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As part of this process, I'd like to change the filenames for the pages, for the benefit of organisation and SEO. So, bluewidgets.html might become /widgets/blue.html for example.
I'm aware that I can use the 301 redirects to make sure that people still arrive on the correct page. Also, Google should update their index and pass on the PageRank to the new URLs.
However, is it really as simple as that? Can there be a delay in the PageRank being transferred? Thus a short term drop in SERPs?
Many thanks everyone & happy holidays,
301s can help, but are not guaranteed, especially if there are major content changes.
Virtually invariably, leaving things as they are will be much better than any change; a new 'se friendly' name will take years to compensate for value lost as a result of a site re-org.
If the change is vital, then minimize the damage by doing it in sections; that may, successive SE spiders can assimilate new content without the 'shock' of what appears (to them!) to be a totally new site.
Not necessarily short -- A month to a year, as reported here.
Be aware the the names of your files need not have anything to do with the URLs used to serve the content of those files; You can use mod_rewrite on Apache or ISAPI Rewrite on IIS to map any set of URLs to any set of filenames. Therefore the choice of URLs has nothing to do with the file structure used to store/organize your site on your server.
A word from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the hyperlink: [w3.org...]
bluewidgets.html might become /widgets/blue.html
The effect SEO-wise of that kind of change is likely to be extremely close to zero. The downsides of redirecting are, however, significant and long-lasting.
So don't do it. Just don't. You can perfectly well do a visual refresh and sharpen up the navigation structure and such, but do not change the URLs.