So you were sold a shiny new website design with a new architecture built on user data and customer journey information – which is fantastic since Google loves excellent experiences. But did you create a transition plan to minimize the risk of traffic and rankings loss with your newly designed website?
Your site went live a couple of days ago; you log into your Google Analytics to see how well it’s doing and are shocked at the dramatic drop in traffic from the Google organic search results. Your heart starts racing, and you wonder, “Why did my website traffic drop after my redesign? Wasn’t it supposed to make it better?”.
Unfortunately, this is an all-to-common result that stems from the three troubling scenarios:
- Website Redesign 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.
Every website owner needs to understand that there will be some traffic decline anytime there are significant (or minor) changes to a website. This is because Google has to re-evaluate the website with the new design and content.
An initial range we typically see with most websites for the first few weeks, as Google re-evaluates and updates the ranking score, would be anywhere from 10% to 15%. Within a month, we typically see the traffic down 5-8% – which is a normal range – more than that, and you should plan to analyze a website to uncover what went wrong.
Traffic numbers might be the easiest to analyze at first, but I’d also look at conversion data because you are getting slightly less traffic, but it’s converting at a much higher level, thus offsetting the traffic loss.
Reasons Your Traffic Dropped After Your Website Redesign
Below, you will find the four most common reasons your traffic declined more than an average 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 instead of the old one.
A couple of things to note:
- These should always be 301 redirects – as these tell the search engines to pass the rankings from the old page to the new page and 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 users and Google 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 give a 404 or 410 response and drop out of the rankings), and in many cases, this will result in a loss of rankings and traffic.
New Website Architecture
Site architecture refers to how the pages are organized and linked to on the website. Google passes value from one page to the next through internal links, and based on where the pages are located in the organizational (hierarchy) of the website, pages can receive more or less of this value.
Pages linked closer to essential pages (usually the home page) usually receive more value than those 3-4 clicks from these primary pages.
What happens when you change how the pages on a website are organized?: Every page has target topics that Google values it for, and thus it ranks for. That topic requires a certain amount of value (link juice… don’t like that phrase) or a specific score to compete with the other websites within the search results targeting that same topic.
When a website’s structure is changed, it can cause some pages to have fewer internal links or be linked to from pages with less value to pass. As a result, the new pages receive less value, lowering their score and 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 a page’s primary and secondary topics wherein the copy of 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, messaging, or conversion strategy.
What happens when you change the website copy? Content changes cause Google to re-evaluate the page’s relevancy for the targeted topics it once ranked for. For example, if priority keywords are removed from the key areas (title tag, header tags, body copy, alt text), the relevancy score will drop; thus, rankings and traffic will follow.
This makes it essential to understand which keywords and topics have the highest ROI and traffic potential so you don’t inadvertently remove those from the copy – causing more harm than good.
Pages Were Deleted
The final reason that a website can see a significant drop in traffic after a website redesign is due to a content gap being created.
This occurs when pages are removed for the purpose of optimizing the user journey and flow. However, gaps in content sets and topics are created when a website is restructured without understanding the impact of eliminating pages. This gap causes previously earned rankings to disappear, which causes traffic drops.
Much like copy changes, it’s imperative to understand which keywords and topics have the highest ROI and traffic potential so you don’t inadvertently remove (or drastically reorganize) the pages targeting those keywords.
When should SEO be brought into the website design or redesign process?
We have often been asked, “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 is when we are brought in at the end of a redesign – after the strategy has been defined, the page designs have been approved, and the content has been 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 traffic source.
To help frame the process, below are the phases and integration points where our team works alongside the design, development, and content teams to ensure a smooth transition and SEO integration by providing insights and recommendations from the POV of Google.
|Planning and Taxonomy||Content and Design||Development||Testing Phase|
|Sitemap||Content Strategy||Redirect Strategy||SEO Quality Assurance|
|Taxonomy||Content Hierarchy||URL Structure||Implementation Audit|
|Wireframes||Onsite SEO Optimization||Code Structure and Optimization|
|Page Structure Optimization||Speed and Mobile Optimization|
|Internal Link Optimization|
When scanning this list, I am sure you think your strategy, planning, content, dev, or design teams already did a website redesign SEO, and they might very well have, but I bet they don’t look at the site in a way an SEO strategist would.