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Website Upgrade Gone Bad - Major Ranking Drop

6:51 pm on Jul 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I am hoping someone can provide me a little guidance on here to help me recover from a website upgrade gone horribly wrong. Long story short is this...

Penguin and Panda updates did not impact my site as of June 1st. So all was good :) Average traffic on a weekday is 800 visits. Then June 1st we went to upgrade the cart/website system we use.

Because of this some URLs had to change. Two that were impacted where two of my most popular articles. One for each of my two top keywords. So for those two pages I did a 301 redirect to my homepage as it was not really the page I wanted Google to direct them to as I would rather the homepage. I then recreated the page with a new URL in this cart. I was told this would be ok by my SEO guy.

I also grabbed my BackLink report from WebMaster Tools and made sure if it had a backlink, I had a 301 redirect to the new URL. I tried to match up the meta data as best as possible.

Here is where the fun begins...
Issue #1, the developer had the site down for the better part of 2 full days. Tremendous traffic drop. When the new site was up, I wait for the traffic to come back. I get back about 550 visits a day. But the three main keywords that I have been ranking on page 1 or page 2 with Google for 5 years, drop to about a rank of 35 or so.

I wait 5 weeks. Things are not improving, my 35 ranking is now down to about 50. So I rollback to my old website and remove the 301 redirects. I was told that would be no big deal. Is it a big deal to "take back" a 301 redirect?

It has been two weeks since I reverted to my original site and it just seems to be getting worse for those 3 words from 70 to 125 and worse.

But here is what seems to have happened to me and let me know if this makes sense to you.

The three pages that were redirected were removed from the index in the sense that I am the authoritative source for them. Now article sites that have scraped my site rank #1 for those articles. But not for that term, just for the article.

In addition, I no longer rank for those 3 terms hardly at all for any of my pages. Which accounts for roughly my 20% drop in traffic I guess in some way shape or long tail fashion.

I was not sure if I could put in exact URLs or if that is frowned upon so I did not. If you want specific examples, please let me know.

Any insight would be appreciated.

Best regards,
9:21 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Not sure what has happened there as its hard to diagnose without a URL to see if you have any direct issues.

I was going to say put the site back as it was if you were ranking before, but you have and still have a problem, from experience i can say 301's are not fast these days, i hear some people get indexed without any loss of rankings after a 301 but more and more people are losing rankings for whatever reasons, im 9 weeks into site change pretty similar to yourself and still Google has not passed the Juice from the old site to the new even though the 301 went really smoothly and all the new pages are indexed (they are just not ranking)

I would put the site back as intended I.E with the new redirects in place and go to the Google product forums where you can place your URL and hopefully people can get to see if you have an issue, there are some knowledgable people out there and also some idiots so research any advice given

The things you can check for yourself are

Make sure the 301 is correct and doing exactly what it should be doing, it may be worth posting your htaccess or php script in the relevant part of this site as there are a few who can tell you if you have any issues there [webmasterworld.com ]

also check the header responses and make sure you get either a 200 response or 301 redirected for the correct pages (Google for some reason picked up the non www version of my site for 2 weeks even though it was impossible to access that so some strange things are going on there

The last thing you want to do is confuse Google by adding and removing 301's confirm your changes and stick to them it may just be time Google needs
9:53 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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It has been two weeks since I reverted to my original site

After reverting to your original site, what happens if you request one of new site URLs? Do they still return the content, do they redirect or do they return 404?

Although you have reverted, you have in the meantime flooded Google with new URLs from your new site. Google will need the time to digest this + the new URLs should not be returning the content, they shoud be either returning 404 or redirecting back to the original URLs, providing that you will not proceed with the upgraded site for a some time.

But if you reverted now and want to put a new site up couple of months down the track, then this is probably not a good idea as Google will be confused. In which case, I would rather revert back to a new site, would NOT redirect these important URL to the home page, instead I would redirect them to the new URL that has exactly the same content as the pages that ranked (including the same page title etc) and fix any other technical issues and then wait.

