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Site Maintenance

Web sites are always works in progress. Companies continually add and remove products and services. Open job positions are often placed in an employment section of a corporate site. Public relations divisions are constantly writing and distributing press releases. Software companies offer new-and-improved versions of their software and technical support documents. News sites change content every day.

Web technology is also continually changing. How browsers display web pages changes over time. A site that was perfectly designed for cross-browser compatibility two years ago might not look as presentable on newer browser versions.

It is not uncommon for corporate web sites to be redesigned every two to three years. If you know your site is going to change and it already has excellent search engine visibility, how can you preserve some of that visibility? The following sections will tell you how.

Error 404 Pages

Not surprisingly, many sites that undergo redesigns lose some search engine visibility. If a web page has been removed or deleted from a site, the search engine results link to a page that has a 404 Not Found error message. By default, the server returns a 404 Not Found error page when a URL has been renamed or deleted from a server.

How do think your site’s visitors might react to the Error 404 page shown in Figure 4.13? Will they try to retype a similar filename to try to access your site’s information? Will they go back to the search engine results and click a link to another site? In all likelihood, your site will lose quality traffic if the links from the search engines go to default Error 404 pages.

Figure 4.13. A default Error 404 page on my own web site, GrantasticDesigns.com.

One way to keep visitors on your site is to create a custom 404 page based on the data you gather from your traffic analysis software. Which pages of your web site are the top landing pages? What keywords are your visitors typing into search queries? What do you want your visitors to do when they land on your 404 page?

By continually analyzing and using your traffic analysis data, you can build a custom 404 page that keeps potential customers on your site. For example, in the fictional TranquiliTeas site, the site owners might have determined that the most popular sections of the site are the Products, Recipes, and Tea Facts sections. Within the Products section, visitors are most interested in oolong, green, herbal, and black teas. Within the Tea Facts section, visitors are most interested in the history of tea and the Japanese tea ceremony. The custom 404 page can reflect these three sections and highlight the targeted keywords within the HTML text on the page, as shown in Figure 4.14.

Figure 4.14. Apple has a beautifully designed custom 404 page that clearly benefits its target audience. Apple highlights the three areas that are of the highest interest to its target audience, and also provides a series of text links for other popular sections of the site.

The search engines do not want dead links in their indices. The search engine spiders find these dead links over time. As a courtesy, let the search engines know that pages no longer exist after a site redesign. Submit the non-existent URLs to the search engines to their Add URL form. The search engines record the URL as an Error 404, and the links in the search engine results are removed.

File Naming

A custom 404 page can help with links from the search engines, but it is not as effective with sites that link directly to individual web pages. Web site owners that have sites with a large number of links to them from industry-related sites, professional organizations, educational institutions, and so forth have to contact each site individually to let them know of any URL changes.

With a little foresight and planning, web developers can save a considerable amount of time in preserving their site’s link popularity. Whenever possible, try to keep the same filenames and directory structures for the site redesign. As long as you make the pages accessible to the search engine spiders in the redesign, the search engines merely respider the pages and reflect the page modifications in their search results. Then, a site’s link development can be preserved.

For example, using the fictional TranquiliTeas web site, the About Us page’s URL is this:


Suppose the CEO no longer wants to call this page About Us but rather Company Information. The site design can reflect the name change in the masthead, navigation buttons, and text links. However, the filename does not have to change to companyinformation.html; the filename can still remain about.html.


Another way site owners can let both search engines and end users know that a web page no longer exists is to provide redirects to the new web page. However, there can be potential problems with this solution because many unethical search engine marketers like to use redirects to spam the search engines.

One ethical way to redirect site visitors and search engine spiders to new URLs is to use the HTTP 301 (permanent) redirect. This type of redirect indicates that a resource (web page) has moved permanently, and the client (which is the web browser) should always use the new URL. Because the configuration of this redirect depends on the type of server on which your site is hosted, your web host or your programmer can help you set up this type of redirect.

Another way to redirect is to use JavaScript or meta-refresh tags to point to the new URL. As long as visitors can view (for at least 30 seconds) a page instructing users to bookmark the new URL, the search engines generally do not consider the redirect to be spam. However, with these types of redirects, dead links still exist in the search engines’ indexes temporarily. Thus, you should be sure to create custom 404 pages to make your site more user friendly.

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