You’ve done it! After months of work (as well as a hefty financial investment) you are finally ready to launch your new website. All the planning, designing, and optimizing is in place and you are ready to sit back and watch sales skyrocket behind the updated user experience.
Then you launch your site… and traffic drops... A LOT.
Nothing is more terrifying for an online business owner than seeing a sudden drop in traffic on their site, especially after they just invested thousands of dollars updating it. Wasn’t the whole point of redesigning your website to do the exact opposite? Now a slight drop in web traffic (5-7%) in the first few weeks after a site launch is normal and nothing to be worried about. After all it takes time for Google to re-crawl your site and come up with your updated ranking. If after a few weeks though you still haven't seen traffic bounce back, it may be time to take a deeper look at what might be causing your site to perform poorly.
There is no need to panic though. There are many reasons why your website traffic might have dipped in the first few weeks after launching a new site. What is important is being able to understand what is actually going on behind the scenes and what steps need to be taken to fix it.
Web Design 101
Having studied SEO strategies for quite some time, I know it can be a daunting topic to try and understand when you are first starting. Search engines like Google have updated and evolved their algorithms many times since their creation. In order to keep your site ranking high on SERPs (search engine landing pages) you have to make sure your site is optimized every time one of these changes happen.
Here is a great video from Google engineer Matt Cutts introducing you to the basics of SEO:
As you can see, all search engines do is act like a librarians for the web. Regardless if your site is years old or brand new, if it is not optimized for the search engine to find easily it most likely will not rank very high (if at all).
What this Means for Your Site
Now that we’ve covered the basics, we can now take a closer look at your new site. The most important thing to do when trying to diagnose the problem is to not panic. There are a number of potential reasons outside of your site itself that can lead to a sudden drop in traffic. That is why it is vital to dive right into your site's analytics and identify exactly where the problems might be coming from.
This is not the trend you are looking for.....
If you outsourced your site redesign to an agency that is at all worth their salt then they most likely integrated tracking software such as Google Analytics into your new website. What Google Analytics allows you to do is keep track of everything that happens while users are on your site. With only a few clicks you can get valuable information that includes
- How many people are visiting your site?
- How long they are staying on your site?
- What pages they are viewing?
- Where they are coming from?
- Who they are?
- What devices they are using?
As you can expect this information is invaluable when it comes to helping you diagnose exactly what is happening to your site traffic. If it is a technical issue, such as a bad link or redirect, then you can target those specific problems and make sure they are up to date. On the other hand if you cannot specifically find any problems in your site architecture, your dip in traffic may actually be a result of a problem completely unrelated to your site itself.
Comparing Traffic from Your Previous Site
Now that you have taken a look at your overall analytics, you need to take a very in-depth look at one key statistic, where your traffic is coming from. Google Analytics breaks traffic down into five different categories:
By identifying exactly what kind of visitor is seeing a drop in traffic, you can better understand what might be going on. For example, if your sites organic results are where the majority of your traffic has slowed it may in fact be a technical issue with your site that is causing it to rank poorly on search engines. On the other hand that same traffic may be dropping because of a competitor launching a new product line or special offer that causes visitors to search their site instead. In order to truly understand what is going on you will have to do a little bit of a deep dive to find out what all happened around the time traffic started dropping. Who knows? What you thought was a disaster of a site may actually end up being a result of an outside force (ex. a competitor.)
What’s important is that you don’t jump to conclusions and assume the problem is with your site itself. The last thing you want to do is go back and overhaul major parts of your site trying to fix a problem that wasn’t there in the first place. That will almost always hurt you more in the long run.
OK, So That Wasn't It…
Alright, so you’ve done your deep dive and came up empty. Now it’s time to start digging through the meat of your site and find out what went wrong. I could go incredibly deep on what you can find out about your site in Google Analytics, but in order to keep things (somewhat) short narrow it down to a few major things you should look for when trying to diagnose what is wrong with your site.
Any website going through a redesign requires a boat load of work. Very rarely are companies starting from scratch with a brand new site, instead they require a vast majority of the content from the old site to be updated and ported over to the new one. Without a well implemented transition strategy, old content that used to do incredibly well from an SEO perspective can become useless overnight.
- 301 Redirects – This is basically the transfer of old content to a page on the new website. If these are not done properly it can reset the old SEO values and send visitors to a 404 page (basically a dead link.) This kills your SEO rating and is usually the biggest reason redesigned sites see a hit in their web traffic
- Internal Links – This is essentially how the internal pages on your site flow. If you changed the order in which people click through your site, it can completely change how search engines value your site. If Google found navigating through your old site easier than your new one, then you can bet that has an impact on why your visitors aren’t as high.
- Linking to Avoid:
- Websites penalized or banned from search engines
- Websites that duplicate their content
- Websites unrelated to your business
- Advertorials without an opt-out
- Hidden Text
- Adult/gambling site links
- Linking to Avoid:
- Copy Changes – Copy, or the writing within your site, has a heavy impact on SEO rankings. Google runs through regularly and grades your site according to keywords and topics. If you have updated a lot of your copy for your new site, you may not be hitting on the same keywords and topics you were before.
- Deleted Pages – Often times when people redesign their site they try to “cut the fat” and delete pages they found to be outdated or useless. Unfortunately if Google found that content to be important and you deleted it without a proper replacement, it will consider your new site to be less relevant than it was before. Thus dinging your SEO in the process.
Last but not least, there is one more thing to consider if your site that have nothing to do with either an outside or technical issue. Those are Google penalties. Often times these things go completely overlooked by website owners. Google penalties come in two different forms, manual and algorithmic.
Manual penalties are actions that site owners did on their own that are against the policies Google have in place. These kinds of actions could things like link schemes or click farming, basically any action that Google would identify as “cheating” to boost your SERPs.
Algorithmic penalties, on the other hand, are a direct result of Google issuing an update to how they are ranking sites. If you see that your site traffic started falling around the date of a one of Google’s updates, it’s very likely that something in that update is hurting your rating. The best course of action at that point is to take a deep look at what that update changed and make adjustments to your site accordingly.
Most Importantly… Relax
It can be difficult to settle down when you see site traffic drop, especially when you just invested a ton into a new site. What is important though is not just identifying that traffic is down, but understanding why it is happening in the first place. Having the knowledge and skills to determine what is going on and fix it is vital to your site’s long term success. Even brand new websites require maintenance to stay effective. As Google continues to evolve, so will the requirements needed to maintain a high ranking. Stay on top of these updates and you should have an optimized website that drives traffic for years to come.