Website redesign tips: 10 Ways to ensure a smooth transition
It’s very common, hopefully, for you to launch a new version of your website every few years. Times change, technology evolves, and it’s important for you to “keep up with the Joneses”, aka your competition. You know what they say: “evolve or die”.
But is redesigning your website as easy as drawing up a new layout, putting up some new pictures, and changing a few things around? Well, hopefully your website design agency makes it seem that easy, but in reality, a lot goes into redesigning your website. Make sure your website redesign implements the following:
1) A responsive layout
It’s no secret that the number of mobile users who are browsing the Internet from their phones and/or tablets is increasing. Google also recently released a mobile-friendly update which gives websites which adapt to the user’s screen based on which device they are using higher rankings in their search results. Make sure your redesigned website is responsive. If you’re planning on using a WordPress theme, most of the newer premium themes are responsive out-of-the-box, so be sure to choose one that is mobile-friendly and gives your visitors what they want.
2) A content development (or pruning) plan
Over the past few years, webmasters and business owners have been told by Internet marketing “experts” that the more content that your website has, the better chance of it ranking well on Google and other search engines.
Yes, adding additional pages dedicated to relevant topics can help your website to rank for “long tail keywords”. But in Internet marketing, you should always focus on “quality over quantity”. If you previously had the mindset that you had to add a certain number of pages on a weekly or monthly basis in order for you to stay competitive, it most likely resulted in a drop-off in the quality of that content. The bulk content model is a flawed theory. Content writers, bloggers, and employees sometimes have a hard time coming up with original and creative ideas for content topics when they’re assigned a certain number of content pieces and given a deadline to complete their writing. As a result, the quality of the content suffers.
In other instances, maybe you’ve hired a number of different bloggers and content writers in the past to post regular updates on your website. Maybe these content writers didn’t read what content has already been posted on the website, and created content based on topics that already existed.
There are a number of law firm and other websites which have hundreds and thousands of pages indexed, and getting a grip on what content already exists can be a grueling task.
You don’t necessarily have to keep all of this content. In fact, in many instances, it’s better to either ditch some of the old pages, or combine the pages with shorter content into one or a handful of longer pages or blog posts. For example, if you have an FAQ section on your website, it’s very possible that most of these pages include less content, maybe a paragraph or two. Google hates websites with thin, duplicate content, so combining some of those FAQ pages into longer posts (based on practice areas, services, etc.) and weeding out the duplicate pages is something you may want to do before launching your redesigned website. This is called content pruning.
TIP: Implement 301 redirects
If you end up deleting a number of pages, or if your website redesign includes a different URL structure (.html, .asp, etc.), make sure to implement 301 redirects so that the old URL’s forward to the new pages on the redesigned website.
3) Categorized pages, posts, FAQ’s, case results, etc.
We used WordPress as our preferred content management system when we redesign websites, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is because WordPress allows us to keep everything organized and categorized, which helps to improve user experience, click thru rates, and conversions. For example, let’s say we’re redesigning a website for a personal injury law firm, and they handle cases in a number of different practice areas: auto accidents, motorcycle accidents, medical malpractice, premise liability, etc. In WordPress, we can categorize all of their blog posts, case results, FAQ’s, videos, etc. so that the relevant content is presented to the user based on the practice area that he or she is researching. So if the user is on the motorcycle accidents page, as long as we made sure the imported content was properly categorized during the website redesign process, we can present the user with FAQ’s related to motorcycle accidents (state helmet laws, common motorcycle injuries, dangerous roads or intersections, past case results that the firm has obtained for motorcycle accident victims, etc.). Google sees that the pages per visit, average time on site, and other conversion-related factors have improved as a result, and they’re most likely going to reward a website which is improving the user’s experience.
4) Faster load times
Website load times are on a very long list of what Google looks at as a ranking factor, and SEO aside, nobody likes a website which takes 10 seconds to load. Make sure your website redesign includes the proper caching plugins or features. Serve scaled images, versus uploading a high-res photo and asking the user to wait while it’s re-sized. Implementing a content delivery network (CDN) can also help to improve website load times. For more information on load times, check out GTMetrix and Pingdom. Google Pagespeed can also be useful it analyzes your website in both desktop and mobile views, and offers suggestions on what you can improve.
