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This Old Website: What Bob Vila Can Teach You About SEO

I admit that I am more than just a tech geek. I actually enjoy watching the TV show “This Old House.” I started watching it way back when Bob Vila was the host (does anyone else remember Bob Vila?).

I have been a fan of the show over the years, and for most of the show’s incredible, 30+ season run, I have been an opportunistic viewer. I usually just caught it when I ran across it playing while channel surfing. In the past year or so, however, I’ve been recording the show on my TiVo and now I am an offline regular.

I enjoy watching the crew of regulars start a new project. It always goes something like this: They look over the old house, typically in a state of dilapidation (at least to some degree).

They examine the fundamentals of the house, including its foundation and structural elements, the navigation path through the house (including how many levels there are in the structure), the layout of the rooms, the plumbing and HVAC systems linking the rooms together, the design and presentation of the rooms, the decorative elements used (including color and artwork imagery), the home site’s landscaping design, and the ability to easily maintain the house once the renovation is complete.

They also rely on the newest tools and technologies available to renovate the house, bring in specialized, industry experts to consult on the projects, and most importantly, do all of the work within the homeowner’s budget (which means sometimes making hard compromises). Lastly, they use the show to tell the story of the renovation and how they optimized the home’s usability and value.

Do you see what I do? This show is the perfect metaphor for doing a full-blown SEO site review and redesign! And why not? I can see it now. They could use the same cast and do a show called “This Old Website.” I think I’d watch that show! Call PBS — here’s my pitch:

They’d start off finding a website that is no longer performing well, uses an inefficient design, is not easily extensible, is hard and costly to maintain, and looks like it was designed back in the early 1990s (ancient history in Web time). They’d talk with the site owner to determine renovation goals. Then it’s time for the This Old Website team to make things better.

Tom The Foundations Expert

The series would begin the site review with Tom Silva, their foundations and framing expert, examining the website infrastructure, looking over the antiquated foundation, er, web platform. He’d look at the CMS (assuming there is one!), any ecommerce and blog platforms, and determine how easily the existing site can be updated.

He’d examine the URLs for keyword-friendly file and folder names, not GUID-based gibberish. He’d check the URLs for use of concatenated words, mixed case letters, underscores and other special characters, as well as dynamic URL parameters that can easily lead to content duplication in the search index.

Tom would advise keeping the site structure shallow and wide as content buried in deep directories will likely not get much attention from search crawlers. His budget-conscious eye would likely recommend migrating a Linux-based Apache web server and a PHP-based WordPress blog platform, and he’d plan out a site URL mapping and migration strategy to minimize any loss of page rank in a platform change.

He’d advise that these platforms are time-tested with plenty of tools available for easily maintaining the site long after the renovation has been completed.

Norm The Master Carpenter

Next, they’d bring in Norm Abram, their master carpenter, to review the site metadata and keyword usage. He’d check on the length and keyword optimization effectiveness of the text in <title>, <h1>, and <img> alt tags used to define the theme of each page. He’d note that a title of “Page 1” is a sure sign of a shoddy workmanship from past site renovations, and that a missing <h1> tag or omitted <img> alt text is a lost keyword development opportunity.

But he’d also advise that investing time and effort into building out <meta> keywords tags is not a cost-effective use of SEO resources. He’d then check on how well the <meta> descriptions are written. While they don’t generate any keyword relevance to speak of themselves, he’d say that a concise (160 characters max), compelling <meta> description is what converts impressions to clicks among searchers in the search engine search results (SERPs).

Norm would also evaluate whether or not the site is easy to crawl and start by looking at page source code validation issues. He’d explain that pages with serious code validation problems may not necessarily suffer page rank problems based solely on that issue, but they may in fact suffer from crawler abandonment problems, which can limit indexing.

Search crawlers are typically not as forgiving as full-featured Web browsers with invalid source code, and if the crawlers struggle to interpret the meaning of the code on the page, the site’s crawler budget may be used up prematurely. He’d also check for the use of temporary 302 redirects when a permanent 301 is needed for transferring link juice to a new URL.

Lastly, he’d also help properly set up the site’s robots.txt and sitemap.xml files to ensure all of the content pages were properly crawled. He’d look for content blocking robots conflicts (between robots.txt and <meta> robots tags), incorrect use of wildcard characters and non-standard coding. Optimizing crawler efficiency is important result of a site renovation, he’d say.

