If you’ve been running a website or blog for any length of time, you’ll realise that its just as important to keep a site maintained as it is to add new content to it. There is merit in revisiting old or neglected parts of your site, linking the old to the new, and utilising your existing traffic to make decisions on how to improve the overall performance of your site. Here’s a few things I think are key in improving an established site.
Revisiting old content
Whilst it is hard to do, revisiting content and refreshing it with new services can help with both its ranking in Google, and in the overall stickiness of your site. With fresh content getting an automatic boost, refreshing old content may give it a little needed push in the SERPS.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so taking a few moments to add extra little snippets to old posts over time can help build your empire. Gradually growing content over time builds it into something that your competitors could never create quickly. It also gives you the opportunity to re-promote it, whether that takes the form of a new tweet to old content, or submitting it again to your seed list.
Creating new support material
If you are concentrating solely on a particular topic area, you’ll find that you need to reference good material to support a blog post and it is often necessary to explain a concept, or a key phrase within your post in more detail.
Unfortunately for many of us, its not always possible to write that supporting material right there and then, due to time constraints or the urgency of the current post.
Some of my best post ideas come from just creating content to support other articles on my site. It is a relatively trivial task to re-read some of your old posts and see what aspects warrant explaining in more detail. This support material can really help to reinforce ideas and concepts, and to increase the likelihood that visitors will read multiple pages on your site.
Linking old to new
As your site develops, it becomes more and more difficult to remember what you’ve written previously. I recommend taking the time to re-read some of your old posts, and see if there is appropriate new content that you haven’t linked up yet. This extra internal linking structure can help boost your site rankings for new keywords, and again helps to keep visitors who land on these old pages on your site.
If your site is a blog, and you have pingbacks enabled, the other additional benefit of performing this is that there will be a new link at the bottom of the new post, exposing visitors to older (perhaps unseen) content.
Get rid of the dead wood
For many of my long term readers, who read via the website (as opposed to my rss feed) – you’ll have noticed recently that I made a pretty drastic decision with the design. Previously I had a pretty little customised tag cloud in my sidebar.
However I realised that it wasn’t working for me when I was talking to a client on the phone. As it happened, telling them to click on a category, resulted in a click on the tag cloud, as my tags and categories had some overlap. (The tag cloud was also further up the page. In the end up they couldn’t find the article I was trying to direct them to).
Browsing via the “promotion” tag, as opposed to the “promotion” category resulted in a fraction of the posts, giving my visitors the impression that there wasn’t as much content as there really was. Getting rid of the tag cloud in its entirety increased my page views, as forcing viewers to browse by category exposed more options. Whilst I don’t expect this to be the case for everyone, its certainly worth thinking about if you have an overlap in your taxonomies.
Generally speaking – if it’s extraneous, get rid of it. Extra features only serve to confuse visitors, and slow down your site.
As a result of no longer having tags, I’ve also began to look at sub categorising my parent categories. Now that its the primary means of navigation, I’m planning on expanding categories out so that paging is minimised as much as possible. As a site gets bigger forcing visitors to page through results within categories can only hinder the user experience, and increase the number of clicks needed before they get to the content. For the existing categories that I’ve expanded out I’ve already found an increase in pageviews in those categories.
Its an obvious work in progress, but making bold statements rather than gradual incremental changes can show you whether your hunches are correct or not (from examining web analytics data).
Site search auditing
Site search is a great tool in a webmasters arsenal, it gives tremendous insight into what your visitors either desire to find, or can’t find on your site. Mining that data can help provide you with fresh ideas, and expose navigational issues on your site.
It still amazes me how many sites don’t examine their site search data. If you are using Google Analytics, its very easy to turn on site search.
Click Edit under your site profile. Under Main website profile information click Edit again. Under site search, select “Do track site search” then specify the parameter for site search. For WordPress, the parameter you need to use (without quotes) is the letter “s”. This will turn on site tracking, and let you see what people are searching for on your blog.
