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Why SEO Traffic Can Decline After Updating Your Website

Serg Ursa

SEO Specialist


Apr. 8, 2024

When embarking on a journey to refresh, redesign, or completely rebuild your website, the excitement of unveiling a modern, more effective online presence is palpable. For many business owners and marketing professionals, the objective is clear: to enhance user experience, rebrand, incorporate new features, or improve overall performance.

However, the potential decline in SEO traffic following such significant changes comes as an unexpected setback to many. This drop in organic search visibility can catch even seasoned marketers off guard, especially those who haven’t delved deeply into the nuances of SEO.

If your business benefits from existing SEO traffic, the decision to overhaul your website is accompanied by the understandable desire to retain, if not amplify, this vital source of leads and engagement.

Recognizing this concern and addressing it head-on is not just prudent; it’s essential for ensuring the continued success of your online strategy.

This guide is crafted with you in mind—business owners, managers, and website administrators perplexed by the dip in organic traffic post-website rebuild or upgrade.

Through this exploration, we’ll delve into the intricacies of how website redesigns can impact your standing in search engine results pages (SERPs), identify the causes behind this phenomenon, and offer strategic insights on how to not only recover from any setbacks but also how to safeguard your site’s SEO integrity during a redesign preemptively.

Whether your site’s traffic is a roaring river or a trickling stream, understanding these dynamics is crucial for maintaining and growing your online presence in an ever-competitive digital landscape.

Relationship Between Your Site and SERPs

Understanding the symbiotic relationship between your website and search engine results pages (SERPs) is crucial for anyone delving into the digital realm.

This connection is the backbone of how potential customers discover your content through search engines like Google. Essentially, when your website appears in a SERP, it means that Google has indexed your site’s pages and deemed them relevant enough to display in response to specific queries.

Here’s the process: Google crawls the web, indexing pages by their content and URLs. When a user types a query into the search bar, Google sifts through its vast index to present the most relevant pages.

The link that appears in the SERPs is a direct reflection of Google’s understanding of your website’s structure and content distribution. Each URL is a unique identifier that Google uses to direct users to your site.

However, the moment you decide to change a URL on your site—whether it’s due to a site redesign, a shift in content strategy, or simply to make URLs more user-friendly—you’re essentially moving the digital signposts that guide users (and Google) to your content.

If Google isn’t immediately aware of this change, it will continue to display the old URLs in search results, leading to dead ends for users and missed opportunities for you.

Deleting pages amplifies this issue further. It’s akin to removing a chapter from a book but not updating the table of contents; readers looking for that specific chapter end up lost. For a search engine, presenting links to non-existent pages is a poor user experience, something it strives to avoid at all costs.

This misalignment can create a series of complications—not just for you as the website owner, but also for Google, which aims to provide the best possible search experience, and most importantly, for the user whose query journey may hit an unexpected roadblock.

Navigating this aspect of your website’s redesign is therefore not just about maintaining aesthetic or functional updates, but about preserving and enhancing the pathways that lead searchers to your site.

What Causes the Drop in Traffic

The excitement of launching a redesigned website often comes with an unforeseen challenge: a drop in organic traffic. This decline can perplex and frustrate business owners and web administrators alike.

The root causes of this downturn are often tied directly to the changes implemented during the redesign process.

Let’s delve into the primary factors contributing to this phenomenon.

1. Site Structure Overhaul: A website redesign typically involves reevaluating the site’s architecture. This could mean altering the navigation, reorganizing content categories, or introducing new features. Such structural changes are crucial for improving user experience and modernizing the site, but they can disrupt the established pathways that search engines and users have grown accustomed to.

2. URL Modifications: With the restructuring of content, URLs often undergo changes. Whether it’s to reflect new page hierarchies, to make URLs more SEO-friendly, or simply to align with updated content, these changes can sever the connection between the existing links indexed by search engines and the new site structure. Google, which relies on these URLs to fetch and display content in response to user queries, may end up directing users to pages that no longer exist or have been moved without proper redirection.

3. Content Realignment: Redesigns frequently involve a critical look at the website’s content strategy. Pages might be merged to create more comprehensive resources, split to target specific keywords more effectively, or shifted to different sections of the site to improve navigability. While these moves can enhance the site’s overall content delivery, they also risk altering the keyword relevance and the internal link structure that search engines had previously indexed.

4. Page Deletion: Sometimes, during a redesign, certain pages deemed outdated, irrelevant, or underperforming are removed entirely. While this might streamline the site and focus attention on high-quality content, it also removes entry points previously available to search engine users. If these pages had accumulated any backlinks, their removal could result in losing the associated link equity, further impacting the site’s SEO performance.

