There have been so many occasions where companies have lost both traffic and revenue from falling rankings when rolling out a new website. Despite the frequency of this situation, the reality is, your website shouldn’t drop in rankings after your new website has gone live. There are many marketers out there that expect a huge increase in traffic and conversions from a website migration only to be greeted by a decline in rankings and organic traffic over the next month. There are plenty of horror stories where brands have lost up to 80% of their ranking potential.
This happens most when the website is almost too big to handle. We see so many big brands lose tonnes of organic visibility when they switch to a new website. It’s not because they haven’t implemented a redirect strategy, it is because the website was so big, they’ve overlooked a key area, which was driving organic traffic.
This article will go through a few simple steps all marketers should go through when managing a website redirect plan to make sure they haven’t missed anything that will make their website traffic fall off a cliff.
Disclaimer: this is not a full redirect strategy guide. There are plenty of articles covering this. Here are the precautionary steps you should take to ensure you have everything in place, so you aren’t working through the entire weekend after you’ve put a new site live.
Use Google Analytics to find URLs that drive traffic
So, you have your full redirect plan. You have looked at the top-level structure of the website and have all redirects in place, and you are all sorted. You say to yourself that you are all organised, and the top-level pages drive most traffic, so I’m covered, right? Wrong.
With large websites, especially big brand websites there are often pages deep within the URL structure that are ranking for a popular term, driving a tonne of traffic as it is answering a key question. A common occurrence of this is a blog post being missed during a website migration. There is an easy way to check for this.
- Go to Google Analytics, look at data over the past six months.
- Filter down to the organic channel in the acquisition tab
- Add the secondary dimension “Landing Page”
You now have a nice list of pages that have brought in the most organic traffic from search over the last six months. You can now use this to go through and make sure you have every single URL covered that is bringing in any kind of traffic. It is such an easy step, and I have even seen people do website redirects solely using this method. It covers all pages bringing in traffic from Google, so this is a great way to minimise any loss of traffic during the website transition.
Use Link Research to monitor
While loss of traffic is the number one stress factor when changing a website, the second in line is what happens a week or so after the website launch, which is a decline in website rankings. The first step mentioned should cover most of the important URLs you need to worry about. However, always check to make sure you’ve covered all those old URLs that have been around for years collecting natural links and mentions from other websites. As most marketers will tell you, it is these links that will drive rankings, and if you don’t redirect them to a relevant page on your new website, you will soon see your rankings decline.
How do you do this quickly? Easy. Use a link data tool to see where most of your links are pointing to. In this case, we used Majestic as it has a way of seeing the most linked to pages.
- Open Majestic.com (you need a paid account to see most of this data)
- Enter your root domain URL (or subdomain in some cases, but most websites will be root)
- Click on the “Pages” tab
This will give you a nice list of URLs receiving the most links from other websites. You can easily export this data from Majestic and then check to make sure you have all these URLs in your redirect plan. If you don’t GET THEM IN!
So, there you have it. Two very simple steps that have saved so many website migrations we have worked on over the years at Datify. Two quick fire ways to check which URLs you should be redirecting, starting with the most important.
Whilst this is a general step by step guide for people who are already building a redirect plan, there are other factors that can cause ranking drops during a website redirect. Here are some other aspects to consider:
- Make sure you are redirecting to pages with the same or similar relevant content
- Check for old historical redirects and do a clean set. No search engines like redirects of redirects of redirects of redirects… you get the point.
- Check you have your standard http – https and www to non-www redirects in place.
- If you are cutting out an entire old section of the site, make sure you have a landing page explaining to the user what has happened and redirect those old URLs to that particular page.
- As a rule, for every redirect, ask yourself “Would the user be confused if they were redirected to this page?” If the answer is yes, you have done it wrong.