Ask Bill Hartzer: We redesigned our website, pushed it live but did not catalogue our old URLs. What do we do?

Someone recently asked me about redirecting their old web pages (their old URLs) to the new URLs because they redesigned their website. Here is what they said:

We recently redesigned our website and pushed it live. However, we forgot to catalogue all of the old URLs on the old website, and therefore we have no way of knowing what the old URLs were on the site, so we can redirect them to the new URLs. Help!

Whenever you redesign your website, it’s important to set up 301 Permanent Redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs so that website visitors and the search engine bots know that the page has moved its location to a new URL. If you use a 301 Permanent Redirect (and not a meta refresh and not a 302 redirect), all of the Google PageRank, or “link juice” is “supposed to be” passed on to the new URL.

But what if you redesign your website and don’t make a list of all of your old pages? Well, there are two ways to deal with this. I actually prefer doing both, so that you make sure that you catch all of the old pages on your site.

Review Log Files for 404 Errors
First, review your website’s log files and get a list of all of the 404 errors on your site. Since the search engines crawl websites a lot, there is a good chance that most of your old web pages will result in a 404 error, and that will be on the list. You’ll also be able to see which pages have the most 404 errors, and you can pay attention to those first.

You may be able to see the 404 errors using web analytics. Depending on which web analytics tools you use, you will be able to see the site’s 404 errors. Make sure you use a web analytics tool that analyzes your site’s log files, NOT something like Google Analytics, which does NOT rely on your site’s log files. If you are using cPanel or another web host that has a control panel, you may have a program called AWStates, or Webalizer, that will do the trick. You may want to download and use Analog, which I’ve been using for over 10 years to analyze a site’s log files.

Review Webmaster Tools
After a few days of the with the site’s new design, you should start to accumulate 404 errors on your site. You can review those errors in Google Webmaster Tools. Since you’re relying on Google’s crawl to identify 404 errors, that may not be as reliable as looking at your log files. But, if you do not have access to the site’s log files, that’s the next best thing. You can also get the data in Bing’s Webmaster Tools, as well.

Other Considerations
Whenever you redesign your website, keep in mind that it’s always preferable to keep the same exact URLs that you have had in the past. Ideally, your site’s URL structure should use directories rather than actual file names for the URLs. For example:

http://www.billhartzer.com/about/

is preferred over using this:

http://www.billhartzer.com/about.html

Using directories such as /about/ is preferred because is is platform-agnostic. It is not tied to any particular type of web server (Windows versus Unix with page.html versus page.asp), and your site structure can remain in place no matter what type of Content Management System you use. You’re essentially “future proofing” your website, as we always will have directories. Even if you decide to use PHP or even ASP.Net as your back-end content management system and code, you can still keep the same exact URLs.

If you have a question for me that you would like me to answer, feel free to contact me and I’ll either answer it personally or post it here on my blog. And you can even remain anonymous, if you like.