SEO Website Redesign: Prevent Organic Traffic Loss
I review a fair amount of sites. More often than not, I see evidence of a website redesign that resulted in organic traffic loss. To assuage concerns about website SEO redesign, it comes down to planning. There’s a misconception that designers know information architecture. Most of the time they do not.
For brands, generally every two years is when to do major redesigns. For small business or startups, it generally happens once they get more funding. For older companies, a website refresh is just simply outdated. All circumstances vary but one thing is certain. Once a visitor arrives, there’ a short amount of time to capture his or her attention.
Older sites can lack responsive design, suffers from poor code, or don’t have a CMS. In some cases, a website migration becomes necessary. There are typically two basic scenarios that compel a website redesign.
1. Your website needs to be brought up to date. It needs a modern look. We can enhance user engagement they say. We can improve sales! You were then just sold a new car by a website design company.
2. Someone decided to improve onsite time and conversions without thinking. Yikes! Most companies put their trust in website design companies without seeing a detailed plan.
Here are the potential Reasons for a website redesign:
- Increase Traffic
- Increase Sales
- Better Engagement
- Better Conversion Rates
- Enhanced UX
- Reduce Maintenance Costs
A successful SEO website redesign requires research and planning. All too often, a checklist is not outlined. As a result, organic search traffic plummets and so does revenue. To avoid organic traffic loss, protecting pages with the highest conversion rates should be a priority. You can avoid your boss turning into Lewis Black and ranting about the bright new shiny thing that no longer works.
Causes of SEO Website Traffic Drop
- Consolidating pages. Content is combined without an analysis of what the pages are ranking for.
- Site navigation change. Changing the text or number of page links.
- Changing URLs without redirects.
- Wrong Robots Text File. Inadvertently copying the robots txt file from the test environment to the live server. Yikes! In the test environment, one certainly does not want test pages to be indexed. The meta tags will be written as: nofollow, no index. Sometimes these get transferred to the live server.
- NO Sitemap.XML file
- Changing the domain without notifying the search engines.
- Changing text copy.
- Changing the number of pages linked to.
- Broken internal links. Broken links are more likely to happen on bigger sites.
- Changing the page structure. Missing canonical tags, wrong heading tags etc, image alt text.
- Increase page load time resulting in exit spikes.
Website Redesign Checklist
The first step is to outline why your redesigning the website to begin with. Is is to improve on site time? Improve conversions? Before you undertake a website redesign, take inventory of what organic traffic you’re receiving and what pages are high converting.
Basically you should have a pre-launch and post-launch checklist.
- Conduct an SEO Audit.
- Create a checklist for each phase. What’s going to change?
- Review analytics to see how visitors are using your site.
- Establish organic’s contribution to the bottom line.
- Map out a 301 redirect strategy
- Annotate the launch date in Google Analytics.
- Review metrics daily after launch.
Typically after launch, another audit should be performed. For big sites, inevitably, there will be some pages resulting in 404s. They should be small. Traffic loss should be minimal (3 to 4%) as Google reevaluates the new pages.