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The Design You Want Doesn’t Matter


How to Preserve Rankings on a New Website

The Design You Want Doesn’t Matter

There are many beliefs about web design that are true: it is a reflection of your business, it tells people what to respect from you. However, there is one common belief about web design we are going to put to bed – that your website is meant to be precisely what YOU want it to be. This is an odd stance for a company that offers web design services – surely the customer is always right? Surely we are not so arrogant as to tell our clients their business? Well, for the second question we are not that arrogant, however, if a client asks for a design based solely on what they want, they are not making a decision based on their business.

At this point, you are probably thoroughly confused and are wondering what my point is. The point I am driving at is actually quite simple – web design is not about what YOU want, it is about what your consumer wants. Everything else about your business has evolved and grown based around giving the consumer something they want that you have, why would you make your website any different?

Know Your Market

There is a quote by Frederick the Great (sometimes misattributed to Sun Tzu) that applies to marketing: “He who defends everything defends nothing.” In the context of marketing, the meaning is simple – if you try to market to everybody, you will be so bland and generic that you will appeal to nobody. Before starting a web design project – whether in house or through an agency such as us – you must understand your market. If you are an auto-parts store, are you trying to appeal to the average consumer looking for simple replacement parts, people trying to restore classic cars, or maybe even someone who wants to customize their vehicle to turn it into a racing machine? Your final design will look very different depending on who you wish to appeal to, and trying to cast a wide net rather than narrow targeting will simply hamper your efforts.

Design for the Journey

Picture your ideal customer for a second, the kind of person you know most frequently comes into your doors. Who this is will vary based on your business, but if you have been operating for a while or did your market research you have a rough idea who this person is. Web design, and marketing in general, demands that we think about the customer’s journey to the front door. Parts of your website must be designed to fit with all stages of the customer journey, from the problem that you can solve, to the specific product or service you after, to intent to buy, your website must offer sections tailored to these individual stages. Marketers often describe a funnel, but poor web design turns that funnel into a strainer. When designing your site, think about these various phases the customer will pass through before buying, and ask what your website can do to push them into the desired direction.

Gather User Feedback

No matter how good you think your design is, and no matter the reputation of the designer you go with, nothing beats user feedback. In fact, feedback should be gathered before you label a design as “finished”. Just as the movie industry uses test audiences to make sure a film is stellar before releasing it to the general public, so should web designers get a sense of what people in their target market think. Once you think you have a good design, sit some people down who are in your target market and get feedback. What you are trying to determine is if there is something they want the website to do that it doesn’t do, if there is something that gets in the way of how THEY (not necessarily you) use the site, and most importantly: would they buy from the site? Be careful when gathering your test audience. If you’re on a limited budget, you may have to resort to people you already know, but if you can afford it, try to get strangers involved. Getting unbiased feedback will go much further than from friends who may tell you they’ll purchase from a website because they know you and trust you (something that would not apply to the average user). They might not realize they are biased in your favor, but this is a concern that will spoil attempts at getting honest feedback from friends and family.

Ultimately, the key takeaway from all of this is to remember that web design is not merely about what you think is good or what you think is best, it is about how the end user feels. We are all unique and have our own tastes, and this is important to remember in web design. Know your audience, know how they get to you, and get their input. From there you will be able to create a design that appeals to them and will net a rapid return on your investment.

How to Preserve Rankings on a New Website

After talking it over with your digital marketing specialists you have come to a decision: you need a new website. Perhaps your current website is driving customers away, or maybe you won our contest and are looking to take advantage of your prize. Whatever the reason, migrating to a new website can be a fresh start, or a shot in the foot. To make sure it is the former rather than the latter, we will be talking about some of the techniques we use to preserve a website’s rankings when transitioning from one design to another.

1)     Do Not Wait to Start Implementing SEO

It’s easy to forget that SEO is not some special technical wizardry that you apply to a site after it is live to make it rank better. SEO is an ongoing process that must be a factor from the start of website creation to the end. When having a new site made to replace an existing site, find out what keywords your site is already ranking for and identify which keywords are most important for you (tools like SEMrush are excellent for this), and then make sure that your new site is optimized with those keywords in mind. After all, you want to keep what you have, not lose everything and have to fight from the beginning again.

A new site is a new opportunity, so if you found yourself having to squeeze optimized content or best practices into an existing framework before and hope for the best, you now have the chance to incorporate all of these elements into your new site from the ground up.

2)     Keep Mobile in Mind

When doing a redesign, always consider how your site looks on mobile. The old site may have been created with desktop in mind, and that could be part of the reason why it stopped performing as well as it used to. Since Google’s mobile update last year (enthusiastically declared Mobilegeddon), rankings in mobile search have fluctuated drastically, with mobile friendly results being pushed higher and higher to the top.

When designing your new site, it is not enough to simply check a box enabling responsive design and be done with it. Not only do you have to make sure your mobile-friendly version looks good, but also loads well. For the mobile version, tone down on JavaScript, avoid using Flash, and optimize images for speed. Consider using AMP HTML pages as well, this will produce a much more positive experience for mobile users, increasing the chances of these users sticking around on your site.

3)     Remember Your Redirects

It is highly unlikely that your new website will have all the same pages and the same URLs. Pages are likely to be merged, deleted, or moved depending on design decisions made throughout the development process. The problem is that, when your site goes live, Google will still attempt to crawl our old URLs, and any links pointing to your old site will be going to those URLs as well. The best way to destroy your rankings in a move is to have all of the authority from external sites point to 404 error pages.

You might be tempted to simply redirect all the invalid URLs to the home page – do not do this. Google classifies this as a ‘soft 404,’ and it is simply a bad user experience. If somebody clicks a link expecting to be presented with a page talking about web design best practices, imagine how they’d respond if that link instead redirected them to the homepage of a company selling web design? True, it’s related, and that company may have hosted the page that was being linked to, but it will look like spam to the user.

Make sure that links are redirected to the relevant new pages on your website. Be careful of redirect chains of course, but ultimately your goal is to make sure when a visitor clicks a link to your website anywhere on the internet, they are directed to the right place. If you no longer have an equivalent page, say because you stopped offering a service, then it is OK to allow a 404 in those cases. In fact, since you are doing a redesign, consider creating a custom 404 page for those visitors who inevitably land on a page that has since been removed entirely and has no equivalent on your new site.

4)     Check your robots.txt!

Last, but certainly not least, is to check on your robots.txt file before pushing the site live. This file is used by search engine bots (like Google) to determine what parts of your site they are permitted to crawl and which they are not. It is common for a website hosted on a development server to use this file to prevent bots from crawling the unfinished version of the site. However, since this file is not actively worked with throughout the development process it is easy to forget that it is there when time comes to push the site live. As a consequence, if you forget to modify the robots.txt to allow for crawling, you may find yourself losing rankings overnight!

As such, when pushing a website live, make sure the robots.txt is modified to allow bots to crawl the pages you want displayed in search engines.

These are just a few of the tips for making sure your new website is able to not only build on the foundation of the old one, but soar above it.

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