Launching a new website is an exciting time because it allows you to showcase your business in a fresh way to your existing audience and any potential new customers. But, if you’re here, it’s likely you’ve seen a drop in organic performance since your website migration, so we’ve put together a three-step plan for you to get back on track.
In the excitement of the launch, the pressure of deadlines, combined with a lack of SEO knowledge around migrating to a new website, it’s easy to make mistakes. If you find yourself reading this it’s likely that you’ve seen a drop in your organic performance post-launch. You aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last.
A poorly executed launch/migration can impact your SEO performance considerably. You could have seen a decline in rankings and in some cases a complete loss of previously high-performance keywords that were driving traffic and ultimately conversions for your business. That could mean lower-than-expected revenue and missed targets.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that we’ll walk you through a plan to help you recover that lost SEO traction and get back on track with your organic performance. Then we’ll discuss the importance of preventing future mishaps when it comes to your next launch.
It might feel like the worst thing in the world right now, but it’s fixable, that I can promise you.
Here at Embryo, we’ve helped multiple businesses gently move their websites to new domains whilst ensuring limited damage to their hard-earned SEO performance. If you’d like to let our team handle your subsequent website migration be sure to get in touch with us by phone on 0161 327 2635 or email [email protected]. Alternatively, hit the contact button below.
Step 1: Identifying the Cause of the SEO Drop
Typically a loss of organic performance after a website launch/migration comes down to one of a few things. In my experience, if you check over the below, you’re very likely to find the cause of the issue.
It’s very common for businesses without experience in SEO to use a website launch as a reason to “clean up” their current content. By “clean-up” we mean DELETE.
SEO is a very intricate balance and all of those old blogs you might have thought had no value could have been improving the relevancy of your website in the market you operate in. The internal links, the keyword density, it all counts.
The pages you deleted, the content you changed, the content you removed, it’s all part of the balance in SEO and it could well have been carrying the value that has caused your drop in organic performance.
So, in preparation for the launch, did you migrate all of your content over? All pages? All blogs? All products etc? Is anything missing that was there before?
In some circumstances, removing pages isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If they no longer make sense in the context of your business, removing them makes sense. What you should do though is implement 301 redirects to an appropriate equivalent page. For example, if you’re deleting a product because it’s no longer being manufactured, redirect that URL to the products category page.
The primary purpose here is to make sure that any user that lands on that URL is redirected to another page that will help them continue their journey. 404 pages are functional, but they’re not good at keeping people on your website.
What the 301 redirects also does is allow you to keep any SEO value that the page had and pass it back into the website. This will also help redistribute any backlink value the page has, and that brings us to our next point.
For example, if you have a page that has naturally gained links over a long period of time, removing that page without a redirect means you’re going to lose the majority of the value the links are passing through.
Redirecting that page will help you keep some of that value. The best case scenario though would be that you contact the website owners and ask them to update the link to another relevant page – although we appreciate that it isn’t always doable.
Think of it like this:
- Your website has 500 unique backlinks.
- 50 of those backlinks are pointing to a page that you removed.
- The loss here is the value of 10% of your backlink profile.
- Backlinks are a large ranking factor.
Having a plan that maps out your backlinks to pages and redirects will help avoid most of the loss of value.
Another overlooked but important aspect of a migration is the technical health of your on-page SEO. If your new website hasn’t migrated over your optimisation, that could have a large impact on your organic performance.
Common things missed include:
- Page titles
- Image optimisation (size, file names, alt text)
- Internal linking
- Pagespeed (including Core Web Vitals) optimisation
- Schema markup
- Website structure (navigation etc)
- No index not being removed from the development site as it launched (before you move down further, check that your robots.txt file doesn’t have a Disallow: tag and blocking robots access to the website, or that your individual pages don’t have meta robots: noindex on them. If they do, that’s your issue, you’re blocking search engines from accessing and indexing your new website)
If your technical health has declined with the launch of the new website, it could impact your organic performance. It’s all part of the balancing act of SEO.
Those four, content, redirections, backlinks, and technical health are the likely cause, it’s what we see in a vast majority of cases that come to us for help. If it’s not any of those, it’s likely something much deeper, and if that is the case, get an expert in to help you diagnose it.
Section 2: Developing a Recovery Plan
If you’ve identified one of the above issues as the likely reason your organic performance has dropped post-launch, now you need a recovery plan, a solid plan of action to help recover that performance and get your SEO back on track.
For content, you need to be prepared to dig into what changed. To do this you need a reference to your previous content. Hopefully, your developer took a backup of the old website prior to launching your new one. Or, if you have a record of what changed, even better.
