How to prevent losing traffic during a website redesign

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How to prevent losing traffic during a website redesign

Harry Bartlett

A stellar new website is on the horizon, but did you know most websites lose traffic after you go live?

According to Search Engine Journal organizations typically lose up to 60 - 70% of their organic search traffic after a website launch. While this is a common occurrence, many organizations are not aware that website visits decrease for about a few weeks to possibly a month or more. It's nice to think that the moment you make a mobile friendly website your traffic magically skyrockets, but unfortunately that is not the case. But there are ways to mitigate some of the drop-offs and keep website traffic relatively active. A Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Transition Plan leading up to the website launch can protect a new site from large drop-offs and help provide higher ROI than the previous site. 

We'll touch base on the top 6 tasks that must be performed during the website redesign process:

1. Content Optimization

Start by analyzing your content. If the content was not properly optimized before, there is no time like the present. Optimization here ranges from writing unique meta tags and image alt text to dissecting your page content and titles to determine if they are optimally written.

Page titles should include the keyword focus of the page while staying short and to the point. Titles are considered more important than paragraph content. A perfect example here is a page title like "Services", which is so generic that it provides zero SEO authority to that page. Changing that title even slightly to Digital Services makes a difference in telling users and search engines we work on digital services, not just any service.

Finally, we come to paragraph content. In the importance hierarchy, this is below the title but do not think this is unimportant. This content is where users get actual information, where you incorporate other words and phrases you hope to rank for, and where search engines really get the ability to learn what the page is about. Best practice for paragraph content is choosing one keyword per page to target. Use that keyword along with similar keywords (longer version, etc.) throughout the content. The challenge here is to keep the content readable for users and not stuff keywords just to have them.

2. Keyword Analysis

Understanding which keywords your site ranks for will dictate the sitemap of the new website. Do not delete pages because they lack conversions, those pages could be a gateway to other converting pages. Your team has worked hard to build keyword rankings so it's important not to waste that effort by eliminating pages at random or changing content before understanding how keywords play a role in that page's rankings. 

Keyword analysis can be performed on Moz, Google Search Console, and other similar third party software. These types of software provide data on your keyword rankings, the average search volume for those keywords, and more depending on which you choose. Once you find a keyword that ranks on a particular page, decide if that keyword is worth keeping. If it is, then either optimize the page more around that keyword or change the focus of the page to a relevant word.

3. 301 Redirects

Mapping pages from your old website to the new is a fundamental requirement when publishing a new site. Search engines save pages and "re-crawl" them when needed - they are essentially "cached" so they load faster. When a new site is published that saved page is no longer available, so to avoid having a search engine and user land on a broken link/page we redirect the old URL to a new location.

A 301 redirect is not a 1 for 1 change; not all the authority is automatically pulled into the new page. The redirect starts the process but until search engines crawl the site and re-understand that page, it will not be a full transfer of authority.

4. External Links

External links are links to your website from other websites. It is important to make sure all pages that are receiving quality external links are redirected to the most relevant pages on the new site. If this step is overlooked then the external link to your website will lead to a broken page with multiple negative consequences. The page/link/site will fail to pass SEO authority reducing traffic/rankings, which most likely will remove the link thus losing that authority altogether. External links are similar to votes for your website - they are a strong factor in determining how well your website will rank for keywords with search engines. The more high-quality external links you have coming to your website the better your website will rank and the more traffic you will receive.

5. XML Sitemap

A sitemap is a collecting of all the pages on your website. A web developer will usually have to generate a sitemap but it does not take long to do. Once this has been generated you want to claim, verify, and submit this page to Google Search Console. This is a way for Google to easily crawl your entire website (making it easier for visitors to find you) as well as inform you of any errors on your sitemap or on your website in general.

6. New Website Promotion

Finally, promote the bejesus out of your new website even before it's launched. This provides 2 advantages: lots of people will check out the new site so it's less likely to see a large drop-off; and with more people coming to the site it is more likely that Google will crawl your site sooner, faster, and restore your rankings while also increasing them.

Take a look at how you can pre-hype and promote your website in one of our previous blog postings.

These 6 tasks are the most important steps of preparing for a new website launch. Your new design might be amazing but that alone won't guarantee that search engines will reward you or people will find it. Optimizing your site for search engines and for users of your website allows you to create an amazing site that is discoverable and has people constantly coming back for more.

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About the author

Harry started BI in 1998 and focuses on integrating best practices in branding, user experience design, Internet marketing, and technology to increase the value of an online presence.
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