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Keeping a Changelog - for when Google (or any) trouble strikes

 6:10 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

What do you do when all of a sudden you see troubles show up with your Google rankings? This forum is full of the kinds of things that we scramble around with. But its so common for us not to KNOW the timetable for recent changes we made.

Here's a topic I almost never hear discussed - a website changelog. I've been getting clients who don't already do this to begin keeping a changelog for their site. Having a record of what you did (and when) has already proven invaluable in trouble shoooting many times. No more searching your memory (or [shudder] your team's memories) for dates and actions.

The degree of granularity is, somewhat, a matter to be tailored to each situation. But certain things seem to me to be essential. Here's what I recommend as a minimum. I'd like to hear other's thoughts and suggestions

Here's my current "must-log" list:

1. every change to robots.txt
2. every change to htaccess (or Internet Services Manager in IIS)
3. site-wide template changes (especially menu changes)
4. DNS and hosting changes
5. new outbound links
6. ad purchases and run-times

What else belongs there?

[edited by: tedster at 6:37 pm (utc) on Dec. 6, 2006]



 6:33 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

7. Last time all outbound links were checked to see what was on the other end.
8. Last time site was checked for "poison" words.

[edited by: theBear at 6:33 pm (utc) on Dec. 6, 2006]


 6:35 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

9. Change in titles, especially the home page.


 6:47 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

10. Server updates (especially reboots or outages)


 6:56 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

11. new inbound links (one way or not)


 6:58 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

12. Backup of files you have changed
13. Log of expense for each website


 7:12 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

I keep a "recent updates" page published on my site, which notes new pages, updates to current pages, etc. I have found that helpful. I also keep them going back several years, for whatever link value they may have.


 8:41 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

First of all, keep your site in version control! Anyone who is a programmer is familiar with this - others may be unfamiliar with the concept.

Version control software maintains a database of your files. To make a change, you "check out", edit, then "check in". When you check-in you typically supply a comment saying what was changed.

Modern team-based software devleopment would be impossible without version control. The same techniques and tools can be applied to a website.

I believe there is a recent post here on the subject.

Verison control packages have tools for listing what changes were made, comparing differences (with some excellent visual differencing and merge tools now available), for retriving or "reverting" to previous versions, etc.

Popular free, open-source version control packages are cvs and subversion (svn). These should be available on most any Linux system, and are available for Windows as well. There are various options for accessing the database via local files, a server, etc. Basically these are a set of command-line tools, but there are numerous visual tools that build on top of these, including plug-ins for software and web-development IDEs (integrated development environments).

cvs is showing it's age - subversion seems to be gaining popularity rapidly.

For things that not files on your website - no problem - just create text files, spreadsheets, wordprocessing documents, databases - whatever makes sense to keep track of things - and put these in version control as well. Capture it in a file somehow, and then make sure it gets into the version control system.


 9:11 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

amen to source control software .. it IS your changelog!


 9:32 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

Do the above suggestions for version control software provide a log of monitoring the conjoined effects of those changes?

To have a good version control system specifically for SEO I would have thought it would be vital to be matched to the effects.


 9:58 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

A changelog is also great for when things get better. I try to keep a log of when I change any content, links, metas. Then I try to match that with changes in my SERPs. I've always felt this was pretty amateur SEO. What I'd like to do is have a database of what page I changed, what the change was (like kwd, link, etc.) and what pages that page links to. Then associate those to changes in the serps for that page and all the pages it's linked to.
Does anyone do this?
I'd be interested in what kind of methodologies people use.
I use the above as well as a online tool that allows we to average various factors like kwd, word count, etc of the pages that rank well for my targetted KW. I can use this data to change my page to look more like that average. It's pretty limited since it only considers on-page factors.


Wow, I just read the above. *I use subversion*. I guess I just found another use for it!


 10:31 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

Do the above suggestions for version control software provide a log of monitoring the conjoined effects of those changes?

To have a good version control system specifically for SEO I would have thought it would be vital to be matched to the effects.