Richard The Plumbing Authority

Then comes plumbing expert Richard Trethewey. He’d look at the internal links between pages to ensure they are well-interconnected rather than in little silos. He’d examine the external links to other sites to be sure they are relevant to this site and there weren’t too many such links on the page, which might make the page look like a spammy link farm.

He’d check to see that the links all use absolute URLs, and that there are no links to be crawled buried in <script> tags or on Flash or Silverlight content, which can be unreliably crawled.

Richard would also review the site navigation used. He’d recommend a crawler-friendly navigation system using styled text links rather than images. And finally, he’d make sure the internal plumbing of the home page was properly canonicalized, channeling all of the link juice to the various URL versions over to the canonical URL via 301 redirects configured in the .htaccess file.

He’d also review the site for the use of <link> rel=canonical tags when needed, as well as <link> rel=prev and <link> rel=next pagination tags for multi-page articles.

Roger The Landscape Maven

Next up would be Roger Cook, the landscaping guy extraordinaire. He’d look at the overall thematic design of the site, ensuring the theme was applied consistently across all pages in the site. He’d also develop the master keyword list for the site and the targeted keyword lists per page, and confirm there are descriptive, keyword-rich anchor tag text used across internal site links.

He’d then check for potential page load speed problems across the site by reviewing page length and total page size, sizes of image used, whether JavaScript and CSS were minified, ensuring that HTTP compression is enabled, and reducing the number of HTTP calls where possible.

Roger would review the site design plans to ensure that any use of script or rich Internet application (RIA) technologies used to present content would be minimal and would involve graceful degradation strategies. He’d also look for pages that are too ad-heavy and content-light above the fold to avoid any related Google index penalties.

Finally, he’d even add a special flourish by adding a custom 404 error message page (with the page template applied, of course).

Kevin The Program Host

Lastly, there is host Kevin O’Connor, who took over Bob Vila’s original role. He’d look at the storyline of the site. He’d make sure the content there is rich, interesting, and accessible to the targeted audience. He’d put unique story content on each page, and ensure there is sufficient content there to enable search crawlers to discern the theme of the page.

His content would include enough technical detail to keep the audience interested, but not so much as to lose their interest or skimp and make the content so thin so that there is no real story to tell. He’d ensure great content was created for every page the site owners wanted to be found in search.

Kevin would make sure that if the site was a local brick-and-mortar, the business address and phone number was easily found on the page and was listed in text form (rather than buried inside an image). He’d lastly generate an RSS feed so both end users and search engines could subscribe to new content as it was published.

Expert Specialists Brought In

They’d also bring in specialists, such as page designers who would look at the use of artwork and color on the pages. Web security experts would review the site and the web host for both malware vulnerability and web spam concerns, such as hidden text, keyword stuffing, cloaking.

Social media networking experts would advise on how to create a site-relevant social media networking plan. Authorities on local search and geo-location strategies would also be consulted.

The team would also have consultants come in and demonstrate how the latest tools and technologies can really make a difference for maintaining and optimizing a site. Also, specialists would advise on link building strategies, the old, trusty method for improving a site’s page rank, which never goes out of style or becomes ineffective.

Norm and the gang would employ tools like WordPress plugins that enable easy application of blog page metadata for each new page created. And to help the site owner better maintain and build upon the site renovation work, the site would be registered with the Google and Bing Webmaster Tools and with a web analytics package.

Lastly, they’d also apply Google Authorship Markup strategies for blog pages to begin earning author rank value.

At the end of the series, the site owner would marvel at all of the changes put into place. Not only would the site be more easily crawled, users would find much better, more compelling content, easier navigation between pages of the site, and a faster load time, making the site a joy to use, which translates into higher search engine rankings, greater user awareness, longer visitor time on site, and most importantly, an improved conversion rate that pays for the cost of the renovation many times over.

Yep, I’d watch that show. What a minute — that’s a show that many of us produce every day of the week. No wonder I like it so much! But let’s see if we can get Tommy, Norm, Richard, Roger, and Kevin onboard. I think they’d be naturals in the business!

Image used under license, courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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