If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It, Especially In SEO!

By Daniel Scocco

Ever heard the saying “never change a winning team”? What about “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? The concept is pretty much the same, and it applies to many fields and endeavors. A couple of months ago I found it also applies to SEO….

I had a mini website that was receiving a lot of traffic from search engines. When I dug into analytics to analyze the numbers I found that one single page was attracting the bulk of the traffic, as it was ranking in the third position of Google for a popular search term.

I figured that people visiting other pages of that site would be interested in that page too, so I created a section below each page with related links. The goal was to improve the navigation and increase the page views per visitor ratio within the site, and not to increase my search rankings. In fact I didn’t use optimized anchor texts or anything to artificially inflate my rankings.

Yet a couple of weeks later that page moved from the third position to the third page in the search results for the same search term…. and it stayed there ever since.

Could it have been a coincidence? Sure. But there is a chance that the changes I applied to the internal linking structure of the site triggered some red flag with Google, despite being legitimate changes.

I also heard many stories from website owners who re-designed their websites, moving links and sections around, and then found that their rankings had vanished overnight.

Obviously this is not a rule carved in stone. Many times similar tweaks could have a positive effect on search rankings and traffic. The point I wanted to make is that you should perform structural changes on your websites with care, especially if there is a big risk involved (e.g., if you already get a lot of organic traffic).




Share

45 Responses to “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It, Especially In SEO!”

  • sunil

    I think it is only a temporary thing. U will get your old position soon 🙂

    • Daniel Scocco

      It might be a permanent thing, since more than 60 days passed already.

  • Samir@Indihow

    My experience was a bit different. I was experimenting with a blogspot blog and had posted links to various top-quality sites related to MMO. A week later I found out that my blog had been reported as spam and deleted!
    I’ve vowed never to add site-wide dofollow links again.

  • Eddie Gear

    Hey Daniel, Yes, I think I can relate to that. I did something similar to what you have done, However, this was really silly and when I started to blog three years back ( I did not know anything about blogging back then.) That is when I really started looking into SEO.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I thought that only I could be so silly.

  • Winning Ideas

    Its interesting. I feel its because, Google had already crawled your site structure and pages are cached and ranking is based on cached pages. Now since the structure is changed for any reason, crawlers will need to visit your site again and caching will happen again. In this process for sometime, ranking could be low. But after that again ranking could go up may be equal to earlier ranking if not more.

    • Daniel Scocco

      Not sure if this is related to cache, because the time spans I used to analyze things were quite long.

  • Dave The Belize Real Estate Guy

    Timely post.

    I’m in the process of outsourcing an upgrade of my Revolution One WordPress based website to the latest Genesis code, but with only minor tweaks to the overall look of the site.

    I’m doing the upgrade to add some extra search functionality and to make it easier and faster for my staff to add listings.

    The potential SEO problem has definitely been on my mind though, since I rank in the top ten for all major search terms for my business, and if I drop it’s a huge hit to my bottom line.

    Do you think my plans will affect my SEO if I try to maintain the current link structure (if possible)?

    • Daniel Scocco

      If I were you I would try to avoid any changes in site structure, yeah. This includes internal linking structure as well as HTML structure of your pages.

  • Ben Linford

    It would be interesting to know whether undoing the changes you made, reinstated your position in the SERPs. If it did work, how long did it take to go from the third page, back to the appearing as the 3rd result? As we know, split testing can be great for maximising traffic/conversions etc.
    I wouldn’t want to be put off by this…
    Thanks.

  • Josh GArcia

    Hey Daniel,

    I agree, if something is working leave it alone and don’t touch it. Too many times we start over analyzing and thinking if we tweak something it is going to improve it.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  • Find All Answers

    Tweaking is fine, but if we see that things are not working as expected, or even more things go terribly wrong, we must have an option to revert back. For the same reason it is good to have a local copy of the website files.

    Thanks for the idea Daniel!

    • Daniel Scocco

      The problems is once you get flagged on Google simply reverting back won’t solve the issue.

  • Amit

    I think this isn’t true in all situations. The search algorithms change and you have to tweak your website adhering to the changes .. We can’t “assume” that since everything is fine today..it will be the same tomorrow.

    Example: I used to display post tags under my posts because of two reasons. First it helped the user to find related content and second – in some cases it helped with SEO because of the words used in the tags.

    Recently I removed the tags and I have observed some pages went up in the rankings. Everything was fine before but I took a small risk and it helped my site even more.

    The reverse is unfortunately true too,

    • Daniel Scocco

      Agreed.

