If you change the URL structure (i.e. of a specific page type on your website, by removing a redundant folder from the URL), or any other reason, and you want to:
Maintain user experience, page-load-timewise
Maintain organic traffic, revenue, and rankings
Ensure fast crawlability and indexation of the new URLs by search engines
Than follow these 9 steps:
1. 301 redirect the to the new URL structure
Goes without saying.
2. Change internal links across the site
Navigation, text, widgets, footer… all of it.
Why overloading G-bot with redundant 301s, and potentially damage page load time & crawl budget, right?
3. Change backlinks to your site pointing to those pages
By reaching webmasters and ask them to manually change the link.
Not always doable but do your best, and priorities by highest traffic pages & backlinks’ strength.
4. Update your sitemap.xml file
To ensure new URLs are there, and the old ones are not.
5. Resubmit sitemap XML in GSC
To make it easy for Googlebot to find the new URLs.
If you have an html sitemap, make sure to update as well.
6. Check for potential redirect chains
Might happen due to previous existing redirects.
Pay special attention to potential issues around http-https, might be a legacy thing you didn’t even know about.
7. Monitor your log files
To learn when G first crawled the new URLs (200ok) and old ones (301)
To spot any potential issues around 404s, 500s
To track daily average hit rate per page
To track mobile vs desktop etc.
To check for potential cannibalization issues
8. Check for potential cannibalization issues
Google might be confused for a while, with regards to what is the right page to rank for a keyword.
You might experience those kind of keyword shifts from the ‘old’ URL to another page in the site (that also relates to it by topic, somehow), until G will get it, and rank the ‘new’ URL as intended.
9. Nevertheless, be aware of the following:
Even with 301 in place, you should expect a certain drop, as not all the ‘SEO power’ (AKA link juice; hate this word lol) will be preserved, due to potential backlink lost, new broken links, or just until Google will figure out the new structure and crawl the pages.
How much time it might take to recover?
No idea TBH, depends how big is your site and how well your implementation goes, as well as many other factors.
Google might even re-crawl the entire website in case you have a big number of pages you’re redirecting (in the big tens of thousands I assume).
In this case might even take few months, so my suggestion will be to break it to smaller chunks of redirects and spread over few weeks. This will allow search engine to easily digest the changes and might prevent a whole re-crawl of the website.
For smaller sites, redirecting few hundreds or thousands of pages, it might take between few days to few weeks, at least based on my experience.
Happy to hear your thoughts :)