It’s no wonder that over a third of companies are unsatisfied with their last website redesign. Having done website redesigns for over 17 years now, I can tell you that unless you carefully launch a new website, it can have adverse effects if you rely on your website for business development.
Even if your existing website is fantastic, chances are you’ll want to update it someday. While website redesign can be a smart move, it could also cost you between 60–70 percent in potential search traffic if you’re not careful. So now’s the time to plan and make sure you have your ducks in a row.
Most website redesigns for small and medium sized companies will cause a five percent to 15 percent drop in website traffic in the short term even if done right. Fortunately, you can redesign your website without harming your business long term. Here are five ways to do it:
1. Collect user feedback
Before you update your site, it’s important to know which elements benefit most from a redesign. Gathering user feedback is the easiest way to determine this.
- What do your visitors want to see?
- What kinds of information do they expect on the homepage?
- Are there portions of your current website they find difficult to navigate?
- Is there something they need but aren’t getting?
- Is website copy unclear, or does it resonate?
Collecting this information at the beginning and even during the process will ensure your redesign is both efficient and effective. Tip: I’ve used UserTesting.com for this for years. You should also ask some current customers to participate. Use your email list for something other than promotion.
During your redesign, you’ll have differing opinions on design. Don’t let the HIPPo (highest paid person’s opinion) win out—listen to your customers instead. Here’s your chance to say you listen to your customers and actually do it.
2. Include 301 redirects
From a search engine optimization perspective, 301 redirects are a critical component of a website redesign, but they are often forgotten.
301 redirects are permanent redirect signs that transfer up to 90 percent of ranking power from an old web page to a new one. Page redesign typically results in 10–15 percent less traffic due to lost page ranking. However, correct use of 301 redirects can help mitigate this loss. For more information on how to implement 301 redirects, consult this tutorial.
301 redirects are done on the server-side, so you’ll need to consult your web developer for this one. Just don’t overlook it!
3. Create and submit a new sitemap
Sitemaps are especially important during a website redesign. Anytime you redesign your website, you’ll need to create and submit a new sitemap to Google using Google Search Console.
Even though you’re redirecting old URLs from your old website to new ones on the new website (see No. 2 above), you still need to submit the sitemap to let Google know about the new pages. This can help ensure any content that moves to a new URL is quickly discoverable by search engines.
If your website has fewer than 500 pages, you can create your sitemap file at xml-sitemaps.com’s Sitemap Generator. It’s free, quick, and easy.
4. Include calls to action on every page
If you know ahead of time that you’ll lose five to 15 percent of your search engine traffic in the short term after a redesign, then making sure you have enough lead generation opportunities will offset that loss in traffic.
We’re redesigning a company website right now that previously had no calls to actions or landing pages. After digging, we found several resources that could be used as lead generation components, and the new website will have over 40 calls to action and over 30 landing pages. The leads this company will get after the redesign will surely offset any short term loss in traffic.
5. Send a post-launch announcement with survey
Once your redesigned website is up and running, you will want to consider sending a post-launch announcement to your email file. This is especially important if your customers need to be able to locate a “login” or “support” link that they use frequently. For example, if a financial institution moves the account login button or form when it redesigns, then it’s imperative to let customers know.
Earlier this year the CEO of UpWork wrote an extensive blog post explaining the rationale behind his company’s decision to change its name and website and sent it out via email.
At the same time you release your announcement, continue gathering user feedback and making needed changes to further optimize the site’s functionality. You can do this with more user testing, paying careful attention to changes in your web analytics KPIs. You might want to solicit some customer feedback in the email by asking them to visit your website and fill out a very short survey. Offer an open-ended “comments?” question in the survey so they can write what they like or don’t like about the new website.
While redesigning a site can negatively impact its traffic and sales, it doesn’t have to. These five simple steps can help you avoid disaster and facilitate a smooth site redesign from start to finish.