Imagine this: you work months to redesign your organization's website and launch it to the world with pride. Each page has new content, graphics galore, and expert resources to bring your users delight. However, in the months succeeding your new website's launch, you notice that your Google rankings are down.
This is a common point of confusion and concern for tech marketers, and understandably so! If I spend significant resources rebuilding a website, especially if rebuilt for the express purpose of prioritizing SEO, then why would my rankings drop after launch? On average, we see rankings fluctuate between 5%-10% after a website launch. Fortunately, while this can happen, it's less common if tech marketers employ the strategies I talk about in this blog!
A new website is like a new house
Bear with me as I explain this simile—I promise that it will make sense. When you buy and move into a new home, you likely do each of these three things. Each of these aligns with moving to a new website, too:
- Take your existing furniture (i.e., move existing website content)
- Buy new furniture (i.e., write new website content)
- Give away furniture (i.e., delete old website content)
Now, Google is like your next-door neighbor (let's call him Gary), who has been over to your house on multiple occasions. Gary knows what each of your rooms (i.e., pages) looks like and the furniture (i.e., content) each has. So, when you move into your new house and have Gary over, while you have some of the same furniture, he needs to get used to your new layout. Did you give away Gary's favorite chair? Did you buy a new couch that proved impossible to get up the stairs? Gary would undoubtedly need to get his bearings by exploring your new house.
In essence, this is what Google does after a new website launch. Googlebot crawls your new website, comparing it to what it has in its index from your previous site. As Googlebot explores your new website, Google's algorithm starts showing pages for more keywords at different positions, each generating different levels of click traffic. If you check one week, your metrics can tell a wholly different story than if you check back a week later.
Mitigating the post-launch volatility
Understanding the volatility of a website's rankings as Google gets its bearings with your additions, removals and other changes, tech marketers can take six steps to mitigate the impact on rankings.
1. Redirect all pages deleted or with different URLs
301 redirects will be your best friend when launching a new website. If you change a page's URL or delete an old piece of content, add a redirect to get your users (and Google!) to the right place. 301 redirects remove the chance of 404 errors, which damage your website's reputation with Google. A helpful tip: run an automated crawl of your website before launch to get all URLs. Then map them to the new pages on your website to ensure none fall through the cracks.
2. Start revising content on your existing site early on
Most times, tech marketers write new content for their website offline and then implement it right before launch. Instead, start updating content on your existing site to give Google time to recrawl and index everything. This way, when your new site launches, it's not full of completely new content. Another note: avoid deleting content unless it's absolutely necessary. Opt to update outdated pages instead of deleting them.
3. Avoid removing anything that offers rich results
A rich result is anything on a SERP beyond the standard listing of a page. These can include:
- Article callouts
Added markup to your pages (Schema in particular) is what makes appearing in rich results possible. Rich results typically have higher engagement rates and generate more traffic to your site because they appear at the top. If you have Schema markup on your existing website, be sure to keep it on the new site. If you do not already have markup, adding some will open up new opportunities to appear on SERPs!
4. Submit a new XML sitemap to Google right after launch
Instead of leaving poor Gary to walk aimlessly around your new home, give him a head start into what's new by giving him a tour! In the case of your new website, submit its XML sitemap to Google via Google Search Console immediately after launch. The listing of all of the pages helps to highlight the additions and removals for Google.
5. Make sure your new site's SEO is better
As I said, most tech marketers prioritize SEO when launching a new website. As such, it's important to make sure your new site's SEO is better than the old site's. By this, I am not referring to just on-page content, title tags and meta descriptions.
Does the new site perform splendidly on phones? Do pages load quickly across all devices? Do your URLs follow a logical structure and organization? These three items, along with a multitude of others, are important to consider before launching your new site. Anything changed for the worse will impact your rankings post-launch.
6. Prioritize new content in the following months
Google does not care for a "bait and switch" when it comes to your website content! Make a plan to write and publish new content—blogs, case studies and more—in the months following your new website's launch to show Google you mean business with your content marketing efforts. Plus, generating more content gives you ample reasons to post on social media and launch paid advertising campaigns.
While most, if not all, websites will experience volatile rankings in the months following the launch of a new website, tech marketers can take proactive steps to mitigate the impact. I do have one last tip for you. As you analyze the impact of your new website's performance on Google, avoid focusing just on the metrics found in Google Search Console. In Google Analytics, check to see the growth of users coming from organic search quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year. Plus, seeing an increase in qualified leads from organic search can indicate your website appearing for the right queries for those users down-funnel.