Google’s John Mueller answered changing the main navigation and how it affected rankings. He suggested a best approach to minimize negative ranking changes.
Site Wide Navigation Changes
The question was about making a change to the sitewide main navigation.
This is the question:
“We’re thinking of changing the main nav anchors by removing gender specific terms…
For example we currently have men Citizen watches, this would change to Citizens Watches, place under a drop down menu for mens watches.
Would this affect the rankings of men’s citizen watches or can the crawler understand the sub-nav dropdown?”
So basically they want to consolidate the gender-modified sub-topics beneath a gender neutral keyword variant.
Presumably they may want to rank for the non-gender specific version of the keyword phrase but without losing rankings for the gender specific keywords.
Sometimes there’s more traffic for the more general keyword phrase. But ranking for those can be problematic since Google encourages users to drill down with People Also Ask type navigational help.
It’s a toss-up whether a more specific keyword phrase converts at a higher rate than a general phrase. I generally prefer specific phrases because they tend to convert well.
Google’s John Mueller gave a positive response:
“So usually we can understand the context of pages fairly well. And if you’re just moving things around from… like direct anchor text to more indirect anchor text and that you’re kind of shuffling the categories around a little bit then from my point of view that seems like a reasonable thing to do.
And it wouldn’t necessarily be something where I’d assume like something negatively would come out of that.”
Then he changed direction and started talking about ranking changes.
“That said, anytime you do restructure your website it does mean that we have to relearn the setup of your website a bit. And that can result in some ranking changes.
So that’s something where… my general recommendation for these kinds of things, if you’re a little bit worried about that would be to test it out.
Try it out on a small part of your website where you get significant traffic but it’s not a crazy amount of traffic.”
Will Major Navigation Changes Affect Rankings?
There are so many variables for answering this question that there’s no one right answer. A site with link deep to the inner pages might be immune to negative ranking changes due to changes in the navigational structure.
A site with a less robust inlink structure might be more volatile and cause a more unpredictable outcome.
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