When Website Redesigns Attack! A Gripping Story of Vanishing Search Engine Rankings
This is a story of a website going full circle, and not in a good way... If you are thinking about redesigning your website and you believe that search traffic is important to your business, then this post is for you. Read on...
First, my purpose is not to focus on the company or website I refer to below, but to focus on the concept of redesigning a website without fully understanding the impact it will have on natural search. This is not a rare occurrence...it unfortunately happens all of the time.
Help, Google Doesn't Like Us!
Almost two years ago, I assisted a company that hit rock bottom from an organic search standpoint. They went through a complete website redesign and started to notice that their search engine rankings dropped off of a table. This had gone on for about a year prior to my showing up. The first thing the CEO asked me to do (and the term "ask" is being nice..) was to get the site ranking in the search engines as quickly as possible. The site was essentially non-existent in the engines and nobody at the company knew why. The site was a Pagerank 0, with old content indexed in Google, and the site wasn't ranking for any competitive keywords. So, I was handed a budget and launched a major SEO initiative to turn things around. After making significant changes to the site architecture, content, and navigation, we went live with a new codebase. Four months later, the site had over 65,000 pages indexed in Google, earned a Pagerank 7, and began ranking for dozens of competitive keywords, including hundreds of long tail terms. The site did a 180 and was humming from a natural search standpoint. I wish the story ended here...
Flash Forward to Today...
I noticed that the site was recently redesigned again. It was actually more of a refresh than a redesign. As I browsed the site, it didn't take long for me to notice some serious problems... Some of the most important changes that were made for organic search were now gone. Important keywords were missing from the site, title tags weren't optimized on key landing pages, and I could tell that nobody focused on SEO when mapping out the redesign. Uh oh. So I started testing some competitive keywords that the site was once ranking for...the site was no longer ranking for them... So, what will happen to some of their natural search traffic? Well, it will probably go to a competitor's website.
The Danger of the Website Redesign
I'd love to say that this is a rare occurrence, but it's not. When redesigning a website, it's critically important to have key people from a wide range of roles involved during the process. This starts with the web marketing team to map out the strategy and blueprint for the redesign. Then, the programmers and designers should be involved in the storyboard and prototype process. Also, you should include any specialists along the way, like search specialists and rich media specialists to ensure the entire project will go smoothly and achieve the goals of the redesign.
Don't Skimp Over Strategy
Sometimes (ok, often), the strategy piece is briefly completed and the designers and programmers run with the latest and greatest technology to wow visitors (or worse, to gain experience with new technology). When this happens (from a search standpoint) search rankings tend to go down. For example, that really cool, dynamic navigation isn't being indexed by Google, the new code is so smart that it's 302 redirecting visitors all over the place, and someone forgot to add descriptive title tags, description tags, and descriptive links on the site.
So, What Should You Do?
If you are planning a redesign, ensure you use a structured approach that includes key people from a wide range of roles in the process. This is one of the reasons I truly believe in Persuasion Architecture. Your web strategy is fully mapped out prior to designers and programmers getting involved.
My guess is that the CEO will pick up on the lower traffic levels and start asking questions. I wouldn't want to be in the room when that happens. :-()
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