Building a new website is a positive move for your business. No doubt you’ve already got a website that was built a number of years ago, during that time your business has grown and your existing website has served you brilliantly.
It ranks well for various search results in google, which in turn delivers a good level of visitors to your website, who are all potentially future customers. But now it’s time to push on again, to re-visit your website, to improve it and to reflect your company’s growth and increased authority in your chosen market place.
You’ve ideas about what you’re looking for; after all you’ve been concentrating on how your existing website no longer does your business justice, on its short comings and how it can be improved. You’re excited by the prospect of having a new website to really showcase your business again; everything you’re looking towards is in the future, you have an appetite to progress and move on from what has now become outdated.
Well… be very careful, because as much as your existing website does need replacing it still holds an awful lot of extremely important value to your business, value that isn’t immediately obvious and that you or your web designer could very easily wipe out the moment you put a new website live!
Hopefully you’re now questioning why that might be… well let me explain, and please bear with me as to clearly explain why I’ll have to dip into the workings of a search engine which I know on a day to day basis you’re probably not that interested in!
We need to start by outlining your existing website, for the purpose of this I’m going to keep it as generic as possible so hopefully it’s easy to follow for everyone!
Let’s say your existing website consists of the following pages, each of which has its own unique URL, its website address, which is shown in the brackets against each page.
Your website, outlined above, has been in existence for 5 years. Google has had plenty of time to crawl all over it and identify all the pages, storing the information away in its vast database. During the same 5 years lots of your customers have visited your website and a good number of them, somewhere else on the web, have mentioned your website in their own online activities…
Perhaps one of your highly satisfied customers wrote a blog on their own website saying how pleased they were with Service 2 that you provided and created a link straight through to that page (Service 2) on your website.
Or perhaps an industry or local business blogger had found your website, read your highly informative Blog Topic 3 post on a particular subject and then decided to share your thoughts on the subject with their own audience, again they provided a link for their readers straight through to your original Blog Topic 3 post so they could read it for themselves. That’s perfect from your point of view!
Search engines place a heavy reliance on interpreting the interlinked nature of the web. In effect a search engine sees each link through to your website, from an external site, as being a ‘vote of confidence’ in you, or a virtual ‘thumbs up’ in relation to your website by an independent party.
If you think about it from the search engine’s perspective it makes sense… if someone is prepared to link to your website content then that person must think that the information you have provided is of a good quality, helpful, informative and worthy of sharing with other people as well. The more individual people who do this, and by this, I mean provide links to your website and content, the more ‘votes of confidence’ in you, google sees.
So why does that matter? Well, the ‘votes of confidence’ or ‘thumbs up’, as google see them, play a large role in how google determines which webpages and which content it displays in its search results. As well as in what order they are listed.
So, in simple terms, if your existing website has pages that rank highly in google, hopefully towards the top of page 1 in its results, it’s because firstly, google has determined that your content is relevant to the term being searched for, and secondly, because you have in effect got more ‘votes of confidence’ than the other content which is displayed below you in the search results listing.
At this point I think it’s worth mentioning that the actual algorithms google and other search engines use are much more refined and complex than I’m describing here but obviously I’m trying to simplify it as much as possible. If you’d like to know more about the intricacies of how search engines’ algorithms work then please read my article…
Right, so now we know why your existing website pages are ranked in the particular positions they are in the search results. Next we need to look at how google actually catalogues each of your individual pages of your website which will ultimately get us to why building a new website has the potential to destroy your search engine position.
Earlier on, when I outlined our generic site structure, I included the URLs for each of the particular pages of the site. I did this for a reason! As we also earlier suggested, our existing generic website has been on the internet for 5 years and a number of people have been kind enough to link to particular pages of our site.
In the scenario I outline, of the customer who was happy regarding your Service 2 provision, and who proceeded to link to your specific website page regarding Service 2, they have done so by providing their readers, and search engines, a direct link to the location… which is www.yourwebsite.co.uk/our-services/service-2 – take particular note of that address!
Why? Because google see’s that address as being absolutely unique, it’s like a page in a book… you can only have one page that is page number 10 can’t you, just like you can only have one page that is page number 11, right?
Let’s, for arguments sake, say that your page regarding Service 2 ranks at the top of google, position number 1. When anyone searches for ‘Service 2’ within google it comes up first. It therefore brings a lot of traffic and potential customers to your website, some of which end up contacting you and ultimately paying you to undertake ‘Service 2’ on their behalf.
But now you’re about to redesign your website, sure you’re still going to have a page specifically about Service 2, after all why wouldn’t you? It secures you a lot of work from customers who find you by searching in google, and your existing page ranks number 1 in the results, doesn’t it? Well this is where your new website has the potential to completely wipe out all that traffic.
Let’s look at how our new website structure might look:
On the face of it we’ve covered exactly the same content as we had on our original website, yes we’ve named a few things differently but that’s just semantics isn’t it? ‘About Us’ or ‘Our Story’, well that’s one and the same thing isn’t it?
‘Our Services’ or ‘Services’, again that’s exactly the same as we had before… our visitors will still clearly understand what we mean and we haven’t even changed the name of our services. They are still called ‘Service One’, ‘Service Two’ and ‘Service Three’.
