|Cleaning up a site with minimal ranking damage|
Having seen the recent thread about sitemaps and going thru numerous other comments about rewrites and ideas on how to make a site more palitable to Google (and others, too)...
i'd like to solicit comment on a not so hypothetical site, long established site with:
1) information organized in categories (brand names) at the 1st level and beneath each category are elements of interest (products).
2) a storefront which serves pages from the categories, but the page information has an embedded iframe with the all the (non commercial) information provided with an inline frame (iframe).
3) Over the years, with code changes, directory renaming, etc etc.. there are LOTS of rewrite/redirect rules
4) Google has managed (not surprisingly, given the changes and things done over the site's history) to index most of the store's pages, but only a handful of the "real content" pages, and when that's done (indexing of "real content" pages), it's only a few pages for each category (usually the list or table of contents for the category). BTW category content pages have relevant title, description, etc.
Is there some way of phasing out the store directory and (hopefully) getting more visibility on our content pages? If we'd like to totally cut out the store directory (via robots.txt or noindex all of the pages), would sitemaps be of any help in directing Google figure out where we have our "best" information? (sitemaps has never been used with this site and there is reluctance b.c. of the negative publicity that it could hurt).
Another option? is to start over with a new site and gradually link or rewrite everything to the new site?
I've been involved in several "clean-ups", many of them involving a new set of pages, and some a complete redesign. As long as you're maintaining the same domain name, then you can re-invent your site with little or no loss in traffic, as long as you do it with precision.
I think the key, in addition to technical precision, is not to change urls unless you absolutely can't see another way. In those cases, do a study to see if you really need a 301 redirect to take care of pages that are getting good search traffic or have strong backlinks. Only set up a 301 in those cases, and let the rest of your old urls return a 404.
Just make sure you've got a good linking structure. That alone helps Google sort out your revised site. Without a pile of 301 redirects to chekc for trust issues, Google can handle the revised site pretty quickly.
And speaking of a study, I'd really look closely at the traffic to those category/brand pages,including whether those visitors convert. That kind of page can really be a useful thing for some sites.
tedster.. thanks for the helpful suggestions and adding constructive thought / clarity to the issue