How Will Changing URLs Impact My Traffic?

How Will Changing URLs Impact My Traffic?

 

As a business owner, there may be many reasons you want or need to change your website URLs. Maybe you’re rebranding or have retired certain products or services. Maybe you have new product features that you want to highlight with a dedicated page. Or maybe you’re hoping that changing URLs on a given page will help your business improve your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) rankings. 

But, not so fast. Changing URLs can hurt your site’s integrity and SEO ranking. In a competitive marketplace, it’s important to avoid making site changes without strategic intent. 

While there will always be reasons you need to change your site’s URLs, doing so for marketing or cosmetic reasons can quickly backfire. Here, we’ll take a closer look at reasons to avoid changing URLs on your site, whenever you can.

 

  1. Site Integrity

Your website functions like the interchange of a busy highway. Traffic arrives from several locations, expecting to be directed easily. Changing URLs on your website creates a greater risk of misdirecting your traffic or leading them to error signs. 

The risks of changing URLs include a higher probability of broken links, 404 errors, or dropped links between pages. Once you have these website challenges, you’ll need to dedicate a greater amount of employee time to reinstating the integrity of your site. 

Perhaps even more important is the impact broken links can have on your audience. Site visitors quickly question the credibility of a source with broken links or 404 errors. Even if you quickly restore internal links, there will be a period when your site is at risk of disappointing visitors. As any business owner knows, it’s critical to avoid giving site visitors any reason to doubt your credibility. 

 

  1. Search Engine Time Delay

Another challenge, when planning to update or change URLs on your site, comes down to timing. When you make any change to your website, it takes time for it to appear in search engine results. The reason for the delay? Google and other search engines pull data into their search algorithms by crawling websites and returning search results. 

Say you own an online store that sells parts for avid cyclists. If you add a new line of bike seats to your site, the products won’t immediately appear in search results, no matter how carefully you use SEO tactics. Search engines periodically crawl and index your site’s content. 

Unless you proactively inform Google and others of your new or changing URLs, there will still be a time delay on the search engine side, as it crawls and reindexes your content. 

 

  1. Page Rank & Migration Issues

There are times when it is impossible to avoid migrating, updating, or changing URLs on your site. Even if you have redirects in place, the change will likely dilute the value you’ve built in a specific URL. As you move or replace content, it’s critical to have a migration plan in place, to minimize gaps, delays, and missteps.

For example, if you need to move a page and fail to replace it with relevant content, featuring similar keywords, you’ll create a disconnect that search engines don’t like. Ultimately, your organic search results will be impacted, as a result.   

When changing URLs is unavoidable, the best way to minimize the impact is to have a comprehensive migration plan in place. Keep your SEO team up to speed on planned changes, so they can map the migration and proactively protect your organic traffic, as much as possible.

 

  1. The Bigger Picture

Naturally, changing URLs impacts more than your organic search results. Part of any migration plan should include tasks that protect the integrity of every touchpoint you have with current or potential customers.

For example, consider the impact of changing URLs on your marketing efforts. Anywhere you’ve listed or embedded a link, you’ll need to provide an update or remove it, to avoid having users encounter a 404 error. In most cases, upon encountering a dead or broken link, potential customers will assume the site isn’t credible. They’re not likely to dig further or find another way into the site; they’ll simply go back to their search and click on another link. 

To make sure your marketing is in step with your URL changes, be sure to conduct an inventory that takes all inbound links into account. To start, make a list of inbound sources such as:

 

  • Email campaigns – timing will be important here so that any email campaigns are up to date with current URLs, the moment they are live.  
  • Social media – be sure to look at all social media content, as users can click on old posts at any time. 
  • Paid ads – as Google ads with dead links will stop running, make sure your ad team updates these URLs, to keep ad campaigns running smoothly.  
  • Referral links – instead of relying on redirects (which take extra load time) for external links from affiliates or partners, make sure they have updated URLs with enough time for them to implement changes. 

 

When you’re migrating or changing URLs, the bigger picture matters. Not only do you need a comprehensive IT plan, but you also need to communicate effectively with a wide range of departments within your organization. From IT to Marketing, Sales, and PR, everyone must understand their role and the timing for these changes. 

As you can see, there is a long list of reasons to avoid changing URLs on your site. Not only do you risk internal communication challenges, but without a comprehensive plan, there is a very real threat to user experience, as well. Even worse, you can damage your organic search results and bring paid ad campaigns to a halt, throttling your flow of inbound site traffic.

So, what’s the best route forward if you have unavoidable changes to make? First, create a redirect map of the changes, taking care to replace old URLs with relevant content, where possible. Then set up permanent redirects (301 redirects) to let search engines know the change has been completed and is permanent. To speed up the reindexing process, be sure to manually inform Google of your changes through the Google Search Console.

When changing URLs, there will be several follow-up steps to make the migration as clean as possible. Be sure to have a plan to update internal links, rather than rely on redirects, which increase load time. Communicate with partners and affiliates, so they can plan to make the changes as soon as possible. Then search for legacy redirects, which can force your page into redirect loops that drain time or can even lead to server time-outs. 

Finally, once all your updates have been made, it’s important to conduct an SEO audit, to ensure nothing has been missed. You can use third-party tools through companies such as SEMRush, Screaming Frog, or other companies that search specifically for broken links. 

Alternatively, you can find and work with a trusted SEO team to help you navigate this transition while protecting the integrity of your organic search results. Reach out to several SEO providers and ask about their experience in changing URLs within a site. A trusted SEO team will have the knowledge, expertise, and tools to make quick work of your URL migration project. 

 

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