A site redesign and relaunch can be an exciting and busy time in the life of a company’s web marketing program. It's a great time to shake a site down to its core, revamp the message, look and feel, and – most importantly – structure the site for SEO success (assuming you read my article on how to relaunch without losing sleep).
On the other hand, if done improperly, a relaunch or site update can have disastrous consequences. For those who anxiously await the increased traffic and conversions from the updated site, there are those who are often greeted with tanking traffic post-launch.
Frantically assessing the site to find out what's gone wrong and why can be the most nerve-wracking part of a post-launch failure. Below is a quick assessment to diagnose post-launch issues.
1. Check Google Analytics
Has all site traffic ceased? If so, maybe analytical tracking didn't make it to the new site. Check this manually.
If you are receiving organic traffic, just at a reduced rate, run the site through Analytics Checkup. It could be that a certain section of the site, such as the blog, doesn't have proper tracking code placement. The scrape of all pages for tracking placement will identify issues.
2. Check robots.txt
If analytics passed inspection, now you know something is wrong. The first consideration is deindexation.
Check the robots.txt file for “disallow: /” or in the head of page source code for a meta robots tag exclaiming noindex. If your site is typically crawled very frequently this can do damage very quickly and start killing rankings. If your site doesn't enjoy frequent crawling, then this culprit can take days to a week before killing your online presence.
3. A Deeper Check of Google Analytics
OK, all the factors above are fine, where to next? It's time to review Google Analytics again, but go deeper.
Page Names Changed During the Relaunch
Was this URL rewrite architected well so that old URLs are 301 redirected to new pages? Review the organic traffic by landing page for those with the largest loss with a date range of the week prior to launch. Have those landing pages showing as top performers last week been redirected to new URLs?
(Note: You can also analyze Google Webmaster Tools for 404 error pages. However, it can take days for this information to appear, and we don’t have that much time.)
Next, move to the Content section and the sub-category of All Pages in Google Analytics. Choose the Primary Dimension of All Pages while also choosing a date range of post-launch.
Now, knowing the text rendered in the title element of your 404 page, filter search this text and see how many pageviews on the site are rendering 404 pages. Furthermore, open a secondary dimension of Landing Page to find these 404ing pages.
When you redirected pages, did you do a simple bulk redirecting of pages to the homepage or a site section or detailed one-to-one redirects. The latter is the preferable choice as redirected ranking listing may now have no thematic correlation with their respective search term and thus be washed away from ranking for the given term.
Page Names Didn't Change During the Relaunch
Once again, look at organic traffic by Landing Page. Look at post-launch vs. a comparable time pre-launch.
You still see the drop, but now open a secondary dimension by Keyword. Make an assessment of the keyword losses paired to their respective landing pages.
Review the current landing page vs. the pre-launch landing page. Have the suffering keywords in question disappeared from the focus/theme of the page?
Assuming you ran a keyword ranking report before launch, run one again and see if there are noticeable ranking drops already. Again review pre-launch and post-launch pages as done above a moment ago for the keyword theme differences.
4. Check for Host or Server Issues
Analytics are fine, there are no de-indexation issues, all redirects (if applicable) are fine, and all keyword focus per page is fine. What gives?
Did you change hosting or server? Communication issues between visitors, the host and server can lead to a delay in content delivery or in fact a timing out of content. This leaves a search engine with no way to view the page.
You can review this in Google Webmaster Tools in Crawl Errors and assess DNS errors and Server Connectivity. This may take days to show too and time is something we don’t have.
Run the site through Pingdom’s DNS Health and the Ping/Traceroute tool. This will help identify potential content delivery and server communication issues that may exist.
While there may be alternative methods for finding post-launch issues, following the tips above should help you quickly run through your site to pinpoint your traffic's cause of death.
If everything above checked out OK for you and you still don’t know why you're experiencing a grave organic search exposure loss, then you may have a less common issue that requires a deeper dive. Perhaps there is a design/code flaw or flagrant over-optimization.
Many times, even with a well-planned relaunch, you may suffer a slight traffic loss out of the gate. I confidently feel that when Google sees a changed site, be it through design/code or copy, it holds that site at arm’s length while assessing the changes.
Nevertheless, you revamped the site for the better. Even if there are a few hiccups, you're likely to get past these and hopefully experience a much more effective site.