Forest Software

Web, SEO and IT & Business Advice for the Smaller Business

Last updated on April 13th, 2015 at 02:29 pm

Recently I have talked to several small (and not so small) businesses that have completely redesigned their websites and have suffered a drop in the number of visitors to their sites.

They are understandably concerned by this turn of events, even making the comment “I thought that Google liked new content”.

There are several reasons why the number of visitors to a redesigned site may have dropped including :-

  • The page content has changed so that the search engine ranking has fallen for the page
  • The internal navigation has changed so that the engines can’t find their way around the site so easily
  • The urls  have changed for the pages and you have not set up re-directions to the new pages (maybe you have just changed the page name, maybe you have moved several pages into a new folder to keep them together or maybe you have gone from a static set of pages to a database driven site that means that the page names have had to change.

In all the cases I have mentioned at the start of this article it was the change of URLs (the addresses that the pages are at) and the lack of redirection that was the problem, the visitors were coming to the site and finding themselves on a page that said “page not found”.  The typical visitor will then go back to the search results and look at the next result, while the engines will eventually give up on the page and drop it from their results.

There are a few ways that you can redirect visitors, be they humans or search engines, to the new page names, these range from a meta redirect at the top of the code (not really recommended nowadays) to having the web-server return a 301 (permanent redirect) code that tells browsers and engines that the page has moved to a new address.  If you are running your own website and have access to all the files then the best way to do this on a Linux (Apache) based server is to use a file call .htaccess (thats dot htaccess – nothing in front of the dot).

The .htaccess file is easy to use, although you must remember to test your site after making any changes as getting it wrong could mean that your entire website stops working.  An simple example of the use (as we have done here at Forest Software after we moved a page) is :-

RewriteEngine On

Redirect 301 /design.html

This simply says that if a visitor (human or search engine) comes in looking for the page at design.html they are automatically redirected to the page at design.htm  (note the extension on the file is slightly different).    Broken down, the first line “RewriteEngine On” turns on the ability to redirect people, the next line can be broken into sections :

  1. “Redirect 301” – This line will redirect someone using a 301 code (meaning that the move is permanent)
  2. “/design.html” – the page you want redirecting from (in our case the page is in the root folder of the site
  3.” – the page you are redirecting to (we tend to use the full address although we could have used just “/design.htm” if we had wanted to).

This means that everyone ends up at the new page even if they are following old, out of date, links.

There are many other uses for the .htaccess file, such as blocking people from being able to download images) but this is one of the most common ones and one that all website owners should be aware of if you are hosted on a Linux server.

So… if  you, or your web designers are changing the names of pages on your site please, please, don’t forget to set up the re-directions or you will lose visitors and possible sales from the site.

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