Google cautioned that updating a web layout can affect rankings, even if URLs and content remain the same.
Someone asked John Mueller on a Google Office Hours hangout if just changing a web design layout can affect rankings. Mueller answered right away and without any ambiguity. He said yes, it could affect rankings.
What might make that answer surprising to some is that the content and URL structure remained the same. But a web design layout comes with considerations that can impact on-page ranking factors.
Mueller’s explanation of why changing the web design layout could impact search rankings makes sense and is something to consider before making any changes to how a website looks.
This is the question that was asked:
“I recently changed the layout look and feel of my blog and moved away from WordPress. And now using Hugo static site generator for publishing my posts.
Does the change in layout impact my ranking and search results?
On a side note, there’s no change in the content and the URL structure. It’s still the same as before.”
Ordinarily the general answer would be that no, it doesn’t make a difference. But actually there are important factors related to a new web layout that must be considered.
This is what Mueller said:
“Changing the layout of your pages can affect your search results.
This is something that some people work on actively as well with regards to on-page SEO.
So things like figuring out how to use titles properly on a page, how to do internal linking properly, how to provide more context for the article itself.
All of this can definitely affect SEO.”
Most web layouts, out of the box, will need to be updated to make it be how you want it to be. Even a web layout that is labeled as “SEO friendly” is going to need updates to the CSS and the how various HTML elements are styled and used.
For example it is very common for web templates to use heading elements for styling side-bar navigational elements.
John Mueller continued his answer:
“So just because the… kind of the primary content like the blog posts that you have and the URLs themselves don’t change doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else around all of that, that search engines won’t be able to pick up on.
It can definitely affect SEO. And it can be a good thing, it can be a bad thing.
So it’s not that you need to avoid making these changes but rather when you make these changes make sure to double check that you’re kind of doing everything really well.”
That’s good advice. Updating a web design can be a scary thing. I’ve done it and not lost rankings. That may be because I stripped away what I thought was superfluous bells and whistles, added templated structured data that auto-fills etc. in order to make the template behave like I want it to behave.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a template that didn’t need to have every icon and navigational image optimized for size and color. Making a web layout more intuitive seems like something that every template needs improvement on.
Updating a web design layout can be very much like starting all over again. In my experience it is useful to become acquainted with the stylesheets and the underlying code so that you can formulate a plan of what you want to remove, what you will keep and what needs to be changed.