Have you made any New Year resolutions? Start a new hobby? Learn a new skill? Find a new job? How about relaunch a website?
For many, the post-Christmas period is the ideal time to review, refresh and redesign your online presence. Business might be relatively quiet. People are still getting used to being back in the work routine. Of course, this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. So to make it easier, here’s a 6-step guide covering what you should consider, plan, and do.
Here’s where you make an inventory of your current website. And here’s where you need to be brutal. It’s time to decide which pages should stay, what needs an update or refresh, and what can be deleted.
If you’re reading this thinking, “Hang on, my website has thousands of pages”, then don’t despair.
You can create an inventory using a free but powerful tool: Screaming Frog SEO Spider. As the name suggests, it’s designed for SEO. But you can also use it to generate a spreadsheet of your website’s pages. Just type in the URL, click Start and give it a few minutes to work its magic.
Then export into Excel, and voila: instant website inventory.
Delete all the columns except the one with all your URLs. Add a column with a dropdown and 3 options: Keep, update, delete. You might also want to add another column, where you can include a comment explaining your decision. This is useful for explaining your reasoning to others. It can also be a reminder, so when you find pages with similar content, you can assess both before deciding which to merge.
Let’s not beat around the bush: it can be a lengthy process. But at the end of it, you’ll get a leaner, sharper, more focused website. And you should see an uplift in results, because fewer diversions lead to more conversions.
Take a few deep breaths, clear your mind, turn off your phone… because this is the brainstorming part of the process. It’s time to decide on the new hierarchy of your website.
What’s most important, and deserves to be accessible from the homepage? What needs to be included in your menubar? And in which order?
The easiest way to do this is by mapping it out. You can use software (Google “wireframe software” for some options).
Alternatively, the cheaper and simpler way is to use sticky notes. Write down the name of each section on a sticky note, and then shuffle them about, until you arrive at a layout you think works. Try to keep every page within 3 “clicks” of each other. It helps your users get around, and helps streamline each section.
Google’s algorithm processes more than 200 factors when deciding where to rank a website. What are they? Nobody outside of Google HQ really knows.
However, there are a few which are well worth bearing in mind during any website redesign. The age of a website. How much content is displayed. How many other websites are linking to it (your backlinks).
Even if your website is far from appearing on page 1, search engines will have registered what’s been achieved so far. This is called your “link juice”. Even if you’re not seeing major results, this link juice is still worth keeping. So if you just move your pages, you’re back to square one. Luckily, there is a solution…
These tell search engines that a page has moved to a new address, but that it’s still the same page. That way all link juice is retained at the new location. Be warned: This isn’t a simple task. More information about 301 redirects.
Hopefully you already have Google Analytics installed on your website.
If you don’t, then add it as soon as possible. You’ll need to collect some data before you make any changes, otherwise you won’t be able to make comparisons post-launch.
So you’ve launched the new website. Congratulations! It’s time to make sure all the menus and pages link to each other.
After all, the last thing you want is for people to click on your “services” menu and be met with a “Page not found” message. Hopefully you have lots of hyperlinks within your pages, helping to keep visitors on your website and exploring. These also need to be checked.
If this sounds like a massive task, don’t worry. You won’t need to go clicking on every hyperlink on your website.
Instead, you can use one of the many free tools to scan (crawl) your website and test the hyperlinks. Try Xenu’s Link Sleuth (don’t be fooled by its basic styling, this is one powerful piece of software). If you don’t want to download a program, try brokenlinkcheck.com.
Optimise your 404 page
No matter how much care you take, you’re always going to have a few visitors ending up here.
Make things easy for them by customising this page. Add a link to your (updated) sitemap, a search box, or direct links to popular sections. And consider adding a reassuring message: “Hi, we recently redesigned our website, which may be why you’ve landed here.”
If other websites are linking to pages which you’ve removed or deleted, you’ll miss out on valuable referrals.
Check your Google Analytics (GA) data to see which websites are linking to you. To do this, login to your GA property, click Acquisitions > Overview > All Traffic > Source/Medium:
Then send a message to the webmasters and ask them to update their links.
Of course, with any web redesign project the work doesn’t end after launch.
Ok, you’ve done the redesign. You and your team may be pleased with the result. You might even have drawn positive comments within your industry. But at the end of it all, there’s only one verdict that really matters.
Your customers will decide whether all those late nights working, debating, and designing have been a success or not.
Test and optimise
By now, you have Google Analytics installed (as per Step 3). So comparing data pre- and post-launch will be easy. So while you’ll gain a lot of insight into your content, it’s time to think about beefing up your analytics. That means understanding how your visitors are interacting with your new website.
And for that you need to check out advanced tools such as Crazy Egg, Hotjar, or Optimizely. These give you a deeper awareness of your users’ behaviour. Where they scroll, where they click, and what makes them leave.
With this information, you can start getting really strategic in your approach. That means no more redesigns based on gut instinct. Instead you get to make data-driven decisions. With the confidence to make changes based on actual user behaviour.
And most importantly – a super-optimised, high-performing, results-focused website.