We often get the scenario where clients that come us when there has been a sudden drop in the organic traffic to their website.
This often coincides with a redevelopment of the site, which has caused a sudden a change to the URL structure. This can be something as simple as a change in the extension, so from maybe “.html” to “.php”. However in the eyes of the search engines your pages no longer exist yet their indexes are full of the old URLs that generate a not found page when you click on them. In order to help the search engines find their new location it is imperative that you make sure all the old URLs are redirected to their new location using a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that tells search engines that a pages content has permanently moved to a new location. The benefit of using this technique is that it will also pass the majority of the authority any old URL has gained to the new URL, again helping rankings.
301 Redirects In Action
In order to be able to do a 301 redirect you may need to talk to your developer, however it is a relatively simple task, although time consuming in some cases. For instance if you have an Apache Server you can add a 301 redirect into the HTAccess file using the following format:
Redirect 301 /oldurl https://www.yourdomain.com/newurl
If your sites URL structure has stayed the same then you can do a blanket 301 redirect that will just redirect all URL to their corresponding new version on the new extension. Another important factor with using 301 redirects is that you need to make sure these redirects are done at a page level. Again we often see situations where a developer has done a 301 redirect but it is pointing all the old URLs to the new sites homepage. This again will cause a drop in traffic and essentially confuse the search engines as your homepage content won’t be the same as all of your old URLs, it won’t be optimised for each keyword.
Google Webmaster Tools
In order to see if you might be losing some ranking power and confusing both visitors and search engines I would recommend that you look in your Google Webmaster Tools account. If you don’t have a Google Webmaster Tools account it is easy to get one all you need to do is visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and sign-up.
In Google Webmaster Tools you need to click on your site, which you should have added previously. Then select Crawl > Crawl Errors and click on the “Not found” tab. Here you will see a list of 404 pages that Googlebot hasn’t found when it has crawled your site. You need to click on each one of these to confirm that it is still a 404 page and then you need to add a 301 redirect that points to the pages new location. Google Webmaster Tools will list the top 1000 pages with errors, but in some cases you will have many more, so when you have fixed the issue make sure you click on the “Mark as fixed” option. You will need to come back the following day to see the more 404 issues listed in this situation.
Your Most Linked To Content
While we are in Google Webmaster Tools another great technique to keep an eye on your sites crawl status and find out if you are potentially losing any authority which you have earned is to download the pages on your site that are linked to.
Click on Search Traffic > Links to Your Site > Your most linked content.
Once you have accessed this page download the links and then you need to check if any of them are returning a 404 error. We are going to use ScreamingFrog to check this, however prior to this you will need to open the list of URLs you have downloaded from Google Webmaster Tools and convert it into a txt file. You can do this by simply copying all the URLs to Notepad and then adding your domain to the beginning of each (as it needs to be the complete URL). The easiest way to do this quickly is to enter your domain in the first column in the spreadsheet (just insert one) and then copy that column and the urls column that already exists into Notepad. This will leave a space between the two, just select this space and click copy. Then press Ctrl + H or Edit > Replace and click paste in the find column, then select “Replace All”. You will now have a nicely formatted text file, just save this with a memorable name.
Now you need to visit ScreamingFrog and download the tool. Once you have downloaded and installed it you need to click on “Mode” and change this to list. Then click on select file and select the list of linked pages you have created. In the report generated you need to click on the “Status Code” column in order to sort it by the value. Now scroll down the list until you find any 404s. If you do find any 404s create a 301 redirect on your site that points this URL to its new location. This will pass the authority generated by links to these pages to their new location and it will help recover lost ranking potential.
Site structure is so important for both search engines and visitors, the techniques that I have highlighted in this post are relatively simple to do, but they can have a significant impact on the authority and ranking ability of your site.
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