September 19, 2012
Our price comparison website has been around since 2001 and although we have made updates to the site, most of them have been behind-the-scenes coding changes. We've managed to grow the website traffic with minimal time over the last 5 to 7 years, but were deeply affected by the Panda and maybe Penguin updates (I think mostly because we don't have much for content).
Anyway, in an effort to counteract the loss of traffic to these updates, we are making a lot of changes...one being our web design (which is bad). We are considering moving from a pure HTML site to a WordPress site so that it is easy for us to add pages, content, etc., and to tap into the thousands of design templates available.
Does moving from an HTML site to a WordPress site (with a theme from WooThemes) have any big SEO issues? Do HTML sites typically have better or worse rankings? Any other helpful feedback?
Any time you redesign a website and/or move it to a new platform or content management system (CMS), there are many things to consider. So it's great that you're asking these questions before making any changes. It's interesting that many of the sites I've reviewed that were hit by Google's Panda or Penguin updates were similar to yours: old static HTML sites that hadn't been updated in a long time.
I don't think that Google specifically targeted old sites or static HTML sites, but more sites that simply haven't kept up with the competition. Plus, Google does use a lot of human review these days, so if a site simply looks old and tired, it may also look less trustworthy to a human reviewer. This is important to keep in mind when deciding whether to move to WordPress. If nothing else, most WordPress themes will provide you with a fresh and modern look, which can help conversions.
A WordPress Site Is an HTML Site
Before I get into the specifics, you need to understand that a WordPress site IS an HTML site. In fact, all sites (for the most part) are HTML sites. HTML is what gets rendered and shown to the web browser after the server puts all the pieces together. Most sites that use a CMS to create pages (as WordPress does) are considered to be "dynamically generated." This just means that the WordPress CMS creates all the code by pulling in all the various pieces that you want to show on each page, rather than you having to code it all by hand.
In fact, even if you currently have a static HTML site, you may still have some dynamic elements such as server-side includes (SSI) that add your header and footer to every page. So although WordPress dynamically generates your HTML code, as far as browsers and search engines are concerned, there's no difference.
URL Redirects and Your Global Navigation
Still, you might have issues to worry about when you switch over to WordPress (or any CMS). The most obvious one is that the URLs that you're currently using may very well need to change. In which case, you'll need to be sure that your developer sets up 301-redirects from all the old URLs to the new ones. This will help preserve any old links that may be out there pointing to specific pages of your site while also carrying over their link popularity and Google PageRank.
But redirecting the URLs from the old to the new is only half of the story. If you're changing the information architecture of the site -- that is, which pages will be featured in your global navigation, and which pages those ones in turn link to -- then issues can crop up. The way every page of your site links to every other page is a critical part of how much internal link popularity and PageRank they each have. And that in turn is an important factor in how much weighting Google and other search engines will give them.
If you're not changing your global navigation at all and are going to be linking to the same exact pages you were linking to on your old site, then your pages should have a similar amount of internal link popularity as they previously did. However, you mentioned that your site has been losing traffic. Therefore, you should look at revising your navigation because it's possible that you've been inadvertently passing PageRank improperly.
For instance, if your current site is linking to almost every other page of the site due to the use of drop-down mouseover menus, you may be splitting your internal link popularity too thinly between the pages of the site. This will make it harder for any of them to rank for their targeted keyword phrases. So you should re-architect your global navigation as you move your site to WordPress. This will let you fine-tune which pages you're linking to. For most sites, you will want to link only to top-level category pages. That way you'll push a good amount of internal PageRank to them and give them a better chance at ranking for the semi-competitive keyword phrases that can bring a lot of targeted traffic.
Adding and Revising Content
You also mentioned that you didn't have much content on your pages, and you felt this may have been a reason for losing a lot of Google traffic. Again, changing over to WordPress may be just what you need to inspire you to add appropriate content to your pages. I would highly recommend making sure that every page of your site clearly states at the very top exactly what it's about with at least a few introductory sentences. That may in fact be all you need for many pages, especially top-level category pages.
With Panda and Penguin around, it's important not to put your content at the bottom of your pages because that is almost always an obvious sign that it's just there for search engines and not people. It's also critical not to stuff it full of keywords. Just write naturally, using the search words that people looking for what you offer might be typing into Google.
Revisit Your Internal Anchor Text
Moving your site to WordPress also provides you with an opportunity to review your internal anchor text (that is, the words in the clickable portion of a link). Panda and Penguin have made it abundantly clear that keyword-stuffed anchor text within your own internal links is just as bad as it is with external links. So if you went a bit overboard with this in the past, you'll want to clean it up with your new WordPress site.
Blogging for The Win!
And last, but certainly not least, using WordPress will let you add blog posts to your site (presuming you don't already have them). While having a blog on a site doesn't automatically provide it with any special Google juice, if you start to provide your thoughts on what's going on in your industry on a regular basis, you'll have lots of great fodder to market via social media. This in turn can help you develop a social media following which can increase the social media signals your site receives. The more followers, tweets, retweets, likes, shares and +1's that your content gets, the more important it will be considered by Google.
When you combine all of the above, my vote would be to definitely switch over to WordPress. From the little you've told me, it seems that you really don't have anything to lose, but everything to gain.
Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings and an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
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