Let me tell you about web development and fishing, my two great passions. Here’s a fishing story. When I was a kid, i fished off the long piers in the Black Sea. I did not catch all that much, and I mostly thought that was because of my lack of skill and resources: I though if I could cast further, have a better fishing rod, or be able to go out on a boat, maybe I could catch more. Then I noticed that one fisherman was catching huge quantities of fish.
He had an interesting technique. Instead of using a single rod and switching from a place to a place, he’s bring ten. Each one was cheap and simple bamboo rod. He’d bait them, and drop the hook in shallow water in clear water, where the sea floor was covered with concrete blocks with holes used to stabilize the sand. I tried fishing near those holes before, but never caught anything. He’d set up his ten rods, and then just wait. An interesting thing happened: after about an hour the fish started biting, and were mostly just catching themselves: all he had to do was walk from rod to a rod and take off the fish. Sometimes just a single hole would be producing, then he would take that rod and catch fish after fish from the same place.
This technique is called deadsticking: you leave the bait motionless, and thus exposed to the fish for much longer periods of time. Most fish grab the bait and run: you don’t even need to set the hook, the fish catches itself. When on the boat the same technique often works. Having a number of rods fishing all the time gives you two benefits: it shows you the hot spots and exposes your hooks to more fish.
I see this again and again: a company redesigns a website, changes the core technology used to build it, spends a lot of money, and then the traffic and search rankings fall, and thus revenues fall.
I am pretty sure I know the cause of this: broken links. Any redesign of a website of just about any complexity, especially when technology changes breaks a lot of links. Search engines are like fish: they do not like things moving from a place to a place in an unnatural manner. A fisherman once told me: hey, do you think a Tautog (a kind of fish) ever seen a dead fiddler crab jump three feet up and down? Fish do like movement, jiggling the bait often entices them to bite. But the important thing is, the jiggling can’t be too vigorous and take the bait out of the view! Google likes to see changing content, but if the location of the content darts around – you betcha boots you are going to see your Pagerank take a hit.
The best thing to do when faced with with less traffic from Google is not to redesign the site again, but to dead stick: fix all the broken links, keep the site stable, and better yet, bring in more rods – build more sites.
In my time I’ve seen a large number of websites and careers that were set back by CMS switches and redesigns.