Time to Spring-Clean Your Site?

There’s something about spring that makes us want to freshen up and rejuvenate ourselves and our surroundings. Winter doldrums are pushed aside, along with down jackets, sweaters, and scarves.

It’s time to do a little spring cleaning before getting out to enjoy the warm breezes and longer days. Appropriately enough, maintaining a well-organized Web site isn’t all that different from a spring cleaning regimen.

So dust the cobwebs from the corners, clean up those nagging little problems, and freshen up the place. Here are a few tips to help you spring-clean your site and make routine maintenance a breeze.

End the Inside Errors

You’ve worked long and hard to bring visitors to your site and get them interested in your products and services. Why would you ignore your site giving a 404 error message (define) to a visitor?

Even if you have a custom 404 error message that makes it relatively easy for stray visitors to find their way to the content they were seeking, you’re making your guests work harder than they need to. Don’t encourage visitors to abandon the site; clean up those errors and keep visitors engaged.

Log files can help you track down where you’re losing visitors. See what your Web analytics tell you about 404 error messages. Start with the most frequent occurrences, and work your way through the list. You might be surprised about the root of the errors.

Often, some errors originate from valuable inbound links to pages within your site. Sure, a properly structured permanent redirect can fix the flaw, but don’t hesitate to contact the source and provide them with the correct link, too. There’s no harm in building a good linking relationship that allows crawlers to acknowledge inbound links.

Prune Outbound Links

Just as dead leaves litter the ground in autumn, dead links litter Web sites. If your site offers helpful links, related resources, or links to news items pertinent to your theme, visitors won’t consider it much of a service to be sent to a “Page Can Not Be Found” message.

Sites are relaunched and restructured. Sites update internal navigation and improve usability. New content management systems and revised platforms shift URLs from one place to another. Don’t count on someone else to set up redirects to new Web destinations.

There are plenty of free link-checking tools on the Web. Complete regular link checks on your site as part of your routine maintenance plan. Doing so means pruning away the dead links won’t become an untenable task.

If you find most of your outbound links are dead, don’t hesitate to use Google’s related-link function to place a few fresh relative links on your site.

Make Old Content New Again

Some pages are more neglected than others. Think about the last time you updated content on your privacy policy page, terms of use page, or, for that matter, site map.

Start at the beginning and read your way though your site, then target those pages that could benefit from an update and breathe new life into your site’s content. Clean out the cobwebs to make certain you’re speaking your target audience’s language.

Keep details in mind, but don’t expect to recognize on your own everything that should be updated. Make the content refresh a team project. Solicit input from others — and don’t forget the meta tags and images!

If you change headlines and refresh content on a page, update the title tags, description, and keywords behind the page as well. If images are outdated, add new ones. Make certain to optimize their file names and alt tags. Doing so increases the site’s credibility, readability, crawl-ability, and professionalism.

Measure Results

Before you begin cleaning your site, check to see how well the major search engines index it. If you’ve been optimizing your site, you’ve probably kept track of how well it’s indexed. Compare the number of pages indexed over time to see how much a little site maintenance helps.

All the major search engines will reveal how many pages of your site are indexed with the “site:yourdomain.com” command line. It helps to drill down the pages of indexed listings for an accurate measure.

The more pages the search engines can find and crawl, the better your site will be indexed. The more pages that are indexed, the greater the opportunity to be found for target keywords and increase the site’s search-referred traffic and overall visibility. You may be surprised at what a little springtime site cleanup can do.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, April 25-26, 2006.

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