Nobody keeps the same website forever. Websites get redesigned and on a regular basis. Websites also need their content updated or reorganized to keep up with a growing business or organization.
When you change the structure of your site (move pages, rename them, or delete them altogether) you could be losing valuable traffic and costing your business or organization signups, purchases, or more.
One of the primary ways that a site generates traffic is from people clicking on links to it from search engines, other websites, or e-mails. The search engine part is obvious. Links from other sites could come from your website being listed on someone else’s site, or links posted on blogs and forums. Links in e-mails are simply that, a link to some page on your site, sent to someone in a e-mail.
A link is simply the address, or URL (Uniform Resource Locator), of a given page or website. In this case we are talking about links to specific pages on your site.
The reason why rearranging the structure of your site could cost you traffic is because there are very likely many different links to specific pages on your site posted on other websites. Moreover, all of the search engines have those specific pages categorized in their databases.
For example: let’s say that your about us page’s URL is http://somedomain.com/about.htm and during a redesign it is changed to http://somedomain.com/company/about_us.html to make it a sub-page of a new "Company" page. Now that you’ve made that change, all of those links to http://somedomain.com/about.htm on other sites, search engines, and e-mail no longer work. Visitors will get a 404 (file not found) error, and you will likely lose any search engine ranking that you had with the content on that page.
This can cost you big time!
That’s not to say that you can’t reorganize and revamp the structure of your site, you just have to do so intelligently.
There are two ways to go about it:
- Leave any existing URLs alone and just add new content to those pages.
- Set up redirects for the old URLs to the new ones so that when someone tries to access an "old" link, they are redirected to the new page, and so that the search engines know to update the entry for that specific page without losing your search engine ranking.
So, when you decide to do some clean-up and re-organizing on your site, just make sure you take a few minutes to note the existing URLs of your pages so you can set up any redirects and this will keep you from losing valuable traffic to your site.
— Ryan Chapin
President, Nuts & Bolts Interactive, Inc.