SEO implications for updating your website

SEO Updates cause white knuckles!

Will a website redesign hurt my rank?

When I am working with a client that already has a website, one of the first questions I am asked is “How will redesigning my website affect my rank?” Here’s what to expect when launching your new website:

Your website will take a hit in the SERPs for 20-30 days

SEO results chart for a redesigned website

After updating a website, you can expect ~25 days of your ranking going down. I call it the "white knuckle month," but I've noticed the website always ranks better once the period is over.

Without fail, I’ve found that when I launch a new website, move a website to a new domain, redesign or make significant structural changes to a site, the website will drop in rank for 3-4 weeks. Aaron Wall noticed the same thing:

1 month later Yahoo traffic is about the same as what it was before the site moved…
Aaron Wall,

It’s a terrifying time, but don’t stand still: when launching a redesign, I make sure to submit a new sitemap, check broken links, and very important: build new links to the updated pages or the new domain. This will help convince Google to dig deeper faster, and it will also help restore confidence in the changed website.

Website Redesign SEO Articles:

There are already many posts about how to make sure you have a solid transition (301 redirects are your best friend), so here are a few helpful articles.

Are you using WordPress?

If you’re using WordPress and changing your website’s structure, I strongly recommend the Redirection plugin. It’s the best plugin for 301 redirects in WordPress. There are plugins that are supposed to work for changing permalink structure (like the Permalinks Migration Plugin) but they don’t work at all. Until WordPress adds a management system for this, use Redirection.

What are your experiences?

How long is your “white knuckle period”? Any helpful tips?

  • ryanre

    One thing that I have noticed with redesigns is that the bounce rate nearly always goes down and the time spent on site goes up. The temporary reduction in traffic is usually well worth the better visitor experience.

  • Zack Katz

    @ryanre – Definitely, there’s no reason not to do an update. I always propose to my clients that during this time, they do PPC to supplement the decrease in organic visitors.

  • jemin

    Really good post, I’m having trouble finding good information on this.

    My website has been running for a number of years and we have excellent search engine rankings including many number 1 positions.

    After an audit of the website it is clear that we are not SEO friendly and could increase our SEO positions much more and build on our current success with an new friendly SEO built website with great extra content (as we simply don’t have the facilities to upgrade our current site)

    I’m worried though that if after 4 years of number 1 postions in google, if over night we change the entire website, structure, format, hosting etc. (even if it is much more SEO friendly and follows all the guidelines much more closely than the current website does and keeps the same domain) that I will drop out of the search engines or lose some rankings as google will “freak out” about the change.

    I’ve been advised that 301 redirects are essential but in your opinion do you think google will drop our top rankings for phrases such as “Cardiff Jobs” and “Jobs in Cardiff” f

    Am I worrying unnecessarily or is this something that could happen?

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  • Sargon Odisho

    I have an SEO question for you.
    When I SEO redesigned/upgraded my web site from 50 pages to 180 pages I have
    experienced that CASTAX did not function good as it suppose to. i.e it
    should ranked #1 for keyword “tax agent Sydney” but it is showing in
    position #5. also it should show in position number # 1 for “tax agent
    Fairfield” but it is not showing at all. Same with many other keywords. It
    is not working the way it should be.

    I wonder why?
    What can be done to fix it?

    • Zack Katz

      It depends on what you did during your update. Sometimes, if you change a website drastically, it takes Google (and other SE’s) a while to “trust” the site again. Give it a couple of weeks or a month to see if it bounces back up to where it should be.

      Did you change the site content? How about the template code? Did you change the URL structure? Did you make sure to properly 301 redirect the old pages to the new pages?

  • Wesite Value

    I had a site take a 75% traffic loss that never fully returned I really think it’s best to do it a little at a time!

  • seo sydney

    I think rank for highly competitive this blog. Sometimes, if you change a website drastically. though that if in google, if over night we change the entire website, structure, format, hosting etc. The temporary reduction in traffic is usually well worth the better visitor experience. You have managed to transform a very helpful thought into reality. I was looking for someone who could help me in managing my.
    seo sydney

  • John Stuygate

    This all depends on how large your site is if its a large site with 20-30 pages you can expect upto 5 months of low positions

    • Zack Katz

      I disagree on both counts a) that 20-30 pages is a large site, and b) that you can expect 5 months of low position. I think Google may have even gotten faster at rebounding rank after an update since I wrote this post.

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  • Zack Katz

    Matt Cutts talks about this and says:

    Note: changing your IP address, webhost, domain name, blog template, and blog version all at the same time is the exact opposite of what you should normally do. It’s better to change only one thing at a time so that if something goes horribly wrong, you can trace what caused it.

    Change one thing at a time; change hosting but not your website, or change your website but not your hosting, or change pieces of your site, but don’t move to a new CMS platform… You get the idea.

    Slow and steady wins the transfer race!