Your webmaster is probably pretty awesome and fantastic at their job. But one of my SEO client's webmaster made some big mistakes when they redesigned their website that has sent their SEO into a tailspin and it's not a battle you want to find yourself waging. Before we even had our first official meeting to discuss our SEO strategy, my client sent me an email asking us to take a look at her site's Google Analytics account to see if we could pinpoint exactly whey their traffic plummeted when they launched their new site. And boy do I mean plummeted--roughly 20,000 organic visitors to 8,000 in a matter of days. In one of our back and forth emails, my client said;
The site was a new CMS as well as revised content and structure. I recall there were a lot of 301 issues and broken links and the webmaster tried to convince the COO that it was all intentional so it didn't look like we were trying to trick the search engines with redirects or some nonsense like that.
First red flag--revised site structure. When you reorganize how your website is built and linked internally you also change the way Google crawls and indexes it. For instance, if a page used to be in the high level navigation and no longer is that page lost several hundred (or several thousand depending on the size of the site) internal links and subsequent link juice and SEO value. By removing that page from the high level navigation you are telling Google that it is not as important anymore and should be treated as such.
Second red flag--broken links. When you delete an old page from your site it creates a broken link which registers as a 404 error. While you and your site's visitors might no longer be able to access that old URL is still exists in the eyes of the Google search spiders, which will keep trying to crawl it. It also exists in any inbound links or social shares that page may have built over time, which send both the search engines and traffic your way. Without a proper 301 redirect all the SEO value of that original URL is lost and the new URL has to start from scratch with nothing. Remember, the search engines rank individual pages of a website, not the site as a whole. Preserving the link juice and SEO value off old URLs is essential during a website redesign!
Third red flag--didn't want to look like they were tricking the search engines. While I appreciate that this webmaster didn't want to run afoul of Google's Webmaster Guidelines here's what Google has to say about broken links and 301
If you need to change the URL of a page as it is shown in search engine results, we recommended that you use a server-side 301 redirect. This is the best way to ensure that users and search engines are directed to the correct page. The 301 status code means that a page has permanently moved to a new location.
Using 301 redirects to preserve the SEO value and the usability of your own website is NOT an attempt to trick the search engines.
When I logged into my client's Webmaster Tools account I found they had over 3,000 404 errors! From just a quick glance I could tell that some of those now defunct URLs used to be high up in the navigation and were just replaced when the new site structure was created. For instance, mycompany.com/services became mycompany.com/products. The /services URL had quite a bit of trust and link juice built up but all of it was lost when the /products URL was created (albeit with very similar content) because it wasn't properly 301 redirected. Although that old URL is no longer indexed, the new URL that took its place didn't benefit from whatever SEO work was done prior to the new site launch.
We're working on fixing the 3,000+ 404 errors and hopefully that will help my client recover some of their lost traffic and lost inbound links. Since the old site is no longer kicking around I won't be able to compare the two side by side so we'll just have to deal with any other bad calls their webmaster made as we find them!
Sites need to be updated and redesigned from time to time in order to stay current. But don't let all your SEO value and years of link building and online authority go to waste over something as simple as 301 redirects! This is not the first client I have seen this happen to nor will it be the last, I'm sure.
Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing, one of the premier full service SEO firms in the United States. With over 12 years of experience Nick Stamoulis has worked with hundreds of companies small, large and every size in between. Through his vast and diverse SEO, search engine marketing and internet marketing experience Nick Stamoulis has successfully increased the online visibility and sales of clients in all industries.
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