October 2006 Newsletter

Major Redesigns of Your Site

Are you planning a major revision or update to your site? I look at a 1,000 websites a month and see lots of websites that could be easily improved.

Our suggested goals for a website design are to:

  1. Provide a useful website for specifiers and architects. This has been covered in past newsletters. Here are all of our newsletters. Your web designer is probably thinking about a glossy brochure and your user probably wants an online 3-ring binder for his specification or design work.
  2. Get all the users you can from the search engines for free. Why let bad design concepts lose you 2,000 users per month when a better (ie more Search Engine friendly) design increase the number of free visitors.

This newsletter is more focused on some of the technology and behind-the-scenes decisions that will affect your new site. We are not only considering this redesign but thinking about the one that is sure to follow. I doubt many web designers will even mention the next update - as if this site will be the last one.

If you are questioning what to do, look at the large commercial sites and see what they are doing. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, EBay, Amazon and others will show you simple sites - no flash, no drop down boxes, just simple effective sites.

Before you start - get a handle on your referral stats BEFORE you start on a new design. This will provide a baseline number of how users go to your website to be sure than the new design improves the number of free referrals. If you can recover 3-4 months of logs, track the referrals from each of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Search.MNS) and the major places you advertise.

1. Consolidate all your urls into one and only one url.

2. Develop a special page targeted to design professionals. Use this link in ads and other places where you are working towards getting specified. 4specs will point to that page rather than your home page. Use the CSI numbers on the page to better indicate what you make. This is also a way to make a site more specifier friendly when you lost the design battle and have an overly complex home page. For example, use a page like this: http://www.example.com/architects/

3. Divide your site into 5-8 categories - products, new products, specs or cad+specs, about us, etc. Think of these as permanent names - to be used for the next 20 years. This will ensure that the search engines will always find the appropriate material here and simplify the next redesign.

4. Use subdirectories without any page names for each of these categories. This is more of a move for the next redesign than this one. This means to use /products/ and not /products/index.html. This will permit the change in technologies without loosing search engine traffic on the next change. This is done through a redirect at the server level to eliminate the index.html.

5. Redirect using a 301 redirect all the key pages from the old site to the new site. You need to develop a list of older pages and the corresponding new page that carries about the same information. When I changed 4specs to MF2004, we redirected all 800 changed pages and lost little traffic. I monitored my error logs looking for any problems. If this is not done, your site will look like it is getting search engine referrals, but they are going to a 404-Page Not Found.

6. Have a meaningful 404 page with additional information about where to go - check that it is sending a 404 header as not all 404 pages send the correct header so the search engines will not index the 404 page. After the new site is live keep an eye on the 404 errors and redirect those pages. Why lose a single visitor - they may just write a spec on a large project.

7. Stay Away From Content Management Systems - your IT department or web consultant probably wants to go this way. Make sure the potential loss in search engine referrals is understood and a plan to minimize the loss is implemented. As a minimum I suggest the most popular 20 pages be static and the rest be on a site map(s) from the home page. Here is an example of a bad url that is not friendly to search engines.


Here is a ClickZ article on how to work with a content management system and make it search engine friendly.

8. Search Engine Friendly design is the key. While images are attractive, having links go only through an image will lose search engine referrals. As a minimum have text links to each of the categories at the bottom of the home page as well as a site map.

9. Keep your site online as you update it. If you must, set up an alternate site (or subdirectory) for the new site to be viewed and keep that area under a password so the search engines cannot index the material and create broken links once you change to the new site.

I will be happy to discuss questions. I recognize that you are unfamiliar with many of these concepts and will need to talk with your web designer or IT department and suggest to them that they follow these recommendations.


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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