Establishing you have lost traffic is your first port of call. After that, there are some common issues (such as 404 errors, redirects and other protocol issues) that can be addressed fairly easily in order to get your SEO back on the upturn.
When you are looking to give your website a design refresh, SEO should always be part of your planning process. It’s important to understand that SEO is actually a vital part of web design (if you want to do it correctly) and shouldn’t just be tacked on after a pretty website has been constructed; it should set the very foundations of your build. When the two are done in harmony, you’ll generally retain, or even improve, your traffic and rankings.
However, all too often the SEO-web design relationship doesn’t exist and the ‘new’ website launches. This usually results in a drop in traffic and subsequently a panic around the office. In small businesses in particular, this drop in traffic can have a huge impact on sales and put the business at risk.
Luckily, there are ways to put your traffic and rankings back on track, and usually it is a select few of the ‘usual suspects’ that are to blame for traffic losses. With that being said, let’s take a look at how we can diagnose and recover rankings and traffic flow following a re-design:
Step 1 – Getting Your Information Together
To get started, you will ideally need the following to hand:
- Google analytics
- Date of launch
- Website URL
- Historic or alternative URLs
- Historic keyword rankings (optional)
Step 2 – Review and Confirm
Using your Google Search Console and Google Analytics, take a good look into the drop in traffic and try to determine where it began. In this case, it will most likely be the day or week of the redesign. It could be a sudden drop or a slow decrease.
Via Google Analytics, you will want to look at Google Analytics > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. By process of elimination, if you can see a drop in organic traffic whilst the other channels are relatively unaffected, then it’s safe to say that the redesign is the cause of the issues.
Step 3 – Assess Losses
Before attempting to recuperate, it’s important to have an understanding of what has actually been lost in the process. This involves getting a better understanding of the pages and keywords that were the most affected.
If you have historic ranking data available, then running these reports will give you an overview of where positions have been lost. If you don’t have any historic keyword rankings, there are various SEO tools that can provide you with this data. Alternatively having a good sense of what may have been lost, whilst not highly accurate, still give you a good base to start from.
Step 4 – The Usual Issues
As discussed, there are usually a list of the most common SEO issues after a redesign. After determining what’s been lost, it’s much easier to cross reference these to see how we can correct each scenario.
It’s easy for redirects to become a bit of a mess, and whether they are missing or just set up incorrectly it is possibly the most common issue we come across. When you are redesigning your website, in an ideal world you will want the following for all of your most important pages:
- Keep the URLs the same (best scenario)
- 301 redirect from the old page to the new page
You can run a quick and simple test for this by taking a sample of 10 of the highest traffic-producing pages from the ‘old’ website and try to visit them in your browser. If there is no redirect and you hit a 404 page, then you know this is a part of your problem.
If there is a redirect in place, you will want to check the status codes with a tool (such as ScreamingFrog) to ensure they are 301 redirects and not a 302 temporary redirect.
You will also want to check that the pages being redirected to are correct and not resulting in 404 – you’d be surprised how often this happens.
Ensure that all of your high traffic content from the previous design exists on the new one. If it doesn’t exist, you can’t rank for it. It’s that simple.
Moving from http to https or changing subdomains can also have a big impact on your SEO and rankings. You will need to make sure that all of the relevant redirects are in place and you aren’t suffering from mixed-content issues (http content on https URLs).
Sometimes redesigns can be poorly executed and it may be a case that the optimisation of the new design isn’t the best. This can be crawl issues (having pages too deep), duplicate meta information and indexation issues. You will want to conduct a full technical SEO audit for these to come out in the wash.