Put your server logs, Adwords reports, Adsense reports, affiliate reports, etc. in version control as well!

Version control won't analyze this for you - but it will at least insure that the data you need to analyze it is available.

Think of version control software as a wayback machine for your web site. But, unlike the Wayback Machine website that takes a snapshot of your site every few months, it captures EVERY change, and lets you capture changes in anything else you'd like to keep track of as well.


 10:53 pm on Dec 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

Maybe git would also fill the bill, I haven't played with it yet.

I used several change control systems on heavy iron and I can just picture one of the sites I do work on being in such a critter (too busy laughing to continue).


 7:58 am on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

Do the above suggestions for version control software provide a log of monitoring the conjoined effects of those changes?

Most version control systems also allow you to tag a series of files or your whole project. i.e. you should create a tag for each major release but you could also create a weekly tag for instance.

You can revert your entire project back to any of the tags at any time, and it's also easy to compare current changes against the code-base from an existing tag. i.e. if something goes wrong, then a version control system should make it easier for you to pinpoint the source of the problem.


 11:30 am on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

14. Config files (Apache, MySQL, php etc)
15. Firewall ruleset

Excellent thread Tedster


 11:41 am on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

I am thinking about this since my days as a bulletin board sysop, and I always envisioned it to contain both human entered data as well as automatically processed data. I used to call it "Captain's Log" but I never came around to put it in code :-(

The idea of a version control system is interesting, but to tweak it that it automatically accesses all the data sources (server logfiles got mentioned, but even the site itself) sounds a bit impractical to me.

What I thought about was using an (internal) blog for this type of logfile. It can be easily accessed by team members, and via email-to-blog it can receive automated messages too.


 12:31 pm on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

16. All changes to all pages are logged in a A4 one page per day desk diary


 12:36 pm on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

#. Server updates. Like when I turned on gzip compression and my adsense fell to 1/3rd. Turned it back off and bam, went right back to normal.

Without keeping track of my changes, I'd have been pulling at straws wondering what was going on.


 12:50 pm on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

Carguy... when you gziped you got hurt? that's real odd, maybe it was a site issue, or a cache issue. this one's new to me.



 2:21 pm on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

If it wasn't the holiday season, I'd turn gzip back on to prove it, but unless some one wants to float me 2/3rds of my earnings.... ;)


 3:01 pm on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)


my advice is to make 2 separate pages and set the compression on one of them if you can, use the Google webmasters tools, it's got to be a settings issue.

I did some quick research and their could be a problem, but it's return header based. then the next set might be with java or rss feeds.

I would check your server first and confirm that it's properly installed. then go from their.



 3:24 pm on Dec 7, 2006 (gmt 0)

Got a case of itchy fingers two days ago and decided to list the latest articles in each of my sub categories on the home page. This changed the KW density slightly (about .3x%) but I figured it wouldn't make much difference. Dropped from solid 3 month old #3 to #10 after that! I've just reverted back to the old format. Will wait and see... so to add to the list...

Check KW density after modifications.


 9:30 pm on Dec 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I use CVS or subversion for everything that I possibly can.
And yes, CVS/subversion allow/encourage you to make notes of what changed when you commit a new change. Also by doing a 'cvs diff' you can easily see what changed between any version. There are web based interfaces for CVS for those who don't want to use the command line.
For things that can't be included in CVS/subversion (i.e. offsite changes, DNS...) I keep a simple journal. There must be better ways to do the latter ... maybe an open source log/diary program.
Another good thing about CVS/subversion is that it gives you an easy way to back up all of your important files (and their previous versions). Just zip up the whole CVS repository and download it.


 4:26 am on Dec 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

On one of my sites I am using Joomla with a few bells and whistles to write "User Friendly URLs".

In addition to all of the above, it is also essential to keep a backup of the configuration files for the addon that generates the URLs. I once made a few seemingly trivial changes to the config and the impacts were not obvious until a few days later.... and I could not remember which of the changes I'd made.

It's not just about config management - I've found that some sort of baseline and a blurb to myself about what that baseline is is important.

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