Rashad Nasir, founder and CEO at ThinkCode, is a digital marketing and software engineering agency in NYC.
He is responsible for optimizing your search engine performance, whether your company is looking to rebuild or migrate to a different platform. Sites can experience extreme ranking fluctuations and traffic loss as a result of drastic changes.
Preventing problems is always better than treating them. These are real-world situations that my team has worked to identify and fix over many years. They’re even more pervasive than you might think.
1. Redirects were improperly or inadequately handled.
It is essential to properly implement redirects in order for your website after a redesign to maintain its authority and relevance. Here are some steps you might consider:
- Legacy redirects that were used on your old website should be preserved. Your DevOps team should review all places where old redirects might exist. This includes server configurations and CMS settings, as well as DNS-level redirects.
- You can eliminate redirect chains and ensure that all redirects go directly to the destination you intended. Site performance can be negatively affected by redirect chains, and old backlinks may lose their value.
- Your redirect rules should be condensed into as few guidelines as possible. Load time will be affected if you have too many redirect rules.
- If your file structure changes, ensure that assets are properly redirected. Site traffic and backlinks often come from images and pdfs.
- Do not create too many redirects from your homepage. You can redirect old pages to the nearest page in your site’s new structure. In many cases of pages being removed that are not important, it is better to redirect them to the homepage instead.
2. Internal links and heading hierarchies weren’t preserved.
Links and other HTML formatting can be lost depending on the manual content migration process. This can lead to pages being ranked third in search engines, or worse yet, falling off the first-three page. This is something I have seen happen. To ensure internal links point to the destination you want, they should be programmatically identified and then replaced in your CMS.
Heading tags, such as H1s (H2s) and H3s (H3s), are important. This is true even if your page ranks well. We have seen this issue firsthand in our SEO agency. A simple switch from H2s toH3s can cause a drop in page rankings.
3. Your staging or development sites were accidentally indexed.
It is possible to index staging and development sites inadvertently all the time. This can happen for several weeks without anyone being aware. These steps will help to reduce the risk.
- Password-protect your staging and development sites when possible.
- Update your robots.txt directives to disallow crawling.
- Add a meta robots tag in your HTML to nofollow and noindex pages.
If your staging and/or development sites are accidentally indexed, Google has a Removals Tool, as do other search engines.
4. Meta tags weren’t preserved.
Meta titles and descriptions are frequently hardcoded in time-consuming settings panels or controlled by dynamic templates. They’re easy to overlook, especially if a CMS upgrade is in the works. To avoid slippage in search engine results pages, your site’s meta tags should be meticulously migrated alongside your content.
5. There was a lack of image optimization.
Image file names and ALT attributes are important on-page SEO elements. Prior to upload, image files should be appropriately sized and compressed, and relevant, keyword-rich file names should be defined. Consider the file names of previous images, and make sure you’re using modern, efficient file types, such as WebP, if they’re compatible.
Search engines rely on ALT attributes to understand the relevance and content of your images. They’re also essential for visitors who are blind or visually impaired and use screen readers. Don’t just “keyword stuff” your images’ ALT attributes; instead, use clear, concise, and descriptive language.
6. Site performance wasn’t considered.
Aesthetics are frequently the driving force behind a major website redesign. User experience (UX) is critical, but it extends far beyond design. Website performance is critical to your UX.
To improve UX and site performance, engineers need quantifiable metrics, and we recommend starting with PageSpeed Insights, which scores websites against Google’s Core Web Vitals and provides key improvement insights. Before making any architectural decisions or writing a single line of code, site performance should be a primary consideration.
7. Your current site was decommissioned prematurely.
It is strongly advised to keep an accessible version of your current site for debugging purposes. You can either move it to a password-protected temporary domain with crawlers disabled, or spin it up on a local environment to ensure it is only accessible to your internal teams. In any case, being able to browse your current site in the weeks following the launch of your new one is extremely helpful in gaining insights in the event of SEO issues.
8. Search engines weren’t informed of changes.
Following the relaunch of your site, submit your new sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools as soon as possible. This will inform these search engines everything they need to know about the structure of your new site, making it easier for them to figure out what’s changed. As a result, new pages should rank more quickly than they would otherwise.
Additionally, if your domain name has changed as a result of this upgrade, you must take the following actions to notify search engines: Bing’s Webmaster Tools includes a feature for this, and Google has a Change of Address Tool.
If your company’s success is dependent on organic internet traffic, any changes to your site, no matter how minor, should be done with careful consideration of your brand’s overall digital marketing plan. This will help you avoid problems before they arise and ensure that the modifications have only a positive influence on your goal KPIs in the future.