That moment when your brand new website goes live is really exciting. It's the pride and joy you've been working on for weeks or months, and it's finally ready. Finally, go-live day arrives! Everyone loves your new website. However, after a couple weeks or a month, you take a look at Google Analytics and see that your traffic has been down a little bit since your new site went live. What's up with that?
Although your redesign is better for your users, Google takes a little bit longer to catch on.
Google's algorithm, in a nut shell:
At its basic level, Google's algorithm is a really smart robot. Smart enough to provide relevant content for a user's search query by crawling millions of web pages and ranking them in the order it sees fit for that query. That's pretty mind-blowing, if you ask this humble web marketer! However smart that robot is, though, it's not too difficult to trip it up.
Website Redesigns Are for Humans, Not Bots
A search engine web crawler like Google gets to know your website by your page structure and your content. It sees meta titles and descriptions, the headings on your pages, and all those paragraphs of content. It takes into account your sitemap and the way your pages are arranged. It gets to know your site the way it is. Even if that site is outdated, design-wise.
So, when you redesign your site and make it waayy more awesome for your human users, those humans love it, but Google is like, "Huh? What happened here?" Even if your site structure has ultimately improved and become more Google-friendly, it's not instantaneous that you see the effects of that.
How to Make Go-Live as Smooth as Possible for Search Engines
There are a couple things you can do to make the time it takes search engines to navigate your new site as small as possible, to keep that little dip in traffic at bay.
1. Make sure your new site is optimized on the technical side from top to bottom!
Page titles, meta descriptions, friendly URLs, all of these aspects of site optimization are important for any new website.
2. Optimize your content.
Make sure each page has headings that include the important keywords for that page. Each page should ideally focus on one topic. Your page title, meta description, URL, and content headings should all be about the same topic.
3. Do a really good job of setting up 301 redirects.
A 301 redirect is a way of telling the search engines what happened when your URLs change. For instance, say your Contact Us page used to be yourdomain.com/contact-us/, and now it's yourdomain.com/contact/. If you don't put in a 301 redirect, search engines (and anyone who clicks a link to that page on another site or in search results) will get an error.If Google sees that your site is throwing a bunch of errors for pages that were indexed but no longer exist, it's not likely to rank your site highly.
If you rely heavily on leads from your website and are worried about the traffic dip that might happen, the only way to ensure that you'll still get as much traffic as you need is to run paid ads. It might just end up going so well that you'll want to keep running them after your organic traffic bounces back! Read more in Setting Up an AdWords Account
There you have it, a plan to keep as much of your traffic as possible. Now, keep this in mind: it's impossible to predict what's going to happen. I've seen sites take pretty good-sized traffic dips when going live with a redesign, but I've also seen some take barely a dip at all and quickly start increasing due to the awesomeness of the new site! The best plan of action is just to prepare, prepare, prepare! Optimize, optimize, optimize!