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Ranking drop - 1 month after site improvement

 5:17 am on Jul 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

We changed the structure for our site in order to improve user experience. Because we had new directories, and therefore new URLs, we 301 redirected the old pages to the new pages.

After a week, all the new URLs started showing up in Google and no ranking was lost. Everything appeared to have worked great and we enjoyed consistent site traffic for a good 3 weeks. But then 1 month after the initial site restructure, the new pages started dropping in Google's rankings and so did our traffic!

An example of an old page is:

(Previously ranked #2 for a 2-word phrase)

Which now 301 redirects to the new page:

(Currently ranks #26 - and dropping - for the same 2-word phrase)

I first reported this problem in the Google Group, Google Webmaster help.

I was informed that with the restructuring of my site, I created duplicate pages that may be negatively affecting our ranking. We found this issue and corrected it. After initially correcting this issue, the site ranking improved from 17 to 12 immediately. Then today (about 4 weeks later), Google finally dropped around 6,000 of our duplicate pages from its index. Unfortunately, we didn't see improvements in the results. Instead we dropped further, now at #26.

Does anyone know what might have caused this sudden drop other than the duplicate pages? Why after correcting the duplicate page problem are the results worse? Will my ranking eventually come back, and if so how long should I expect it to take?

[edited by: tedster at 5:59 am (utc) on July 1, 2008]
[edit reason] I changed the specifics [/edit]



 6:13 am on Jul 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

You may have introduced CHAINS of 301 redirects instead of having each 301 go immediately to the final URL. Google has more restrictions on passing link juice through a chain of 301s compared to a single redirect. This can happen when a canonical (no-www) fix is combined with another kind of 301 redirect.

What you don't want:
old url without www >> old url with www >> new url with www

What you do want:
old url without www >> new url with www


 6:49 am on Jul 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

That's interesting.
We recently launched our new site and used some 301s in it and the new pages were taken up by google.

Apart from the duplicated pages, did you add more links to your pages? Maybe you wanted to improve internal linking and placed tens of links like the big boys do?

Did the website grow in terms of size?


 9:20 pm on Jul 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

@tedster - 301 chains are something that I read about and spoke with the lead developer of the website. I have reminded him about this possible problem and will let you know if this is an issue with the current 301 redirects when he gets back to me.

@idolw - Yes, I have launched many new sites with 301 redirects without any issue. This is why it is so puzzling to me. We actually removed links from our pages. Previously, we had every category linked from our side nav on every page. We found this was confusing to users because they would be in the arcade section and instead of related links being prominent in the side nav, their would be a bunch of unrelated links. Maybe I should add some links on the bottom of the page to our more popular categories to ensure link juice is being passed to those pages. However, all the main categories are still linked to from the top navigation, though this is a drop down navigation that uses css to hide the drop down menus. Could this be a problem?


 3:03 pm on Jul 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

don't you think you are losing links then? internal links removal may be affecting your ranking.


 6:40 pm on Jul 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

301 chains are something that I read about and spoke with the lead developer of the website. I have reminded him about this possible problem and will let you know if this is an issue with the current 301 redirects when he gets back to me.

I suggest you check on the situation directly, too. You can use Firefox with the "Live HTTP Headers" add-on, and request "old url without www". Then see if your server gets to the new address with just one 301. Seeing it in action is a lot more direct (and easier) than thinking about it from an abstracted configuration standpoint.


 10:35 pm on Jul 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

@tedster - I do see that there is a 301 chain when you place the following into the address bar:

http://example.com/category_initial/page-name.html (without the www)

But no 301 chain with the www. in the URL. My question now is, how badly does this really effect us since a majority (97%) of the incoming links to the old pages included the www.?

We continue to drop, now at the bottom of the 5th page.

[edited by: tedster at 10:44 pm (utc) on July 7, 2008]

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