Lee Odden

Site Re-Design? Call Your SEO Expert First!

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO, SEO Tips

It’s a near nightmare situation really. A client sends an email on Friday saying, “We’re launching a new web site on Monday, can you take a look at it to make sure our site optimization is ok?”.

The Account Manager asks for a URL and upon receiving, clicks to find a “pretty” home page with 90% images and/or Flash, “cool web 2.0” navigation using Ajax and as a result of a new content management system, a URL syntax that is completely different than before. Oh, and all title/meta descriptions are now hard coded and there are 50% less pages because the VP of Marketing heard at an executive marketing seminar that “less is more”.

First and foremost, such a blindside situation for a site’s SEO should never happen if Account Management is on top of things. As an advocate and consultant, the AM should have a rapport for information sharing, such as, “Our new VP is having a new site built and has no idea about the 60% of site traffic that comes from natural search. What should we do?”.

With proper communications, the SEO or online marketing agency can advise the client on the cost/benefit of incorporating SEO during the site re-design or after. I can assure you, it is much more expensive if done after.

Mockups, wire frames and site maps for the new site should be shared with the SEO team so recommendations can be made from the start. As the new site is designed, the site structure, content management system, categorization and category labels, internal links, text content, media (images, videos, audio, interactive), navigation and meta data can all be considered for SEO implications as well as usability, branding and maintenance.

The impact of external links to pages on the site are considered as well so redirects that are both user and search engine friendly can be planned.

Not including the SEO consultant during the site re-design can result in the scenario above where all the “equity” of on-page site optimization is lost. Having to make major changes to a content management system is not cheap. Taking SEO into account from the start can save a company substantial costs and better enable the site to generate revenue more quickly after the new site is launched.

When a company does have the foresight to take usability, branding, maintenance AND SEO into account, all the relevant audiences and users of the site can be accommodated: prospects, content managers and search engines.

The process to facilitate SEO for a site redesign or change in content management system calls for a migration plan. In a migration plan, all the web site’s current content and digital assets are inventoried and a matrix of old to new is created. For each change, dependencies are noted as well as what actions must be taken to make the transition smooth for all audiences. Naming conventions for categories, link URLs and anchor text are considered.

If the site changes URLs, ex webpage.htm to webpage-keyword.aspx then a system of 301 redirects must be put in place. Looking at web analytics to see what external link sources drive the most referral traffic is also important so measures can be taken to ensure as smooth an experience for consumers clicking on those links to be delivered to the right content as possible.

Content optimization training of content managers and producers that is specific to the new content management system can be very helpful to empower the site owner in producing continued search friendly web pages. Informing PR, marketing and sales about external web sites that link to outdated URLs can help the effort towards having other web sites change their links over to the new web pages.

An updated HTML (web page) site map can help search engines find the new content. Providing search engines with a XML sitemap can also facilitate the natural crawl of new content.

After the new site goes live, close attention is paid to crawls of the new content and any effects. Patience is a virtue in these situations.

When there are major changes to a web site’s design, content and URL structure, there is no avoiding an effect in search visibility 100%. However, if the SEO professional is involved from the start, key insights can be incorporated into the overall process, mitigating major ill effects both in terms of avoiding short term costs for redeveloping content management systems and long term effects from uncrawlable content, lost links and lost traffic.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Billy Shih says

    I hope that the web design community continues to grow their understanding SEO so that these things can be avoided. Web designers have every incentive to provide a web page that performs well and part of that measurement should be not detrimentally impacting the amount of traffic that comes to site.

    I hate to overuse the word synergy, but all the areas of online marketing really do work the best when they are combined. Smart design, SEM, SEO and optimization all benefit each other.

  2. Lee – excellent post. You hit on something big here. This is a huge issue working in-house; because the SEO team is always the last to know when new pages are launched. We are trying to change that though …. it starts with the culture and educating our internal business partners.


  3. Lee, great post idea. We are dealing with the same issue right now with one of our clients. After the the client completed a new design and its implementation, they are asking us to evaluate the site from conversion optimization perspective. Any suggestions we give them at this point translate into rework and lost time.

    Many companies miss the need to involve SEO and Conversion optimization firms in the initial stages of any redesign work. These are areas of practice can no longer be an after thought. I do think part of the reason we are not invited to the initial stages of redesign is due to ignorance on the part of some clients. But another important part is the resistance of technical teams to involve someone else in redesign work.

    Ps- isn’t twitter great? I was notified that you just published this post and jumped here right away. I think it is replacing my Google reader!

