From the archives…
Recently, he asked me a few questions in blog comments, and while I started answering him there (as did a few others), things were getting long enough that I thought my answer would be worth doing a blog post about.
When I looked at his site originally, my quick thoughts were:
- Use of “tshirts” in the domain was good, and should help get good anchor text.
- Use of keywords in the copy was good, although he might be overdoing it a little in terms of making it useful copy for visitors. He could also beef up the descriptions of his best selling items.
- He should make sure that he’s not using stock manufacturer descriptions, since anyone else who sells those same shirts would have those same descriptions. Search engines (and visitors too) look for unique content that sets a site apart and makes it more useful than anything else out there.
- The use of keywords in the URLs, and lack of noisy parameters is good.
- He should do some keyword research to see how people most often search for wholesale t-shirts. Is it [wholesale shirts]? [Bulk tshirts]? Something entirely different?
- The site primarily caters to businesses so he should look at not only search traffic, but at the directories and other types of sites that businesses might use to look for wholesale t-shirts. Can he talk to those sites and get links and reviews from them?
- He should look at the other sites who are ranking for the keywords he cares about to see what they offer to visitors. What is it about those sites that makes them relevant and valuable for the query?
We also looked at his Google Search Console account to see what queries he’s currently ranking for. There’s lots he can do to capitalize on what’s listed there. And we looked at his links and found that it’s one area he can definitely improve to help out his rankings.
In the comments, he said:
“One of your comments on my site was that you liked the page urls like jonestshirts.com/tshirts. well, a lot of my other pages just had random numbers assigned from my site builder so last week I changed a lot of them to things like /ladiestshirts and /youthtshirts. Googlebot accessed my site yesterday and now for my main term of wholesale t-shirts, I dropped from about # 11 to somewhere in the 200s. I posted this issue on the webmaster tools forum but I just wanted to ask you too since you seem to know a lot about this topic. I know you’re busy and you might not get a chance to get back to me but any thoughts or advice would be totally appreciated!”
When people say that they dropped in ranking, I always try to find out more about what’s going on. For one thing, what URL used to rank highest? Is it the same URL that is now ranking in a lower position? Or has that previous URL dropped out and now a different URL is ranking (lower). Also, sometimes people find association where it may not exist, so it’s worth digging deeper. In this case, I asked him:
“Did you do a 301 redirect from the old number-based URLs to the new word-based ones? Also, was the URL that was returned in the search results for “wholesale t-shirts” one of the URLs that you renamed?”
“Vanessa, I did not do a 301 redirect. I guess I was thinking that since the old URLs still work that it would be ok. The site builder that I use has a redireict tool that I can use. I will have to find out if it uses a 301 or not. Do you think that once I implement the redirects that my ranking will be back to where it was or what would the process be? Also, the search result for that term was pulling up one of the newly named pages and it wasn’t my home page. What do you make of that? You are the coolest for responding to me! you seriously rule.”
When you change your URL structure, you should definitely 301 redirect the old URLs to the new ones for a few reasons:
- You don’t want to have to maintain multiple versions of the same page.
- Search engines will see those pages are duplicate content and will sort out for themselves which one to show in search results. They’re unlikely to want to show both.
- You’re splitting link credit and anchor text (both internal and external) and neither page will ever rank as well with both of them out there as one page would alone, with all links pointed its way.We should not forget the lessons learned from Highlander. There can only be one. You run across another and you just have to chop off its head, um, HTML, and absorb all that link power for the one true URL. (Todd would like me to clarify that I mean the first movie and not the crappy sequels. And obviously that’s what I mean, although I might watch the crappy sequels if they happened to come on TNT or something while I was lounging around on my couch some Sunday. But who among us wouldn’t?)
The other thing about Scott’s response is that one of the new pages is ranking highest for the query, which means that something has likely happened to the page that used to rank. And that could be completely unrelated to whatever is happening with these new URLs. It sounds like it used to be his home page that ranked. So, I checked that out.
“As for your home page not ranking, it looks like the problem is that your home page is no longer indexed at all.
It loads ok and you don’t seem to be blocking it with robots or a meta tag, so I’m not sure why it dropped out. You might check your webmaster tools account and see if anything is listed on the summary page regarding home page access and if the URL is listed in the web crawl errors. It’s possible your host was blocking the Googlebot IP when Google last tried to crawl the page or that your server was down. The crawl errors page should have this listed, if so.”
And JLH noted that:
“It sure would help to link to your home page on your own site. Home links to http://www.jonestshirts.com/wholesaletshirtshome which is also not indexed at the moment. Was that a recent change?”
It turns out that this is one of those layered onion things, although possibly not those blooming onions that Spike on Buffy liked, more like when you’re making soup and you’re chopping an onion and you’re sobbing so hard that the tears are making the soup a little salty and you’re thinking, is this onion chopped yet? But no, it’s a pretty big onion and all those tricks about running water and lighting a candle and humming just don’t seem to be doing the trick. The real solution is just just keep chopping ’til the soup is ready. So, I kept chopping away.
Back in the comments, Scott said:
“By the way, you asked about http://www.jonestshirts.com/wholesaletshirtshome. This is the home page, it is just another instance where I used the “custom page url” feature in order to get more keywords into the url. This is one that I changed several months ago though. Let me know what your thoughts are on that. Should I make it so my home page is just the domain? or should I keep the custom one and do a 301 redirect? Or, since it has been this way for a while already, should I just leave it as is?”
This is when I decided Scott deserved his own blog post, rather than just comments. I did indeed tell him that keyword-rich URLs are the way to go, but that’s not the only factor to consider. A URL like /tshirts.html is better than /12345.html for several reasons. It’s more useful for visitors. It might help search engines know what the page is about. It can jumpt start the external anchor text you’re looking for.
But the home page? I think that’s better off resolving to the domain, in this case, www.jonestshirts.com. As before, if you do have other URLs for your home page, you should 301 redirect everything to one URL, and for the home page, I would keep things simple and do all of that resolving back to the domain. Make sure all internal links are to that one URL and encourage external linking to do the same.
Scott came back later to say that his rankings had returned (he is, in fact, #6 for [wholesale tshirts], and that the 301 redirecting might be problematic to do. This leads to a few simple tips:
- Rankings always fluctuate and that will only continue to heat up as the search engines are able to reindex more quickly and tweak their algorithms more often, so don’t panic. Always carry your towel. Etc.
- If you’re watching your rankings for particular keywords, make note of the specific URL that’s ranking to help you troubleshoot things later if your rankings dip. It might not be a ranking issue at all. It might be a technical problem with that particular page.
- A lot of SEO is about on-page and off-page copy, and while I wouldn’t call any of that easy, the much more difficult, and often even more vital part of SEO is the technical site architecture.
- Can you implement 301s?
- Are you blocking everything with a robots.txt file? One of the first things we added to Google Search Console (way back when it was called Google Sitemaps!) was the crawl errors report.Many site owners see indexing problems and immediately assume a penalty or think that if they just squeeze one more keyword in their title, everything will be fine. But sometimes, the real story, once you peel back those onion layers and get through the tears, is that search engines couldn’t technically access the page.