Nothing is worse than coming out of an expensive, time-consuming site redesign and realizing you’ve wrecked your website’s SEO.
Unfortunately, this happens all too often. One of the most common ways is when sites undergo a major migration or restructuring without a comprehensive redirect plan. In one fell swoop, all the authority that site built over the years is swept away. But even if your URLs remain intact, a migration can still negatively affect SEO.
This is often the result of brands wanting overly visual sites without thinking about how search engine crawlers are going to read the page. It’s not uncommon to find new sites that have absolutely no on-page content — or are completely lacking meta titles or descriptions — because SEO wasn’t even considered during the redesign.
“Artistic” e-commerce companies, such as those in the fashion space, are frequent offenders. They want their sites to be filled with gorgeous fashion photography and resemble lookbooks instead of websites. In fashion, it’s definitely important for products to look good, but websites also have to make it easy for search engines to find them and for users to move through the site and purchase.
No matter what went wrong, remember you can always bounce back. Use these tips to boost your search rankings after a redesign that has sabotaged your SEO:
1. Implement an effective 301 redirect plan.
When United Airlines and Continental Airlines merged their sites, they left tens of thousands of stranded links in travel forums where people had deep linked. Before any form of migration occurred, they should have put a comprehensive plan in place that redirected any disappearing page to the next most relevant page on the new site.
If you, like United and Continental, made the switch without a plan in place, you’ll need to identify all pages that disappeared and redirect them now. In some cases, this can involve hundreds of thousands of pages, but it’s the only way to make sure SEO value isn’t destroyed and the user experience isn’t affected.
2. Be mindful of meta tags.
Make sure all your meta tags are in place and optimized for search; this is especially important if your site is very visual. If SEO wasn’t top-of-mind during the migration process, this was probably easy to overlook.
3. Educate employees in basic SEO.
No matter how small an employee’s role in the website is, she should understand basic SEO principles. This will help head off any further problems before they start and prevent you from having to do damage control down the road.
4. Get the branding team and the marketing team on the same page.
I can always tell when the branding team had more control over a website than the e-commerce/acquisition team. Some sites launch new, splashy designs that feature tons of beautiful product photography, really long scrolling home pages, or lots of flashy video. The problem is that these types of sites tend to lack some of the fundamentals of good user experience, such as prominent calls to action and a clear navigation system.
Instead, the branding and marketing teams should work together to stay on brand while also preserving site functionality. No one wants to visit a beautiful site that doesn’t work — or a visually unappealing one that has the best functionality in the world.
5. Hire designers who are well-versed in UX.
Furthering the previous point, if your site lacks some basic functionality as a result of the migration, hire a designer who specializes in UX to make conversion-boosting improvements.
We recently worked with an e-commerce site that had migrated to a new CMS and immediately experienced a large drop in organic traffic. Organic visits were down 36 percent in the first month, and the number of keywords ranking in Google dropped from 625 to 265. The site continued to struggle in the search engines, seeing a 40 percent decrease in organic visits against the previous year.
We helped the company by overhauling its URL structure to be more user- and search engine- friendly. Then, we properly redirected all of the old site’s URLs to the new pages. We wrote SEO for the most important pages and made a number of other technical improvements.
A year after their botched migration, visits were up 60 percent and sales were up 30 percent.
If you’ve recently executed an ill-advised site redesign, don’t wallow in that sinking feeling — but don’t do yourself the disservice of thinking your poor SEO problem will get better on its own. Make the effort to revamp your redirect plan and meta tags, align your team, and give employees the education they need to prevent similar issues from happening in the future, and you’ll bounce back in no time.