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We are giving our web site a new look and reorganizing the contents within our web pages so it's easier for visitors to get to the relevant contents. The basic structure of the site is not changing. That is, we still have the same set of pages, plus a few more. All the links in the old site will continue to work in the new site, we don't use any redirects, and the domain name is not changing.

We are using different images in some pages, and generally adding more content to our pages in the new site.

Would this change likely affect our search engine rankings?

Are there any do's and don'ts that we should be careful about in terms of not causing any detrimental effects on our search engine rankings?

  • Short answer? No. You may be able to effect some search performance, however, since "rank" is a very specific thing based upon a subset of factors not included in redesigning as you described it, rank will not be effected. Just make sure user experience is high and work on some level of engagement and you should be okay. – closetnoc Mar 23 '18 at 21:18
  • @closetnoc the process of redesigning a website leaves plenty of room for error, which can have devastating effects on search engine rankings. Someone as well-versed as yourself should be aware of this. – Josh Salganik Mar 24 '18 at 8:21
  • @JoshSalganik Be careful. There is a significant difference between apparent performance in the SERPs and actual "rank". Rank is a very specific thing. Many confuse any effect in search as rank which it is not. Of the factors that govern rank, none have anything to do with redesign as the OP has described. It does have everything to do with trust scores, links, authority, expertise, etc. and not did I place an image here or there and what my alt text says. There is a divide. The OP says that content does not change nor the hierarchy leaving only small UX issues which are difficult to measure. – closetnoc Mar 24 '18 at 15:37
  • @JoshSalganik Can a redesign help make a site perform better? YES! Of course! But that does not necessary effect rank. It can be reflected in other ways however. In the SERPs in smaller ways over a longer period of time. – closetnoc Mar 24 '18 at 15:40
  • @closetnoc I now understand where you are coming from, and agree with you 100%. However, I was fixated on the question, whereby Andrew asked "Will this change likely affect our search engine rankings?" I have completed hundreds of migrations, some to new domain names and some were simply just redesigns. It can get tricky, as I've seen detrimental affects on SERP & visibility in many botched migrations. But yes, I agree, it has no impact or bearing on rank. I personally just did not interpret rank to be part of his question. Thanks for your feedback & interaction. Always appreciated! – Josh Salganik Mar 25 '18 at 12:27
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Just as you stated, your objective with the redesign (aside from improving your website) is also to prevent the loss of rankings, traffic, which includes loyal customers/site visitors.

Here are some things that you should consider prior to making the change.

  1. Remove the development site/staging site's crawler access. This can be best accomplished by password protecting the new version of your site, alternatively you could utilize the meta tags = noindex, nofollow; and disallow the robots.txt file

  2. Comprehensively Determine the redesign variables. Are you changing your CMS? Will your new content be cause for creating a new url? Determine where the pages fit into the existing site.

You mentioned reorganizing content, but will all of your content be brought over? Given the potential to lose pages of your site which drive traffic, a proper 301 redirect strategy is necessary.

Does the new version have a new architecture? If yes, make sure that internal key pages don't lose link juice due to the removal or changes made to the footer, main navigation, key links from the home page, etc. Use Google Webmaster Central to see how you are currently linked internally.

Are you Changing the Server? This can cause issues, more on this later.

  1. MINIMIZE variables.

Don't change content, leave everything the same - including titles and H1 tags. *With the exception of new pages and pages being removed.

Switch servers 2-4 weeks before or after the redesign. This ensures that problems you could incur are not from this step.

Simply by holding off on the aforementioned variables, you can reduce the number of problems that can plausibly cause rankings to be lost. Content can always be added later, and a server can be switched before or after the redesign.

Hopefully this helps. A great resource I recommend is this blog post, 9 Lessons learned from a site redesign.

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Site decoration is not a ranking factor. Sorry. It just isn't.

