Traffic Drop After Site Redesign?

Traffic Drop After Site Redesign?

While this wasn’t original plan (because there was no original plan to begin with) here at Webmaster’s Diary I often deal with webmasters who are switching from one web hosting company to another often redesigning their websites in the process.

Obviously, these changes are done to improve their websites’ performance and usability. They all typically

  • improve design,
  • switch to responsive theme / template,
  • improve site speed.

All these are great improvements and it’s only logical that these webmasters expect traffic boost as a reward for their effort. However, it is not always true.

Traffic Drop After Site Redesign?

Unfortunately cases when site redesign (even within same web host) will cause serious traffic drop are not unusual, so I thought I will post a few tips that can help avoid this:

1. DO NOT CHANGE INTERNAL LINK STRUCTURE
This is number one reason for traffic drop after major redesigns. It’s quite tempting to make all changes at once, especially if your redesign has to be manual and you spend days and weeks going through pages of a large site. Keep all links intact – this applies to links within the articles, menu links, links in footer and sidebars. Internal links are more powerful than many people think and if your site does well, it’s better to leave your links alone.

2. DO NOT CHANGE YOUR URLs
While it does sound obvious to many, I still see some site owners who don’t seem to understand why changing URLs can be a problem. This is especially true when you are switching from one CMS to another, like converting static HTML website to WordPress.

3. CHOOSE SEO OPTIMIZED THEME
SEO optimized theme or template doesn’t mean it will help you rank in Google. It only means it will not prevent you from ranking. Choose themes or templates that load fast, have H1 tags for titles, display page or post titles before your site’s name and don’t use too many scripts. Avoid Ajax, Flash and excessive JavaScript.

4. KEEP MAIN CONTENT AS CLOSE TO THE TOP AS POSSIBLE
While your layout is likely to change, you still can make sure you don’t have two sidebars before your main content in your HTML source.

5. KEEP AD LAYOUT SAME OR LESS AGGRESSIVE
You should either keep your ad layout same or make it less aggressive. If you decide that you want all your ads to be above the fold and push your main content down, you might get penalized by Google ad layout algorithm. Once you finish your redesign and the dust settles, you can certainly experiment with more effective ad positioning, but don’t do it during redesign process.

6. SKIP LARGE HEADERS
Don’t waste your precious real estate above the fold for useless header image that says nothing but your site’s name. Google appreciates content above the fold more than ever before, why not give it to them?

7. REMOVE NOINDEX TAG
Many a time when you switch from one web host to another or even converting to another CMS within the same host we include noindex tag to new development site in fears of duplicate content. While this may be a good idea in some cases, some webmasters forget to remove this tag when new version of their site goes live (supposedly).

8. CHECK YOUR ANALYTICS
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in site redesign and simply forget to include analytics code to your pages. If that’s your case, your traffic drop is not a drop, you simply need to include tracking code!

UPDATE: Just to make things clear, even changing your WordPress theme can affect your traffic. There is a number of things that could wrong, please check my answer in comments here.

Bye Bye Image Traffic!

girl with camera

Recently Google made changes to its image search or, to be precise, it made changes to how images are displayed in its search results.

girl with cameraBefore this change if a visitor clicked on your image in Google’s search results the entire screen faded and the image floated over it. However, your website was still loading behind that black (or grey) overlay. I always thought it was pointless, but this type of views would register as visits in your stats. After the latest changes, your website doesn’t load anymore while all your images are available for download right form Google search results. Of course, nobody says you allowed to download your images, but we all know that’s exactly what happens.

I’ve seen many webmasters cry in various forums. If a significant portion of your traffic was coming from image search, these days must be tough for you.

On the other hand, all these webmasters were reporting that their income didn’t change. It’s because although your website was loading behind that dark overlay, your visitors weren’t really visitors and never went to your website. For most of you with image-based traffic, it feels that you lost but you really didn’t. This wasn’t real traffic anyway. The only thing you could do with this traffic is to show nice page view numbers to advertisers and now your numbers decreased.

I personally always felt like clicking on image should result in being redirected to the original page without any kind of overlay, but who cares how I feel about it anyway.

My Panda Story

google analytics showing traffic drop


UPDATE: I have actually recovered from this hit. Details here »

I thought I will never do this, but today I am especially talkative so I thought I’ll share this…

google analytics showing traffic drop

This screenshot of my Google Analytics is showing a drop on one of my websites. As you see, traffic dropped by approximately 50 percent. The drop happened on June 29, 2012 so it’s hard to tell whether it was still the effect of Panda update that ran four days earlier, or it was some other mysterious update. I still don’t know!

What was really weird about this drop that it happened exactly at 00:00 my time, which is GMT+2 (I live in Beirut). Most of my visitors come from the US, however it looked like this traffic drop was scheduled and “customized” especially for me. How sweet!

This wasn’t a manual penalty (I asked Google). I didn’t do keyword research or any kind of keyword stuffing simply out of principle. When I say this I don’t mean it’s wrong to research keywords and put them in all proper places. What I mean is I really can’t build my websites like this. I started that way and it felt fake. A few month later I went through my old pages and removed all extra keywords. The traffic was still on rise and continued to rise. Apparently I didn’t gain or lose after removing keywords (which was long before we ever heard of Panda or Penguin).

I also didn’t build links because I wanted to abide according to Google Webmaster’s Guidelines 100%. I used offline materials to research for articles (which costed me a lot of money) and hired native English speakers to help me write content. So I will never agree that my content was thin. Never.

Since this drop I added over 70 pages to my website and traffic is still approximately same. The traffic is still somewhat high, but I abandoned that website. It rolls on its own now. I don’t want to waste time on it anymore.

Lessons Learned

7 months later I am finally over this. I don’t feel sad about it anymore and finally stopped caring about my traffic numbers. It’s the nature of this business (is it really a business??), it’s just not reliable. If that traffic ever comes back I know I can’t count on that income. I just can’t afford to build on sand.

If you are doing this for fun then you already won. But if you are planning to do this for business, this probably isn’t worth your time.

UPDATE: I recovered from this »

Matt Cutts on Keyword Stuffing

This video was uploaded in August 2011, well before Penguin update. It addresses keyword density issues and in my opinion explains keyword¬†stuffing very clearly. There is no doubt about importance of keywords. You still need to use them to ensure that search engines can pick up the subject of your article or post, but you don’t need to repeat it over and over again in order to rank. Not even 1 percent! You just need to be natural and this video explains what is meant by natural really well.

The problem is that many of us are so used to idea that you have to repeat a keyword a certain number of times that some can’t even see what’s wrong with this practice. They sincerely don’t understand why would it be suddenly considered manipulative and bitterly resent Google for running Penguin algorithm. But in reality these are no new rules. Google didn’t suddenly change the rules, they merely implemented an algorithm that ranks sites that ignore their rules lower – something they always promised. Basically, the rules were always there, so it’s hard to blame them. To be honest these changes make me only happy, because now I can build great sites without worrying much about keywords.