And lastly, you did not say whether the upgraded site has a different information arhitecture and different navigation paths as these can also be the reasons why the ranking of your upgraded site dropped.

It is much easier to do website redevelopment that includes IA and URL changes if the site is ranking poorly since with the new IA and carefully consolidated redirects and with no technical issues, the usual path is only up.

But if the site is already ranking well then the changes should be done in stages with enough time between the stages to allow Google to digest the changes.

So if your URLs had to change because of the new cart, then put the new cart with new URLs but try to keep the site structure and how the pages interlink initially the same and redirect old URLs to new URLs on the one-to-one basis.
9:58 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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If you do re-launch your new site, try to support those two important articles at the same url, or 301 redirect them to the new url. *NOT THE HOME PAGE*

Google considers a redirect to the homepage to be about the same as a 404 error. They call it a "soft 404". When you redirected your important urls, to the homepage, you were effectively telling google that they are gone.
10:12 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I concur with deadsea, redirect them to the new article. The second problem Issue is that your developer had the site down for 2 days, giving google and other search engines that idea that your site was gone. All the development work for the new site should have been done on a dev server then ported over in one quick move.
10:13 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the replies. Since the site upgrade itself had so many problems, I am just sticking with this site for the next year or two. I was not gaining that much with the new version of osCommerce.

So I did revert back to the old site. I did upload a site map for Google to process to try to expedite the reindexing. I left it there for two weeks and just took it down as I am adding some content and I was not sure if it saw the site map it may not index the new content.

One page used to rank #6 on page 1 for a two word term "Cisco CCNA". My homepage now ranks for that term and went from 6 to 13 to 59.

Another page used to rank for anpther term roughly 15 to 20. Now my site is not even in the top 100 and this page if I Google the first sentence it brings up an article site that scraped my content. My site is no longer authoritative for it. I have no idea how to deal with that.

This page used to rank roughly 15 to 20 for a third term and now is not in the top 100. No other page on the site replaced it either. Those are just a few of the main examples.

I will go back and look at doing redirects back to anything that was on the site upgrade that went bad so it points back to what is my current site.

For the most part there is no other entries in the htaccess file as I am back at my original site.

If you guys see anything else, I would appreciate any feedback as this is 8 years of my site rank down the tubes and it will take years for me to recreate all the content it seems I have lost authoritative ranking for. :(

Best regards,

[edited by: tedster at 10:25 pm (utc) on Jul 18, 2012]
[edit reason] sorry, no specific keywords or URLs [/edit]

10:22 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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deadsea and bewenched...First, thanks for the reply.

So that brings up two questions....
I wish the SEO person saying that would be fine to redirect them to the homepage knew what he was talking about as I would have never done it otherwise.

Since I can't 301 redirect the homepage to those two interior pages, is there anyway to recover from that?

Then second, unfortunately the developer flipped the switch. He had it in another folder on my server and we he went to cut it to the new one had all kinds of issues. It was always, "i will get it in 10 minutes".

But this is very good insight. So any idea how I can recover? Is it worth trying to submit a reconsideration telling Google what happened?

Best regards,
10:31 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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You may also find this thread to be useful, as well: Site Relaunch Checklist [webmasterworld.com] It covers many things that could go wrong in launching a redeveloped website.
10:36 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Soft 404s are only Ok ( and then only for a short time ) if it is to redirect human traffic that is looking for something ( and which would "back out" if they got a had 404 ) ..without going into specifics "soft 404", can have it's place..as a "traffic hack"..IMO..

But as mentioned, G treats it more like a mix of 404 and 410..so soft 404ing will hurt ranking..

Fire your SEO guy..and your dev..and begin reading old threads here..do enough reading and asking ..and you won't need anyone else to do those jobs, or if you do want to hire for those positions, you'll know how to sort the wheat from the chaff..