  • Damian Smith

    Its true that if something isn’t broken then it shouldn’t be fixed. BUT, I do think that sometimes things need improving, and can be improved successfully most of the time, if Google was too change its algorithms then changes will need to be made, or if you discover something that one of your competitors are doing and it is working then you may want to make changes to your own website.

    It is odd how Google reacted badly to some extra links at the bottom of your page and have never come across this behavior before, I think you were extremely unlucky in this instance!

    • Daniel Scocco

      Yeah this isn’t a widespread thing, but it sure can happens.

  • Steven Corbett

    When I upgraded WordPress 3.0 on my blog, things got fun again, and I started writing a little more than I had in the past. I wrote a post that Google picked up within a few hours, and the next day I was ranked pretty high for a particular term that I had been drooling over. I was excited, but I noticed that I had left one word out of the title- don’t ask me how. Anyway, I quickly added that word, and a few hours later, the post was no longer even indexed by Google. It’s been months now, and it has gradually worked it’s way back up to the second page, but what a wasted opportunity.

    I totally agree- leave well enough alone. 🙂

  • Nhoel

    This topic is very subjective.
    What didn’t work for you may not work for me.
    It’s important to learn from mistakes, but it’s more important to take the risk trying to make your blog better.

    and if it misses out, change it back or whatever, just don’t stop your journey experimenting.

  • Adam Pieniazek

    I’ve noticed these changes before during a site change, and sometimes it’s temporary, just give the spiders enough time to tackle your new layout and things should be A-OK.

  • Lucy Thorpe

    I have exactly the same thing – a single page on my site that gets way more traffic than everything else. I discovered that this is because it ranks in the top 5 for a popular search term. I have long wondered what I should do to capitalize on this. I tried creating more posts using that term but they didn’t seem to pick up anything like the same traffic. I moved links to other posts onto that page to try and increase time spent browsing but now I am worried about losing traffic to my magic post altogether.
    What do you reckon? Leave well alone

  • Ritournelle

    I had a question regarding that subject. I started my blog a month ago and have a lot of traffic coming from search engines. Another blogger advised me to get my own name domain (drop the wordpress in my adress), but I’m afraid I would loose traffic by doing so. What do you think?

    • Daniel Scocco

      You will lose some of traffic if you move from WordPress to your own domain, but this is a necessary pain for you, and the sooner you do the switch, the better.

      • Aditya Kane

        Redirection tweaks should be able to help out in this regard but yes page rank loss would be unavoidable right?

      • Ritournelle

        Thanks for answering Daniel. But why do you call it a “necessary” pain? What are the advantages of having one’s own domain name? I see a lot of popular blogs have kept the “blogspot” or “wordpress” in their names.

  • Shanker Bakshi

    Thats not the case with me, i need to keep on experimenting things, as its in a broken state from last one year. I known what i did last summer, i don’t for how long I have to pay for that last summer fun 🙂

  • Keith Davis

    Sounds like a cautionary tale Daniel.
    I tweak a few things in my posts….. Hi and H2 tags and add a few things to the meta tags but I don’t do a great deal of tinkering once I’ve published a post.

    Does Google have a negative section in its algorithm for tinkering? LOL

    Perhaps another phrase is Let sleeping dogs lie.

  • Steve

    I wouldn’t doubt it. Google is really sensitive about page updates. For a non-competitive keyword, it may not make much difference, but for competitive keywords, it could mean the difference of a few pages in the SERPs.

  • jehzlau

    This happened to one of my site’s pages even if I didn’t change anything in that specific page. I ranked 2nd sometimes 3rd in different Google data centers for that “single word” keyword. It ranked for 6 months and suddenly it was moved to page 6 or sometimes 7 and it stayed there ever since.

    At first, I can’t think of a single reason why it was moved. But then I realized that there are some words (somebody is saying bad words like f*ck or soab about the specific company that I blogged about) used in the comment thread affected that specific page’s position in the Google SERPs. Hmmmmmmmm…….

    So even if you didn’t changed anything, if it’s your fate, then it’s your doom. Hehe. 😀

  • Stephanie – Home with the Kids

    I would add to leave it alone unless the page isn’t doing what you want it to. A well ranked sales page that isn’t making sales needs to be changed. Times like that you have to tweak the balance between SEO and sales copy.

  • Susanne Myers

    David, I think you have a valid point here, but at the same time you also had a very good reason to make those changes (to move visitors around your website more, hopefully getting them to take some sort of desired action).

    All the extra search engine traffic isn’t doing you too much good if visitors aren’t taking the required action. It’s a bit of a balancing act I guess.

    I’d try removing the links, wait a few weeks and see if your links come back. Maybe send a link form another page or blog to it to speed things up.

    If your rankings come back, I’d try adding just one link at a time (manually), and wait and see what happens in between.

