Last Updated: February 20th, 2017 by Dan Astriden
Update. I’ve updated this article with some technical issues many businesses miss when they upgrade a WordPress website. This isn’t a comprehensive list so please don’t use this guide as a checklist.
Custom 404 Webpages
404 webpages needs to return a 404 status code and not a 200 server response code. All links on the 404 page should contain nofollow links to defend against negative SEO tactics. Query strings also need to be addressed to avoid negative SEO tatics.
Dynamically Created Webpages
WordPress has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Many business owners have no idea WordPress automatically creates tag pages, category pages, author pages and numerous rss feeds. These pages need to be managed to avoid low quality Panda penalty problems that will demote you in search engine result rankings.
WordPress creates multiple versions of webpages. Rel canonical tags must be properly implemented to avoid duplicate content and negative SEO issues.
HTML Code – Page Speed / Bloated Code / Excessive Calls
Many business owners feel the project is complete when the see a working website. However, for good user experience and to rank well in the search engines it’s important to make sure your code is optimized for page speed. Many themes use 3rd party frameworks that make external calls to heavy resources so your developer should strive to make the website as fast as possible. Studies have shown users have no patience for webpages that don’t load in 3 seconds or less and conversion and bounce rates rates rapidly increase when load time exceeds 3 seconds.
After you redesign your website it’s a good idea to run website audit software to ensure all the links go to the proper location and not a 404 page. It’s surprising how many websites skip this step and have broken 404 errors until the next redesign.
User Engagement / CRO
A website redesign is a big risk. Your search engine rankings will always bounce around after a redesign and you will never know ahead of time if rankings will decrease in the long run after introducing new code / content. It’s a good idea to use website recording software to ensure your uses like the redesign and can quickly find the information they are searching for. Many big e-commerce sites haven’t moved their checkout and add to cart buttons in years in fear of loosing sales from customers who are programmed to click in certain places on their website.
Mobile / Responsive / Browser Testing
After a web redesign it’s important to ensure that each webpage is responsive and mobile friendly. In 2017, the biggest search engine is moving to a mobile index which means they evaluate your website depending on how your website looks on a mobile device. An experienced web developer will tell you how browser testing is a big pain and challenge when deploying a new website. There are numerous devices and browsers and they all display code slightly differently. If your website looks good on your computer it definitely doesn’t mean the website looks good on somebody else’s computer. If your business is on a small budget and you cut corners here; analytics can provide insight on poor performing browsers and devices.
If your website is going to rank well in the search engines you must have very good site architecture. Navigation, internal links, and anchor text is extremely important. It’s rare that I come across a website that has good site architecture so it’s obvious the person responsible for the website layout doesn’t have technical SEO skills. If you change URLS you must implement 301 redirects to avoid loosing search engine ranking signals. Some companies get this right but of those companies, most don’t implement image 301 redirects.
3rd Party Code
When you redesign a website it’s important to ensure all the 3rd party code such as analytics is working properly. When moving a website from a dev or staging server, make sure you remove the robots.txt protection as well as any password logins.
Plugins can vastly reduce development time but sometimes plugins can be incompatible with other plugins or the template. When moving from a dev server to a live server make sure everything is working as expected and allow time to fix any unexpected errors.
Cache / CDN
Content delivery networks and caching are very common these days as webmasters try to make their websites run as fast as possible. When implementing a redesign, don’t forget to clear the cache so that old style sheets don’t ruin your design.
Below is an old blog post rant about common website redesigns.
I’ve been doing web development for a very long time and have witnessed the same website mistake being made over and over again. I actually cringe when I hear the words “we just had our website redesigned” and the words that typically follow. “We don’t get any traffic”, “we lost search engine rankings”, “we get some traffic but not sales”. So, what went wrong?
Let’s begin with the big picture. When things aren’t working you either throw them away or attempt to fix them. Typically, a business owner identifies the website as not performing and they instantly think it looks dated and needs a redesign but don’t really address the underlying issues that need to take place in order for a website to be successful. Worse yet, technical mistakes are typically made when migrating the website into a new structure. Yes, the new website typically looks a bit better and everyone feels satisfied for a few years until they continue in this never ending cycle or redesigns. The truth is, a successful website takes a lot of ongoing effort and strategy begins before the website is even built. Below are some things to be aware of when you redesign a website.
Migrating a website to a new structure takes planning and steps must be taken to ensure it is done correctly. A common mistake I see is failing to implement 301 redirects from the old website links to the new website pages. This means all the old links on other websites, social media and print go to a 404 error page rather than to the corresponding new webpage. This is a major SEO ( search engine optimization) blunder as you want to pass rank from the old web page to the new page. Another common issue I see is failure to implement URL canonicals which is another SEO blunder.
One of the pitfalls of a redesign is copying into the latest web design trends. Your newly redesigned website might be cool today but not so cool next year. Do you have the budget or resources to redesign your website every time a new trend appears? Did you pick the wrong CMS system? Does your 5-10 page website really need a CMS system? A CMS does offer many useful plugins that can save on development time. However, you are talking a relatively simple website and putting it into a exorbitant amount of code and creating a dynamic, database driven website. Numerous problems can arise and I have seen companies with a CMS system spend more time and money on their websites than a static HTML / CSS equivalent websites. I won’t even mention security holes or the fact that your ever growing database and plugins will eventually turn your speed performance to a crawl. Frameworks are very popular these days since web designers can develop content quicker, but they do come with a price. The load speed time of your website is important for multiple reasons. Make sure the person that created or monitors your website is technical enough to identify and fix load speed issues.
When you think of redesign you think of a graphic artist with creativity, right? Not so fast. A properly redesigned website should be developed by a team of people including business owners, marketing, programmers, SEO and graphic designers. If you’re a small business, ensure the person the that creates the website is either technical enough on the other issues (extremely rare) or you have another person that can fill the void and make sure mistakes are not made. Before you even start with wire frames or building the website, the SEO and marketing team should do keyword research and explore competition to see how much effort is required in your industry and a strategy to become competitive.
Were you limited on funds and went with the lowest bid for you redesigned website? Buyer beware as the phrase “you get what you pay for” comes into play. The cheap route could destroy your business and cost you plenty in legal fees. Are you sure the images, sounds, video, and code of the website are not copyright protected by somebody else? Even if you paid a pretty penny for your website, are you sure your web person purchased content such as images from a reputable source, or even purchased images? It’s a good idea to have the company purchase all content that is used on the website so the company is the clear owner and has a record if any problems arise. If any coding was done on the website besides HTML and CSS are you sure the code / database is secure? Typically, a programmer that takes a project at a very low cost is either inexperienced and may not be aware of security holes or will not spend extra time to ensure the code is secure.