Don't bring me down

Designers have blogs for a number of reasons. Often they want to show off their portfolio, maybe to expound theory, or whatever tickles their fancy. But as designers are creationists, they often have the desire to recreate their vision for their web site. Take it all down and build it back up again!

The other thing that designers often want is some noteriety. It's not about being some A-list web celebrity but rather to be known for being a great designer. Blogs have been effective tools in spreading knowledge that can define oneself as an expert in ones field. But when a site is stripped of design AND content, only to be rebuilt anew, it destroys a very important relationship: that between you and the search engine.

Search engines love content, they eat it up. And that's what readers like, too. Having destroyed that relationship, you've made it harder for new readers to find your site. You make it harder for people to learn about that wealth of knowledge because it's gone.

Listen to your site, it's saying, "Don't bring me down!"

As a footnote, 60% of my traffic currently comes from search engines.

Published August 12, 2008
Categorized as Opinion
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34 Comments · RSS feed
Marc Grabanski said on August 12, 2008

Get to know your 301 redirects if you want to change things, yet save your search engine prominence. Google webmaster gives you tools to check for any errors in your website after you change things over.

Matt Wilcox said on August 12, 2008

I can't imagine throwing away content. I've 6yrs of it. Over a thousand posts, and an additional thousand photo's. That's a hell of a lot of content to lose.

Of course the other problem involved with that is re-designs become harder to do. I can't change the layout and have my main column less than 680px, for example, because I've a few hundred images that are that size that need to live there. I can see the appeal of a completely fresh start, but I couldn't ever go through with it.

Also, it's a good idea to set up server redirects for any old URLs to point them to the new ones.

Sulcalibur said on August 12, 2008

I can't agree with you more. I ran mu site quite well a few years back. it didn't have the visual flair I wanted but the content was good and I had quite a few readers (not sure why :P). I then thought that I needed more and as a designer I took it all down and started again (and again, and again, and again, etc). I went through a stupid amount of designs which took time and effort.

I have now settled on a design that I can tweak without messing around too much. Therefore the content (which I agree is the most important thing) can settle nicely.

Matthew Pennell said on August 12, 2008

While I certainly agree that archives shouldn't be culled during a redesign, I do think that there is an argument to be made for archiving the entire site (as Keith Robinson did with the old Asterisk, and I believe Jason Santa Maria has with his redesign) - that way you have the benefit of framing the material within its original surroundings. It can also avoid the occasional "see the image to the right" now referring to the left.

.htaccess for the redirection and non-search-link-breaking win, though.

Jonathan Snook said on August 12, 2008

@Matthew Pennell: indeed, that's always a tough situation where the content makes reference to the design as it were at that time. The biggest concern is maintaining links via proper redirects. I think maintaining a site with years full of content, like Matt Wilcox says, brings its own challenges. It's definitely something that I run into with my site. But to trash it all is never the answer, in my opinion.

Adriaan Nel said on August 12, 2008

I've always wondered approximately how much traffic to you get if I might ask?

Adriaan Nel said on August 12, 2008

to = do - sorry for the typo...please correct it if you want.

Andrew Disley said on August 12, 2008

Absolutely agree on this, I've come across this many times when revisiting bookmarks and the content I was looking for is no longer available.

If the author doesn't deem the content important enough to bring into a redesign then an archived version should be a bare minimum in my opinion - browny points for 301 redirects and the option of searching the archived content from the 404 page.

Bryan Veloso said on August 12, 2008

Somehow, I think that I could be one of the prime targets of this entry. :P I've done this twice already. I've learned not to do it in the future though. Most of these decisions were spur of the moment anyway, so by the time I had time to think about it, the deed was already done.

The 2nd time around, I actually picked entries that I thought stayed relevant. I don't have as long as a history, nor do I write a lot of posts in which people would want to hit via Google, so I guess it really depends on how connected you are to your content. Although, I am planning to bring everything back.. next time I redesign.

Anton said on August 12, 2008

On the other hand, there are designers who simply see their own site as a sandbox. A playground where they can freely experiment with new technologies and ideas - visitors be warned.

