Website Redesign

Business Website Redesign Planning

The reasons organizations redesign their website can range anywhere from simply improving the functionality and look of their current site, to adding ecommerce, to meeting the heightened expectations of customers.

A website redesign can be an exciting endeavor for an organization, but it is also a potentially perilous project. Since the majority of traffic to most websites comes through search engines, it is essential that organizations take this into account when planning a redesign.

There are several important things you should keep in mind as you plan your redesign:

Your Current Online Presence

Website Traffic

Examine your website’s traffic statistics closely before you embark on your redesign. Ideally, you should have a year’s worth of data to examine in order to account for any seasonal fluctuations in traffic, such as holiday shopping seasons. Pay close attention to such things as the number of visitors and page views and average visitors and page views, both monthly and daily; most popular pages; most popular exit and entry pages; most popular paths through your site; the websites (including search engines) that drive the most traffic to your site; and the most popular search phrases that are used to find your site.

These statistics will tell you the areas of your site’s structure that should not be altered, and what areas of your site you can afford to change or eliminate. The stats will also give you a baseline for measuring the relative success of the redesigned site after it is launched.

Existing Links To Your Web Site

Determine which external websites currently link to your site and the specific pages to which they link.

External links are an important factor that search engines consider when deciding where to rank a given website in their search results pages.

They give special weight to “on-topic” links from “authority” sites. So, for example, A New York Times story about vintage cars that links to your vintage cars website is given more weight than a car enthusiast’s personal website that links to your site.

Among the recent changes that Google has made in their method for ranking websites, it is believed that they give added weight for links that have been in place over a long period of time. The reasoning behind this change is that it combats against site owners who go out and buy a ton of unrelated links for their newly launched website.

Obviously, then, you’ll want to know what pages people are linking to and to be careful about breaking those links by deleting or altering those pages. Websites that have been around a long time will generally have more sites linking to them than newer sites.

Website Structure

The layout of the individual web pages on your site and the folder structure and file-naming convention can all affect how search engines rank your website.

Search Engine Hostile Technology

There are several technologies that create obstacles–some insurmountable–to successful search engine marketing. While redesigning your Web site, you should be aware of the following dangers:

Portable Document File (PDF):

Organizations will often upload new content to their Web site in the form of Adobe’s popular PDF format, usually in the form of a press release or a newsletter. The reason organizations do this is fairly obvious: 1) The format is widely popular, so most people can read the files, and 2) the PDF format allows for more design flexibility than web pages, so you can offer more visually appealing documents.

There are, however, a few problems with using PDFs on your website.
First and foremost, while search engines such as Google are getting better at reading these files, they are not nearly as good at it as they are at reading what they were originally designed to do, read ordinary web pages.

What that means from a search marketing standpoint is that you have less control over what elements of the document the search engines read than you do with an ordinary web page.

Another danger of uploading new content only in PDF format, is that if done incorrectly, the user experience of your visitors will suffer.

Ideally, you want your visitors’ experience on your website to be as smooth and seamless as possible. When a visitor on your site clicks on a link to a PDF document and hasn’t been forewarned that it’s a PDF, it creates an abrupt and unexpected interruption to the visitor’s experience because the Acrobat PDF program must first launch before the file can be viewed, and this process takes much longer than it does for a Web page to download, forcing the visitor to wait unnecessarily. Try downloading tax forms from your state government website, and you’ll know what I mean.

Further, they often defeat the aim of creating a unified brand experience through the website because these PDF documents often do not look like the design of the Website to which they belong.

Finally, when a visitor clicks on a PDF link, all of the website’s navigational elements disappear, forcing your visitors to use their browser’s back button in order to return to your website proper, rather than using the navigational system to which they’ve grown accustomed.

While the scenario above does present a negative user experience, at least your visitor is already familiar with your website and presumably knows they can return to it by using their back button. The same cannot be said for a visitor who arrives at your site by clicking on a PDF link from a search engine.

A first-time visitor who comes to your website through a search engine’s PDF link is often stranded once that document loads because, as I said above, there are no navigational elements to the rest of your website. It is unsafe to assume that your visitors are savvy enough to strip the web page address in their browser’s address bar down to your domain name in order to get to your home page. Failing that option, then, the only thing the visitor can do to move on in their surfing session is to either click on their browser’s home or back buttons–in either case, they’ve left your website and you’ve most likely lost a repeat visitor.

If you absolutely must have PDFs on your site, label them as such in the link to them and offer a web version.

Flash

Macromedia’s Flash technology is great for many purposes but more often than not, it is the culprit in preventing more than one page from your website from getting listed in search results.

Let me say from the outset that I love Flash technology–when it is used properly and when it is used to accomplish a specific purpose. But I don’t think using Flash simply to use it is a good idea. Websites that are built entirely in Flash should be avoided at all costs–unless you’re Nike and you’ve got a huge TV advertising budget to drive traffic to your site and don’t care about search engine traffic.

I have seen companies pay thousands of dollars for a beautiful Flash website and then wonder why they get only a handful of visitors a month. It is because a website done entirely in Flash usually consists of one Flash file and the search engines essentially treat that file as a graphics file, which they cannot read.

Search engines eat text for a living. It is the text of a website that search engines examine in order to best mach your search query with a given web page. The words in graphics files are embedded within that graphic file and are therefore invisible to search engines. They cannot read it. The same principle holds true for Flash files.

If your website is done entirely in Flash, all of your content will be invisible to the search engines, so when people search using keywords that would normally be associated with your website, you will not have any links in their search engine results.

JavaScript & HTML

Like Flash, JavaScript and DHTML are useful technologies, when used correctly. But they are often implemented in a fashion that will prevent search engines from easily reading your website and, as a result, keep your content from getting listed in the search engines. The foremost problem with these technologies is when they are used to create a dynamic navigation system, such as drop-down menus: They often break up links to the interior pages of your website in a way that prevents search engines from reaching those pages, and therefore, from listing them in their search results.

Professional Website Redesign Roadmap

These are a few of the important pitfalls you should avoid when redesigning your website. In order to ensure that your new website performs well in the search engines, you should hire a design firm that has expertise in search marketing or you should hire a professional search marketer to help you build your website redesign roadmap and to work with your website redesign team.

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About David Erickson

David Erickson is principal of e-Strategy Media, a digital marketing consultancy based in Minnesota. David has extensive experience in digital marketing and is often used as an expert source by media and asked to speak on the topic before organizations and to sit on panel discussions.