SEO and 301 Redirects
You have launched the new website and over the last few days traffic has taken a nosedive. Your analytics looks like a graph from the Dow Jones on a very bad day. The web design firm assures you this always happens with a new website and that it will recover better than before. A week or two go by, maybe months. You may even be seeing a bit of a recovery, but not what you had before. Leads and sales are down and you keep asking “what happened?”
Why Is My New Website Tanking In Traffic
From my experience there can be many reasons for this including less content on the website, technical SEO elements ignored in the new design but about 80% of the time it is one major issue. REDIRECTS! All of this could have been addressed with a short amount of code or even a plugin.
It does not matter if you are in a technical position at your company or own your own business. If you are getting a new website and care even the least bit about showing up in the search results, you need to understand 301 redirects. I am not saying you have to implement them yourself, but you do have to ask the question and actually test afterward to ensure the are done.
What is a 301 Redirect
At the server level, usually in the .htaccess file, it is a function that tells the server a page that was once listed this way is now listed that way. It is there for the purpose of telling visitors and bots alike “hey, the page that used to be called this is now this”. This can apply to entire domains being switched to renaming just one image.
Online resources such as search engines and even your own website have a record of a particular page URL for just about everything. These link to all sorts of other pages is what help to organize the internet and again, even your own website. When changes are made we need to give clear directions to these online resources that this URL has changed and here is where the new one is.
So if on this website I change a URL from:
You need to let Google and other websites that have linked to this previous page and even my own internal pages on the site know this. Now, by rights I should update all of the internal links on my website so the 301 redirect isn’t necessary for that process. But we can’t always easily do this for other websites since we can’t always control them
Doing proper redirects is a good user experience. We don’t want to have someone click on a link and end up with a 404 error and see that dreaded text Page Not Found.
Redirects Are Important For SEO
To a technical SEO redirects are the lifeblood of our industry. When we update a website and change a URL to optimize for a specific keyword or perhaps the entire website is being updated and all of the URL’s are being changed, we have to keep in mind that search engines have indexed these old URL’s and that it is our job to let Google know that the old pages have moved.
So when an old page changes from:
seortp.com/seo.html to seortp.com/seo
then here is what happens.
Google crawls the website and sees the previous URL has a 404 page error. It may not even see the new page at this time or it may. The new page may even have the identical text but the search engine will not make the association. After all, it is an algorithm.
All the search engine knows is that it once knew about this page and it was ranking for multiple terms and now it is just plain gone. Over time this page will fall out of the index and other pages from competing websites will improve their ranking by one because of this.
When Google finally indexes the new page it will treat it as such and since it doesn’t see this page in its historical perspective, it may not rank this page as well. It definitely will not benefit from any signals from backlinks on other websites to the old URL because those links are effectively broken.
This is especially the case if a company is changing the domain name.
myseortp.com to seortp.com as an example
Now in this case, the entire domain value has been lost. Instead of one new page trying to rank under a domain with some authority, now we are talking about an entire website that is brand new to Google’s index and I can tell you, search engines always have suspicions of brand new domains. It is not that anyone doesn’t like new domains, it’s just that you can’t compare the trust that a domain has that has been active for many years with content that has history and signals from all over the webs that this domain has some authority.