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Can onsite SEO efforts affect a site's rankings for the worse?

 5:48 pm on Oct 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

I recently read a forum post where this person said that he updated and redesign his old site recently (CSS, tables removed, cleaner code etc) and his site's rankings went down. This is kind scaring me a little as I am intending to make some changes to my site. Shouldn't all this and SEO work onsite increase your rankings. Any chance it would affect it?

Someone then responded to that forum stating this:
- understand that your OLD site structure etc. became trusted by Google and other search engines (this is debatable to some but) and so now you need to build this up again.

Is this true? If so should I make changes stage by stage and slowly?

I don't know if there is a polls to see if SEO work onsite has ever had any negative effect on a site's rankings? I suppose the exercise to optimize a site should increase rankings. I am aware of not messing too much with pages that rank well already and will do 301 redirects properly, fix canonical issues, add a sitemap etc. Just want to be very careful to ensure such a thing never happens.

I guess a lot of you here do SEO work for your clients. Has anyone ever had such an issue?



 5:52 pm on Oct 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Can onsite SEO efforts affect a site's rankings for the worse?

Yes..for all kinds of reasons if not done right , carefully or if overdone ..

Begin by searching for threads on OOP "over optimisation penalty"..


 5:55 pm on Oct 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

I think you should start with differentiating between changing:
- template
- content
- site structure and navigation

If you're just changing the first one, I wouldn't think that your rankings would fluctuate wildly. Surely template design isn't a huge factor in rankings.

If you're changing the second two, then it's game on.

But that's one data point - folks that do this all the time may have more insight.

One further point. I'm in the midst of redoing my template. Not content or nav, but template. The changes will impact two things. The first, is speed, I expect/hope the site to be a bit faster. Secondly, the user interaction - my current template has some clear difficulties. I'm doing both those things for user reasons, but who knows if Google actually tracks it. If so, then maybe I get a boost. Doubt it though :).


 6:40 pm on Oct 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

i'd have thought that it was likely that a template change would definitely change the electronic footprint of your site, significantly.

Major Sitewide alterations have been know to devastate rankings, but it does vary from site to site


 1:41 am on Oct 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

This is for a very old site I have that I haven't been touched in years. The site is about 10 years old. It still brings in over 1000 uniques a day.

I am wanting to achieve 2 things:
1) better conversion with a more modern design
2) better crawl/SEO (current site does not use CSS well and has tables with multiple W3 errors)

I intend to change the below in the following steps:
1) Get a new design and convert from PSD to html
So better, cleaner CSS with no tables and try to follow W3 Standards.
Start with main page and work our way into the internal pages.
2) Add in a sitemap and fix canonical issues.
3) Remain placements of all nav templates.
My site has a top nav, side nav and bottom nav template. The rest are individual htmls. Only product areas use asp else they are basically html.
3) Fix title tags and descriptions that are duplicates.
(I am not quite sure what to do with the product pages that are dynamic and if I should no a mod rewrite of some sort. The site is in asp by the way).
4) Not sure if I should put my about us, contact us, sign up and other pages like policy etc non important pages in robot.txt. They must have been receiving some link juice all this while and I understand that I shouldn't pass them on to these non-important pages. Not sure if I should do this?
5) Keyword workaround.
I have been using perhaps 5 keywords throughout the site loosely and I guess there is some keyword cannibalization (just learnt this). I thought I'll fix it but only fix pages that are not receiving much traffic (check with analytics). Will try to not reword the other pages that have good traffic and rankings - only change design and html template.
6) I have some boilerplate that appear on the bottom of every page. It is like a section that have the top 3 reasons to buy from us etc. Some of my pages are very short and with this boilerplate, it makes up majority of the content. So I was thinking of changing these text to avoid duplicate content.
7) Add more content to the site
8) Do link building after that
9) Create some unique articles for my site and some for article submission sites.
10) Submit to related directories in my industry

Do you think this will be threading on danger?
I can't afford to have this site jeopardize and would rather not do anything if it would jeopardize it.

Also the other question is can it be saved or can you do something to make it rank well again if this does happen? i have seen some seo companies say they can help. What is it that they do if this happens.



 12:13 pm on Oct 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

re 4) Don't do this. Your 'meta' pages are all important parts of the site, and you don't want to block them in robots.txt as this will stop the juice flowing to the rest of the site.
If you are really worried, make sure you include some links to your most important pages on them.

For the rest of it - hard to say. I'm confident I could take a site successfully through this, but its all in the details of exactly what you do.
My main advice would be to make your changes slowly, avoid changing urls and if you must change them, 301 them.


 7:37 pm on Oct 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks leadegroot.

