I’ve seen it dozens of times. Prospective clients recently had another firm redesign their website hoping the new modern look will drive more conversions and increase traffic. Unfortunately it often does the exact opposite. The sad truth is many design firms simply don’t understand the full value of SEO or how to implement it, especially when relaunching a site. There is an art and science to ensuring the SEO value and traffic your old site had carries on to the new.
First and foremost, you need to accept that with any major change in your website Google may throw up a red flag at least temporarily. This makes sense – maybe the site was hacked, maybe it was sold, maybe someone copied a bunch of content from another site and dumped it on theirs, maybe it’s out of commission. The search engine’s algorithms are trained to see a major change as a potential hack attempt. That being said, give your site a week to rebound after a redesign, especially if you changed urls / page links.
If you’re sure it’s not the mere fact of making a major website change that caused your ranking plummet there are a few easy to identify and fix elements of a site that we check out:
1. It’s worth mentioning again that if you redesigned / relaunched your site within the last week then there’s not necessarily anything to worry about – any major change will give the search engines pause when ranking your site. Nevertheless keep reading and make sure you’ve covered your bases.
2. If urls changed are they redirected properly through 301 redirects? Often sites have urls like www.mysite.com/about-us.html and after a relaunch the urls look more like www.mysite.com/about-us/ – subtle but different nonetheless. if not redirected properly Google will try to find the old urls and see they are not there. That’s a huge issue – where did those pages go? Did the site crash, has it been taken down, hacked? The search engines don’t know (and probably don’t care) and as such need to demote the bad links. They would look pretty foolish if they directed their searchers to pages that didn’t exist anymore. In addition to seemingly removing all or most of the pages on your site the new urls make it appear that you’ve also added several dozen new pages which in and of itself is a red flag for the search engines. Since the content probably hasn’t changed much if at all you also get dinged with a duplicate content violation since the same content is now technically listed on two different pages in Google’s index. If your pages are properly redirected Google and the other search engines will understand that you simply updated your url structure and as such replace the old listings whit the new. It’s crucial that your old pages are redirected to your new pages. That way Google will know they’ve moved and transfer any rankings to the new pages. On a much smaller note, this also shows Google that you care and know enough to make the extra necessary effort for your site and could possibly increase your search engine rankings.
3. Ensure your new pages are allowing Google to index them. One of the coolest features of modern CMS systems is they can tell search engines not to index your pages while in development. This is important because you don’t want your pages indexed until they’re completely finished and on the correct domain. I’ve seen far too many instances (including one this morning) where a developer will move a site from the development domain to the production / live domain and forget to turn indexing back on. That’s a big OOPS. If Google crawls your site and sees every page now says to leave it alone then that’s what Google will do. Adding salt to the wound is Google probably won’t come back to your site for a long time because of this. If you launched your site with indexing off then it’s vital that you use your Google Webmaster Tools to let them know you’re back online and ready to be indexed. Even then it may take a while.
4. Similar to your CMS system telling Google no to list your site, your Robots or htaccess files might be hurting you. As in the previous example, developers can add code to certain files on your site to tell Google it’s a development site and ignore it for now. But if they don’t remove that code your live site will suffer the same fate and possibly lose all rankings until you essentially beg Google to look at your site again.
No matter what if your site has dramatically lost rankings get it checked out and resolve issues quickly. Ideally you will consult an SEO expert before redesigning your site. There are some really good designers and programmers out there (and on our staff ), but without the watchful eye of someone who knows SEO they could end up hurting your site worse than any Panda, Penguin or Hummingbird ever could. Call us today for a site evaluation before during or after a redesign. Or better yet, let us handle your redesign and we’ll make sure everything is done right from the start.