I have just taken on a website that has been around since 1996. The person that owns it has been building it adhoc over the years. Fairly niche topic which she is very passionate about.

Now it is the worst code i have ever seen - its not her field. It cant even validator.w3.org. It doesn't give you the number of errors it just fails... Having difficulty with Google analitics - i think it is becasue there about 6 close body tags. Tables within tables within tables.

In terms of SEO well there are none of the standard guidelines... NO title tags no meta no robot no site map no CSS nothing....

Navigation is bad and all over the place.

However... it has some very good listings. The most primary 2 term keywords she is listed on the first result page within South Africa. For some interesting long tail keyword it out ranks major international players.

The reason?? Content, so much good and up-to-date content. World News, tutorials, local news, events etc.. (and all without a CMS or a database...!!! You should see the Server!!!)

Anyway... it is my undertaking to make this womens 12 year ambition that much easier and that much more successful by building a CMS, building an SEO strategy and monetizing her site. She has given me complete cart blanch to do what i want. A really great project.

My question is this... Even though I am changing the site for better I fear that the changes are so all encompassing that it might have a big negative impact on the sites search engine rankings

Now iv read about creating redirects which in this case will be a very slow manual process because the pages are all developed manually - No dynamic content and a massive and elaborate folder structure. The concern is that this site is so far from what i think of as a SEO'd site yet it ranks well and now i am going to change it completely. Redesigning GUI recoding HTML etc...

So redirect all pages to the new dynamic versions, fine. Do you have any advice for this undertaking. Is there anything i should be keeping in mind or adding so i can track or analyzing so i can mimic successful old tactics in the new system? Anything?

All thoughts welcome ;) Sascha


This site likely ranks well for several reasons:
- Age of site under same owner.
- Lots of content.
- Good, diverse, organic inbound linking.
- Targeted topic or market.

From what you say, a redesign should ultimately increase rankings (especially if title/meta tags are lacking, HTML errors, etc).

If you do a good redesign and keep old URLs, you should not see too much drop in rankings. You may see temporary drops and shifts between pages, though. If you change URLs and redirect old ones to corresponding new ones, you may see some temporary drops for a few weeks while the site gets reindexed, but not long term. If you do improve site structure, optimize tags and improve HTML coding and content, you will likely come out with an increase.

I think the main risk you have here is if you do not redirect the old URLs. That will cause existing "link juice" and page history to be lost. While it is a pain, you should find a way to put in redirects. Make sure they go to pages equivalent to the old ones. Note that you can do this via a 404 error page handler -- have a script that looks up the old pages in a table (using the inbound URL) and returns a 301 redirect to the new one. That way it can be data driven. Also, create an XML site map file and link from your robots.txt so that all new URLs are found quickly.

Also, be sure to put in place a good internal linking structure for the new site, using internal links to emphasize key pages that currently rank well (e.g., link from home page, site map and other pages).