What needs to be considered is how an individuals personal agenda fits into the equation. Obviously, not everyone cares whether they get traffic or not, because on a "personal" site, a person should have the right to do what they want, as long as they realize the consequences. Perhaps vast amounts of traffic and good SEO just aren't at the top of the list?

It's certainly what I used to feel. Granted, my goals have changed since then, but I certainly liked using my site as a way to play around with visual ideas and programmatic experiments here and there. I care more about traffic now than I used to, but I don't regret the choices I've made in the past.

Ben Spencer said on August 12, 2008

I probably lost nearly two years of potential search engine rankings due to me changing my design over and over again before finally launching it. I should have used the default template, or one of the already created templates for my CMS and started writing content straight away. Got a lot of catching up to do now!

Neal said on August 12, 2008

I've redesigned 3 times in the last 3 years. Each redesign improved the look of my site and therefore helped the end user out. During those redesigns I basically left the entire database the same and pulled all those articles into the new design as well. I guess I don't understand why anyone would delete old articles other than having a lousy site/folder structure to begin with. (hint it helps to think the folder structure through when you set up a site.)

Sulcalibur said on August 12, 2008

Redesign should be more about tweaking the existing design and making it better. Kind of like home improvements. You build a conservatory, paint the walls, move things around etc. You don't knock the whole thing down with everything in and start again.

Kevin said on August 12, 2008

I unfortunately lost a page rank of 5 on my personal site when my domain didn't get paid for the next year. A painful lesson that you should always make sure e-mail addresses for domain names are up to date. It's back to a 1, but thankfully I don't rely heavily on that site for work.

Anton said on August 12, 2008

This will be difficult to argue, but what's important here is CONTEXT. There are a few designers out there who consider the bulk of the so-called content the experience of being there. The artistic approach of aesthetics. Let's take the home improvement analogy that was just provided...

Do you paint over wallpaper? No. Do you add new carpet over old? No. You strip the entire room clean when you want a fresh interior design. This is coming from designers who feel that their articles have very little merit when it comes to the value of their site. Where the design trumps the writing because most of the writing just might be shit in the archives. Where the real meaning of the site is in what you see with your eyes. What you feel emotionally when you arrive at the page. An expression of visual ART that typical blog writers just don't get.

Personally, I can say that not a singe thing I wrote five and six years ago was worth a flying crap. I went through a very depressive (and self-destructive) stage and starting clean was a great way to re-think my own future. Having peers, clients and co-workers go through all that history is not something that I really want to happen. But to be remembered as a great artist and designer? Sure, bring it on.

Just don't call me fluff.

Bryan Veloso said on August 12, 2008

@Neal: Here's the thing, you don't have to understand. People blog differently, people feel different magnitudes of attachment to either blog posts or search engine rankings. Me? I don't give a crap about where I'm placed. I don't blog to get ranked, I blog because I happen to like doing it. If my ranking goes down because I nuke my posts, hypothetically, then I'll go boo-hoo for a day, but that's it.

PresenceLayer said on August 12, 2008

@Adriaan Nel: According to Google Trends, gets about 3,000 unique visitors daily.

Kyle Weems said on August 12, 2008

I agree completely. When you completely remove all the content of a site, it leaves the returning visitor to feel like they've entered an abandoned city. It might still have all the architectural charm that first excited you, but without the familiar faces (aka content) it feels like a hollow shell.

Jonathan Snook said on August 12, 2008

@Adriaan Nel: PresenceLayer is somewhat close. Google Analytics and Mint pin it around 4,000-5,000 a day and I have approximately 13,000 feed subscribers.

Jonathan Snook said on August 12, 2008

Sorry, I haven't checked my feed subscribers in awhile. I just checked now and Feedburner says 16k subscribers.

Amrit Hallan said on August 13, 2008

Good point Jonathan, but I think as long as your content remains intact there is no danger of losing search engine traffic. I'm no more a web designer, but I believe if we can manage to keep content and design separate it becomes easier to make design changes.

