If you’ve been through a website redesign – whether in the last ten days or last ten years—you know that it’s a process with many exciting moments. It can feel as if you’re lost in a sea of difficult questions: What should the new website look like? How many pages should it be? What will it look like on my smartphone? Will our customers like it?
But then comes the launch day and, with it, the scariest moment: how will this new design affect the traffic?
If it happens to you, don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Many a website has seen a dip in organic traffic after going through a redesign. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, we have a series of questions to ask – and solutions to those questions or issues you may be seeing.
Why Did My Organic Traffic Decrease After My Site Redesign?
There are a few reasons this may have happened. In many cases, a decrease in organic traffic on a redesigned website is related to one of the following:
- Content changes: did you eliminate or change some of the content that was causing your website to rank?
- Meta information: did you carry over title tags, alt text on images, headers (h1, h2, h3, etc)?
- Did you make changes to the URLs? Did you implement 301 redirects for any changed URLs?
- If you did change URLs, do you have more broken links than before?
Now, let’s break down what all of these mean, why they matter, and how they could have affected your site’s organic traffic.
“I Changed All My Content and Now My Site Isn’t Ranking!”
This is one of the most common situations, and one of the most easily avoidable. Rewriting content is a good thing; it’s important to create fresh, polished, authoritative content, optimized for the keywords you want to target. Unfortunately—and this applies to not just redesigned websites, but all websites—sometimes content does not get the attention it deserves.
Consider what happens when your website is redesigned. It looks pretty, you’ve gotten rid of any unnecessary pages, and you’ve decided to rewrite all of your content. Then suddenly the organic traffic falls off a cliff!
The way to avoid this is two-pronged, depending on what part of the redesign you are in.
If you’ve already redesigned your site, it’s time to take an immediate look at your content. Is it optimized? Is it well-written? Is it long enough? (No, 300 words will not cut it anymore.) Does it include the keywords you want to be ranking for? If not, then that’s the first thing to change. Perhaps you have to take a look at the content you removed from the site, determine what you cut out, and get it back in there.
Don’t Ignore Content During the Redesign Process
If you’re still in the redesign process, take a very close look at the content on every page. Go into Google Analytics and look at which pages are ranking particularly well organically. If those pages are ranking well, you need to make sure you don’t lose the content that’s making them rank so well.
Remember that it’s never too late to have amazing content on a website. Sometimes the website looks perfect and functions amazingly, but it’s ranking because you have no content on your pages. This is a great thing to do, but it’s not something to put off until next year. Create that content and add it to the site!
Don’t Forget What’s Behind the Scenes
Content is only one piece of a website. There’s an entire concept of “technical SEO” for a reason. This ranges anywhere from meta descriptions to product schema.
The following elements of a site should be considered over completely, to avoid seeing a dip in your organic traffic:
- Meta descriptions
- Title tags
- Headers (Most importantly, h1, h2, and h3. But all the way down to h6)
- Meta information on images (image titles, alt tags, and even captions)
- Schema, in all its various forms
However, carrying over the existing ones is often not enough. Almost every redesigned website will have several new pages. Some redesigned pages will have hundreds of thousands of new pages, like when a splash page becomes an ecommerce site.
When adding new pages, it may make sense to save things like their meta descriptions and alt tags for after launch. This doesn’t mean these aren’t priorities; this means these are perfect things to focus on with your ongoing Search Engine Optimization efforts.
Don’t Forget 301 Redirects
Sometimes, URLs need to change for a website redesign. Perhaps the old ones were outmoded, too long, or too short.
There are two things to remember when changing URLs during a site redesign:
- Don’t change a URL without giving careful consideration. Will the new URL be better for SEO than the old one?
- Is the old URL redirecting to the new one?
What makes a URL good or bad for SEO?
This subject is an article in itself, but a few things to remember:
- Use hyphens as spaces between words and numbers
- Do not use underscores
- Don’t muck up the URL with unnecessary characters and words.
- Don’t use “-htm” or any other outmoded techniques.
Stick to these guidelines, and be sure to pay attention to any other ones. However, remember not to change URLs just for fun. There is an inherent risk involved any time a URL changes.
Make sure the former URL is redirecting
Everyone knows what a 404 is. What you need to make sure of is that your URL changes don’t result in new 404s across your site. This is where 301 redirects come in. Make sure you are properly redirecting any URL that changed from the previous site to the redesigned one.
But My Traffic Is Still Decreasing!
If there’s one thing to remember about SEO, it’s that it’s often more marathon than sprint. If you went through a recent redesign and you’re seeing decreased traffic, it’s likely that one or more of the above factors are at play.
Remember what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would tell you: Don’t Panic. Do a site audit, identify which pages have decreased in traffic, and look at what changed on those pages. There’s always a way to right the ship, but it takes effort, time, and a plan.