Well, that is very true when it comes to our human visitors, they are able to interpret what we have now renamed the various sections of our website and quite easily appreciate they are in fact exactly the same sections as we had before. Great…
But wait, search engines aren’t like us humans; they don’t interpret and apply logic to understand that all our sections are still the same. They do anything but, when a search engine now looks at our new site the only page it sees as being the same is our home page!
Let’s take a closer look and highlight why… remember how we said that google sees each URL as being an absolutely unique webpage, much like the pages of a book?
If we look closely your ‘About Us’ page has now become ‘Our Story’, and your URL has gone from:
The ‘Our Services’ page has just become ‘Services’ and the URLs has gone from :
And, your ‘Service 2’ page, which ranked at the top of google, has become ‘Service Two’, and the URL has changed from:
So, going back to the fact that google sees each and every URL as being absolutely unique, we have in effect ripped out pages 10, 11 and 12 from your original website and replaced them on your new website with pages 17, 18 and 19 which leads us back to the ‘votes of confidence’ you had received from the lovely people earlier in the article.
The ‘votes of confidence’, the ones which had propelled you to the top of google for your ‘Services 2’ page all point to the unique URL www.yourwebsite.co.uk/our-services/service-2 – on your new website this unique URL doesn’t exist anymore, your ‘Services Two’ page is now located at www.yourwebsite.co.uk/services/service-two and none of your ‘votes of confidence’ point to this URL!… how does google handle that then?
I keep saying it, Google see’s every URL as being absolutely unique.
So, now your new website has just gone live, it look superb and you’re waiting to see the work come flooding in as you were doing well before and now you’ve just improved your website. Except, when someone searches for ‘Service 2’ now they are still presented with your ‘Service 2’ page at the top of google, they click on it and google directs them to the URL that existed on your old website – www.yourwebsite.co.uk/our-services/service-2 because that is the unique page that google has itemised in its database. The URL, or page if you like, no longer resolves as it no longer exist and the user is presented with an error page saying the page can’t be found.
This is also what happens when google itself tries to visit the page, which immediately creates a red flag for google. When google tries again later it still can’t reach the page and yet again gets the same error message. Understandably it begins to assume, and correctly so, that something is amiss.
If google was thinking out loud at this point it’d go something along the lines of… “If I can’t reach the page, then no doubt the people who are searching for Service 2, and who I’m sending to this page, can’t find it either. Well that’s no good for them and it’ll definitely be making me look bad because I’m not delivering what they want. I better promote one of the other results above this listing next time somebody searches for ‘Service 2’ because if I don’t deliver what people want I’ll lose my credibility.”
As a result, your search engine ranking for the page that was top of google, carries on sliding down google’s results list the longer google sees that the page can no longer be found, until eventually it never appears in google’s results at all.
Of course it goes without saying, that also means all the traffic which was arriving at your website from having your page at the top of google is has now disappeared and before you know it all the value that had been built up in your original website has been lost.
So to finish up and complete the circle, that is how building a new website can destroy your search engine rankings. But, it also begs the question of how can you overcome the issue, because after all you still want your new website, right?!…
It would be amiss of me not to point out here, that there are effective and recommended ways to avoid the picture I have just painted and that when these methods are implemented correctly you will not lose your search engine rankings.
What you or your web designer will in fact do, as part of building your new website, is explicitly tell google that the pages you have removed from your ‘old website’ have in fact been replaced with the relevant pages on your ‘new website’.
As a result google will pass the perceived value it has from those ‘votes of confidence’, which had propelled your old page to the top of its search results, over to your new page and as a result retain your search engine rankings. It will also ensure that anyone happening to try and reach your old page from the links in those ‘votes of confidence’ are re-directed to your new page making sure the visitors end up at the correct place on your new website.
I think it would also be worth pointing out that it is unfair of me to say unequivocally that all web designers are guilty of overlooking this hugely important factor. However, in my experience it is a common mistake made by web designers particularly those who work on a freelancing basis.
I believe there are a number of reasons why considering the value of your existing website isn’t taken in to account by web designers and the correct procedures applied.
Firstly, because the web designer doesn’t have the knowledge or experience on the subject.
Secondly, because clients are not always savvy about such things, don’t monitor their websites performance and therefore don’t hold their web designers to account or question them about it.
Thirdly, because implementing the correct procedures to deal with the problem is somewhat mundane in the grand scheme of designing a website and is therefore overlooked by the web ‘designer’.
And lastly, because even if a client does pick up on it the web designer has an easy excuse to make which is to say: “it takes time for google to re-index your new pages and then your traffic will return. Unfortunately as an individual web designer I have no control over how long that will take google to do.” – They’re not exactly lying to you but at the same they are showing their lack of knowledge on the subject, or maybe they are actually fobbing you off!
If you have found yourself in this situation, then all is not lost, situations can be rectified after the fact but the longer it is left the more difficult it potentially becomes. If you would like to speak to me, having suffered this problem yourself, then please feel free to contact me for a no obligation chat about it.
If you’re in the process of considering having a new website built then please make sure you question whoever you commission to build your website about how they will ensure the value of your existing website isn’t lost, and once again if you’d like to speak to me about a new website you’re considering then please feel free to contact me for a no obligation discussion about what you’re looking for.
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