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Web Site Design Changes That Kill
By Larisa Thomason
Monday, August 2, 2004; 4:00pm EST

Some Web site changes are great for promotion - in the long term. But those same changes may also have an immediate negative effect on promotion. Understand the impact before you update your site and avoid these changes that kill!

Domain Name Change

Imagine if one day you decided to change your personal name to something completely different. At the same moment, your phone number, street, and email addresses all change too. Your friends and family would have quite a hard time getting in touch with you.

That's what happens when you change your site's domain name. The inbound links from other site, search engines and directories, and bookmarks will be broken. Search engines and directories may remove your site from their indices. Your customers may just assume you aren't in business anymore and click away to the competition.

Even so, sometimes the change is worth the risk if:

You're still using the free Web address provided by your ISP. That decreases the perceived credibility and trustworthiness of your site.

Your domain name has been banned by search engines for spamming. Always check the WayBack machine before you purchase a name.

There are legal problems associated with the name. Maybe you've inadvertently infringed on someone else's copyright or your name has a bad connotation due to unrelated business or political events.

Control the damage with a server redirect that automatically sends visitors and spiders to the new site. Then expect to spend some time educating your audience and reassuring them that nothing has changed but your name.

Directory Structure Reorganization

Search engine algorithms consider a page's location within a Web site when ranking that page. In general, pages closer to the top of the site hierarchy are considered to be more relevant and therefore rank higher.

Remember that when you first begin designing a site. But don't assume that you should immediately move pages to different folders or to the top level of your domain because you want to increase the page's search engine rank.

Consider what could happen:

Broken backlinks: Links to your site from other Web sites (backlinks) are an important promotional tool. Always check your backlinks before moving pages.

Increased coding errors: Whenever you move a page within the directory structure, make sure you aren't creating broken links on your own site! Always use HTML Toolbox to quickly search for broken internal links.

Slow search engine spiders: Unless you're using some sort of paid inclusion program, it may be weeks or months before your site gets reindexed. In the meantime, the links already indexed will appear to be broken when searchers click on them.

Aiming For The Cutting Edge

You don't have to immediately make changes just because there's a new version of Flash, Java, or other interactive media plug-in. Visitors are notoriously slow to upgrade and exceedingly reluctant to download and install new software.

Even if you conscientiously update your browsers and plug-ins as soon as the new versions are available, be sure to test your designs in older versions.

Forgetting Old Browsers

Those same visitors who stubbornly refuse to install the latest Flash plug-in may have a good reason: they're using old computers and/or old browsers that don't support the latest technology.

Sure, browsers are free, but computers aren't. Some people hang on to dinosaurs like Netscape 4.7 because their old machines run it better than Netscape 7.

Study your server logs to learn what browsers and browser versions your visitors are using. Then decide what percentage (if any) you're willing to ignore. Browser Photo can help you determine what effect changes have on visitors. It shows you actual screen shots of your Web page in 16 different browser, browser versions, and operating system combinations.

Moving To A New Host

If you're using a virtual hosting account, moving to a new Web host means more than just writing checks to a new company. It means your site will have a whole new IP address.

Let's briefly review the most important steps involved in requesting a Web page from your server:

A visitor either enters your domain name in the browser address bar or clicks on a link in a search engine or other Web site.

The browser asks the Domain Name Server (DNS) for the IP address that matches "BubbasFineWines.com" (or whatever your domain name is).

The DNS supplies the IP to the browser.

The browser locates the server with the matching IP address and requests the page and its associated images and other files.

The visitor sees the page displayed on their screen.

Now the key in this process is the IP address. Once you move your site to another server, it will have a different IP address. Generally, it takes take several days for all the domain name servers to update. During that transition period, some visitors may get "file not found" error messages and assume your site is no longer functioning. Even worse, a search engine spider could crawl by the old IP address, get the same error, and delete your site from the search index! You could wait weeks or even months for the spider to revisit and reindex your site at the new IP address.

Always keep your site up and running at the old Web host for a month or so when you change hosts. The extra money involved in paying double hosting charges for a month is well worth it. Especially when you consider that the alternative is disappearing from the search engines for an extended period!

Changing Image And File Names

You get a promotion boost when your file, image, and directory names contain your targeted keywords, but the best time to consider those names is before you post your site, not after. The issues to consider here are much the same as with a site reorganization:

Broken backlinks: When you change the name of a page, all the links pointing to that page (both inside and outside your site) will be broken until someone updates them to link to the new page name.

Broken image links: Many search engines now include an image search. If you're relying on that search aspect to sell your professional photographs, then a file name change will cause a disruption.

Coding errors on your pages: Always use HTML Toolbox to test your pages for broken HREFs and image links. It's easy to forget to update text links tucked inside page content or a small image that's used throughout the site.

Refer to the Page Primer feature of Search Engine Power Pack for more hints and help with search engine optimization. Page Primer scans your page and alerts you to design and coding techniques that could help or hurt search engine promotion. It analyzes the keywords density of your pages and advises if you've used your targeted keywords too often or not often enough. The full suite of Power Pack tools will guide you through the search engine optimization process from your source code to page content to the submission process.

You'll avoid the changes that kill. Instead, Power Pack will help you make change that sell your Web site to search engines and human visitors.

Source of Article
The author of this article is Larisa Thomason, Senior Web Analyst with NetMechanic, Inc. NetMechanic is an online service specializing in html code checking, search engine optimization and web site maintenance and promotion. For more information visit http://www.netmechanic.com/.