Failing that, as a last resort you could use a tool such as Wayback Machine. They take snapshots of website pages and store them in the archive. If your page was getting a decent amount of traffic and was live for a while, you might be able to find it here and copy your old content.
- Note: Start with the pages you know have rapidly declined in organic traffic. You can check Google Search Console or Google Analytics for this*
Then you need to check:
- What content was removed or changed?
- What headings were removed or changed?
- What inline images and associated optimisation were removed or changed?
- What internal links were removed or changed?
Then you need to decide whether or not the content changes/removals have played a huge role in your organic performance decline. For example, stripping out 2000 words of well-optimised content and not replacing it is likely to be a cause.
Following that you need to decide how you’re going to incorporate the missing elements and get the page back to it’s former optimised glory.
If you didn’t map out your website structure and compared that to your existing site before launch, you’ll need to check the following:
- Are all previously ranking URLs accessible on the new website?
- If not, are they 301 redirect to another relevant page?
Create your website structure maps and make sure they align with each other and where they don’t, you implement redirects as appropriate. Whilst this won’t recover the full extent of the lost organic performance, it certainly will help.
This one is a little easier than the prior two – but you’ll need a tool like ahrefs, SEMRush, Majestic, or SERanking, plus Google Search Console. The more tools you can use the better because it will allow you to get as broad an overview of your current website backlinks as possible.
Each of the tools will have a specific process to get to the data you need, but in general, you need the following:
- An export of all of your backlinks and their current status (live, broken etc).
- Export as much as you can into a single spreadsheet and then condense the data into three columns:
- Backlink URL (URL where the backlink is coming from).
- Anchor (the text/image that is clickable to reach your website).
- Target URL (URL on your website where the link is pointing to)
- Status (whether the link points to a live page or is broken (404)).
If you can’t get the statuses, or you think they might be incorrect, there’s a fantastic tutorial here which details how to get status codes for webpages in Google Sheets. Remember, you need the status codes for the target URLs to find broken links pointing to your website.
- Now you’ve got your data, you need to work through the broken backlinks and either implement a redirect on your website to push that link authority elsewhere (make sure it’s a relevant page or the homepage), or reach out to the websites and ask them to update the links to a working appropriate URL on your website.
If you have access to one or more of the tools noted above for backlink checks, you may have access to a website audit tool also (ahrefs, SERanking, and SEMRush have them). A crawl on this will give you a good idea of where the technical health of the website. If you had automatic crawls set up on the old website this will help a lot as you’ll be able to compare the health before and after the launch.
You’ll get a list of the current technical SEO issues on the website. Each tool will differ in its checks and results but they will point you in the right direction.
Ideally, here, you need someone with expertise in SEO to review and work with the developers to implement the changes. These audit tools serve as guidance, not gospel, and very few websites ever hit the top score.
We’re into the very depths of SEO now. If you don’t believe any of the above has caused the issue, you definitely need specialist assistance to diagnose and resolve the issue. The experience of years in SEO helps spot issues that may not be visible to developers and/or people without SEO knowledge. At Embryo, our team of SEO experts can help you.
Section 3: Preventing Future Migration Mishaps
There’s a simple prevention method for all of the above issues, and that is planning. Every single minute detail planned out before launch will allow you to mitigate the above issues. At a minimum, you should have prepared before launch:
- A website structure & content map which details changes in URLs and/or content when comparing the existing website to the one you’re about to launch. This should also include current rankings and organic traffic so you understand the importance of each page.
- A redirect map which details the 301 redirects you will need to implement before launch to prevent any loss of authority and make sure your users land on a related page where they have been removed.
- A full SEO-led technical SEO audit to understand the health of the existing website plus all of the existing optimisation, and then the same for the new website so you can compare the two to understand what changes there are and how much impact they will have.
- Hire an SEO – even if it’s not for an ongoing SEO contract – hire an agency that understands the implications of a site launch and knows exactly what to check to minimise any losses incurred when a new website is launched.
Conclusion: Migrate Your Site with Caution
We’ve covered the potential issues, we’ve discussed the steps required to roll out a recovery plan, and then we’ve advised steps to prevent this from ever happening again in the future.
If you’re lost in it all, get in touch with us and we’ll be able to help you recover as much as possible. If you’re planning a migration soon, again we can help you plan it and manage the process from start to end.
A short-term investment in a knowledgeable SEO will cost far less than the impact on your business from a severe drop in organic performance and the losses incurred from drops in revenue and/or leads.
Migrations and website launches don’t need to be painful, they need to be planned. If you’ve planned properly, you can be confident in the change. On a final note, even when properly planned you are likely to see some fluctuations in rankings in the very short term. Planning is about minimising them as much as possible.