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Complete Makeover Fear Of Losing Ranking?

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I have just taken on a website that has been around since 1996. The person that owns it has been building it adhoc over the years. Fairly niche topic which she is very passionate about.


Now it is the worst code i have ever seen - its not her field. It cant even validator.w3.org. It doesn't give you the number of errors it just fails... Having difficulty with Google analitics - i think it is becasue there about 6 close body tags. Tables within tables within tables.


In terms of SEO well there are none of the standard guidelines... no title tags no meta no robot no site map no CSS nothing....


Navigation is bad and all over the place.


However... it has some very good listings. The most primary 2 term keywords she is listed on the first result page within South Africa. For some interesting long tail keyword it out ranks major international players.


The reason?? Content so much good and up-to-date content. World News, tutorials, local news, events etc.. (and all without a CMS or a database...!!! You should see the Server!!!)


Anyway... it is my undertaking to make this womens 12 year ambition that much easier and that much more successful by building a CMS, building an SEO strategy and monetizing her site. She has given me complete cart blanch to do what i want. A really great project.


My question is this... Even though I am changing the site for better I fear that the changes are so all encompassing that it might have a big negative impact on the sites search engine rankings


Now iv read things about create redirects which in this case will be a very slow manual process because the pages are all developed manually. No dynamic content and a massive and elaborate folder structure.


So redirect all pages to the new dynamic version, fine. Do you have any advice for this undertaking. Is there anything i should be keeping in mind or adding so i can track or analyzing so i can mimic successful old tactics in the new system?


All thoughts welcome :) Sascha

Edited by saschaeh

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Are the page names (urls) going to change? If so, you will definitely want to 301 redirect the old urls to the new urls. This WILL likely hurt the rankings for a period of time while the search engines readjust. In most cases, it will be temporary, but there are no guarantees. In fact, any changes at all "could" affect rankings, but of course, we can't go through life never changing our sites. If at all possible, keep the structure and urls the same, as that will ensure the least interruptions in rankings. But if you absolutely must change them, then a 301 redirect is the way to handle that problem.

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The concern is that this site is so far from what i think of as a SEO'd site yet it ranks well and now i am going to change it completely. Redesigning GUI recoding HTML etc...

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Guest Autocrat

Okay... looking at 3 things.


1) Site structure: the way that pages link to each other, the text used etc.

2) Page Structure: the way the pages are constructed, what tags/elemetns are used etc.

3) Inbound links: what are the wordings, the pages they link to etc.



As stated above, so long as you keep the site structure the same, things should do fairly well (though apparently changing a bit at a time seems more effective/less damaging than an all-at-once-change?).


As for the page structure... if alot of the standard stuff is missing... I'm really not seeing how including it is likely to cause any serious harm.

Yes, it may result in re-indexing and re-evaluation by the SE's (those that bother to check)... but I'd say it's morelike to be for the better (esp. as the major players all advocate cleaner/leaner/semantic code etc.).


The links in is also a problem area... especially if they reflect the original sites structure.



So, I (personally) would map out the site in a spreadsheet... listing all the pages... and what pages they link to.

Note all the URLs and how they are formed.

If at all possibly, leave the "file names" as they are, and retain the structure... that can always be tackeld at a later date (a step at a time?).


Then go through and on a development site/server/directory, go and create the CMS to match the structure.

input the general pages (empty of content to begin with, barring hte immediates such as page title, title tag, and other meta stuff).

Then go through with a page by page check, making sure you have kept to the main linking structure of the site.

If you really felt the need to deviate from the original, copy the noted URLs from the map, and slap them into .htaccess (or the IIS equivalent) and 301 them instantly.

Also check for in-links, and if any exist to the now redirected pages - pop off an email etc. to the linking sites and see if they are willing to go and make matching changes to help out a little!



If your CMS is capable of it.. select a core area, and "turn off" the rest.

Copy the content from the original pages to the new Core Pages... and start replacing the site (that way you can keep the old files, and start replacing a bit at a time.


This means not only are you able to concentrate your efforts ona section at a time, but you should be able to track the SE effects/progress as well.


Then it's just an awful lot of copying and pasting.



I suppose the alternative method is to reverse a bit... get the copy into the CMS... make sure the SE's haven't gone ballistic... then start adding in the SEO side of things (turn off the meta/titles/etc.).


Then, over time, start tweaking, adjusting things as needed (such as some of the page/file names are likely to be improvable... so keep a track, 301 a handful at a time and do the link checks as you go).



The one thing I would recommend avoiding is rushing it.

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whoohhooo just when i was gona go in head first.


I like your thinking very much.


Map out the site and keep to that primary structure and slowly start evolving the site rather then rocketing it onto Jupiter.


Its probably worth my while to understand her structure becasue evidently it is very successful considering how shabby everything else is - all that is left and unanalyzed is internal linking structure and back links.



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Before you begin, I think that you need to meet with the author as she knows this content much better than you. In my opinion, authors are usually better at keyword research than an SEO as they are conversant with the topics and the terminology. This is especially true when technical topics are concerned.


This person has thought about the site for many years and should have an enormous reservoir of knowledge compared to your small amount. Best results will likely be made if you teach her a little about KW research and how the structure of a website can prepare it for strong rankings. It is possible that she can play with the KW research tools and identify major traffic sources to attack. An author like you describe should not fear competition - she should attack it.


This site was developed in ignorance. The structure was by accident. It might be improved enormously by design. Changing it might be a chance to make it really perform. If you know what your are doing and can get a solid reason for change you could produce an massive leap in the success of this site.


If you teach this person about SEO you will probably earn enormous respect from her... in addtion she will then be able to title every future article in a way that puts it in front of valuable traffic. In my opinion the best SEOs help their clients develop into better webmasters. There is more to gain by teaching than keeping secrets.


She could be writing about hiking footwear and giving titles such as....

"Give your Hot Dogs a Break"


When they might better be....

"Lightweight women's hiking boots conserve energy"

Edited by EGOL

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Well, I have to say that when I created a new CSS site for my business site I did lose my #1 Google spots on 5 major keyword phrases for awhile. However, I did get them all back, eventually, and even though I know certain companies are now actively working to get those spots it is not happening. Recently Google has even been breaking my site into categories for a keyword phrase and again for my business name. I agree with Donna; we can't not ever change our sites. Unfortunately, it is a risk we have to take.

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Just to give heart, it is possible to maintain keyword rankings with 301 redirects. I moved my Blogger blog to a subdirectory of the domain and converted it to a WordPress blog. I saw no loss of position on any of the keywords for which it ranks well. As of yet, the Toolbar PageRank indicator has not picked up the previous PR4 value and shows a blank. I assume this will be corrected in the next update.

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Hi there,


Carte blanche on a project? That sounds awesome! You have a great project on your hands with even more potential.


If you have to rename your URL's and the thought of writing all those 301 redirects is a nightmare, you should think about hiring someone - a high school kid - or someone who can pay good attention to detail.


Congrats on the meaty project.



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