You just got your website redesigned. It looks beautiful, it’s pretty, and you’re proud of it.
Or, you order a website redesign, just because you think it needs that laaast finishing-touch facelift.
Or you fancy a nice WordPress theme just because it looks ‘prettier’.
Hit publish, and BANG. You lose traffic. You lose revenue. Instantly.
“WHAT THE HELL!?”
Unfortunately, this is the untold secret of the web design industry. They don’t teach you this simple fact: Visual changes are also technological changes. If you get most of your traffic and sales from search engines, any & I mean ANY big change will instantly kill it. Overnight. Literally overnight.
When changing, risk is inevitable. Be it a WordPress theme change, or a platform switch, you MUST exercise extreme caution.
If "website redesign without losing SEO" has never crossed your mind before, this guide is for you. To understand just how far it stretches, read these 4 case studies carefully, and follow the action items I’ve prepared for you at the end of this article.
“Big news, Alex. Our website is being moved to Webflow.”
One of our star SEO clients, a law firm, wanted to migrate from WordPress to Webflow. Their WordPress site was hacked one too many times, and Webflow seemed far easier to manage.
The managing partner hired his brother to do the Webflow switchover. The law firm didn't let us know until later in the design stage.
Note: at this time, this client was riding high. Dozens of consultations every week, and many, many Page One rankings on Google, with the traffic to show for it.
Switching platforms is a careful process. We instructed the brother’s overseas team how to preserve the SEO (more on that in a moment).
All seemed well. They told us they followed all the instructions.
But when they hit “go” on Webflow – BOOM.
Their traffic dropped 70%. Overnight. Literally overnight.
Consultations completely tanked.
Checking the live Webflow site, we found our recommendations were NOT implemented!
Our instructions were entirely ignored. Not only that, but a few URLs had typos, where there were none on the WordPress site.
To restore this traffic, this client had to face the music. We needed to charge for fixing the mess the overseas team created. In short, they had to pay twice.
Only after we fixed those issues did this law firm’s organic traffic restore to 80-85% of its original levels. And still it took months to get back to 100%.
Being SEO nerds, we experimented with something: Do nothing but change a website’s WordPress theme, and see what happens.
After switching the WP theme, this site’s organic traffic dropped. It didn’t recover for 4 months.
Four entire months.
An international medical client had an e-commerce store. For years, they had trouble implementing online shopping.
Then, they got a custom-developed website with a working shopping cart. All seemed well, and they switched seamlessly.
But then, we checked, and found: traffic was down versus a year earlier.
Worse, no H1 headings.
A financial advisor got his website redesigned in 2012 ... by a financial marketing firm. He was used to referrals, and didn't see an iota of organic traffic in 10 years.
"Why is nobody coming to my site?" he asked me in frustration.
Google Analytics installed & working: check ✅
Google Search Console verified: check ✅. But -- it's a straight line with zero impressions.
I sift through his WordPress settings. Boom: there's the rub. The little checkbox, "Discourage search engines from indexing this site", was checked off.
Unchecked it, and just like that, he started getting impressions.
Why do people live in ignorance of this silly little checkbox? Worse yet, it's unchecked by default in WordPress, and there's a reason for that.
Even if you (or a developer) checked this box by mistake, it can take your site weeks or even months to recover from the inevitable traffic loss. Watch the clip below to locate this pesky little checkbox in your WordPress settings:
A visual change, or platform change, is also a tech change. When you switch WordPress themes or redesign your website, the HTML (source code) changes.
One WordPress theme generates different HTML code than another. Webflow generates drastically different code than WordPress, because it’s a completely different platform on a different architecture.
When you’re on top of the world with hundreds of Page One or #1 rankings, Google’s built a relationship with you based on the structure of your website platform.
Now, after you switch themes or platforms, Googlebot sees entirely different code. Even if your site looks the same, Google doesn’t care. They have to relearn your site’s structure from scratch.
And in the process, your organic rankings and traffic inevitably drop. Why? Because Google doesn’t know enough about your architecture to trust your site is similar to what it was. They have to relearn.
In our tests & experience, organic traffic drops 10-15% at a bare minimum on every switchover. The worst examples measured a 70-100% loss.
If most of your revenue is organic – that is, most customers find your results (not ads) on search engines to buy from you – think about the risk of making a switchover that soon.
When you change your tech, you “reset” your relationship with search engines. Before redesigning your site, or switching platforms, ask yourself:
Traffic losses can be worsened by any of these 3 big mistakes, in ascending order of risk:
The 70-100% traffic losses were due to the latter two. Search engines follow links on your site to understand its structure. Break those links, and you will force Google & the likes to relearn even more.
Because of misguided website transfers, and ill-informed facelifts, we’ve seen the SEO world spawn a new sub-niche: Website Transfer Optimization. Yes, it’s not just Google algorithms you have to recover from; it’s also bad transfers.
It’s possible to prepare so you can have a soft landing, not a crash landing. To minimize the risk of traffic loss, follow these steps:
Or, to avoid the risk:
By the way, all 3 of these items are services we provide.
Wanna switch your theme or web platform? Be afraid. Be very afraid. It’s not a walk in the park. Design-First Marketing is attractive, but its perils outweigh the perceived benefits.
Before you adopt a new look “just because it’s prettier” or “it’s more corporate”, think twice and consider how your customers currently perceive you and buy from you. One red button, pressed without thought, can ruin that party overnight.
P.S. Design-First Marketing is a hidden evil. I’ve seen it firsthand. It gives business owners dopamine kicks. Yeah, I love dopamine, and I love it when it’s used in marketing or anywhere. But Design-First Marketing spreads like a virus. It completely destroys entrepreneurs’ rational thinking. They no longer care about their customers. And when they do go Design-First, every single example I’ve seen has faced bankruptcy. Either that, or they go out of business.
In our best conversion tests for clients, the treatment outdid the control by 8X the leads. The winning page was uglier. Now, how’s that for showing “Design-First” the middle-finger?
As much as I love graphic design, please do look forward to the Design-First Marketing rant, coming very soon, including a $1.3 billion case study as proof.
Now that you’ve read this article, I WANT YOU to turn up the heat. I URGE YOU to kick that pretty-looking design in the ass and yell to yourself, “Hell no! To HELL with a useless facelift!” Do that enough. And once you BELIEVE it, hire someone to tell you what to do with your website.
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