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As far as your update....
I did a major update on my site that included a comlete overhaul, including directory structure. That hurt me really bad. It took quite a while to climb back.
If you're planning on doing an update, I would suggest a little at a time, with only visual appeal and internal linking. Don't change the directory structure, unless you feel you have to.
Should you change your directory structure, be sure to back-up the whole site first, make your changes, then completely delete the old directories. I made the mistake of leaving a few behind, which also hurt my rankings. Google was trying to follow links that were'nt there. Thus, to them, it looked like my site was all busted up.
In the end, the best way to decide if you want to change, is if its benefitial to your users. Assuming that your content stays the same, structure stays in tact, then worse case scenario is you might drop in some rankings, but should bounce back in a month or two.
Which I though would really mess me up, but I was at PR2 and low search rank for only about 2 months after I did it and just now pop back up there.
I've got a habit of constantly tweaking pages. I think it's hurting me.
If the "constant tweaking" you are doing includes keywords ... you can bet it will hurt you.
As mentioned, Google likes stable pages and "tweaking" pages constantly (particularly for ranking purposes) will undoubtedly have an adverse affect on your rankings.
My best advice: Write your page, make sure it is exactly the way you want it before uploading and then leave it alone. I have changed pages just for spelling errors and found no adverse affect, but correct a spelling error for a keyword or rewrite a sentence which includes a keyword and you will see what happens.
Rightly or wrongly, its the way Google's filters are set up. I disagree with it to a certain extent, but like it as well. It prevents webmasters from gaming the SERPS. My problem is that I am a hunt and peck typist and often make mistakes. I sometimes forget to do a spell chack and am horrified two weeks or two months later when I find spelling errors.
I also often write sentences, back up to change something and then leave a word "hanging" in a sentence where it doesn't belong. Believe it or not, it is often safer to leave the mistake for about a year before changing it. Unfortunately, once I find something wrong, it niggles at me until I change it. I'd rather suffer whatever penalty Google chooses to dole out than leave it alone. Its somewhat of a "Monk" (obsessive/compulsive) problem with me. If something is wrong ... I just have to fix/adjust it!
The moral is: Check your pages 5 or 6 times before uploading. Leave it for a day after finishing it and then re-read it the next day one final time ... or get someone else to proof read it for you. Catch your mistakes BEFORE uploading. (I wish I took my own advice on this) I always seem to find mistakes at some point down the road and just can't stand to leave it alone. Sigh. The price we pay for perfection. :(
Wonder if this periodic adding of content to a page is doing anything bad to my rankings. I had always assumed it could only be good, as it made the page more comprehensive for the readers.
Trust me, I have another bad habit of forgetting to delete pages once I have removed the links from the main directory pages and it always ends up costing me. Sigh ... man I have a lot of bad habits!
Site size has no bearing on anything as far as I am aware.
[edited by: Liane at 3:36 pm (utc) on July 17, 2006]
1. Design the page for your user,
2. Use 301 redirects to point old pages to new pages if you change the page file names,
3. Don't use tables for design, they create code bloat,
4. Oh yeah, did I say design the page for your user!
As the Old saying goes If it ain't broke why try to fix it...Somethimes we think we need to do this and that and really it is me wanting to do it and it not really needing to be done Most of the time...
A really good test to see if the changes really need to be done in the first place is get a few people together and watch them move through your site, be sure and take notes, keep the mouth shut, and observe very carefully.
mcDonalds pays millions to have children watched to see what they go for the most, could be why they have become such a large toy maker....
Write your page, make sure it is exactly the way you want it before uploading and then leave it alone.
Unfortunately, I don't know exactly how I want it until I see:
For these reasons, I always tweak pages once they generate some real live visitor data to help me decide what needs tweaking. I have not encountered any great sensitivity of Google to my tweaking. Maybe Google is less sensitive about it when your tweaks are infrequent, targetted, and performed on pages containing real content that real users find real benefit in. Or maybe I'm just lucky (that would be a first :-).
I suspect that if a 1-sentence change to a 750-word article drops you out of the rankings, then that page was probably ripe to be blown away by the next tiny change in the Google ranking algorithm anyway.
and tweak your site as often as you need to. Google doesn't like sentences that are poorly written. If you made mistakes, go back and fix them, and it may help next time the page is crawled.
I find there to be little value in "on page" optimization these days. I changed the title of my home page to be just a single word as an experiment, and my ranking was unaffected... We compete for very competitive terms and we've been in the top 10 for the last 3 years.
- static site to another static site: keep URLs
- static to dynamic: difficult to keep URLs, so use 301 redirects
- dynamic to dynamic, e.g. moving to a different CMS: if you can't keep the urls (which is likely) you will have to use redirects. While you're at it: Try to virtualize your URLs completely (see below).
If you can't keep the URL and are not able to use redirects, try to get as many inbound links updated as possible. You might also want to consider keeping the old site running and doing the redesign on a completely new site.
Tweaking the layout of a site should always be done with cleaner code as a goal. If the code gets messier your rankings may drop slightly. If the you are using a table based layout, make sure that the text appears in the code in a logical sequence without it being interrupted by too much layout code.
Timing: As a rule of thumb do everything at once. Don't take the old site down and put the new one up a couple days later and then setup the redirects. Instead, do your homework and switch within minutes. Anything else is going to confuse the bots.
URL virtualizing: Some CMSs come with a feature called Pretty URLs. It means that your URLs look like /widgets/blue/new, /widgets/red/used and so on instead of products.asp?catalog_id=2&product_id=5. Most of the time this is achieved by rewriting URLs before they reach the CMS. But even if the technology you're using for your dynamic site does not support pretty URLs you can try to use Apache's mod_rewrite for that. Once you have virtualized, i.e. prettyfied your URLs it will be much easier to change the underlying technology.
Oh, and while were at it: Never use absolute URLs. Try to use path-relative or at least domain-relative urls. For example, when you're redesigning a static site that uses absolute URLs, the new design should have relative URLs instead. It is possible to move from absolute URLs to relative URLs without affecting the search engines. The bots know very well how to handle relative URLs these days.