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redesigning a big website
what to do about google when you want your web structure to change?

 7:17 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)


i have a really big website and i want to rename a lot of urls, arguments in querystring etc because i am changing structure...

Will google remove old urls and update new urls if i use a 404 redirection? how should i manage this change to get a happy google update?

thank you :)



 7:26 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

If your new pages are accessible from your homepage (ideally through a spiderable sitemap) then Google should just pick up all your new pages as though you had published the site fresh. If your new structure uses dynamic URLs then check to make sure that Google will be able to follow them, perhaps using a mod rewrite or removing sessionIDs.


 7:28 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Don't do what I just did. I renamed a bunch of url's on my site. Since people would come in on those pages by the SE's, I removed all content from the pages and put a "this page has moved" thing with a link to the new page. Works fine for the visitors, but Google didn't care for it to much.

What happened is that, despite having NO content on the old pages, the old pages still outrank the new ones. When doing searches for the pages keywords, 9 times out of 10 the old ones come up in the SERPS's, with the new ones occasionally listed below.

Am hoping this phenemonan (?) will disappear after another update.

If you have access to the server and will be doing this sitewide (not just on selected pages), probably a permanent server side redirection would be best to use.



 7:32 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

jim, with simple ftp access you can use a .htaccess 301 redirect. it's invisible to users and google doesn't seem to mind at all. we just changed one our sites over, and left all of the old pages up, because the old content is relevant to our users. we figured that since they aren't linked from anywhere else on the site (the index), they will just sink to the bottom eventually. ~400 pages or so. not too big of a site.



 7:38 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

hi again :)

my site has thousands of pages that are bases only in some php scripts that generate output from a database query.

if i change urls and querystring, i cannot manually redirect this big number of pages so they will be 404. this is not very important as i can redirect every 404 to index. but my question is: google will consider this massive changes as something like "spamming" or fault?


 8:10 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Just based on my experience...

I have structurally changed a huge site(30,000+ URLs) and redirect all old URLs to the home page using the 404 redirect. Have no problem with Google, after a few updates the new URLs have replaced the old ones.

Just make sure that the header does return a 404. Some here would say that 301 is better, nonetheless just make sure that the header is returning the right error code.

As an aside, you might lose some traffic and page PR



 8:27 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi agonzalez,

First, let's say Welcome to Webmaster World [webmasterworld.com]. (Tsk, tsk. Where's everybody's manners? :) )

I'm not a mod_rewrite person so can't help with the details, but it sounds like if you can come up with a *very logical* renaming scheme then you should be able to add a few lines to your .htaccess file to return a 301 and rewrite the urls on the fly.

Hope I'm not too far off base here and that someone with mod_rewrite expertise comes along to say yea or nay.



 8:48 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

>> Don't do what I just did. I renamed a bunch of url's on my site. Since people would come in on those pages by the SE's, I removed all content from the pages and put a "this page has moved" thing with a link to the new page. Works fine for the visitors, but Google didn't care for it to much. <<

I did roughly the same but saw in advance the problem that that could cause, so I put this on every one of the old pages:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow">

It worked exactly as planned. In this last update Google has dropped every single page of the old site completely out of the index, and indexed and listed the new site in its place. Even better, the new site is doing a lot better in the listings than the old site ever did. It took 7 weeks for Google to take note of, and action, the required changes, and they completed last night.

Maybe you could try that?


 9:15 pm on Jun 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why not to replace 404 page for a site map, or put there redirect to a site map?


 1:20 am on Jun 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi g1smd,

After seeing the results of the update, that's exactly what I did. Went through and detached all the files from the template, then added in the noindex, follow into the robots tag. Was too lazy when I initially removed the content to do it and got a bit burned by Google because of it! Happily, that area of my site dind't receive much traffic, so not a huge loss for a month or two.

My site is on a Windows Server, so I don't think I can use a .htaccess (isn't that for Unix servers only?)

Hopefully, the next update will clear things up.



 2:46 am on Jun 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Seems there is something in the air. We are also looking to change some page urls as well as changing hosts. Our content will not change to much, so if we just put "No index" tags on the old urls and left them without links, I gather that they will eventually fall out of the index and the new pages will be put in. Then we could put in redirects after that. Does this sound right?


 9:35 am on Jun 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hello jimh009

.htaccess files are also available for Windows servers. This is the preferred filename for access control of the Apache [httpd.apache.org] webserver. So if you run Apache on a Windows machine you will be able to use .htaccess. And also mod_rewrite, which you can use to redirect a whole lot of pages via a logical operation to other pages.

For example if you old URLs were of type "/sql.php?page=5" you could easily redirect that page to "database/page5.html" or similar. For the whole lot, using a recipe.

Just to clarify one more thing: A few of you were talking about 404 as redirects. No, 404 is the error code to return to the browser (or Google) that the page does not exist anymore! So Google would drop it, but that is all.

What you want is a 301 redirect code. In your .htaccess file it should read like
Redirect permanent /old/filename.html http://www.mysite.com/new/page.html
on one line for one single file to be redirected.

As I said, for a whole lot of URLs to be rewritten get a very good read of the mod_rewrite pages [httpd.apache.org] and then test your theory on a local Apache server and if you run into problems ask our great experts right here on WebmasterWorld!




 9:56 am on Jun 23, 2003 (gmt 0)


If your site is hosted on a Apache server and you are able to define some "rules" to map the old urls onto new ones, the most efficient way would be using mod_rewrite with the "301 - moved permanently" header.

This is the procedure Google recommends as it would allow you to transfer PR from your old pages to the new ones.
As a side effect, you won't lose any of your visitors, which is way cool :)



 10:58 am on Jun 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Follow these guidelines:


and you'll never have a problem with either Google or people who have bookmarked pages in your site.


 9:39 pm on Jun 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi Mozart,

Thanks for all the info. Unfortunately, Apache isn't run on my hosts webservers. All my new sites will be going on non-windows servers, but when I started my first site, I didn't know thing one about hosting, Unix, Google and all the other considerations that go into webhosting.

Does the mod_rewrite work for windows, or is that also only an Apache thing?



 2:09 pm on Jun 24, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi Jim,

go to [news.netcraft.com ] and check out what your webserver really is running on (left hand side "whats that site running on"). Because as you can see from the graph, chances are that your host uses the same server as over 62 percent of all hosts, namely Apache.

Just to clarify another thing: Apache can be run on Windows, especially the new version 2 servers. But it is not recommended, not due to Apache security problems, but because of Windows security problems inherent to the operating system!

So my advice to you is to download Apache for Windows (url see last post) for your local machine to test out things. Apache for Windows automatically comes with a few modules, one being mod_rewrite. Apache is a very small download and performs on a Win XP system quite stable, with mod_rewrite and the separate PHP module installed. Yes, you should read through a few configuration files by hand, not only to try and understand them, but also to learn a lot about what you can do with your testbed server.

And about your current host: If they really don't run Apache then all the mod_rewrite tips you'll find on this board won't help you much until you say goodbye to your host and go to someone with Apache on Linux installed.


 2:24 pm on Jun 24, 2003 (gmt 0)

Just another tidbit of info about Apache: In some European countries the market share is even higher. In Germany the market share of Apache in May 2003 was a whooping 88.91 percent! [netcraft.com]

Only government organisations do not want to save money for some reason...


 7:34 pm on Jun 24, 2003 (gmt 0)

Thanks for all the info Mozart. The link to that site is very handy tool. Confirmed what I already knew, though, host uses Windows 2000 and IIS for the web server, so guess using Apache is out!

Still, all this info. will be very helpful indeed on future sites - or when I move the site to a new host.


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