Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tips & Tricks: Using dynamic 301 redirects to avoid a drop in search engine rankings

Be careful when moving your Web store: it could cause a major drop in your search engine rankings.

Take this example. Company XYZ decides to move their Web store. For instance, they want to switch to a new ecommerce platform (other reasons might be moving to a new host, or a new dedicated server, or a new Web site design, etc.). To minimize downtime, Company XYZ sets up the new store at, whereas the current store is still running at

When they are done with testing, they shut down their old store by placing some links on some of the old store pages and a message on the home page that says that customers should visit to purchase from now on.

A couple of weeks later they turn off the old store since they no longer need it.

Their sales start dropping. Why? Are customers not liking the new store?

No, it's traffic that dropped.

The fact that CompanyXYZ switched domain name was a strategic mistake. In Google's index, the ".net" domain represents a completely new Web site. It doesn't matter that the rest of the domain name is the same. Google views the store as a brand new store, with no history.

How can you avoid this problem? You do need to test the new store using a real domain name. You can't just use an IP address since testing the checkout process with SSL, for example, is not possible with just an IP address.

So what can you do when you do the switch?

Here are the steps you need to take:
  • Point the old domain name to the new store. Of course, this is number 1 on the list. If this is NOT possible, then unless you can use 301 redirects on the old domain name, you are in big trouble and there is not much you can do to avoid the drop in rankings. If this IS possible, you still need to use 301 redirects if some of the old pages are no longer being used. For example, if you switch ecommerce system, the old dynamic URLs need to point to the new ones. (e.g. might need to point to a page that looks different now that you are using a new system, such as You can do this by using dynamic 301 redirects. See below.

  • Understand what 301 Permanent Redirects are. Redirecting is normally a big "no, no" when you talk about search engine optimization, but 301 redirects are search engine friendly, and endorsed officially by search engines. The Web Master FAQs area of the Google Web site contains an article on 301 redirects.

  • Use dynamic 301 redirects. Ask your Web master to help you on this. You can dynamically generate the 301 redirects so that they are product-, category-, or page-specific. When you do that, specific product, category, or other dynamic pages that had been indexed by the search engine will permanently redirect to the corresponding pages on your new store. For example, the page on the old store that described a certain product, will permanently redirect to the corresponding page on the new store. This will help you maintain intact the popularity of individual pages.

This happened to a store that recently moved from Yahoo! Stores to using our ProductCart shopping cart software. They were in the top 10 on Google on some of their most relevant keyword phrases, and now they are nowhere to be found.

Be careful and take full advantage of 301 Permanent Redirects!

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