5. Temporary Accessibility Issues: The redesign process might introduce technical glitches or temporary downtime as new features are rolled out. Search engines crawling the site during these times may encounter errors, which can temporarily affect the site’s visibility in search results until these issues are resolved.

Each of these factors can lead to a decline in organic traffic by disrupting the way search engines index and present your site in response to queries.

The alterations to the site’s structure, content, and URLs can misalign with the search engine’s existing understanding of your site, leading to a mismatch between user searches and the content your site offers.

Navigating these changes carefully and strategically is key to mitigating traffic losses and ensuring a smooth transition to your new site design.

How Google Reacts to Changed URLs

When it comes to handling changed URLs, Google’s approach is both sophisticated and designed to be somewhat forgiving, recognizing that websites evolve and issues can arise unintentionally.

However, understanding this process is crucial for website owners and SEO professionals to effectively manage their site’s transition during a redesign or overhaul.

Let’s explore how Google navigates changed URLs and what it means for your website’s traffic and ranking.

1. Initial Tolerance for 404 Errors: Google is aware that websites can encounter technical difficulties or undergo updates that may temporarily result in 404 (Page Not Found) errors.

Consequently, it doesn’t immediately penalize a site for such issues. This grace period is beneficial as it provides webmasters the opportunity to correct errors without immediate negative repercussions on their site’s search ranking.

2. Recognition of Content Relocation: If Google detects that content previously accessible at a now-broken URL has been moved to a new location on your website, it may attempt to update its index to reflect this change.

However, this process is not guaranteed and depends on Google’s algorithms effectively identifying and associating the relocated content with its previous version. The success of this automatic correction can vary, often failing to replicate the original page’s traffic and ranking performance.

3. Losing Patience with Persistent 404s: Over time, if a URL continues to return a 404 error and Google cannot find a suitable replacement page within your site, it will eventually decide to remove the URL from its search results.

This action is taken to maintain the quality and relevance of Google’s search results, ensuring users are not led to dead ends. The consequence for the website is a loss of organic traffic that previously stemmed from the now-removed links.

4. The Impact of Content Displacement: Even if the same content is merely relocated within your site, the change in URL can disrupt its performance in search results.

Factors such as changes in page authority, internal linking structure, and user engagement metrics can lead to a different evaluation by Google’s algorithms, affecting how the content ranks compared to its original location.

5. Adjusting to New URLs: While Google strives to adapt its index to reflect changes in a website’s structure, this process is not instantaneous and may not fully capture the nuances of how content has been reorganized or revised.

The algorithms work to understand the new structure and relevance of your content, but the transition can lead to temporary visibility issues as Google reassesses your site.

6. Competition and SERP Positions: During the period it takes for Google to adjust to your site’s changes, competitors can seize the opportunity to climb higher in search results, occupying positions your pages might have lost.

Regaining these positions can be challenging, especially if competitors have strengthened their SEO presence in the interim.


Navigating the complexities of a website redesign or rebuild can be a daunting task, especially when considering the potential impact on your SEO traffic and overall online presence.

The journey from planning through execution requires a careful balance of aesthetics, functionality, and, most critically, the preservation of your site’s search engine visibility.

Whether you’re looking to revamp your site to enhance user experience, update your brand’s online image, or improve site performance, understanding the nuances of SEO and how it intertwines with website development is key to maintaining and growing your digital footprint.

As we’ve explored in this guide, taking proactive steps to audit your current site, developing a strategic migration plan, and implementing SEO best practices can make the difference between a successful site relaunch and one that compromises your hard-earned search engine rankings.

From identifying and fixing broken links to ensuring your top-performing pages continue to drive traffic, each action you take contributes to a seamless transition and the long-term success of your site.

However, we recognize that the intricacies of SEO and website development can be overwhelming, especially for busy business owners, marketing managers, and website administrators who may not have the time or expertise to manage every detail of a website redesign. This is where professional assistance can be invaluable.

If you’re contemplating a website redesign or have noticed a decline in your SEO traffic following recent changes to your site, don’t navigate these challenges alone.

Our team of experienced website developers and SEO specialists is here to guide you through the process, ensuring that your site not only looks great but also performs optimally in search engine results. From initial audits to post-launch monitoring, we’re equipped to handle all aspects of your website’s redevelopment and SEO optimization.

Don’t let the complexities of SEO and website development deter you from achieving your online goals.

Contact us today for personalized assistance, expert advice, and the support you need to elevate your website and secure its place in the competitive digital landscape.

Whether you have questions, need guidance, or are ready to start your website’s transformation, we’re here to help every step of the way.

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