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.

I Love Dung
Navigation that doesn't lose the visitor

The first thing we noticed was that the navigation was inexplicably created using unspiderable JavaScript. JavaScript navigation has it's place, but in this case, it served no real purpose. All the navigation links could easily be changed using standard HTML without changing anything about how the navigation works or appears.

In this case the JavaScript navigation was preventing the search engines from spidering beyond the home page. Changing the navigation into HTML would allow the rest of the site content to get spidered and indexed which is crucial for site findability.

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.


August 18, 2009





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.





Comments(16)

I've been coming across more and more of these little business sites with JS navigation, little or no HTML linking (hence fewer than 5 pages indexed) and most of the other sins you've described. I realized after a while that a lot of these sites were built using some useless Mac app (all style, no substance).

It's shameful what some SMB owners have to deal with - free software and a hosting account does NOT make you a web developer.

This is an excellent idea! Sometimes square one is the only way to get your site back on track. I've seen more than enough sites that are simply one band-aid over another.

Great article. I have seen many media sites that have be pieced together over the years and have thus resulted in massive development and worse analytics limitations. Just found your blog will tune in.

Good points all around. We're an SEO firm that build simple websites with clean code. However, we struggle sometimes as we try to modify/build a website and optimize at the same time. It sounds simple but keyword selection and meta-tags should be the final step before publication.

I have read that for most images Google can and does read the text within and attribute that to the header. Basically as Google gets smarter (see Caffeine), the need for SEO ultimately diminishes. If you want to do well in the long run, take all that money and energy you wasted on metatag KEI research and put out some kick ass content. That's my two cents.

Great post and very timely.

I have just been pulling my hair out working on just a site. Loads of images blocked in together, back button navigation and dreaded JS all over the place.

What I have found though, which may be helpful for others, is this has enabled me to offer a low cost 'starter' package, by using keywords, metatags etc on their site, adding analytics, so they can feel more 'at one' with their site and understand the way it works, limitations and potiential. We also give them a link building strategy for them to work on.

After that can sit on their site for a while and see how visitors interact before going for a rebuild.

Our little silver lining.

Optimization (on-site) can either run along side the creation of the site or after you have added all your content. SEO based on content, or content based on what your keywords are. The first being the best for your visitors.

Yeah, I heard about google playing around with images. Still, meta-tags, alt text for images, and good SEO is very important now. If you can make a site that looks good and reads good to search engine bots, then you are good to go.

How do you rate Wordpress.org as good architecture? I am relatively new web design, and so far have converted a couple of static, tables / Frontpage sites over to Wordpress and Drupal. The main reason is to give the client the ability to manage their content. Generally, is Wordpress a good option? I like to think so. Easy to have a site wide navigation, plus "similar posts" and a few randoms thrown in too. I am starting to think that it could be used for any industry, e.g. automotive, real estate etc. although there are better custom CMS' available, Wordpress seems to make life easier. But could it hold someone back? Is there something in the architecture that is not good web / on-page SEO?

As for menus, I always use html/css ones. Stu Nicholls has hundreds of good examples on offer, so js ones really seem a bit old hat.

Great article as usual with loads of great tips. I've seen plenty of sites that could benefit from these key points. When I build a site I always keep the code to a minimum to ensure search engines can easily crawl it to find the content and make sure its as user friendly as possible.

@ Jon - I'm not a developer so others will have to speak more clearly about wordpress for sites beyond blogs. However my understanding is its good for smaller sites but probably not the best solution for larger, more complicated sites.

It's been an educating article on how to build a perfect website. Thanks all the way for giving such wonderful tips. This would definitely help people like us. Very Much Thankful to you STONEY.

Yep, sometimes you have to destroy something to make it better. That's how it works out sometimes Thanks for the tips Stoney.

Scott

I defenitely agree with Stoney's post.

Most of the times, to make something better it will be wise to start all over again. Starting anything in a good way will always make it good half way through the end.

This is a good share Stoney.

Thanks.

I have had to start from scratch again on a couple of sites. One my own and one a friends they both were a complete mess. You are right sometimes it is best to burn it down and rebuild, its a lot of work but worth it in the end

I agree with you about some sites having to be rebuilt from the ground up. My "work" site (which my name links to) we had to do this, as it was built based on a back end database software of about 1999 era, which was no longer supported and did everything wrong SEO wise (I only handle the SEO, not the development in this case. We rebuilt from the ground up, but still a long way to go SEO and results wise. On the other hand, by comparison another site I have done for a friend as a tiny side projects ( http://www.nationalstockyards.com.au ) is very very basic HTML (no CSS even), and not the best site in the world visually, BUT it ranks for positions between 1 and 3 in google for pretty much every selected keyphrase. Basically one of the biggest factors to this is simply that search engines still seem to prefer simple HTML with h1 tags etc to the fanciest site based on newer technologies.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Putting SEO Frosting on a Website Dung Pile