  4. I’ve just written a post link this in my corporate blog (in Italian)! It’s so frustrating for SEOs listen to phrases like: “We’ve just published our new site redesign, now we need Search Engine Optimization.” 🙂
    Un saluto dall’Italia!

  5. Thanks Michael. You’re right of course, education is key. Especially in organizations where there is interdepartmental involvement with the corporate web site like yours.

    Billy, it’s interesting that the web design community continues to create and re-create web sites that keep SEO consultants busier than ever. Again, as Michael indicated, education is key.

    Khalid, you’ve really hit the nail on the head with your comment about the resistance of technical teams, or even outside web dev/design agencies to involve someone else in the work. Their effort at staying on budget and task (sans accommodation for SEO) means the client is NOT best served in the long run. Very good point.

    Andrea, you’re right – language is no barrier to the same issues involving SEO and design. Glad to hear great minds think alike 🙂

  6. It’s difficult to convince all involved that the sooner a good SEO is integrated into the design or redesign process, the more efficient and effective it becomes for all concerned. Heck,it is not too early to get them involved from the minute you decide to choose a domain name. Thanks for the great info.

  7. Avatar Daniel Riveong says

    “I do think part of the reason we are not invited to the initial stages of redesign is due to ignorance on the part of some clients. But another important part is the resistance of technical teams to involve someone else in redesign work.”

    Very true. I think SEO is seen as a product rather than a process. This is the same issue with Social Media.

    Additionally, SEO folks need to underline the business case more strongly:

    1. We’re not doing SEO for rankings, we’re doing it for relevant visits and ROI. We have the ability to help positively impact sales for a company.

    2. Additionally, we need to emphasize how not being involved in the design earlier will make it more difficult for the designers. We’re trying to save everyone’s time and money, not mess with web designers and programmer’s code for fun.

  8. Hello again Lee, you are definitely right about this. If the web designers were more educated about SEO, than it would make it much more easier for everyone. Instead most people keep us SEO consultants in the blue and ask for advice after they have already moved forward.

  9. Great post! Sometimes the client just doesn’t understand the implications of their actions. In their mind, there’s no need to involve their SEO because it’s a “reskin” and only “aesthetic changes”. They don’t appreciate the impact of replacing text with images etc.

  10. Thank you for your comments Mary, NewSun, Daniel and Jenn.

    Daniel, great points – tying it back to business reasons is a powerful motivator.

    It all seems to come down to education and communication. The more people involved, the more agendas you have to deal with. But as Daniel has suggested, bringing in the business value (make money/save money) can motivate most people to listen up.

  11. Lee,

    This is an awesome thread. My head hurts so much from nodding in agreement. You really understand what is a commonality for so many of us.

    Thanks for writing this!!


  12. We can live in hope!

  13. Avatar Carrie Hill says

    Great article – I shared it with design, development, sales & marketing teams! We have had new clients come on board after having spent tens of thousands of dollars only to be told they need to change it all, very frustrating for everyone involved.

    Great post – going on my “must read” list for clients.


  14. Avatar Carole Mahoney says

    This post is so timely- its almost magical! Not sure if I should be encouraged or discouraged that others are going through the same thing I am. I forwarded this post link to my team- it always sounds better coming from someone else!

  15. The more I read these articles, the less surprised that I am to see the web developers blamed for these types of things. Just like I said on another site… as a web developer who made the less-than-graceful transition into SEO, if these teams don’t start connecting both ends of the spectrum, they have no reason to be surprised when everything falls apart.

    The bottom line, really, is that web development is about the client bringing the project to the developer, explaining what issues must be addressed, and leaving it up to the developer to create the most efficient and functional solution fo that project. If the client doesn’t bring up SEO, then what? If the client doesn’t seek out a web developer who makes use of seo-friendly practices, then what?

    I just have to wonder what kind of set ups these people have where they would think that one element of the website shouldn’t correspond with the other element of the website.

  16. Than you for an excellent article. I think that this “ignorant” attitude of web developers to SEO is changing now but it will take a while when SEO professionals will be invited to a web design and development project from the very beginning.

    Clients are more aware of SEO nowadays but still not too sure when SEO implementation should start. Before or after a new webite is launched…
    Education is a key.

  17. From my Favorite Quotes page:

    “SEO is a marketing function for sure, but it needs to be baked into a product, not slapped on like icing after the cake is baked.”