[edited by: tedster at 10:52 pm (utc) on Jul 18, 2012]

11:21 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Thanks guys. I just spent the past two hours doing the 301 redirects for the site that I had up for the month of doom pointed back to the old site which is now my site again.

So that really leaves the question open it seems on recovery...
Since those 3 or 4 pages were soft 404s...what can I do from here?
Each of those URLs still have 250+ links pointing to each of them according to my webmaster tools. So the links are still there and I would assume the anchor text that they have must be the same.

So that leads me to a couple other questions/thoughts...
1) Do you think there is any value in submitting a reconsideration report to google explaining what happened to see if they will somehow make me authoritative for those pages again? As I am quite sure that if I get that, then 25% traffic drop I experienced will be reclaimed by those keywords being directed to those pages again. So is it worth a try and any tips?

2) Based upon the thinking the backlinks are to those URLs, do I rewrite those pages and will that help it recapture the rank sine now it is new content again with a bunch of backlinks? Since I wrote the best articles before, I know I can rewrite them again. I just hope it will be different enough for Google to take as new content.

3) Since it has only been two weeks since reverting back to the old site(but things have got much worse the past 4 days) do I just sit tight for another two weeks and see what happens?

Or maybe you have another idea that I am totally missing due to delirium of not sleeping from this this past 7 weeks.

11:44 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Since I can't 301 redirect the homepage to those two interior pages, is there anyway to recover from that?

You have removed the redirect from these two pages to home page, yes?
And these two pages have their own (historical) links, correct?
Now you have to sit and wait for Google to sort it out.

You may want to try Google Webmaster Tools, fetch as Googlebot, fetch each of these two pages and then "submit for indexing" so that Google can see that 301 redirect has gone away.

But important is that you must not expect results overnight. You flicked the switch back, you addressed new links redirecting them to the "old" links where appropriate, now you have to be patient and WAIT and do not mess up with the old site. Give Google a chance to realise the old site is back. Google will have to re-crawl the old URLs as well as recrawl the new URLs to get the picture of what has now happened.
11:56 pm on July 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the suggestion as it is kind of funny as that is just what I got done doing as I was poking around the tools. Glad to hear I am sort of understanding it. Just kicking myself not to question the redirect to the homepage. Yes, I did remove them 2 weeks ago. It seems like Google crawls about 2,000 pages on my site a day(I have 6,500 indexed pages)...so I thought it would have sorted it out by now.

I really appreciate everyone's feedback as it helps me not question what I was contemplating to do. But I am always open to any other suggestions in case I missed something.

Actually, the funny part is...when I reverted back to my old site, the next night for about 6 hours I ranked #1, 2 or 3 for every term...even above Cisco(which some terms I do rank better than them).
12:28 am on July 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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do I just sit tight for another two weeks?

No. You'll need to wait three to six months.
7:58 am on July 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Have you got a sitemap.xml file? I'd highly recommend putting one in place and ensuring it's dead accurate.

Submit it to Google Webmaster Tools and they will highlight any errors they have accessing those files, making it a useful way of finding some technical issues.

I've found recently that pages Google crawled that I had blocked accidentally were then very hard to get indexed after fixing the issue. As in, 2 weeks later still not indexed which is highly unusual in my case. By adding the relevant page into a sitemap, it spawned inclusion of that page by the next day.
4:27 am on Feb 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Would like to find out if your rankings ever ca,e back bbel . I did the same thing and rankings tanked. It's been two months and not sure how long I need to wait or just revert back to the old URL.
5:31 pm on Feb 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I did a complete redesign of a site a f ew months ago. With the redesign I also changed page names, removed pages, changed the page structure, etc. All for the better of course, but a LOT of things changed. I did everything by the book and added 301's where applicable. I tanked as well... it was a very slow to say the least process of picking up on the 301's. I feel 404's also had something to do with this also as I monitored my wmt account - if needed I did a 301, but usually just mark the 404's as 'fixed'. Slowly the site appears to be coming back and by this it seems to do so more and more after each 'update'.

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