Yesterday I got a bit forthright about the responsibility for web design agencies to redirect old websites to any new replacement ones they’re creating, on a page by page basis. This is not something which a client should have to remember needs doing, and it’s not the responsibility of whoever “does SEO”. I’ve seen companies lose a huge part of their Google traffic, and never fully recover, following the launch of a new site. Even those who do things by the book can see a temporary dip in Google rankings, as one of our clients has found recently.
So what should you do if someone’s designed a new site for you recently (or even in the past), without redirecting all the old pages?
The first thing to do is to think about what will have happened. Firstly, the links to your site in Google’s index will all be broken. After Google has revisited them a few times to see if the situation is permanent (which can take weeks but could be much shorter), they’ll be removed from its index. Completely.
At the same time, however, Google will find all the new pages, so that’s all good then, isn’t it?
Well, no. Those old pages had a “history” in Google which has now been discarded. It might have been a good history, which helped their ranking. The new pages will have to start again. But even more important is the second – and more general – effect of just discarding all your old pages. What about all the links from other websites? These are all now broken too, and (unlike Google), the other sites won’t come round and check. So, unless you do something about it, everyone clicking through to your site from other sites will get your “page not found” message. Forever.
It gets worse, because guess what? Those links from other sites are a major factor in Google’s ranking of your pages. Now Google can’t find links from other sites which reference your existing pages, just broken ones. Much of the “credit” you’ve steadily built up with Google over the years will simply vanish.
So if this has already happened to you, what are we going to do about it?
While you’ve probably taken the hit in terms of traffic loss, you can at least try to restore some order. If you have a list of all the pages on your old site, it’s never too late to set up a full page-by-page “301 redirect”, diverting any visitors invisibly to the defunct pages to their individual replacements. This has the added advantage that Google will transfer all the credit built up by the old pages to the new one.
However, few companies seem to have such a list of pages. But I can think of two good sources where you could at least find the pages which have external (and presumably now broken) links.
The first is to use a backlink checker. The big ones are Majestic SEO and Open Site Explorer. These crawl the web, indexing links, and will be able to give you a good list of links to your site (including the old broken ones).
The second is to use good old Google Analytics, if you had it running on your old site. Or even a logfile analysis tool, which certainly will be available. Here you’ll be able to find a list of all the landing pages on your site over the past few years – and the chances are, most of those will have had links from somewhere, even if it was only Google.
These are the important pages. However, if you want to be really thorough, you can just get a list of all the pages on your old site (or at least the ones which got at least a visit!) from Google Analytics or your site’s logfile. Getting the redirection table set up is the next task, which is a fairly technical procedure. But it’s worth it.