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So you were sold a shiny new website design with a new architecture built on user data and customer journey information – which is awesome since Google loves great experiences. But did you come up with a transition plan to minimize the risk of traffic loss?
Your site went live a couple days ago, you log into your analytics program to see how well it’s doing, and are shocked at the dramatic drop that occurred in traffic from Google. Your heart starts racing and you begin to wonder, “why did my website traffic drop after my website redesign, wasn’t it supposed to make it better?”.
Unfortunately, this is an all-to-common result that stems from the three troubling scenarios:
- SEO was not done
- SEO was not truly integrated into the complete web design process
- An SEO strategist versed in transition planning and execution was not included on the redesign team.
Traffic Related Questions
One thing every website owner needs to understand is that anytime there are major (or minor) changes to a website, there will be some traffic decline because Google has to re-evaluate the website with the new design and content in place.
How much should my website’s traffic drop during a website redesign?
An initial range we typically see with most websites, as Google re-evaluates and updates its score for the site, would be anywhere from 3%-5%. Anymore more than that, you should start planning on doing a website analysis to uncover what went wrong.
How long should my traffic remain at this decreased level?
If your website falls within the safe range noted above, it should recover within a few weeks – if it hasn’t, you should start a website analysis.
Note: Traffic numbers might be the easiest to analyze at first, but I’d also look at conversion data as it might be that you are getting slightly less traffic, but it’s converting at a much higher level, thus offsetting the traffic loss.
4 Reasons Your Traffic Dropped After Your Website Redesign
Below you will find the 4 most common reasons that your traffic declined more than a normal amount after your new website went live.
Redirects Were Not Done
Redirects are one of the most important things to consider when redesigning a website. They send users to the new improved page and tell search engines to rank the new page in the place of the old one.
A couple things to note:
- They should always be 301 redirects – as these tell the search engines to pass the rankings from the old page to the new page, as well as send users from the old page to the new page.
- They should redirect from the old page to a similar page and not simply redirect every page to the home page.
What Happens When 301 Redirects Are Not Done?
When 301 redirects are not planned and implemented, Google will reset the value on the new pages that were created (the old pages will 404 and drop out of the rankings), and in many cases, this will result in a loss in rankings and traffic.
Site architecture refers to how the pages are organized and linked together to create the website. Google passes value from one page to the next through internal links, and based on where the pages are located in the organization (hierarchy) of the website, pages will receive more or less of this value.
Pages that are linked closer to important pages (usually the home page and category pages) receive more value than those that are 3-4 clicks from these important pages.
What happens when you change the how the pages on a website are organized?
Every page has a target topic that Google values it for and thus it ranks for. That topic requires a certain amount of value, or a certain score to compete with the other websites in the search results targeting that same topic.
When a website changes how it is organized (linked internally), it can cause some pages to have less internal links, or be linked to from pages that have less value to pass. The new organization causes pages to receive less value, which in turn lowers the score of the page, dropping them below the threshold needed to rank within the search results.
When we refer to copy changes, we are not talking about minor grammatical changes – but instead changes to the primary and secondary topics of a page, and wherein the copy these priority topics are referenced.
In many instances, when a website is redesigned, the copy of the website also gets a refresh. This is done to help align content with the new design, as well as focus content more on conversions.
What happens when you change the website copy?
Copy changes cause Google to re-evaluate the relevancy of the page for the targeted topic. If priority keywords are removed from the key areas (title tag, header tags, body copy, alt text), the relevancy score will drop, and thus, rankings and traffic will follow.
Note: This makes it imperative to understand which keywords and topics have the highest ROI and traffic potential so that you don’t inadvertently remove those from the copy – causing more harm than good.
Pages Were Deleted
The final reason that websites have a significant drop in traffic after a website redesign is due to a content gap being created.
This occurs when trying to optimize the user journey by removing pages from the user flow. When a website is restructured without understanding the impact of removing pages, gaps in content sets and topics are created. This gap causes previously earned rankings to disappear for the topics those pages were targeting, and traffic to drop.
Note: Much like copy changes, this just being an extreme version of that, this makes it imperative to understand which keywords and topics have the highest ROI and traffic potential so that you don’t inadvertently remove (or drastically reorganize) the pages targeting those keywords.
Are there any other reasons that you have seen for drastic drops in traffic from the search engines after a website redesign – other than the site blocked itself from Google.
SEO Integration Points To Help Lower The Risk of Traffic Loss
We have been asked many times, “When should SEO be brought into the process of a website design or redesign?”, to which we reply, “When planning begins.”. Yet to this day one of the most frustrating things about being an SEO strategist, is when we are brought in at the end of a website design or redesign – after the strategy has been defined, designs have been approved, and content was written – and asked to “SEO the site”.
With that said, most companies and creative agencies fail to realize that SEO, as a business strategy, must be fully integrated throughout the process. In most cases a website redesign strategy is built for those users who come to the website from paid channels, or those who access your website by directly typing in the website address – you can see the issue here, I hope. Many redesign strategies fail to plan for organic user retention, and growth of those users coming from organic search – which, in most cases, is the primary source of traffic for most sites.
To help frame the process, below you will find some key points of integration for an SEO team, and deliverables an SEO should be involved in during a website redesign.
SEO Integration Points For A Website Re-design Or Re-platform
Research and Strategy
- Website Audit
- Satisfaction Audit
- Competitive Analysis
- Content Analysis
- Keyword Mapping
- Transition Planning
- CMS Strategy
- Content Organization and Site Structure
- Mobile Strategy
- Monthly Reporting and Analysis
- Quarterly Analysis Definition
- Custom SEO Dashboard Development
- Content Brief
- Audience Messaging
- Strategy & Planning
- Video Descriptions & Transcriptions
- Infographic Strategy
- Title & Description Tags
- Defining H1, H2 Tags
- Informing Content Hierarchy
- Define URL Structure
- Aligning content hierarchy with design elements.
- Aligning User-Focused SEO best practices with design elements.
Frontend Web Development
- Aligning User-Focused SEO best practices with front end development and Styles.
Backend Web Development
- Help define functionality that aligns with User-Focused SEO.
Marketing and PR
- Blogger Outreach
- Email & Link Building Campaigns
- Reputation & Crisis Management Within The Search Results
- Content Publishing & Distribution
- Social Profile Optimization
- Defining OG, Twitter Card, and other social tagging
- Defining a social distribution map for new content sets
We Do Many Of These Already. Do You?
I am sure when scanning this list, you think your strategy, planning, content, dev, or design teams already do these things, and they might very well, but I bet they don’t look at the site in a way an SEO strategist would.
See, good SEO strategists are like movie directors – usually there on the set — day in and day out — and in charge of the overall vision of the movie, as well as the execution of that vision. In short, good SEOs see the big picture challenges and vision and understand the implications of changing minute details that affect the overall SEO and usability of the website for all personas (including the Googlebot Persona).
So What’s the Risk of Not Integrating Properly
- In many cases, this integration detail limits our ability to provide the full value that SEO can offer a business – including brand building, increased reach, increased traffic, increased conversions and sales.
- Veteran SEO strategists know, that during a transition period, each team we are not integrated with, increases the risk that organic traffic will be negatively affected.