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Changing supplier for your new website? You might want to think twice

You should be obsessively worried about throwing your SEO down the drain when moving your website to a new supplier

So yes, that opening statement may be skirting the edges of apocalyptic proclamation, but it does cover a subject that we’ve experienced a number of times over the last few years. And it's a subject that we care deeply about because we’ve seen the real impact it has on businesses that get it wrong. What I’ll be covering in this item is the significant negative impact that “getting a new website built” can have when it isn’t handled correctly by an agency that is not SEO centric.

"Businesses get hung up on aesthetics and the next shiny thing and frequently neglect SEO when they want a new website"

We have excellent long term partnerships with our clients, building up website traffic, improving Google rankings, and driving online business. But as with all agencies, some clients decide it’s time to try something or someone new. When this happens with websites, we are always keen to work with the client and the new website supplier to ensure the transition to the new site goes smoothly and all the extremely valuable SEO equity built up, often over years, is maintained. However, there are occasions that, seduced by the next shiny thing, and feeling a tingle of “ex agency partner guilt”, we’re not informed about the switch until too late. With darkening skies and the distant clip-clopping of what sounds like four horses, SEO apocalypse does, more frequently than we’d like, ensue.

Some real examples of where it’s all gone a bit wrong

Other than the phone going quiet and tumbleweed drifting through your inbox there are a number of metrics and signals that help you identify that you need to act quickly to minimise the problem. Here are some real examples of some of our previous clients that have built new websites with new suppliers and not carefully considered a well mapped out SEO transition.

Example 1 - Design over Content

In this example, the client in question decided to drastically reduce the footprint of the website and make the new site image led. Although this is a service based business, content focused on telling the business story and focusing far too heavily on “self” rather than audience needs and search behaviour. On the old website, content was tailored to the core business services, with internal links and site structure built around the end user demands.

 

With the failure to recognise the importance of these crucial service pages, the new suppliers built a site that, whilst visually appealing and content rich around the business story, neglected what the business was actually being sought for. Previously crucial landing pages that had built up authority in Google were not correctly linked or optimised. As a result, rankings took a sharp dive, new traffic to the site dried up, and only brand aware searches remained.

Example 2 - 404 Page not found!! and “location” rankings entirely lost

In a similar vein, when this client “got a new website” they culled large sections of their existing site in order to make it “more manageable” for the internal team. The business in this case had numerous locations, each with optimised content that gained them excellent rankings locally and nationally. This local content had been linked to by plenty of high authority sites, and acted as important entry points for exceptionally relevant visits and enquiries.

By removing this location based content and by not setting up appropriate redirects they saw two major issues. Firstly, almost all pages on Google led users to 404 pages - so when anyone found them on Google they’d see an error page telling them that the content no longer existed - not a great first impression. Secondly, the website dropped off the first page of Google for 90% of the search terms they used to appear for. In most cases they dropped out of the top 100 positions entirely.

Website migrations are exciting for you and your new supplier. But don’t forget who you’re building this for

Your new website is for your customers and they need to get the information they want at the end of their search. If you’re going to build a new website with a new supplier, you must get your SEO in order. Or you may want to consider whether you’re actually making the wrong leap entirely. We find that there are generally three types of web development agencies;

  • Approach A : Those that have SEO baked in to their DNA and will follow the right procedures to build you a great site that keeps or builds on your current customer traffic
  • Approach B :Those that recognise the importance of SEO and will insist on a specialist SEO party being involved in the migration
  • Approach C :Those that are just focused on building you a nice site.

Unfortunately we frequently come across far more of the latter, with the above results being more the norm than the exception. Whilst we don’t expect to be the SEO guardians for all of our client’s entire online business lifespan, we do care very much that years of hard work conquering the Google SERPs is not lost. With that in mind, when you decide that you need a new website, please do try to recognise the approach of your agency or freelancer, and make sure you’re asking the right SEO questions.

Website migrations are hard. You need a dedicated SEO plan to succeed.

There is no use pretending migrations are easy, particularly when you’re restructuring your site and especially if you decide to change domain too. Undertaking such a task is probably the highest risk technical procedure you can do for your SEO. But there are occasions, including those mentioned above that require you to do so. There are numerous factors to consider and having carried out many of these each year we stick to a tried and tested procedure that works really well for us. If you are planning to do this, either talk to us or another SEO expert, and consider questions around…

  • Taking stock of your current search equity and rankings
  • Mapping your existing content to your new structure - redirects!!!
  • Internal link structures
  • Metadata and robot instructions to help Search Engines rediscover the right information
  • Canonical and page directives strategy
  • The SEO support of your new platform
  • Removing redundant and duplicate content
  • The value of your on-page content - and on page content structure
  • How you’re informing search engines of your changes
  • Inbound links

And just to prove it’s not all doom and gloom waiting around the corner…

Handled correctly, a new website can go way beyond just maintaining your visitors and rankings. All new sites should focus on reducing risk but also maximising new opportunities. Here’s a typical example of what can happen to ranks when all the relevant SEO boxes are correctly ticked, and the site is built with the lens on both your business narrative and your customers’ search needs.

We built a new site for this customer after fully auditing current content and SEO equity. Restructuring existing content and identifying additional “high search demand” content saw a significant jump in rankings, visits, and enquiries from day one of the new site launch in March 2019.


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