I have said it many times, the term rank has been confused over a period of time where rank is no longer seen asa very specific thing which it is. Rank is limited to certain factors that can be measured outside of the SERPs. Can improving a sites appearance and usability improve a site performance? Yes! Of course it can. But does any of that tie to rank? No. Sorry.

Search engines are comprised of two major parts, the index engine and the query engine. While search engines are are more complex than that, with just two major parts, it is important to know where rank lives. Rank lives in the index engine. SERP performance of any page depends upon specific queries and lives in the query engine. The only bridge between the two are the queries made by the query engine to the index.

Assuming that a sites content, hierarchy,or linking structure does not change as the OP has described, then any change assuming within the realm of reasonable, will make little to no difference. Why? Because the remainder lives within the realm of user engagement.

With the exceptions of bounce back and time on page, much of engagement cannot be measured dynamically. Remember that bounce back and time in page are SERP metrics. User engagement as it exists are largely subjective signals from human testing. For example, common engagement signals are whether there is an image at the top of the content, the content is above the fold, there is a login form,there is a subscribe form, etc. Much of these things can be seen by the render engine on the index side, however, these are signals and not ranking factors. No page can actually be measured for actual engagement. The search engine cannot know if people are signing up or clicking a link for example.

What ranks a site and pages of a site are provable metrics gathered over time. For example, a sites trust score, inbound links, semantic scoring to include expertise, grammar, reading level, the sites hierarchy, internal linking signals, authority, etc. SERP performance remains within the SERP metrics. Ranking factors remain within the index. Engagement is truly neither in that it largely effects neither. Not directly.

Can a sites decoration improve performance? Yes. Does it effect rank? No. However, it can indirectly effect metrics that do have an influence in the SERPs. But please keep in mind that these are relatively minor bumps in position as any comparison is weighed against other similarly performing pages.

Is it worth making your site better? Oh heck yes! The longer you can keep a user on site the better. Top of mind presence will begin to take hold and over time with enough satisfied users, a sites brand can be established. Otherwise, simple sites can rank extremely well. One of the best examples of this is The Drudge Report proving my point. This site is comparatively ugly and yet is one of the hottest sites on the web and has been for a very long time proving that a sites decoration has nothing to do with rank but has everything to do with other factors.

  • this has absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing to do with decoration, aesthetics, or anything that the naked eye can see. Look at if from the googlenbot's perspective - assuming it has one. You are getting pretty technical with site rank, but the question is specifically asking about search engine ranking positions. I can provide you with multinational companies whose traffic went from hundreds of thousands to just about 10k due to a botched migration. It is one of the most important considerations when taking the next steps if you anyone wants to change their design. – Josh Salganik Mar 27 '18 at 18:34
  • And we aren't going so far as to talk about user metrics, time on site, bounce back, etc. - that all takes place well after a new design is in place. You said it yourself - the index. – Josh Salganik Mar 27 '18 at 18:40
  • And the very process of changing a design, migrating to a new domain or not, can screw-up the index and, believe me, cause immeasurable harm when not done properly. You said, "Assuming that a sites content, hierarchy,or linking structure does not change as the OP has described, then any change assuming within the realm of reasonable, will make little to no difference." and the question says "a new look and reorganizing the contents within our web pages so it's easier for visitors to get to the relevant contents" – Josh Salganik Mar 27 '18 at 18:40
  • - there is plenty that can go wrong. Migrations are make it or break it and I cannot stress the importance of SEO Migrations. – Josh Salganik Mar 27 '18 at 18:40
  • @JoshSalganik The OP is talking about a site decoration. No domain name change. No migration to another CMS. No reorganization. Nothing. Just basic template changes. Short of being a complete fool, mostly these have minor effect and certainly not on "rank". Again, there is a huge difference between rank and SERP performance. Two completely different animals. Two completely different results. The question was about site decoration and it's effect on rank. I focused just on that question. Not on the overall consequences which would be a much broader topic. Cheers!! – closetnoc Mar 27 '18 at 19:29

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