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.

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Comments

  1. I think the traffic drops when you migrate from one CMS to another.

    What if I just change my theme?

    In other words, I was using WordPress and Still using WordPress but with different theme.

    Will it drop the traffic?

    • Hi and thanks for your comment. Switching themes is less likely to cause problems because you aren’t tempted to alter your internal linking, but even then there are things to watch out for.

      For example, if you used SEO optimized theme such those of Genesis that allow you to insert custom meta tags – SEO titles and meta descriptions, and you switch to another theme (not Genesis) all your meta tags data is lost site-wide.

      Other things to look for is how your new theme handles duplicate content, because some themes do not have excerpt options and will create duplicates of all posts on category pages. Same applies to some parts that could be nofollowed by using your theme options rather than plugin. Then we have themes that do not handle titles properly – you either need to know how to fix that or choose something else. Content layout can be issue as well. Another important this is that you need to remember to keep menus and any custom links in footer or sidebar same as before. Your old menu links may not fit in new design and you might be tempted to remove some links or drop your old menu altogether. This is a recipe for disaster.

      So, in short you still can experience traffic drop even if you simply change your WordPress theme if you aren’t careful.

  2. Thanks so much for the tips. I actually just launched my site and you bring up some really good points to keep the traffic coming. Pt 6 has definitely resonated with me!!

    Thank You for sharing
    - Monisha

    • Monisha, I am so happy to meet you! Yes, this is important stuff that is often overlooked. This is important for anyone who receives or is hoping to receive organic traffic from Google. Glad you found it helpful!

  3. Hi Elena,

    Found you through Corina’s I’m Every Woman Weekly link-up. We just underwent a site redesign and I have noticed any traffic drop, thankfully. We didn’t change web hosts and kept our urls the same. If anything, traffic seems to up, which is always a good thing!

    • Hi Shannon and thanks for your comment. The traffic doesn’t drop every time, but it does happen at times. It is also more true for those who receive most of their traffic from search engines, not regular readers who are following via RSS. Anyway glad you are fine!

  4. scotlandinaweek says:

    Hi Elena,
    We changed scotlandinaweek.com from SBI to WP ( using Canvas theme) – and followed your steps with great care. All seems well – we went live on WP at the end of March – we like the new look of the site and we were careful to keep the page urls the same, but we have noticed that when we right click an image and inspect the element – the image urls are still using the temp url address we had while we were building the site behind the scenes. ( Although the image file url address is correct in the WP image library?)

    We submitted an image sitemap to Google – which now of course, shows a clean sweep of 404s.

    What has gone wrong? – or maybe it will be okay – we need to be patient? Perhaps Google will find correct image urls eventually?

    Thanks in advance.
    Johanna

    • This normally should be in forum, but that’s ok :) You shouldn’t have this problem, so I am wondering if you edited your site URL and your WordPress URL in database. Please go to Settings –> General and make sure both have your site URL. I cannot think of anything else that could potentially cause this.

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