I originally wrote this for a post over at my new company Falcon-Software and have reposted in its entirety here. Enjoy. Or don’t, but please leave a comment if interested.
This is a scenario that I’ve seen materialize far too often in my time as a search engine marketer. CompanyA.com commits significant time and resources towards a large scale website redesign and development, only to see the inbound traffic to the virtually disappear on launch day. Phones stop ringing, lead funnel shrinks to nothing and everyone is left scratching their head after such a positive design and development phase. The effect is instant and with the right planning and transition strategy, this ‘traffic tragedy’ can be averted.
Why Does Your Search Engine Traffic Disappear?
When a website undergoes a redevelopment, nine times out of ten the page names will change (fix this forever by using extentionless URL’s). A search engines’ inventory is made up of web pages, or more specifically, precise URL’s. Once you change those URL’s the page which Google has indexed will break resulting in a 404 Not Found error when clicked. All of the historical value and reputation built up over time is gone in an instant. The only constant is the domain name itself which does not change and so (as long as the content is preserved) will retain its pre launch traffic volume.
Identify Where the Website Value is
The first step in protecting your historical traffic equity is to know how to identify it. This is accomplished by a combination of website traffic statistics (search engine traffic) and tools which identify inbound links from other websites also known as Back Links. If you don’t know how you are tracking your website, or know that you don’t have Google Analytics running, do it now! Really, stop reading and set that up!
Welcome back. The search engines themselves provide many free and useful tools which will provide most of this information. These tools are used to recover, among other things, the following key information:
- Which pages are receiving search engine traffic
- Which pages are linked to from other websites (back links)
- Do you have an RSS feed which is subscribed to?
- Also watch for traffic to Videos, PDF documents and other multi-media
Tell the Search Engines Where the New Pages Are
By using a series of precise redirects using a particular search engine friendly method (the 301 Redirect Saviour) you will preserve the traffic and the majority of the value from the previous URL. This also transfers a marginal amount of reputation or PR (Pigeon Rank) built up from back links as well.
Transitioning a website is quite a time consuming process which includes building a list of high value pages which receive search engine and direct traffic as well as which pages are linked to from other websites, arguably the #1 search engine ranking factor. Further if you ignore the other Ranking Signals such as content, titles, linking structure and page hierarchy you risk a longer term reduction in search engine traffic as Google realized the change in content and drops your rankings for certain pages. That last bit is a discussion for 10 more blog posts…
Rebuilding a Website? Ask the Right Questions
So if you find yourself in the middle of a website redevelopment, be sure to ask your developers if they have a Website Transition Plan in place and have them elaborate. Below are some key factors to consider:
- A redirect strategy which places a global redirect back to the Homepage is not an appropriate strategy. You will lose your rankings and value for your secondary web pages.
- Redirect pages on a 1 to 1 basis to maintain relevance, back links and bookmarks. Content between these pages should also be of the same topic.
- Do not rely on default website ‘stats’. Low level metrics such as Hits and Referrers from ‘log based’ analytics can often be skewed and inaccurate. Google analytics is a minimum starting point for researching your traffic accurately.
- Use the Search Engines’ webmaster tools interfaces to assist in further data collection.
If you’re thinking of a major redevelopment, give us a shout.
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