  • Robert @ Techinfo-4u.com

    I know what you mean Daniel, I love experimenting with new things and ideas all the time, but i have to be careful I dont go breaking things, especially with my site,

    I had a dodgy incident not too long ago where i nearly deleted everything from my server! Thankfully I managed to save it!

  • jason

    SEO hasn’t changed much in three years, as I still use the same percentages and fare pretty well. I completely agree with you on this post!

  • Lee | Money4Invest

    I experienced the same thing. Whenever I changed something on my website, the page ranking in Google Search result will change also. Therefore, think twice before doing changes to your websites.

  • Alex Dumitru

    If that’s all you did, I really think it was a coincidence, though I believe you did other mistake.

  • Rudy

    That’s the beauty of the algorithm, no one really knows how it works. Well there are factors involved, improvement by your competitors, changes in the algo itself. For me, things went the opposite, interlinking helped one of my web page rank well in SERP of Google.

    And most Internet Marketers out there whom I know will do exactly the same way as you did :). But again in the end, it’s like asking, how many links and what kind of links will it require for a web page to rank well?

    Well I guess, only the Google knows.

    • Personal Development@planetnaveen

      I think Google might have benchmarks for ranking the websites. Keywords come first, then the back links (PR) and the cached pages of your site on Google’s repository. Google’s algorithm would work similar to all pages based on the above benchmarks. So the algorithm might not change so often but since a tweak in any of above benchmarks could result in lower ranking.
      In current example, Daniel had tweaked his site structure. Spiders keep on visiting the site again and again and if no change found, then the ranking remains same or goes higher, but if there is a change, then it takes some time for the new structured pages to cached on Google repository.
      Hence, one of the benchmark is low resulting in lower ranking.

      This is only my logic 🙂

  • jDesai

    Google uses complex algos to determine SERPS but I think this has nothing to do with the changes that you applied. Ofcourse the two events happened at the same time but reasons could be that Google thought some other pages are more important than yours. If internal link exchanges can cause SERPS to go down then it’s simply ridiculous.

  • Mike @ Tech and Biz Gadgets

    It could be just a coincidence but with google you never know. Keep at it, and it will move back to top page eventually, so I have learned.

  • Farouk

    i strongly agree, when i used to mess with pitch pages sales used to slow down, i learned how not to make any change before i make sure that i can reverse it quickly
    sooo truee!!

  • Thomas

    Gday Daniel

    Funny you say this, I was ranking #1 for a very competitive word and also added the “related post” plugin which sent my site no where to be seen. SIGH

    I second the motion, if its not broken, don’t fix it.

  • Virtual Character

    I agree but change is inevitable and if there are possible developments external from what we have, why not try and update thing. Maybe they can work too.

  • Shelly

    Right said, Daniel!
    Though the tweakings and/or re-structuring might prove useful more number of times as compared to the times it does the opposite downside way, one may exercise caution and think twice at least to ponder upon the possible end results.

    We noticed this in our blog also. We were novices when we started dedicating committed time and nurturing our blog ‘bricks-n-mortar dot com’ even when we enjoyed PR2 and touched PR3 too for a shorter period of time. During the same time, we started learning about widgets, meta tags, analytics tag files, link-within html codes and similar stuff that we carefully incorporated in the blog.

    Surprisingly, within a short span of time after all these changes that we made hoping for good proved disastrous, and the blog’s google PR vanished altogether. On the other hand, though we installed the Alexa widget only a couple of months back, the Alexa rank is steadily growing being in sync and proportion to our efforts that we put in.

    And, alas, despite the fact that majority of our traffic is organic mostly through google and other search engines, and that quite a number of search key words figure on the very first page of google search, we have never been able to regain the google PR. 🙁

  • Web Marketing Tips

    I simply know one thing that Google can also make mistakes in their rankings this is not full proof and they can not check for all keywords.

  • Imran

    I think this isn’t true in all situations. The search algorithms change and you have to tweak your website adhering to the changes .. We can’t “assume” that since everything is fine today..it will be the same tomorrow.

    Example: I used to display post tags under my posts because of two reasons. First it helped the user to find related content and second – in some cases it helped with SEO because of the words used in the tags.

    Recently I removed the tags and I have observed some pages went up in the rankings. Everything was fine before but I took a small risk and it helped my site even more.

    The reverse is unfortunately true too,

  • Shaun Connell

    There’s no connection between increasing internal linking and –losing– a search ranking. That doesn’t even make sense on any level, and if that systematically lead to such results, we’d hear a lot more about it from other webmasters.

    It was just a fluke thing — don’t get spooked by SEO.

Comments are closed.