Josh L. said on August 13, 2008

@PresenceLayer: Where do you see the numbers? I only see a chart, but nothing to indicate how many visitors etc. No x / y values.

Josh L. said on August 13, 2008

Nevermind -- I just needed to log in :-)

Sulcalibur said on August 14, 2008

@Anton. I've wrote some real crap in the past, and I'm sure the future will be no different. I do however regret not having that crap about anymore. I personally don't care if someone laughs at it. Imagine you wrote articles in magazines. You can't delete them? I see old content like photos of when I was 15. I laugh at it, get embaressed but move on.

I used to be a damn fine(ish) illustrator back in the day (long story why I quit) and I look at various sketch pads through the years. Man alive some of the work was crap. I mean REALLY crap. But then you see how it improves and gets better.

This is why I believe that all posts should be archived if a site if going through a big design change. The content most probably won't fit in the new design (especially if images are used and are a set width).

Also, I have been know to paint over wallpaper and lay carpet over other carpet. I'm proper pikey like that lol.

(*note - please excuse me if this doesn't actually make sense. I'm posting half asleep looking after an ill child in the early hours of the morning)

Take care mate.

Amit said on August 15, 2008

Sometimes I use google search to search within your website. There can be many people like me. This may be a reason that the traffic from search engine is high for your site.

By the way, I always wonder why there is no search facility at your website. As per my opinion, it is reducing accessibility of the site.

Jonathan Snook said on August 15, 2008

@Amit: interestingly, I haven't gotten around to implementing search for that very reason: I use Google to search my site. Therefore, I haven't made it a priority to add it. I should and will at some point.

Matt said on August 15, 2008

I've faced this dilemma too recently. An old blog is nearing the end of it's life as it was very much v1.0 and is as hard to move as a brick-built-house. It would all just fall to pieces. I'm planning to build the site using Cake and may even give your blog template a go. But I saw this on a previous blog post (Snogs) and wondered whether you'd had a rethink since writing it?

While my own site doesn't run off of it, it will. I'm intending to rebuild much of using Snogs to see how well everything integrates and it will no doubt inspire me to add some features I find useful.

Yours inquisitively

Alexei A. Korolev said on August 16, 2008

When you changes structure of site you need to use 301 redirect. Just add few lines in your .htaccess and all will be fine with search engines :)

Jonathan Snook said on August 17, 2008

@Matt: interestingly, despite my desire to hook my blog up to Snogs, I ended up not going that route, mostly out of convenience. I'm rewriting much of the backend for from scratch for CakePHP 1.2 but Snogs has a slightly different structure and I just didn't feel like trying to get it all working as it should. I used Snogs for a client project and it worked well. You mileage may vary, of course. :)

Patrick said on August 26, 2008

Couldn't agree more with you, Jonathan. I thought of taking my site more or less down while I am working on the html/css for it's new design, but since about 60% of my traffic comes from search engines as well, I decided I could live with the default WP theme just a little bit longer :)

G-Snake said on August 26, 2008

Great site, I really enjoy reading your entries, keep up the work.

Chris Murphy said on August 29, 2008

Hey Jon, you know I totally agree with your assessment of designers being creationists in the sense that we (I'm probably a prime example) just NEED to create something new. Designers are junkies jonezing for an aesthetic fix (*nudgenudge*), but that's not to say that we don't all value our content. At least with blogs, if you redesign properly, there's no reason to disregard all of your past content. I right ready to re-design my site again... btw, I'm about ready to brutally insert a search box into your wonderful design (please give us one in your next layout) :D

Mark said on September 04, 2008

If I change the structure of a site I use 301 redirects and an option of searching the content from the 404 page. 301 redirects works well in Google and Yahoo! However, in Windows Live Search (MSN) you may loose your rankning.

Rashed said on March 14, 2011

It doesnt matter which form of redirect tyou use, you will lose some/ all of your ranking on google so you should try not to take your website down (just like Jonathan is saying in this article) but if you have to then you should use a 301 redirect since these will result in only a minimal amount of google ranking being lost. This happened with the company i was working for lifesize and we were advised to use 301 redirects.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.