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Site Restructure Opinions: Make the changes in one go or gradual?

     
12:34 pm on Sep 22, 2016 (gmt 0)

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So we have yet another project looming where a large ecommerce website in a very competitive niche is now having the whole site redesigned.

The site is ranking extremely well at the moment.

Structure and urls will need to eventually change. http->https also on the cards. Domain will remain the same.

I have to admit, it does not matter how many times we do this, it always makes me nervous.

The client is aware of the risks. I want to gauge opinions on the best way of doing this in your experience. i.e not theory, but people who have actually done this several times.

We have always approached this by making sure the changes from the old site structure to the new one is done in stages. So, for example in this case, we would naturally gravitate towards a staged move. i.e:

1. ensure all content and meta tags remain the same between the old url to the new.
2. Ensure the urls do not change in stage1 for the main pages such as homepage and category pages
3. 301 redirect all of the products from old structure to new
4. do all the normal new url structure housekeeping (sitemaps etc)
5. After google has crawled the majority of the pages and everything has stebelised, do the important pages and repeat procedure.
6. Only when everything is back to normal, tackle https:

OR do youprefer

1. create a 301 redirect map for all of the urls on the site
2. Change it all at once including https, content, urls etc
3. Pray.

What do you guys do, how successful was it etc?
1:36 pm on Sept 22, 2016 (gmt 0)

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IMO when changing to HTTPS it makes more sense to do the entire site at once. Do the 301 and submit the new sitemap.xml.

I just did a 200 page site and it only took 5 days for all pages to be indexed.
2:18 pm on Sept 22, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Thanks keyplyr, but https is only one aspect of it. We are more concerned with the full url restructure/change.

As I said, we have always had good success with partial gradual change. I want to see if there are any here that have had any scare stories or success stories with a stage change?
12:14 pm on Sept 23, 2016 (gmt 0)

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If the site is ranking well right now then I would go for a gradual change as described in steps 1-6 above.

In fact we are doing something similar right now, with the site going live end of October. We are pretty much doing as described above in steps 1 - 6, with the exception that the booking funnel will be on https straight away (but these are not pages we are concerned with regards to ranking anyway). We will tackle https perhaps 6 months or so after the move.

If the site is not ranking well and the redesign include substantial IA changes then you could go all at once (IA changes, URL changes and the move to https). But for a site that currently ranks well I would not do all at once.
8:12 am on Sept 24, 2016 (gmt 0)

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thanks for the feedback aakk9999. Do you also do step 2? i.e keeping the main category pages the same url? i.e partial url change? Then once things stabilise do the complete change?

Also, as the htaccess file is going to be rather large, When we have lots of redirects we tend to create them in httpd.conf rather than htaccess.

We have only ever done the staged move in the past on large sites. Is there anyone here that just does it all in one go and had relative success? It would make the move much easier and less time consuming but if the risk is in fact much greater then its not worth it. I'm just wondering if its a real increase in risk or just a perceived one.
10:40 am on Sept 24, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Regarding step 2: if the site ranks well we keep all URLs that bring a good traffic unchanged.

Regarding approaches: we have done both - a big bang and staged.

We only went big bang approach when the site is not ranking great as there is not much to lose in these cases. If a site is ranking reasonably or very good, we would never go big bang - whilst it could end up well, it is also too risky.

Regarding htaccess, in most cases we do it programatically, i.e. we have redirect and rewrite tables and a script that looks these up and decides what to do. In CMS, when entering a new row into one of these tables, there are checks to avoid chained redirects, redirect loops, etc.
11:22 am on Sept 24, 2016 (gmt 0)

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If you spread the move over several stages, my concern would be the possibility of chained redirects, though I vaguely remember hearing in the past few months that Google has reduced that problem. (If anyone has a reference, that would be helpful.) Moving everything at once puts all your eggs in one basket, though properly planned, it might be the more cohesive approach.

If you did it in stages, though, I'm thinking that you would need to go back after each move and add 301s redirecting to the final https from all of the intermediate urls that had been exposed at that point to the web... and you would go back to each of your original urls and do direct redirects to the final https.

So the penultimate http urls for all changes preceding https, eg, would add a set of urls that needed to be redirected to the final https. On the other hand, you'd be isolating potential problems by stages for diagnosis, if need be. I toss this out for feedback, btw, but these are some of the considerations that come to mind. I could also make an argument for doing it all at once.

Another consideration is HTTP/2, which in a very large site would require its own migration path (for things like sprites, etc. I'm assuming that there's a period in a move to HTTP/2 where you might be taking a performance hit until you've switched over, particularly if it's a very large site.

All this is best done in an offseason, assuming you have that flexibility. Here's a classic thread from six years ago that has a lot of good tips... worth a careful read...

Site Relaunch Checklist
July, 2010
https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4170791.htm [webmasterworld.com]