You’ve redesigned your website. It’s gorgeous, increases your conversion rate, and customers love it. But why does your organic search traffic dive 40% and flatline?
Search engine optimization (SEO) relies on three core pillars: the relevance of the content to the searcher’s query, the technical ability to crawl and index that content, and the authority earned through backlinks.
Each pillar encompasses hundreds of signals that search engine algorithms use to generate their search results pages. Redesigning your website impacts every one of those pillars, and many signals, all at once.
Understanding the six ways that redesign affects those pillars and signals can help plan for stronger organic search performance once your redesign goes live.
1. The Words on the Pages Change
When you redesign a website, the content tends to get a makeover. But the words on your pages today are part of what helps you rank organically for your current keyword themes.
When you change the words, it changes the keyword themes your pages rank for. If you rank for more keywords that are in higher demand, your traffic may increase. However, if your new ranking keyword set drives less search demand, your organic traffic will decrease.
When words change on many pages across the site, all at once, the change in organic search performance can be dramatic.
2. The Content Strategy Changes
Your website is divided nicely into functional sections. Maybe you have an ecommerce section, a blog, company information, some how-to guides, etc. Each section is there because it fits into your business and content strategy. When you change those strategies, sections of the website might be removed.
Depending on its role in driving organic search traffic, that section could have a large impact on SEO. It may or may not drive conversions, but one of SEO’s primary functions is to drive awareness. Removing any section would eliminate the website’s ability to rank for all of the keywords those pages drove traffic through.
Make sure to place value on each step in the sales funnel as you plan your content strategy to avoid making changes that will negatively impact your organic search performance.
3. The Navigation Changes
Navigation and other internal linking structures pass authority — the value earned when other websites link to the pages on your site — among your website’s pages, enabling more of your pages to rank. Changing the pages linked to in the navigational structures also changes the pages that receive that flow of authority, adding more to some pages and removing it from others.
If you remove links and the authority they provide from pages that have been ranking well, they will likely drive less traffic and fewer conversions.
4. The Taxonomy Changes
The taxonomy of your website is made up of the following:
- The product categories and subcategories you establish.
- How they relate to each other.
- The attributes you enable as filters.
- What you call each of these.
Each piece of the taxonomy plays a role in your SEO. Each category, subcategory, and filter creates a separate page on the site. Additionally, the labels you use for each form the default metadata and headings on the page.
All of these changes impact your ability to rank and drive conversions. For example, combining or splitting categories removes and/or adds pages on the site. Removing or merging pages, naturally, removes or changes their ability to perform organically.
5. The URLs Change
Everything the search engines know about your site is associated with the URL for each page. When you redesign a website, those URLs tend to change — maybe only by one character — but even that tiny change matters in SEO.
You will lose the authority stored up in the URL if you change it without using a 301 redirect. The new URL essentially starts all over again from ground zero and needs to earn new link authority before it can rank as well as it did previously. When this happens to critical pages or many pages at once, your performance can plummet.
6. The Platform Changes
By “the platform,” I mean the technology and code base that enables your site to exist. Perhaps your site is built on WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, or Magento. Each of those platforms provides different levels of functionality in its core product. Some are easy to optimize for organic search, and others you need to wrestle with or create custom code.
Website redesigns can be a step in the right direction for many aspects of digital marketing, but SEO’s needs are often either overlooked or misunderstood. Always pay extra attention to the SEO aspects of any project that calls for widespread updates to your content, navigation, taxonomy, URLs, or platform. Changes in these areas can have a dramatic impact on your organic search performance.