So it’s been a while, I know. I’ve been enjoying my summer vacation, either swimming in the lush blue waters of Finland’s lakes or in the murky, greenish, (only slightly toxic) chemistry lab reject also known as the Baltic Sea. I’ve also had the pleasure of playing golf only to realize I’m roughly at the same skill level I was at when I first started.

I blame the fact I’ve played less than ever before due to some unexpected patellofemoral pain in my right knee (yes, I know it’s called the Runner’s Knee, but if I know words like patellofemoral, I will use them). However, now it’s time to OPTIMIZE again! And what better way to start this new season of invigorating blog posts than to tackle one of my favorite subjects: website redesign.

First, let’s explore a tangent. You know (or maybe you don’t) how before every regular season of NBA basketball, there’s a ridiculous amount of trading, signing, waiving and skimming to make sure each team has the perfect lineup for the upcoming season? Sometimes the changes are really inconspicuous, like what the San Antonio Spurs have done. Just a few role players here and there to strengthen an already world-class unit. Sometimes the changes are much bigger, like Celtics trading away almost every single star in their team (coach included) and leaving Rajon Rondo feeling betrayed.

It’s the same with website redesign. Sometimes the redesign has a singular purpose: to update the URL structure, to change the visuals, to redo the content. And sometimes the website is on the receiving end of a complete, and often painful, overhaul.

The problem with the latter path is the same as with a complete revamp of a basketball team: you really have no idea how well the pieces fit together in the overall scheme of things. By changing everything, you’re taking a risk, since if something goes awry, you’ll have a hard time figuring out which of the changes you implemented is to blame.

Oops, I already uncovered my first tip, so let’s go to another patented Top 5 list.

Top 5 things to consider in a website redesign

1. Choose a focus

As I said, it’s better to choose a focus and roll out the redesign in stages. Search engines are impatient, and for some reason they are as comfortable with change as the typical Facebook user. If your redesign has a technical focus, don’t do anything else during the reindexing of your site. In other words, if you

  • Redo the URL structure

  • Migrate to a new domain

you’ll want to do these separate from new content creation. Why? Because it takes time for the new pages to be indexed in the search engines. If you add new content to the mix, you’ll risk endangering your entire web presence by not having any current pages in the index, and the pages that are indexed don’t respond to the keywords you used to rank with.

If your website redesign comprises new content creation or new visuals (including conversion optimization), you’ll want to do these separate of any technical upgrades you’ve been thinking of.

2. Choose a CMS

Choose your content management system wisely. At the very least, it should have the features of a modern CMS, with special focus on SEO capabilities. There simply is no excuse for any CMS to not be technically equipped for proper web design and development. And with proper I mean search engine friendly.

Make sure your CMS caters to your needs. You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive CMS licenses if WordPress is good enough for you.

3. Think mobile

In the recent years, both Finland’s largest online reseller of technology goods (www.verkkokauppa.com) and the largest online auction portal (www.huuto.net) have redesigned their websites. You want to know what sucks? Neither has been optimized for mobile visitors!

It’s no use trying to wave the “but no one makes mobile purchases in Finland” card any longer. That simply isn’t an excuse. A recent study showed that 10% of the respondents have made purchases online with their mobile devices. This figure would be larger if the websites would actually provide the means for mobile shopping.

So go responsive, create a dedicated mobile site, or create a mobile app for your website. It’s better to be prepared for the mobile storm than to be left deaf, dumb and blind in the onslaught of the I-told-you-so’s I’ll be whacking your way in a year or two.

4. Do things the SEO way

This, I’m biased enough to say, is the most important thing to consider.

Make sure your website redesign is done with minimal impact on your site’s search engine friendliness.

Feel free to read and re-read that sentence again and again. To make sure your redesign is done the SEO way, you’ll need to do (at least) the following:

  • Make note of your “before” state (indexed pages, PageRank, domain authority, etc.)

  • Create a 301 strategy to make sure that all traffic to your old pages is redirected correctly to your new pages

  • Use web analytics to identify your most important content and make sure it is retained in the website redesign

  • Update your sitemap.xml to make sure the search engine index is updated without delay

  • Place extra focus on the first few weeks after the transition: find and fix any crawl errors without delay, make sure your 301 strategy is working, and react to any glitches in the indexing process with haste.

It’s so easy to botch the redesign with poorly implemented SEO-proofing, but I’ve seen it happen so many times I’m beyond cynicism.

Don’t go for a CMS or IT supplier who won’t let you SEO-proof your website. The loss in organic search rankings and visibility can be devastating to your business.

5. Choose a professional who can help you

This is a given. There’s SO much work involved in a redesign that it’s futile for one person or one team to tackle all the aspects, even with a smallish site. Don’t hesitate to delegate your workload to professionals and consultants who can do the work for you.

On the other hand, the science behind the appropriate steps you need to take is sound, so it’s not difficult to find the necessary guides and instructions online. However, I know for a fact that SEO, for example, is something that just isn’t considered enough when redesigning a website. It’s easy to overlook especially if your company has very little web presence to begin with. Nevertheless, I’ve explained the virtues of SEO elsewhere, so I won’t go there now.

Conclusion

A website redesign is a good thing, and you should do it every couple of years. However, don’t botch it so that you lose all credibility you ever had online. Chop the project down to a manageable size, and please, please, PLEASE:

Don’t use Flash.