Changing Old Code To CSS Killed One Webmaster's Google Rankings

Jul 9, 2010 • 7:58 am | comments (16) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

A featured WebmasterWorld thread has one webmaster who said his 13 year old well ranking web site was updated to use the latest CSS and coding techniques. The page content, titles, meta information was not touched, only the way the page renders, by using the latest CSS techniques to reduce page load time and page redenering. He said, immediately after the site went live, his rankings for keywords he ranked well for since the site was first launched 13 years ago - have vanished.

Let me quote what he said:

13 year old site. Using 13 year old code.

I decided to modernize using the cleanest of standards. I'm using the STRICT doctype (minimal errors upon validation) ... pure CSS, one stylesheet controlling everything which is minified... all pages compressed with gzip. No header information was changed... same titles, same meta. Basically I know what I'm doing.

I effectively took my average page size from 80k to 20k (before gzip compression) and the site is lightning quick. Visitors have been super happy with the improvement.

Every visitor but googlebot apparently.

The DAY after I rolled this major revision out, I began losing my major keywords. Every keyword was top 10, now I'm gone... not in supplementals - nowhere. Keywords dropped over the last 3 days... today there isn't much left.

He posted that on June 27th and today, two weeks later, there has been no improvement.

Now, if the URLs, title, content and everything else stayed the same and the only thing you updated was how the page source code is implemented, a ranking change should not been seen. I have to suspect that this webmaster is missing something, but he is confident he is not.

Tedster, WebmasterWorld's administrator said:

I've been involved in hundreds of redesigns over the years, some with content changes and some with only mark-up changes. I never ran into this problem.

I know flicky is reporting a big problem, and I'm not trying to diminish its devastating impact on his business. But I am cautioning against making generalizations based on this.

Have you experienced this? I just find it hard to believe that there are not other factors involved here.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

Previous story: Daily Search Forum Recap: July 8, 2010



07/09/2010 12:13 pm

Fetch as Googlebot in GWC often reveals crawlability issues.

Alan K'necht

07/09/2010 01:02 pm

I've been involved in lots of code clean-ups for clients. In the majority of cases, I actually see an improvement in ranking not a decline. On the odd occasion there is no change in ranking or just normal fluctuations. I've never seen something like this unless the page extension (.html to .php)was done at the same time. To me it sounds like something on the server is blocking the bots. It would be interesting to see if the pages were dropped from the index all together.


07/09/2010 02:42 pm

Ive done about 13 website clean ups including one or two which have updated to using external CSS and I have never had major losses in rankings. Where some pages have been removed and had to include re-directs the rankings have changed but I have to agree that something must have been missed? Did he bring everything over such as sitemaps, robots.txt and were all the URL's kept the same??

Gavin Smith

07/09/2010 03:36 pm

Tell him to check Robots.txt, its quite a common issue post development.


07/09/2010 04:59 pm

There's no need to generalize imho - so many questions left unanswered. how many pages does your site have? how much % changes in total? did you forget to unblock in robots.txt after change (i know basic, but usual suspect) it seems strange that a lighter site would lose rankings. etc...

Michael Martinez

07/09/2010 05:33 pm

He did mention removing a lot of internal links.


07/09/2010 09:10 pm

unless you were keeping track of pre and post - you'll end up guessing what caused your drop in rankings. good luck and i hope you figure it out to get your rankings back!

Jaan Kanellis

07/10/2010 05:35 pm

If he changed the internal lining structure that could have easily been it.

Miles Carter

07/12/2010 08:30 am

This seems unlikely at face value - I've experienced the opposite effect in the past. I'd say the most likely causes are changes to internal linking structure, as previously said, or changes to source code ordering. If the old template had topical content first in the source, and the new has a whole load of menus and guff first that could affect rankings negatively.


07/12/2010 10:09 am

As of now we had three times completely revamped the sites. No other drops in the SERP positions without changing the URLs.

Andrea Moro

07/12/2010 11:51 am

I'm not able to get the problem with robots.txt. Anyway, as per other users, I never experienced problem such this, expecially if content and all other on page SEO aspect remained the same.


07/12/2010 12:18 pm

Not only have I experienced this same effect but it was 100% reporduceable. The new site would seem about a 30% drop I'm SE traffic within 3 days of it's launch and stay that way for weeks. Within 3 days of putting the old site back up, traffic was normal again. There was absolutely no change in content or link structure. Only a bloated, HTML structure with tons of inline CSS was changed to a clean CSS design. I actually could go back and forth with the two versions of the site and watch the rankings go up and down. I ended up doing a very slow transition from one design to the other by replacing only 1 small part of the layout at a time and giving 4-5 days between changes. This resulted in a much less dramatic drop in rankings but the new design still never had the same SE traffic as the old. It's very possible that a bad HTML design with missing tags could end up breaking the googlebots parser and resulting in blocks of text and even links not being read by the indexing system.


07/15/2010 01:36 pm

Sometimes the HTML content postioning would make a huge difference on rankings. Only Google can answer better!


08/11/2010 03:30 pm

Oh that's so awful! If he kept all the components the same I can't understand why googlebots have turned against the site, very unlucky!


08/12/2010 06:22 pm

This is one of the primary reasons I will avoid website redesigns. Thanks


10/22/2010 12:20 am

I couldn't help notice the dates on this discussion. My site, that use to rank fairly high, has dropped of google entirely. It happened almost the same time this discussion was being posted. The drop began in July and by mid August I'm at Zero GOOGLE SE Traffic. I have an ijoomla component attached to my site and I'm wondering if that might be conflicting.

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