Website migration can be both an exciting time, and one brimming with much trepidation. Upgrading your website and therefore your online identity to a modern platform that more accurately reflects your brand while giving customers a better user experience creates much elation. However, you can expect to see rankings take a hit.
Why do Websites Lose Ranking Shortly After Being Launched?
Those who are not savvy to SEO get frustrated and turn to their web developer saying, “what’s the damn point if my new website redesign is supposed to improve performance?” Relax; don’t hit the panic button just yet. It’s typical to log into your analytics software days after launching your new website only to see a dramatic drop in rankings and user engagement. There are several reasons why this happens; some that can be prevented, and others that can’t. However, having a solid SEO strategy to address Google updates and safeguard rankings will minimize the time your site spends at the bottom of the SERPs with an expected recovery time in less than a week from the date the drop appeared.
Unless you work with a Los Angeles SEO agency specializing in website migration, you can expect to see dramatic drops. The fact of the matter is that most web developers have very little to zero SEO knowledge and don’t know how to make search optimization considerations to the new platform. As a result, al SEO value on the old site is axed. This can be prevented when you work with a digital marketing agency specializing in SEO and website migration. Another reason for drop in rankings is the unavoidable one: even if all the SEO considerations were taken into account during the website migration, you still have a new site that need to be re-submitted to Google’s index and crawled. Rankings will drop because the new site temporarily shocks the search engine, but then picks up again and often garners better performance.
Think of this as a new swimming pool. You just built a beautiful new pool in your backyard and filled it with water. Then you add the chlorine, which shocks the water. You can’t dive in right away, but in 24 hours the condition will be perfect for giving swimmers a healthy environment. Just as substantial changes to a website like UX, site structure, content, coding and functionality can shock Google’s recognition of the new platform until it has a chance to familiarize itself and give it a proper crawl, so too must shocked pool water have time to sit until it is ready to serve its purpose.
Website Migration Pre-Launch Preparation
Before you actually apply SEO considerations to your site migration, you should first set a strategy with a scope, and set considerations and tasks to pre-launch preparation. These should include:
- Define realistic objectives and goals
- Identify both risks and opportunities
- Set planned activities, responsibilities and phases
- Review wireframes and prototypes (resolve any UX / SEO issues)
- Prepare the SEO strategy
- Identify priority pages and associated keywords
- Set benchmarks to compare performance metrics post migration
- Staging environment setup (make sure it isn’t accessible to search engines but can be crawled for testing)
- Review page templates for SEO-friendly features
- Audit content for SEO-value and audience targeting
- Ensure internal links are set for SEO and UX
- Get all technical SEO ducks in a row
These tasks take considerable time and a team of experts with creative and strategic DNA. Expect a good month of preparation, research, and execution to set the staging environment set and tested before going live.
Titles, Meta, Image ALTs and Tags are Big for SEO
Be sure to pull all titles, meta descriptions, image ALTs and tags from your top navigation pages and secondary pages and compare these alongside each page’s objectives. You will want to consider keywords for each page and audience targeting to see if the current meta and tags align. In many cases some of these will have to be re-written for the new site launch. Page titles, image ALTs and H tags all play critical roles in a page’s ability (and overall website) to rank in the search engines.
Though your meta description doesn’t have a direct impact on rankings (keywords, for example), it does have an indirect one. The idea of a meta description is to describe the page’s content in the search results. If you have a deep-rooted understanding of your customers, you can create enticing meta descriptions that garner high CTRs, and so long as the user spends time engaging with the page’s content and visits other pages on the site, SEO value will be awarded as this is a clear sign to Google that your content resonates with search intent.
Run a Technical Audit Looking for Redirect Opportunities
Another reason website redesigns eat it in the rankings is because no action was taken for redirecting pages. Redirects send users to new and improved pages while telling Google to rank the new page in place of the old one. These should always be 301 redirects, as these are the ones that tell the search engines to pass the rank juice on from the old page to the new one while funneling traffic to the new and improved pages. Just make sure the redirects originate from pages that are similar and relevant to the old ones.
If you fail to perform 301 redirects Google will classify the value of the new pages as bottom-of-the-barrel because they are new and have no history (no value is passed from a 301) and to make matters worse the old pages will turn into 404 errors and drop from the rankings all together while causing traffic loss and a drop in domain authority.
SEO and New Site Architecture are Soul Mates
One of the most noticeable changes to a new website is how the pages are organized and linked together. This also has heavy consequences on how your SEO performs. Google passes SEO value to sites based on how navigation is structured and send value between pages through internal links. Page location and their hierarchical organization also dictates organic search value. Keep in mind that pages linked directly to top, important pages like your home page or category pages receive significantly more value than those buried three or four clicks away. In fact, a great best practice is to never force a visitor to have to navigate more than three clicks to the page they are searching for.
So what happens when you change page organization on your new website? Keep in mind that every SEO-friendly website has a page with a target topic that Google and readers find value in. These pages will be competing with competitor website pages for SEO value, so striving for a high authority score will be your goal. Make sure your site migration maintains valuable interlinking , and avoid linking to pages with little value to pass on. Your new site organization should strive to maintain maximum value to keep the page score high and prevent pages from dropping below the magic line where search results embrace great content with smart architecture.
Don’t Delete the Wrong Web Pages
Another reason why site migrations have a difficult time re emerging from a devastating drop in the SERPS is due to the fact that crucial pages seeming unimportant were removed in the new site. When this happens a content gap is created that interrupts the user’s journey thus contributing to terrible UX. Ironically, pages are removed (primarily) to improve the user’s journey and SEO, as fewer relevant pages have more value than multiple subpar pages with no strategic backbone. When these gaps appear, previously earned rankings can vanish due to the impact felt by direct topic loss, or a flow in topical pages linked together that are MIA. These gaps can also kill keyword rankings. Keep in mind that various topics and their context to the buyer’s journey have specific keywords. When gaps occur from removing support keyword and niche audience pages, Google will chalk this up to poor value in relation to how searchers use your target keywords in regards to the type of content they require to appease their needs.
To maximize your traffic value, keep rankings high, and decrease the chance of taking a heavy hit in a site migration, be sure to only remove pages that play no role to the buyer’s journey or your overall content strategy.
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