Are the Old Versions of Your Website Hurting You in the SERPs?
The internet is continually evolving, and in order to stay current most webmasters plan to make regular updates to their websites to incorporate new features as they become available. Not that long ago, most corporate websites were simple static pages with sales copy and a gallery of product images. The growth of Web 2.0 has seen the standard business page change to include more dynamic features, like blogs and forums. Google is continually updating its search algorithms and when they introduced Panda in 2011, a lot of websites suffered decreases in their page rankings because the crawlers saw their content as being too thin, dramatically altering the requirements for attaining a good page ranking and subsequently bringing about a flurry of website upgrades across cyberspace.
Lately the massive uptake of mobile devices has brought about another major change in the way that people use the internet. It has become imperative for businesses to include mobile friendly versions of their websites in order to capture the growing number of mobile internet shoppers. With each step in this evolution, many companies have upgraded their websites; however, merely reformatting your existing pages may be only half of the job, and if you are leaving older versions online it may be killing your ranking in the SERPs.
The main reason for this is because of Google’s duplicate content penalties, which restricts the listing for pages that have content that is identical, or nearly so, to pages that are already indexed. Originally the duplicate content penalty was introduced as a method of decreasing the chances of the search engines indexing spam pages in too high a position in the SERPs, and the low number of these kinds of pages that are generally returned for queries shows how well it has worked. The unfortunate side to this is that often when websites with valuable content are redesigned, Google applies the penalty to them because their content has been republished and the old pages have been left online for one reason or another. Creating mobile specific web pages might also have a similar result if the content is a duplication of the corporate website that is already in place.
There are a number of things that you can do to make sure that your site isn’t dropped from the SERPs for duplication of information, and the most obvious fix is to update the content at the same time that you update the website. Rewrite old content when it is appropriate, and don’t be afraid to cull material that is no longer contributing to your SEO. Most websites will have a number of more popular posts and pages and it may be worth creating an archive for that content that presents it in a new format. Not only will this give the content a new lease on life, it also will make it attractive to the search engines. Mobile friendly web pages usually contain the same information as the standard versions of the site but unless they are tagged correctly to be picked up for the mobile SERPs they may flag themselves as duplicate content.
At times, it is necessary to manually tag the original content using canonical tags that indicate to the search engines which site is the one that you want to have indexed. This is especially important for delineating which pages should be indexed for mobile searches. For most people this is delving too deeply into the technical realm of web design, and it can be a good idea to have a professional web designer look at this aspect of your pages if you suddenly drop out of the SERPs after you publish your updated website or go online with a mobile friendly version.