disappear from the upper levels of the search engine results pages. Sure, things may bounce back even the website redesign is done badly…  The point being that when you do it right, the initial rankings trajectory is upward, not downward!

Further Reading

I’ve previously written a series of articles on the topic of website design that explain more of the do’s and don’t, and alert you to the serious pitfalls along the way.  For further in-depth reading, links are as follows;