The web is a fast-paced world. Building a website isn’t like building a house; houses are designed to last for decades, but websites become obsolete in a matter of years. Even sites built as recently as 2012, if they haven’t been updated, are starting to show signs of age and are falling behind their modern counterparts.
If you’re savvy, if you have the budget, and if you want to make the greatest online impact possible, you should consider redesigning your website if it’s been more than a couple of years. Not only will it make your site more appealing and more functional for your incoming users, if done properly, it can also improve your ranking and visibility on search engines.
During the process of your redesign, you’ll want to pay careful attention to the design factors that can impact your search ranking.
The navigation is a critical component of your website because it directs your users where to go; if your users aren’t sure what to do when they get to your site, they’re going to bounce. As a result, many designers choose to make a visually impressive and intuitive navigation in the header of the site. This is great, but you’ll also need to ensure that your navigation is SEO-friendly. Otherwise, Google won’t be able to tell that your site has an intuitive navigation, and any benefit for your users’ intuitions could be compromised by restricted web traffic from a lower search rank.
In order to make your navigation clear, you’ll need scannable text and clickable links corresponding to each page and section of your website. Even if your navigation depends on images and visual elements for a better user experience, it still needs to be grounded in a crawlable format.
You’ll also want to make sure to include a clear sitemap for search bots to crawl and understand your site. There are several types of sitemaps you can include for your site, including an HTML sitemap found directly on your site and an XML sitemap submitted directly for Google through Webmaster Tools (though this is not an explicit design change). Redundancy is not an issue; just make sure your sitemaps are visible and accurate.
Some modern designs emphasize minimalism, which is valuable for a user experience—rather than getting bogged down by countless pages and potential destinations, users are simply presented with what they need. However, from an SEO perspective, you’ll want to have at least a solid foundation of page offerings related to your core products and services. Otherwise, you’ll have little hope of ranking for keywords specific to those offerings.
For example, if you offer three types of consulting services but you’ve consolidated your site to one streamlined homepage, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to highlight each of those consulting services in a separate, crawlable format. You don’t need to go crazy, but make sure you have a solid representation for all the major facets of your business.
Site speed is another important ranking factor that can be easily controlled during the design process. The faster a site is, the better experience a user will have, and the more Google will reward you, so do everything you can to keep your site running efficiently and quickly.
Your site needs to be optimized for mobile. At this stage of SEO and mobile development, that is a necessity. There are a handful of different methods you can use to make it mobile responsive, which you can address in your redesign if you haven’t already. These options include simply building out a separate mobile site, or converting your desktop site to a mobile version and setting up an automated means of toggling between the two based on the device accessing it.
However, the easiest and most efficient way to optimize your site for mobile is to make it responsive. With a responsive web design, your website layout will automatically flex and stack to accommodate any size screen that attempts to access it. It’s a one-time fix that makes your site perfectly compatible with any device or browser.
Social integration isn’t going to directly increase your rank on SERPs, but it will go a long way to tie your online presence together. Include social icons on your homepage and contact page, and if you can, include sharing functionality that allows users to share your content on their social profiles in as few clicks as possible. This will increase the likelihood of people following you, increase your social visibility through more social shares, and help keep your social and website presences in sync. A stronger social presence will lead to higher domain authority, so don’t miss the opportunity to grow it.
As part of the growing trend of minimalism in web design, some designers avoid including written content in favor of more images and more white space. Both these visual elements are important to draw users’ eyes and keep their attention, but without written content, Google will see your site as virtually empty. Even if you want to keep your content as concise as possible, be sure to include enough crawlable content to let Google know what your company is and what you can offer people.
Talented designers are very picky about the fonts they include on a website—and some will argue in favor of the most beautiful fonts available. Unfortunately, Google has an easier time reading some fonts over others, and the prettiest fonts around may not be as crawlable as the more basic choices. If you’re concerned about your font’s compatibility with Google search bots, or if you’re looking for one to start with, Google has a helpful list of available fonts.
If you’re redesigning your site, odds are you’re going to have a new site structure, complete with new pages and new URLs. When you go to make the switch, Google will notice new pages coming up and old pages coming down, and that might have a major impact on your search rankings. While it’s not necessarily an element of web design, it’s critically important to set up 301 redirects for your old URLs if you want to avoid potential ranking drops. If you aren’t familiar with 301 redirects, Google has a helpful how-to here.
Following these principles of design won’t necessarily surge you to the top of the SERPs, but they can make a significant difference in your domain authority, better positioning you to rank for your target keywords and edging you out over the competition. You’ll still have to proceed with the traditional ongoing components of a proper SEO strategy, but with a solid foundation in place, the process will be far smoother.