How to restore SEO traffic and rankings after redesign of a website?
There are some common problems after a review to confirm a decrease in traffic (such as redirects, missed pages and domain issues) that can be resolved to get your SEO back on track.
Conserving and improving your SEO and organic traffic should be a key design goal when building a new website. It requires a clear understanding of how website design and SEO operate together, and thorough website migration preparation. If everything is done correctly, rankings and traffic should be maintained (and improved)
Sadly this is often not what happens in the real world. The platform is up and running. Organic transport tanks. And then panic is setting in.
I am getting a call like this every week, sadly. Most often from small business owners where the lack of organic traffic means slowing down leading or selling, and placing the business at risk.
It’s important to realize that not everything is lost and in most situations, there are some usual suspects to blame for the traffic failure. In this article I will cover how traffic and rankings can be handled and restored when a website design goes wrong.
Step 1-Information gathering
We do not need much here but we would want the following in an ideal world:
- Google Search
- Search Console on Google
- Launch date •
- URL to the Website
- Historical URLs, or alternatives
- Rating of historical keywords (where available)
Now it’s time to dive into the Google Analytics and Search Console, analyzing the drop in traffic. What we are seeking here is a drop that starts the redesign day or week. This drop can be slow and steady, or often a sharp, sudden drop.
For example , the image below shows a 90 per cent drop in traffic. For a charity this has been a failed redesign. After this happened they approached us and we’ve done some pro-bono research to help them get back on track. This was definitely the worst case I’ve seen but it shows how badly things with organic traffic can go wrong.
Google Analytics should be your first port of call here:
Google Analytics > Acquisitions > Channels
We may look at just organic traffic or a range of networks to further confirm a big drop in the traffic. If we see an organic decline and other platforms are relatively unaffected, this further suggests the culprit here is the redesign.
If you have Google Search Console and keyword rankings then all of these can be updated to help confirm the drop date.
Step 3-Comprising the losses
We have to grasp the losses before we can expect to change things to help us in our study and remediation. To do this we want to gain a better understanding of the keyword rankings and the most impacted pages.
If you have historical ranking data then run these reports to get an overview of some key areas where you might have lost positions. Where historical keyword rankings are not available, some common SEO tools may provide for analyzing historical ranking data. Alternatively, the website owner usually gets an idea of what keywords they used to rank for – it’s not very logical, but it can give us an idea (which we can search for if available in the Search Console).
Traffic on landing page
We want to see a contrast before and after traffic in:
Google Analytics: Conduct > Content of the site > Landing Pages
If we have a few (or longer) weeks since the migration we can compare with the previous period and see which pages generated the most traffic.
This can be tricky, because page names in a redesign change frequently. You must therefore classify the pages that rated and generated the most traffic, and compare them to the new site ‘s counterpart.
In the worst case scenario, we may find content or pages that were on the previous website but that were not created on the new website. No content. No content. No traffic anyway. If the content exists on the new website but does not receive traffic, we may look at more of a technical issue.
If this is a large site, putting this information into a spreadsheet will help you balance both the old and new sites for easy reference.
With this tool, we can look at these ranking pages and compare them to the new site’s relevant pages. Again, this may help us understand the physical changes in the pages better.
Step 4-Common Suspects
We should look at the common problems with an appreciation of the losses and what we can do to put things right in each situation.
Corrects. The most common issue we see, is whether missing or reconfigured. We want to do one of the following for all important pages when launching a new web site:
- Keep the same (ideal) URLs
- 301 Retransfer from old page to new page
A simple way to test this is to get together 10 or so of the previous site ‘s highest traffic URLs (from analytics or the Wayback Machine) and try to visit those pages in a browser. If no redirect is present then this is part of your question.
If the pages redirect you need to test them in a tool such as ScreamingFrog or any online HTTP header tool (there are many free header tools available) to make sure you see a 301 redirect to the right page.
A site owner with whom I talked recently had a basic SEO understanding and had checked the redirects so he was confident they were perfect. Those were all 302 temporary redirects when I reviewed the headers. The problem was fixed, and traffic
The in-house marketing team had checked all the old URLs in another recent job, and could see that they all had a 301 redirect in place. Unfortunately, the pages to which they were routed had not been reviewed, as these were all 404s.
You have to really check that end-to – end. In a Web browser. In a device which crawls. Checked all current URLs. Pages which were redirected to check. Make sure all relevant redirects function and check.
Pages gone missing
Another common issue is that the content previously performed no longer appears on the web. If there is no material, then you can’t rank out. Ensure there is all the high traffic material and the right redirects are in place.
This can take a little more manual effort, but you can work through the high traffic pages you identified in Step 3 and get an idea of what’s going on. If those pages are now only 404 or redirect to a generic page (homepage is a dead giveaway) then you will definitely have a content problem.
Changes in content
Changes in content can have an impact too. If a page is present but the content has changed then a qualitative analysis is needed. Is the new page just as good as the old ones? What changed? Your buddy here is the Internet archive.
Area and Protocol Problems
When your site used to be on http:/example.com and you also make changes to the protocol (https), subdomain (www), or domain with the new site, then your redirects need to take this into account. https:/www.example-2.com is not synonymous with http:/example.com. Here you just need to consider carefully how your redirects are put together, and pay attention to detail about the domain, subdomain, and protocol.
Most pages have several previous iterations in 2018, and with many changes to protocol, domain name, and subdomains.
We saw cases where the migration was obviously well handled but traffic was still dropping. The cause ended up being linked to an unconsidered historic domain transition.
To give an example:
2008 – 2016 Website www.example.com
2016 – 2017 – www.example-2.com was redirected with www.example.com 301
The migration was handled correctly from the old to the new when a new site was launched in 2018, but the developers had no knowledge of the previous domain and that historic redirect was never put in place. Sadly the original domain, which had over 10 years of history, was lost in one key example.
The lesson here is to look back and understand any changes in the historical context, and redirect them before this initial design.
Sometimes the new site just isn’t well put together and the issues relate to the new site ‘s technical optimization. Crawl issues, canonical URLs, indexing-a lot can go wrong. In this situation, you’ll want to perform an SEO and website audit to make sure the technological SEO is dialed in 100 percent.
Issues of optimization
As with technological, the optimization sometimes doesn’t make it from the old site to the new. Unfortunately, on all websites we still see places with the same page title and other real basics just not done properly. Crawl your site and see to it that the basics are done properly.
Another thing to consider here is the impact a migration of the website could have. At my department that is what we call turbulence. The larger the site, and more complex, the more turbulence we can see. The key point here is being careful. Check it out. Double test all over. But if traffic jumps a little for a couple of weeks as long as you are sure that everything is in good order just keep it steady as the new pages are indexed and the older pages fall out of the index.
Step 5 – What if all sounds Okay?
So you launched a new website. You had a solid plan for the migration. You’ve checked it all over and there are no problems. But still, you ‘re losing flow. What is it that gives?
Is your analytics setting up working properly? Make sure all pages are marked correctly, and report views of the website. Consider recent changes, such as pages with AMP.
Change in Algorithm
Has your website changed over time to a Google Algorithm? You can map your analytics reports to a timeline of all the Google alerts using the Google Analytics. Using this method you can determine if a specific algorithm change lines your traffic off.
Does this time of year, the traffic still take a downward turn? Review of previous years’ results and Google Trends to ensure this is the case.