Segment your Analytics data
Another way to use the data in Google analytics to improve your site is to segment it. I’ve used advanced segmentation before, and another insight you can achieve with it is by identifying keywords which have a bounce rate higher than say 60%. If these keywords are getting traffic from Google, and visitors are leaving instaneously, you may want to look at improving that content.
Something I’ve found with larger enterprise sites is that customers often have questions that they are asking Google about a site. Using a “who, what, where, why” segmentation report on keywords can help to find out those questions, and these can then be used to create or add to an existing FAQ page that cater exclusively to these. In your keyword report in Google Analytics, you can simply do this by entering each of the words as a filter to see what people are asking.
Test Test Test
There’s only one way of figuring out exactly what is happening on your site, and that is to test extensively. Some of these web applications can let you test quickly, and easily on a budget. You should make testing a part of your overall web strategy, and during a site audit where major decisions on site structure or content are being made; testing can be invaluable in understanding your audience and their browsing habits.
Reviewing your meta descriptions
If you’ve written custom meta descriptions for every one of your posts on your site, pat yourself on the back. In many cases the meta description is a secondary thought in the overall content creation process, and is ironically one of the most important for SEO – and its not just for web robot food. If you are ignoring this currently, you are missing an obvious way to market your content at potential visitors.
The meta description tag for a page on your site could be the difference between getting a click through on a result, or your competitors getting it, so auditing every one of the meta descriptions currently on your site is a great idea. Start with the pages that currently get keyword traffic, but are NOT ranking at the number one spot as good candidates for testing.
If you are on WordPress, I do hope you’ve got some of these installed (particularly the All in one SEO pack). Which will allow you to adjust your meta descriptions for every post.
Checking for broken links
On big sites, broken links are an absolute curse to look after, particularly if you link to external sites quite a lot. Thankfully, there are a number of tools you can employ to keep them in check. The first, and perhaps well known one is Xenu’s link sleuth. This offline program is a must have in any webmaster’s arsenal, and runs from the desktop, so you can go away and let it plough through a site until it gives you a nice report on where your broken links are.
Smart marketers can use Xenu on larger websites in their niche, and use the information to get links. i.e. If there’s a broken link in the web development section of say..About.com – that’s an opportunity to approach the author of that section and propose an alternative piece of content that you may have. Very clever.
Other ways to help handle 404’s include this WordPress plugin – which tries to guess at the visitors intention, and offers alternatives if a 404 is detected. Urban giraffe’s redirection plugin also keeps track of 404, including where they are being called from, and can be useful when trying to identify pages to clean up during a site audit.
Often when a website or blog has been developed, code decisions are made which are hacks or time saving. There’s nothing wrong with holding up your hands and saying that you’d like to improve on something, which didn’t have enough time allocated to it. Using a special comment when a shortcut is taken within your code, allows you to easily find segments which could do with improving.
In addition to that, often the major search engines decide on a new way to parse code, after a site is launched. Failing to revisit code after such decisions are made, means you potentially loose out on additional optimisation for the engines. Rich snippets, RDFa and microformats are all things that we should be thinking about when developing new sites. You should also be aware of the different ways to say markup video – for the spiders at yahoo. Incidently, the yahoo developer network has some great information on how to provide html in a better format for their spiders.
All of these things are continuously being worked on by the search engines, and its difficult to stay on top of them when they occur. A site audit lets you take stock, and bring your code up to speed.
Check your speed
Speed of your site is paramount to it’s success. If you are trying to capture people’s attention, and encourage them to browse through your content, then giving them what they want, as fast as possible, is one way to achieve that. Visitors online are fickle creatures, and bounce quickly between sites that interest them. If you are serving massive images on every request, that days to load – even on a broadband connection that gets annoying pretty quickly. I’ve blogged before on a few ways you can help speed up your site for visitors.