A little over a year ago I wrote an article about how sometimes you have to break a website in order to fix it. This isn't always the case in SEO but there are those situations where a site is so bad that you pretty much need to burn it to the ground before you can build it right.
The other day I reviewed a site that confirmed this premise. It wasn't a bad looking site on the surface but once you looked into the architecture a bit you found problems compiling on top of problems. Nothing short of demolishing the entire site and building it from the ground up would allow it to gain any traction in the search engines.
Navigation that doesn't lose the visitor
As we dug further into the navigation we found it even more confusing than upon first glance. We'd navigate to a page and additional navigation links would show up on the right. Click into one of those and another set of navigation links appeared in place of the previous. This structure left no real way to navigate back to choose a different path except to use the browsers "back" button.
The site could use not only some good breadcrumb navigation, but also a more consistent navigational link structure. Without having FTP access to the site it was impossible to tell how many pages the site has (I tried to run Xenu and it couldn't get past the home page,) so there was no real way to tell how best to re-structure the navigation. As it stood, the navigation confuses the visitor, causing them to get lost and providing no real way back to deep pages without starting the navigation process over or keep hitting that "back" button.
Keep the code lean and clean
As we looking into the code of each of the pages the most obvious coding issues we found were with title tags and description meta tags. These would all need to be re-written and keyword focused.
But as we dug further we found that the site coding was convoluted and bloated. Fixing the navigation could have been fairly easy, however when looking at the code I realized that the best course of action is to gut the site and start over. Cleaning the code up, would allow the pages to download faster, eliminate potential spider-stopping errors and increase overall performance of the site for the visitors.
Don't use images for headings
Throughout the site the names of the company's products and services were placed in images instead of text, rendering them unreadable to the search engines. In most cases no special fonts were used for styling the heading so there wasn't real reason to use images instead of text. Clearing out all the product/service heading images and replacing them with text would be simply enough. Add a line or two of CSS and you can have great looking headings that are image-free.
Take the time to build a solid information architecture
Our first plan of action for this site would be to rebuild it's IA. Getting FTP access is essential so we can figure out how many pages the site has, and how the site is currently organized. (I use the term 'organized' loosely.)
Just from what we could see I knew the organization of the site was a mess. Pages need to be clearly grouped and separated into folders. We noticed the category pages provided information on multiple product and service, but clicking deeper into the actual product page provides less information than was available than on the category page! And much of what was there was duplicated. That's backwards from how the pages and content should be laid out and organized.
Plan out your wire framing
Once the architecture is mapped out the next step would be to wire frame the sites. The most important issue here would be to create a consistent navigation, but also to make the site more visitor friendly overall. There are many usability issues with the site that we would address with any new wire framing to ensure content is easy to find and the visitor won't get lost in the process.
Optimization isn't first, it's Last
Until the above is done, any optimization being implemented on the site would be a waste of marketing dollars. SEO, without proper architecture is really nothing more than a stop-gap measure. This is a common frustration for both SEO and site owner alike. The site owner spends thousands of dollars on a new design and then the SEO can't do anything with it. I get the frustration of the business owner that basically has to pay to have the site re-developed yet again.
We've run across this issue several times over the years and it boggles my mind how often the site owners don't want to do what is necessary, but instead want to forage ahead with the SEO. It's like putting frosting on a dung pile. You may be able to "SEO" the site, but if the underlying structure isn't sound, you're just wasting good money on a pile of crap.
But for those who understand the need and desire to perform in the engines, as frustrating as it might be to have to re-build the site, that becomes only best course of action, saving time and money in the long run. With the foundation in place, the SEO has the opportunity to be an effective marketing tool.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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