Top 5 Reasons Search Rankings Drop after a Website Redesign

At PIXSYM, we redesign websites on a regular basis. In that process, we put alot of thought into how search engines will respond to a major website overhaul. Not to toot our horn (too much) but, I believe we are a rare breed web design firm that thinks about these things as we plan out a project with our clients. We see cases on a pretty regular basis where a website has completely lost rankings due to a new design or migration from one CMS to another. In every single case, the issue could have been avoided with planning during the redesign process.

The truth is, there are a lots of things to think about when redesigning a website. When redesigning a website that is already ranking for important keywords and phrases, the process of planning is mission critical. Knowing a few of the top reasons for rankings to tank can help you avoid the headache (and heartache) involved with a major ranking nightmare.

Here are the top five issues that cause search engine rankings to tank after a redesign:

  1. URL changes – By far, this is the most frequent cause for rankings to nose dive. Changing even the smallest detail of the site’s URL’s can cause a huge mess, as search engine’s will need to re-index the entire website from scratch. In addition, the website’s incoming links to internal pages will also be negated.
  2. Navigation Changes – Fancy navigation such as hover navigation, flash navigation, javascript etc. can cause your entire site structure to look different to search engines. Going from one type to another can equal a rankings disaster if not carefully managed.
  3. Duplicated content – This happens most often when a website goes from static pages to a dynamic content management system. Often times CMS’s create multiple ways to visit one page and many times will generate different variables of a URL – all pointing to the same page. This can happen even when the above mentioned issues are avoided.
  4. Changed content – Switching the content on the page as part of a redesign, even when keeping the URL’s the exact same can cause problems. This can mean changing sidebars, headers, footers, titles and other elements which you wouldn’t exactly think of as “the content” for a particular page. Each page had a certain relevance to the keywords it ranked for before the redesign. Changing this by a large percent can cause pages to become somewhat irrelevant to their prior search rankings.
  5. robots.txt – This text file tells search engines where to look for things and what to ignore. If overlooked in the redesign process, search engines could be ignoring pages on your new site or blocked from crawling areas all together.

Redesigning a website doesn’t have to be scary if you know what to look out for before going into the process. In fact, it is completely possible to keep the rankings you’ve worked hard to obtain, even through a complete overhaul; it just takes careful planning in advance.

Have you come across a different issue that caused rankings to drop after a website redesign? Comment below and let us know!

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  • nordicbet

    Its understandable robot don’t recognize the usual files and html structure…

    but how can you get them to recognize it the same as before?
    do i have to do the the stuff all over again?

    • You would probably want to add a new robots.txt file to the root with the new directives or at least be sure that what’s in the file after you’ve redesigned the site is still valid (assuming you aren’t making major changes to url structures or the CMS type).

  • Pingback: Tips for Website Redesign: Performing Search Engine Surveilance()

  • I am experiencing it currently, my web department changed the domain into another server when they did so, they have uploaded without www. which made a mess in my rankings. Then through Webmaster tools I verified the website and then did a permanent redirect. Currently puzzled with this problem. A small mistake just spoils our 1.5 years hard work. I got the rankings for some of the minor keywords back and now my website is getting indexed with www. but the main problem is I have lost the rankings of my main keyword.. which is pathetic for us. Working hard and hoping it would come back, trying all the possible things to bring it back. Lost my page rank too, when the domain splitted with www and without http://www.  I am seriously hoping for the best. Anyone got any idea on this?

    • Ouch! I know that hurts. Ideally you would want to keep your URL’s exactly the same a before the move. However, in your situation it might be best to try and 301 redirect old URLs to new ones as best as possible. Start by 301 redirecting the non-www to the www version of the site. If that’s not possible, you can use the canonical tag which you can read about here:

      Best wishes to you. Hopefully you will be able to get it all straightened out without too much headache!

      • Thanks Samara for your quick reply, I have done both the 301 redirection and preferred domain set up in Google web-master tools. The good news is I got my rankings back, and really very happy about it. I have lost my page rank, I am hoping it would come right too because it will be very difficult to compete with for a high competitive keyword with a page rank. I am very glad to see you are involved in writing useful articles, some other blogs I went through many of them are still writing 101 types of link building techniques which would help to rank in one week. Its really absurd.. The way you have written is very unique.. I am really reading all your updates.

        • I have same problem,,,
          After I start using cloudflare, i had to change my url to www and as a result significant ranking drop….

  • Bloomtools

    thanks for this really important information. really if the url, navigation links and content if  changed affect the pr of the websites.The keywords for which these things are optimized also change and this drops the pr of the website.  

  • Kellock

    I’m redesigning my father’s towing company and his site is ANCIENT and static, with no keywords or meta data or anything of the sorts. But he claims to have good search rankings. I’ve built the site and am ready to transfer it over on FTP, but don’t want to hurt his rankings. I’ve mimicked the .htmls, but it is a very different change to what his site used to look like, what do you recommend?