SSL certificates create a secure connection between your website and someone’s browser.
That means their private information is safe. And you have less of a risk of pulling an Experian.
The trouble is that moving from HTTP to HTTPS isn’t always a swift one.
While the long-term potential is massive, the short-term brings some growing pains.
Here’s why traffic dips are common after migrating from one to the other, along with a few strategies to prevent most of the damage.
Why Did You Lose Traffic?
Google Chrome has started issuing warnings to visitors when they visit an unsecured site.
‘Unsecured’ sites lack an SSL certificate. They’re HTTP instead of HTTPS. And that warning could translate into visitors being scared off from continuing to visit or purchase.
In fact, according to WiseMerchant, every ecommerce store that sells goods online is required to have an SSL to protect buyer information.
“With big breaches in security like the 2017 Equifax hack and breaches in trust like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Scandal, visitors need to feel safe on your site. They need to know you’ll do your part to protect their data.”
So everyone, effectively, has to migrate. It’s in your best interest because Google’s not giving you very many options.
But it’s also in your best interest because a single data breach could set you back $3.8 million on average. And that would cripple most companies.
Adding an SSL certificate and migrating to HTTPS is a no-brainer, then.
The problem is that when you move from the former to the latter, you might see traffic dip.
Of course, Moz’s loss of traffic wasn’t actually due to any mistakes on their part, but simply to the nature of website migration.
The reasoning is simple when you think about it. Even the slightest decrease in rank can result in thousands of lost visits. Being in Google’s first position nets you around 31-34% of the visitors searching that page. That number falls dramatically with each lower position.
Not that it makes this issue any better. You’re damned if you do or if you don’t. You stand to take a short-term hit to get the long-term payoff.
At least for a little while.
However, if you lost your website traffic altogether or you suspect that the loss isn’t due to a short-term migration hiccup, then let’s discuss the reason that your website might be experiencing a drop in traffic.
1. You Didn’t Do A 301 Redirect
Redirects are a way of telling Google that you want to point the current page URL (the HTTP URL, for instance) to a new URL (the HTTPS URL, in this case).
Those seem really close. It feels like they’re the same page to you and visitors. But they’re not to Google; they’re two completely different versions of the same page.
So not using redirects can hurt you. But using the wrong redirect, like a temporary 302, can also inflict pain.
Ideally, you’re making a permanent transition. You want Google to recognize that you’re permanently moving the old page to the new one.
In other words, if you don’t use long-term 301 redirects, you’ll lose credit for the links you’ve built to those pages.
Additionally, without a 301 redirect to the new URL, you’re essentially telling Google that you deleted the old page and created a new page.
That fact hurts SEO because old pages rank better and it creates potential duplicate-content problems. (To avoid this altogether, start repurposing your content rather than duplicating).
60% of pages in Google’s top ten results, for instance, are over three years old.
Improper HTTPS migration might create two versions of the same page. That diversifies the strength of that page (in a bad way).
And it creates an exact replica of the content, which further confuses search engines. If you’re having trouble sleeping tonight, do a little light reading on canonicalization problems. You’ll be out as soon as your head hits the pillow.
TL;DR? Properly migrating web pages that move from one location to another is difficult. There are pitfalls and risks at every turn. So here’s how to avoid the worst lumps along the way.
How to Fix this Problem
What if you already migrated and you didn’t do a 301 redirect to your new HTTPS web pages?
No reason to fear. You can still add them later.
The first thing you should do is make a list of all of the pages on your website that are suffering from a loss of traffic. Order them from most-harmed to least-harmed to give yourself an overview of which pages require the most attention.
If you think that you already did a 301 redirect for your pages, this will give you an idea of which new URLs are working and which ones aren’t.
Then, you can focus your energy on fixing the damaged pages.
Once you determine which pages are suffering the most, type in those old HTTP URLs to Google.
If you receive a 404 error message like this, then that means that your 301 redirect is likely broken.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to fix this in WordPress. You can use a plugin like Redirection or Simple 301 Redirects to easily and quickly redirect your broken links to the new and updated HTTPS URLs.
Add 301 redirect for all of the pages that don’t have one and then those pages will again benefit from the internal and external links you’ve built up over the last few years.
Before moving on, you’ll also want to look for any hard-coded URLs. These are pretty common in navigation links, body content on pages or posts, and even inside the comments.
For example, let’s say you’re building out a new menu in WordPress. Instead of using the Page option, you use the Custom Link one and type in: “http://mysite.com/about/.”
You can temporarily set up the Better Search Replace plugin to scan for these to manually fix after redirecting.
2. You Blocked Google From Crawling Your Website
Occasionally, when you migrate your website to a new URL, you might unintentionally block Google from crawling your website.