    Duane Forrester

  18. This is very important topic. Creative teams need to keep their SEO contacts in the loop when going through a site design. You can’t get angry at us after you have spent all this money making your site pretty and we tell you to go back and rebuild it. It is important for clients to develop that sense of trust so that we can guide them in the right directions.

  19. Avatar Chris G. says

    We recently published a post like this on our blog as well. This is fairly commonplace because of the lack of holistic web companies – companies that have the knowledge and the people to marry usability, SEO, and quality web design. I feel the industry shifting to this holistic business model and those not already on board with it are in for some very interesting times.

    I’m not saying everyone should take this stance, but if you are a SEO firm or a design agency or a marketing company you should be asking about other players in the game when it comes time for a redesign.

  20. Hi,

    Excellent Blog – I really appreciate your blog about Site Re-Design? Call Your SEO Expert First!, I have bookmarked it for later viewing and forwarded it on.


  21. I do a lot of redesign for clients. It really is amazing how much work goes into a proper redesign of a site. All of the old info has to be redirected… if it’s not done correctly the first time around then you could lose the rankings all together.

    Many business owners do not realize this at all… they just lose all of the ranking-juice if they don’t take the proper precautions.

  22. I am in this very painful and expensive situation at the moment and to make matters worse, my developer did something very stupid with the robots.txt file, and I lost my place in the serps for my major keyword.

    My external SEO consultant is providing me with a report to fix the HOLE, we are in….God I am So Angry…!!!!

  23. Lee I think that site owners believe the SEO industry can simply sprinkle magic fairy powder over a finished site but as we all know that’s not so – good article, just a shame it is reaching more of the converted rather than those who are unaware. John Leach, Australia.

  24. Hey John, you never know who’s lurking 🙂

  25. Avatar Muzaffer says

    Yes, I do agree with you that before designing a site one must consult a SEO expert to build it serach engine optimized compressing images (using few images only) keeping balanced text words liked by serach engines, placing rich keywords having more seraches but less websites,using h1 and h2 tahs and much more to get placed higher and higher in serach engine results.

  26. Hey Lee,

    I have definitely been in that position before while I did work for Adobe. One day they decided to change all of their URL’s from a keyword rich proper url to something completely different (e.g. store1 instead of adobe), just destroyed their rankings.

    Enterprise clients and AM’s really need to have an open line of communication about such things and perhaps it can start with some in house training to make sure clients understand what can and does affect seo.

  27. for some reason, it is easier for management teams to get external seo involved earlier in the dev stages of a new site than it is to get internal seo involved. good post.

  28. Great thread guys! This has been very useful but at the same time will give me sleepless nights.

    I have recently been employed by a company who are already in the final stages of a site redesign. My skills revolve around PPC but I do have a little knowledge of SEO and am very aware of how important it is to incorporate SEO within a site redesign. Within the next couple of weeks one of the web designers is coming into our office to answer any questions we have about the progress of the resdesign. This is my chance to find out exactly how much SEO effort they have put in when working on the design. I obviously have a stack of questions I want to ask but feel my lack of specialism in SEO may mean I miss something vital.

    Although I have noted all the info throughout this thread, could anybody out there possibly post, say, the ‘top 10’ SEO questions I should ask our web developer when he visits. Bullet points would be great but feel free to go into as much detail as poss. Any info would be much appreciated and I promise I will post any feedback from the meeting on here. It’ll definitely be interesting to hear if the web developers have been wearing their SEO hats. My fear is that they have not!

  29. The funny thing is that these sort of things happen all the time. I wrote an article called Strategies for effective website sales – a guide for professionals who sell web development services that might be helpful to keep AM on track. It will have to be adopted for SEO, since it is written for development sales.

  30. Lee, thanks very much for the great information. I was recently brought on board to fix a site where SEO wasn’t considered until years later. I am a senior developer on a team of four developers at a mid-size property management company.

    (Un)Fortunately, I think there will be a site overhaul in the near future. You have raised excellent points to consider and as an SEO professional, I agree with all of them. However, do you have any more insight as far as bringing all of the departments together to work as a team on a project like this? For example, our marketing folks are vicious about branding – how can they be convinced to work with IT hand-in-hand to focus on keywords that will generate the best SEM campaign rather than putting our company name on a page 30 times? It also seems that everyone has their hand in a piece of the site – at least three senior VPs down to roughly 60 property managers… what would you recommend in terms of bringing all of these people on board?

  31. Great analysis. I like Chris G.’s use of the ‘holistic’ term…

    It is a constant issue my free-lance sphere in Paris. I get approached by potential clients wondering why their


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