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Major website changes and rankings drop - how long to get back up?

 10:05 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

Google's automatic response to a reconsideration request says the following:

If you’ve experienced a change in ranking which you suspect may be more than a simple algorithm change, there are other things you may want to investigate as possible causes, such as a major change to your site’s content, content management system, or server architecture. For example, a site may not rank well if your server stops serving pages to Googlebot, or if you’ve changed the URLs for a large portion of your site’s pages. This article has a list of other potential reasons your site may not be doing well in search.

Does anyone have more experience on website design changes and a rankings drop afterwards? How long would it take to make a comeback or is a drop a sign that Googlebot doesn't like something in the site?

I have done a major change to one of my sites including new layout, CMS, urls and meta title structure. Article content has stayed the same. All old urls were correctly 301-redirected to the new ones. I also added Google Analytics and removed thin pages. The site took a hit in rankings right after the new site was launched after being pretty stable for several years, including the recent algo changes.

The rankings continued drop in the following weeks. Keyword1 has now dropped from page 1 to page 5 and "keyword1 keyword2" has dropped a few positions, still holding on to #10 or #11 though. The drop date doesn't match with any of the Panda or Penguin updates so I assume it was caused by the change in the html or css.

Some possible causes might be the slower site speed (new CMS and too little RAM), above the fold algo (no ads but a large header image). I am working on solving all of these issues. The site itself is well done with html5 and css3 and I've cleaned up the backlink profile.

[edited by: tedster at 3:21 am (utc) on Jun 23, 2012]



 4:22 am on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

How long ago did you launch the new site?


 8:49 am on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think it's important to remember that Google doesn't immediately see the new site as a single entity as soon as it's published. It needs to crawl and cache the new and "forget" the old.

I did site-wide alterations to metas and internal anchors to reduce keyword densities to combat a ranking drop of 200 serp places. Since those changes I have seen a further drop of 150 serp places (in a previously consistently top 20 url).

The changes were done in mid-April. I'm assume that as Google re-caches the site page by page it starts to look like a dog's breakfast, especially in terms of different anchor text pointing to the same page (this may even trigger its own penalty temporarily).

By early June Google was still displaying old cache for 45% of my pages. By the 21st June this had reduced to 17%. So of course over the next few weeks I'm hoping to see a recovery in the serps. But I suspect, even if I've got everything right, Google will delay that recovery just long enough to plant the seeds of doubt. Maybe the delay will be long enough to make me try something else, just to muddy the waters a bit more.


 9:04 am on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

including new layout, CMS, urls and meta title structure...

You have all new urls? Forget what's on the pages, if the urls have changed at all, even one character, then your pages are all considered new and their content duplicate(because Google knows they've seen that content on your old urls). The new urls won't rank as well and the old will fall out of serps since they are no longer there.

All incoming links to your old urls are also pointing to the wrong pages.

You can make sure that you add 301 redirects from the old urls to the new urls that have the exact same content. Even if you do this you can expect a loss in traffic as 301's don't carry the full value, some is lost.

Moral: never, never, never, never, never change the urls unless you have no choice(new CMS,removal of parameters due to poor rankings, etc).


 9:26 am on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

never, never, never change the urls unless you have no choice

A year and a half ago I managed the full upgrade of my site to a more streamlined and "modern" feel. I retained every url unchanged right down to the file extension and redirected redundant pages to relevant surviving content. I retained all metas, content and internal anchor text. Google didn't even blink...

I then waited until the whole new-look site was cached before I started to alter and update content, nav and metas. Traffic was increasing nicely - until January... but that's a different furry animal...


 1:24 pm on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I haven't done a site migration this year where I changed the URLs, so maybe it's changed, but the last two I did (one WordPress, one Magento) worked out quite well. There was an initial drop, but within 4-6 weeks they were both doing better than before. I try to plan such things for seasonal downtimes if possible (and tell clients it could be up to 2-3 months, just to hedge my bets)


 2:10 pm on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just curious as to which permalinks settings you set, netmeg?


 3:00 pm on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Did you make significant changes to your navigation structure or the interlinking of content? Is the markup clean?

Also, when did you remove the 'thin' content? That could have a negative effect for awhile, depending on how much content you removed and how valuable Google considered those pages to be.

One thing you might want to do if you're able is resubmit a copy of the old sitemap if you have it. In my experience, this can help prompt Google to crawl through all those old URLs and discover any redirects they may not have found yet.


 10:55 pm on Jun 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

The new version was launched about one month ago.

There is a new navigation bar and logical URL structure. Everything was made as well as possible for both the users and Googlebot.

Sub pages rank fine, about the same as before. I'm more worried about the main page rankings.


 7:35 pm on Jun 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

I have done a major change to one of my sites including new layout, CMS, urls and meta title structure.

The new version was launched about one month ago.

That's a bunch of stuff to do at one go. You're going to have to give the search engines a bit of time to digest all the changes. Three, six months, maybe longer.


 3:15 am on Jun 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Three, six months, maybe longer.

I don't know. I've done many dozens of CMS migrations (it's something I specialize in). When you change a CMS, just about everything is destined to change, and most businesses take the opportunity to redesign everything from their taxonomy to their layout. I don't necessarily like it, but from a business perspective it makes total sense and I'm not going to stop it.

In my experience, if you do everything right, the worst case scenario is a 25% drop in traffic for about 3 months. However, most of the time it's more like a 10% drop for 4-6 weeks before things return to normal.


 8:29 pm on Jun 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Exactly Sand. In this case the old site was pretty awful and it was a good idea to set up a test server and build the new site there from scratch.

I checked the results in other country specific searches and... old rankings are there, so I might have a whole another problem with some weird filter.


 9:16 pm on Jun 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

In my experience, if you do everything right, the worst case scenario is a 25% drop in traffic for about 3 months. However, most of the time it's more like a 10% drop for 4-6 weeks before things return to normal.

I basically agree, but not all sites are the same and it's not always the case. And this board gets a lot of "I've changed my site 3 days ago and don't know why I lost traffic and rankings and when are they going to come back and I don't know why Google doesn't like me and please help," threads from, erm, unaware folks, who shouldn't be encouraged to think they can change their sites willy-nilly and only suffer a few weeks hit.

And it sounds like you did most everything right, topstar. Good luck.


 10:58 pm on Jun 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just curious as to which permalinks settings you set, netmeg?

Sorry, lost track of this item somehow. All my WP sites are set to /%postname%/. I don't use categories; I use custom post types and taxonomies. So YMMV.


 8:14 pm on Feb 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

@topstar Did you recover?

I changed the layout of 1 specific section (a few hundred pages) in my website because I wanted it to support responsive design. All tables turned into divs, styles turned into CSS (including media query). The content and URLS stayed 100% the same!

Is it possible that I decreased in the SERPs because of layout change (around 10%) ?


 3:58 pm on Feb 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have to add, that the position of the navigation menu changed.

The previous html had this order:

Logo & Sitename - Adsense (left aligned)
|| top menu -content (on the right)

Now it is:
Menu - Adsense (left aligned)
|| Logo & Sitename (top) - content (right aligned)

As mentioned Table replaced with Div and the CSS was updated.

Can such a change lead to decrease in SERP?

Thanks a lot.

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