So I guess template and design is fine?
It should mess with things right?
Well at least that helps with user conversion and better spider crawls.

The rest (content, keywords, nav) I should do real slow right?

Another question, how much of onsite SEO contributes to higher rankings? I've heard some say 25% and the rest are link?


 7:42 pm on Oct 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

The percentage really really depends on the sector. In some sectors, a small tweak to onpage can shoot you to the top. In others, it's about offpage.

I think of it like this, your ranking formula is:
Maximum (onpage score, 1) + (offsite factors).

In other words, onpage counts, but has a maximum. Offsite has no maximum.


 6:23 pm on Oct 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks Wheel. So there is only so much you can do onpage rite?
Just really afraid any changes onsite could have an adverse effect.

So I guess the best is not to change any nav if possible and if I do with a 301 right?
Looks like templates and design isn't really an issue.
Content etc - to do that slowly.

I actually just remembered that about 2 years ago, I had a major change to the main page. Text and all changed only on the main page and it really didn't affect my site at all in terms of ranking. Didn't notice anything. Maybe I wasn't paying attention to my analytics.


 6:55 pm on Oct 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks Wheel. So there is only so much you can do onpage rite?

Perhaps more correctly, it's that I'm not the person to get specific about onpage. My version of onpage is 3 steps:
1) title tag
2) description meta tag
3) '100% optimized to look natural' content
...and done. That's all I got. If you go screwing with navigation and stuff, outside the basics, then you probably need a fairly technically experience SEO - and that ain't me.


 4:05 am on Oct 28, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks Wheel. Yeah I guess we should stick with these as nav stuff are scary to touch. Have you messed with title tags, descrip tags and content and it had negative effect on your ranking? Basically I am scared s*#t to mess with stuff and want to avoid anthing that could affect the site.


 8:24 am on Oct 28, 2011 (gmt 0)

I made a similar change to an established site 6 months ago with no ill effects. Beforehand I, like you, was very worried about the effect the changes might have on my rankings.

My site is 99% dynamic and since I was changing all the backend code I had no alternative but to completely change the whole site in one go. To further complicate things I also changed all my internal URLs.

If I could have made the change gradually I would have done so simply to minimise the risk.

Wheel makes an interesting suggestion :

In other words, onpage counts, but has a maximum. Offsite has no maximum.

If that is the case, and it seems reasonable, then it would make sense to focus on making sure that you don't mess up any of the offsite stuff first.

So if you are changing your URLs make sure your redirects are absolutely correct, 301s with a single redirect and no chains.

1) better conversion with a more modern design

This is not always necessarily the case. I initially made my conversion rate worse. If you have repeat visitors they may take time to adjust to your new layout. It is also worth testing with others to confirm you have actually made changes for the better.


 6:10 pm on Oct 28, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks Mark. That is very good insight about the better conversion that is not necessarily the case with a new 'better' design. Never thought of that. Thank you so much for calming my nerves. I am definitely going to try to keep changes slow. Thanks!


 6:53 pm on Oct 28, 2011 (gmt 0)

Pick sections of your site to update... about 10-20% at a time. Allow 30 days between each step. This seems to work better than a BOOM! I'VE CHANGED MY SITE! which does seem to make the big SEs (Bing is included in this caution as well) a bit nervous. I've done this with several sites with very little disruption. YMMV


 6:01 pm on Oct 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks Tangor. Will take heed. What does YMMV mean?


 6:02 pm on Oct 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have a top bar template that affects the whole site. Should it be a problem to change that all at once?


 6:00 pm on Nov 1, 2011 (gmt 0)

YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary...)

Usually cosmetic changes to a nav bar won't cause problems. I've changed mine a couple of times over the years without difficulty. BUT, I haven't done that during the last two years (or during Panda), so take the above with caution.


 11:50 pm on Nov 3, 2011 (gmt 0)

Many a times I redesigned the existing website and seen no negative impact on my SERP. If you are not changing the URL (it is also permitted if you are making it more search engine friendly; i.e. from dynamic to static) there is no reason you will loose ranking. Changing the navigation design and anchors more user friendly will only give you more chances to rank well (if you are going to anchor the relevant keywords in it). Also you can do the change at once if you feel so there is no reason to worry about SERP if you already have a good ranking.

Now, What matters in on page?

1: Changing title tag: if you have changed the title quite different than previous one. No relevancy to your page content and keywords.
2: Description: If you have no relevant description to summerize your page content.
3: Page Content: If you have quite different content with the quite different keywords than older one. Now you content is not resembling the keywords you used to rank for.
4: Over Done the above: Please note over doing of any of the above might impact negative. Also do not over do the alternative image tag, it also counts as the page content.


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