This is especially common during a website redesign. You tell search engines not to index the new site just yet, until you’re completely done and ready to make the official transition.
But you could be in trouble if it isn’t done properly:
“Blocking Googlebot from accessing a site can directly affect Googlebot’s ability to crawl and index the site’s content, and may lead to a loss of ranking in Google’s search results. Unfortunately, many webmasters accidentally block Googlebot from accessing their site.”
Here’s how the Googlebot works. It goes to your site periodically, looks at your web pages, the style and wording of your content, and other SEO signals. Then, it stores that data and pushes it through Google’s ranking algorithm.
In other words, it’s exactly how Google decides which websites it should rank high and which it shouldn’t.
If you unintentionally blocked Google from crawling the new URL, then it can’t rank you anywhere in its SERP.
But how do you know if you accidentally blocked Googlebot? And how can you fix it if you did?
How to Fix this Problem
Diagnosing whether or not your website is currently blocking Googlebot is quite simple.
Just use this URL to find out: www.mywebsite.com/robots.txt
Type in the page URL you want to analyze into the “mywebsite” section. Your results will look something like this.
If that’s all you see, though, then Googlebot isn’t blocked from your website.
However, if you see a piece of code that looks like this…
Then your website is blocked from Googlebot.
And you should remove it from all pages that contain that qualifier.
The easiest way to do so in WordPress is by downloading the Yoast SEO plugin. Then, you can navigate to your server files by going to your WordPress dashboard and click on “SEO.”
And then “File Editor.”
Next, click on the robot.txt file to make changes to it and then change “Disallow” to “Allow.”
To confirm that the change worked, you can type your website into the www.mywebsite.com/robot.txt URL again.
If you no longer see the earlier “User-agent: Googlebot” line, then you’ve fixed the problem.
3. You Changed The Page’s Keywords Too Much
Content changes often tag along with website migration.
Sometimes, you’re not only changing the URL, but you’re changing the words on the page as well.
When you do that, though, you need to be particularly careful not to hurt your page’s SEO.
If, when you made the change to HTTPS, you also made loads of changes to your website content without much forethought, then there’s a good chance your website traffic is suffering from keyword changes.
Ask yourself this question: before the page’s traffic started suffering, which keywords was it ranking for?
Asked another way, what did you need to type into Google to see your page come up as a result?
Ideally, you want to target those same keywords when you make the move to HTTPS.
Because keywords, just in the title tag, for instance, directly impact search engine result page (SERP) rankings.
Changing the title tag, meta description, or content of the page too often can backfire if it changes the primary focus of the page.
Fixing it, though, is simply a matter of changing the page’s keywords back to the old HTTP URLs original keyword focus.
That doesn’t mean you need to change the design of the page. Just the words.
How to Fix this Problem
There are three primary places that you need to fix your keywords if this problem is ailing your page’s rankings.
The first is in the title tag.
This is where the title tag shows up on Google.
The target keywords of the above example seem to be “avoid a bad HTTPS Migration.”
How do I know?
Simple. Because that exact phrase shows up in the title tag, URL, and meta description.
This is where the meta description lives — the second place that you need to include your target keyword phrase.
The final place that you should include your keyword is in the content of the page itself.
Unfortunately, the above example doesn’t do this. But ideally, if this were your web page, you’d want to include phrases like this within the page’s content.
- “How can you avoid a bad HTTPS migration?”
- “Do you want to know how to avoid a bad HTTPS migration?”
Don’t overdo this, but try and make the number of keywords in each section similar to the amount you used on your old HTTP version of the page.
And with that, you’ll restore a large amount of your SEO.
So long as you do this final critical step, that is.
DO NOT Miss This Step…
Great. You’ve fixed any potential problems that were hurting your SEO from the HTTPS migration.
But there’s one final thing you need to do before saying “hasta la vista.”
You need to ask Google to recrawl your website.
This will help you recover from the disaster you’re in faster.
Doing so is dead simple.
Just go to Google’s Search Console and select the URL you want Google to crawl.
Fetch your URL.
And then click “Request Indexing.”
Select the correct options and click, “Go.”
And boom, Google will now recrawl your website at its earliest convenience. Which means that all of those migration mistakes you made are about to go bye-bye.
According to the god of search engines (Google), HTTPS can benefit your website’s traffic and rankings. It also secures your website to protect consumers’ private information.
And yet, nothing is quite as discouraging as a massive loss of traffic after a well-intentioned HTTPS migration.
But don’t get too disheartened, lots of other people have the same experience.
And with the above fixes, you’ll quickly be able to restore any traffic lost from mis-redirects, Googlebot blockage, or keyword changes.
Which means your traffic should go right back up where it’s supposed to be.
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