5) Don’t give your users everything at once
This may be related to the “content development/pruning” tip that I mentioned earlier, but it still deserves its own section. What I’ve seen a lot of law firms do on their websites is throw a long list of practice areas at the user for them to choose from, in the main navigation menu and on the home page. If your law firm offers 50 different practice areas, or if your business offers a number of different services or products, we’ve found that it is more effective to group all of these into a handful of main categories, and letting the user navigate his or way through to find what he or she is looking for. Also, when you list all 50 practice areas or products on the home page, the “link juice” that is coming into the home page of your website is being distributed to internal pages that are linked from the home page. So if you have 50 links, versus 5-7 links, the link juice is being “diluted” because it’s being split up among too many pages.
Don’t insult your user’s intelligence, or assume that they have the attention span and patience to go through a list of 50 practice areas or services to find what they’re looking for. Also, by funneling your visitors to the proper sub-pages, it makes your law firm or business look more like an expert in those practice areas or services, versus the law firm which takes any case they can get their hands on or the business that does absolutely everything.
6) Be sure to include microformat markup
There is specific code which can be included on your website that communicates to Google and other search engines that the content included in that code is your business name, address and phone number (NAP). This code is called microformat, and the microformat that is preferred by Google is schema.org. You can also implement schema.org microformat markups to website items such as videos, events, reviews/testimonials, offers, and more. To see what microformat language is included in your website redesign, be sure to check out Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. You may also want to see what type of microformat markups some of your competitors are using, so if you know of a few local websites which rank well for the search terms you’re targeting, put their URL’s into the tool as well.
7) Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is absolutely vital when it comes to your website redesign. If you don’t currently have access to GWT, make sure you register and implement it when your redesigned website launches. You’ll want to monitor for any crawl errors, messages, HTML improvements, and other issues that Google Webmaster Tools alerts you of. If you’re using WordPress on your redesigned website, I recommend using Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin because, in addition to all of the SEO options which it offers, it also allows you to easily add your GWT code for instant access.
8) Social media sharing
This may sound like a no brainer, but make sure you include an option for users to share, like, Retweet, Pin, and other ways to share your website’s content on social media sites. Include links to your Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and other social media sites in the header and/or footer of your website redesign. Your users want to find out more about you, don’t make them rely on what comes up in a Google search when they type in your law firm or business name.
9) Build your list
You’ve probably come across a blog or law firm website which offers a free report in the past, in exchange for your name and e-mail address. You may think that these free reports don’t turn directly into cases or sales, but you’d be surprised how valuable one newsletter subscriber is. Think of creative ways to capture your user’s name and e-mail address, whether it be by offering a free informative guide, or by running a contest where the user has to provide his or her name and e-mail address to enter. You can implement slide-in forms, pop-ups, and post-content forms where users can enter their information. If you develop a widget, such as a child support calculator, personal injury worksheet, or whatever it may be, ask the user to provide you with their information before viewing their results. Make sure you focus on building your e-mail list on your redesigned website, it will allow you to build your brand and referral base.
The last thing you’ll want to implement in your website redesign, and probably the most important factor, is your calls-to-action. If possible, try to implement a floating navigation bar where your phone number is always displayed on the user’s screen, and they always have the option to click the “contact us” link. Look into a live chat provider, which can be very effective when it comes to improving conversions. Your users also want to find out more information about you and your business, so be sure to implement video throughout the website and include a call-to-action at the end. If you have a physical location where customers or clients come to visit you, make sure your website includes a Google Map, and driving directions. Don’t just assume that your visitors are going to know to click on “contact us” in your navigation menu and fill out a web form. Why not include a form in the sidebar of your blog and interior pages, and make it stand out in a different color?
If you follow these 10 tips, your website redesign should give your users the impression that you take your web presence seriously, and that you are, indeed, keeping up with the competition.