Why You Should Predesign Your Website Before You Begin the Redesign

October 08, 2019

7 Minute Read

Does anything inspire as much excitement – and dread – as a website redesign? When done, you know you’ll have a shiny, fresh, new site! Getting there, however, requires a lot of work, collaboration, and effort to ensure the new site delivers the experience and results that prompted the redesign in the first place.

At BFO, we know a lot of reasons prompt a website redesign. Whatever they may be, design, layout, and appearance represent only one part of the effort, and while important, they’re really the final part. Before the process even begins, we always want to make sure the site accounts for all the business needs. It’s what we call predesign.

Skip the Gruesome Battle of a Website Redesign

Rare is the person we’ve met that’s had a website redesign go exactly as planned.

If you’ve done one before, you know it can be a never-ending battle with hundreds of technical, financial, creative and strategic decisions to think through. For even a small site, the effort can take months of designing, writing, meeting with teams to sort out the details. Then there’s the developing, testing and proofing.

Half-way through you’re bound to be thinking there must be a better way. And we haven’t even discussed the SEO implications of the redesign!

Getting that slick new website is important. Making sure it doesn’t suffer long-term traffic and ranking loss is equally so.

At BFO, all too often we’ve been brought into a website redesign too late. Maybe something went wrong during the redesign and now we’re being asked to pick up the pieces and mitigate traffic loss. Sometimes, the redesign goes well, but traffic and rankings suffer longer than they needed to as we’re brought in after-the-fact to execute an SEO website transition plan.

That’s why we recommend doing a predesign first. It establishes goals, identifies all the factor essential for success including many you may have already considered – budget, new tech, planning – and it includes a vital factor like SEO transition and post-launch testing.

The key here is that the predesign should be led by an SEO team. Here’s why…

Google Doesn’t Like Major Website Changes

Many brands have seen incredible losses due to website redesigns. Traffic plummets. Rankings vaporize. You might be an industry-leader and top-ranking page one brand, but suddenly Google doesn’t even recognize you.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Website developers are awesome at what they do. We have the greatest respect for their expertise and skill and we work with many respected web development agencies, but they’re not SEOs. The features they include may offer “SEO-friendly” components. These features, however, don’t mean a smooth transition. And an “SEO-friendly” CMS platform is typically not “friendly” enough to actually win when it comes to competitive SEO categories.

There are certain key technical elements a website must consider during a redesign. 

Some of these include:

Correctly implementing redirects (to avoid 302 and 307 redirects)

  • URL mapping
  • Updating canonical tags
  • Migrating tracking tools
  • Preventing duplicate content (which will trash your page rankings)
  • Creation of an XML file on the legacy site to direct Google’s crawlers (aka bots and spiders) to the newly mapped site
  • Hreflang code implementation for global brands

For a smooth(er) and successful website redesign and transition, you want to plan for technical SEO like this in advance. As these elements fall into the world of SEO, let your SEO guide the predesign.

At BFO, we’ve found the best predesign follows a process.

The BFO Predesign Process

During the predesign, you’ll build your entire redesign plan. It’s a time to account for every detail, not simply how the website will look and work. In our experience, successful transitions rely on a shared project vision starting from where you are today to where you want to be 3, 6, 12 months after launch of the redesigned site.

There’s a lot of detail work involved in choosing appearance, identifying and whiteboarding all the SEO details (easier when done by your SEO team), investigating new technologies and site features. The process promotes collaboration, creativity and critical thinking about how you’ll do the redesign. It’s a lot of work, but it should be a fun and exciting time!

To make it a manageable task, the process should include the following elements.

Goal Analysis

We understand the reasons for redesigns (better, faster upgraded sites), but we’ve found the most successful redesigns happen when clear objectives are set for a redesign. These might be:

  • Increased traffic
  • Better SEO
  • More ecommerce potential
  • New branding

Whatever the reason, we recommend establishing S.M.A.R.T. goals prior to, or as part of, the predesign.

SEO Site Audit

This technical SEO site audit is key. You need to know your sites current strengths and weaknesses so you can correct, improve, or even fix them during the redesign.

Traffic Studies

You need to know and understand your current site traffic before you do a redesign. This way, you’ll know if there’s any drop-off post-launch. It’s best the analysis go back at least a year so you can understand what to look for and expect in the months following the launch. You also want to do this to track ROI of your site redesign.

Competitive Analysis

You don’t just want a faster, slicker new site. You want one that’s smarter and more competitive. With a competitive analysis you can learn what’s working with competitor sites and identify successful competitive content strategies.

CRM Structural/Developmental Review

If your site is integrated with your CRM (which we recommend, if possible!), you want to understand the current integration and how changes to CRM development and desired website tech might affect future integration functionality. Few things are as bad as an awesome new site with a broken CRM integration!

Landing Page Evaluation

How will the new design affect your current landing pages? Will they transition smoothly or will you need to redesign them to?

Media Strategies Review

Here, you want to understand will affect your current media campaigns, but you also want to consider long-term strategies too. If you have plans to implement new media strategies, a redesign is a great time to implement (or at least plan for) necessary technical components you’ll need to run, collect data and most efficiently manage the campaigns.

Budget Considerations

Ugh, it’s the dreaded budget section. Yes, there’s a lot of budget factors to consider for a website redesign. You want to account for all the needs and costs. You should also identify bottlenecks you might encounter, which can create those costly, time-consuming delays.

We recommend creating a spreadsheet to itemize every cost and whiteboarding the project flow, including where each item will occur to simplify budget planning.

Areas we find sometimes get overlooked in budget planning are content development and post-launch testing.

  • Content development. A new site is a great opportunity to build the infrastructure for more content. Marketing technology integration saves time and money in the long-term and is more efficiently and economically implemented during redesign.
  •  Post-launch testing. There’s never a guarantee that a new site will work better than the old, much less be properly optimized. After launch, it’s essential to test conversion flows, CTA’s, homepage layouts – everything!

Pre-launch testing in a “sandbox” is great, but there’s a big difference between how a site behaves in a controlled testing environment and when it’s live. Engaging with an SEO during predesign can help alleviate many potential problems, but both your SEO and web development teams will need to be involved in testing immediately following launch. Marketers need to budget for this.

Scheduling your Website Redesign

The final step of the predesign is to schedule your redesign! Bring together all stakeholders and determine responsibility, timelines, and deadlines. We also recommend identifying preferred communication methods for each person and group to ensure responsiveness, open communication and to keep you on schedule.

Make Time to Predesign Before You Redesign!

We can’t stress it enough, a predesign is essential for a successful – and cost-effective – website redesign!

There’s just so many considerations beyond budget that need to be accounted for. Overlooking the importance and value of SEO planning, an all too common practice, can wreak havoc on traffic, visibility and revenue. It simply doesn’t pay to take shortcuts and rely on assumptions for such an important investment.

Our predesign process as outlined in this article is a tested and proven plan. Our experience shows time and again that it leads to the most time and budget efficient website redesign.

If you’d like to learn more or see how our predesign process would look for you, let’s talk.

Erica Carpenter - VP Client Strategy

Erica Carpenter

As Vice President of Client Strategy, Erica oversees the management of BFO’s Paid Media, Organic Search, and Analytics products and helps foster the development of digital strategy for our clients. She has a solid background in digital marketing having worked with some of the top startups in the country including Fortune 100’s. She has expertise in a variety of different verticals but most prominently travel, hospitality, auto, and retail.