When building a new website, retaining and improving your SEO and organic traffic should be a key design goal. This requires a clear understanding of how SEO and website design work together and careful planning for the site migration. If everything is done correctly, you should retain (and improve) rankings and traffic.
Unfortunately, in the real world, this is often not what happens. The site launches. Organic traffic tanks. And then panic sets in. Unfortunately, I get a call like this every week. Most often from small business owners where the loss of organic traffic means that leads or sales slow down and put the business at risk.
It is important to realize that all is not lost and in the majority of cases, there are a few usual suspects to blame for the loss of traffic. In this article, I cover how to diagnose and recover traffic and rankings when a website design goes wrong.
Step 1 – Gathering Information
We don’t need a lot here but in an ideal world we would want the following:
Google Search Console
Date of launch
Historic or alternative URLs
Historic keyword rankings (if available)
Step 2 – Confirmation
Now it’s time to dive into Google Analytics and Search Console and review the traffic drop. What we are looking for here is a drop starting the day or week of the redesign. This drop may be slow and steady or often a sudden, stark decrease.
Your first port of call here should be Google Analytics:
Google Analytics > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels
To further confirm a big drop in traffic we can look at just organic traffic or a variety of channels. If we see an organic drop and other channels are relatively unaffected, then this further indicates that the redesign is the culprit here.
If you have Google Search Console and keyword rankings then these can all be reviewed to help you confirm the date of the drop.
Step 3 – Understanding the Losses
Before we can hope to improve things we have to understand the losses to aid us in our analysis and remediation. To do this we want to get a better understanding of keyword rankings and pages that were most affected.
If you have historic ranking data then run these reports to get an overview of some key areas where positions may have been lost. Where historic keyword rankings are not available, some popular SEO tools can provide historic ranking data for analysis. Alternatively, the site owner will typically have an idea of what keywords they used to rank for – this is not terribly scientific but it can give us an idea (which we can look to verify in Search Console if available).
Landing page traffic
We will want to compare before and after traffic in:
Google Analytics: Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages
If we have a few weeks (or longer) since the migration we can compare to the period prior and see which pages were generating the most traffic.
This can be tricky as often page names change in a redesign. So, you have to identify the pages that ranked and received the most traffic and compare them to the counterpart on the new site.
In the worst case scenario, we may find content or pages that were present on the previous site but that has not been created on the new site. No content. No traffic. If the content exists on the new site but is just not receiving traffic then we may be looking at more of a technical issue.
If this is a large site, it can help to put this information in a spreadsheet so you can match up the old and new pages for easy reference.
I am a big fan of using the Wayback Machine here to view the previous version of the site: https://web.archive.org/. With this tool, we can take a look at these pages that were ranking and compare them to the relevant pages on the new site. Again, this can better help us understand physical changes to the pages.
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