When was the last time you updated your website? Perhaps you recently paid a techie designer to come up with something glitzy and stylish, or perhaps you simply made a few changes to the text and updated an image.
Quite apart from the fact that it is important to update your website every so often in an effort to make sure Google appreciates that you are keeping on top of things, regularly reviewing your own content to ensure it’s fully up to date and relevant still, it’s important to make sure that you catch the eye of both new visitors and existing ones who may be coming back.
But should you make drastic changes, or subtle ones? How do you really know if your website is working on not? How can you tell if changes you make might potentially harm your website’s ranking? Here are my thoughts on how you should approach the subtle science and exact art of updating and editing your website. In no particular order.
Avoid Creating Dead Links
Most of the time you don’t deliberately aim to create dead links, but sometimes it can be easily overlooked. For example, you may be happy to remove a date relevant article, feature or offer from your site, but if you have linked to that article or page from elsewhere, either internally or externally, you could create a problem.
Because dead links aren’t good news when it comes to both being customer friendly, and search engine friendly. Visitors don’t like dead links, and will rapidly walk away (or click away) if they come across a website which makes this mistake. The search engines too are very keen to make sure that websites which either contain a lot of dead links, or to which a number of dead links are pointed, are not ranked too highly.
So when editing, updating or replacing content on your site make a careful note of any and all links which existed within the original content. Once you have determined those links, there are three options.
1. If you’re absolutely, positively, definitely certain that there are no links to that page or feature, go ahead and remove the links whilst replacing your content, adding in new links if appropriate
2. Manually remove the links to the defunct feature or page
3. Set up a 301 redirect so that anyone following a link which is no longer valid is taken to a page which is now valid, or which explains that the content no longer exists, and offers them a choice of potentially useful alternatives.
Don’t Make Things Hard For Your Returning Visitors
You might think your new look page or features section is better, slicker and faster, but will your visitors find it as easy as before to navigate their way around? When browsing websites we quickly find ourselves becoming creatures of habit, looking for links in a specific part of the page, or clicking on a particular button. If the page becomes changed or the navigation structure altered this can throw those people who visit your site regularly. Make it difficult for your return visitors and you risk making it easier for your rivals to offer an appealing alternative.
Now there is an argument which suggests that sometimes it is good to throw people off the scent once they do start getting into a habitual routine. Supermarkets do this a lot. They know that most of us quickly get used to where things are in the shop, and end up taking a set route round the shop looking only in key locations. So what they do is move things about occasionally so that we inadvertently see new products and ranges which we would otherwise have overlooked.
This might work in a supermarket environment, but it’s a dangerous tactic when applied to the web. By all means make changes where necessary, but don’t keep messing things around, or make unnecessary changes if you risk causing problems for your repeat regulars.
Spell Check, Proof Read, Edit And Verify Uniqueness
This should be obvious, but it’s a huge problem. I see this all over the place – people too eager to get their fresh new content out there to be bothered to proof read and edit their content effectively.
We all make mistakes when typing or writing, and it’s far too dangerous to rely on spellcheckers since they have no idea what you meant to type, and a near miss is still a miss when it comes to spelling.
I always recommend holding off publishing any new content for a day at least. Write your content, have a brief read through and correct obvious errors, but then leave it for a while, and come back to it later.
The reason for this is that if you are the editor or proof-reader of a piece of writing you wrote yourself, what you will inevitably end up doing is reading what you meant to write, rather than what actually ended up on the page.
Taking a break and coming back to it fresh helps a little in reducing the chance of this, but it really is necessary to understand that proofreading is not the same as reading – it’s a case of checking individual words and phrases, as well as monitoring the overall sentence structure and flow. Look at your vocabulary. Sometimes you’ll use a word far too often without realising it, and sometimes you’ll find yourself being lazy and using pronouns like ‘it’ instead of taking the opportunity to slot in a semantically relevant keyword which could help boost the SEO value of your content.
I also recommend checking your content through a service such as Copyscape (http://www.copyscape.com/) to make sure it’s really original. Do this even if you wrote the content entirely yourself. This is because it is perfectly possible that you inadvertently create content which is very similar to someone else’s even if you have never seen that other content.
Phrases can become reused without you realising it, and this duplicity can count against you in terms of website ranking. Run your new content through Copyscape, and make any changes necessary to ensure that it is 100% unique. Remember, unique is an absolute, and cannot be qualified – so 99% unique doesn’t make sense – if it’s 99% unique, it’s not unique, so rewrite it.
Don The Google Goggles To Check Your Templates And Pages
The way Google and other search engines spiders see your site is entirely different from how you see it. Remove the colours, the layouts, the images and the scripts, and you’re left with text. I recommend running new templates and pages through a search engine spider simulator such as the one at http://www.webmaster-toolkit.com/search-engine-simulator.shtml.
That will show you how the search engines see your content, and this can bring to your attention issues relating to content which may not be visible. If you use frames, server side includes, CSS scripts, PHP and text areas this can occasionally cause problems with the way the search engines see your content. Run a quick check and make sure that the content you want both the search engines and real people to see really can be seen by both parties successfully.
One final point I might add is that there’s no harm in taking advantage of your social media networking and directly asking people to comment on your new template, layout, navigation or content. Make people aware of the fact that you have made changes, and ask for their verdict. If just one person makes a comment you can bet that plenty of other people will have had much the same thought but never said anything. This gives you highly valuable feedback which can help you make any necessary changes quickly before too much damage is caused.