Spring Cleaning Is Not Just for Houses, It’s for Your Website, Too

It’s been my experience that businesses hate to say goodbye to products and often keep product pages up for discontinued and no longer available products. If you don’t have in-place a regular process for handling discontinued products on the site, then you should build one. Consider this akin to cleaning out the closets.

The calendar says it’s spring and in many parts of the country, the weather is warming and the flowers are starting to bloom. In the past, homemakers would herald the change of the season by giving their homes a thorough cleaning. Walls were washed, floors scrubbed and closets cleaned out. As we have become busier, the ritual of spring cleaning has faded into a memory of things that Mom and her generation did. I would like to suggest that just like homes, sites need to be cleaned on a regular basis as part of the organic search workflow. Maybe it is time to spring clean your site? If you do not already have cleaning and pruning the site as part of your organic search workflow, I’d like to suggest that there is no time like the present to put together an action plan.

Why Bother Cleaning and Pruning Your Site?
The reasons for instituting a regular process for cleaning and sprucing up your site are legion. It is my experience that we love the new and often forget about those sections of the site that were once upon a time the bright, shiny new objects. You may have forgotten about the pages. But once they are found by the search spiders and indexed, they are part of your footprint. Pages can live in search results for years, particularly if they happen to have search-reactive content. They may still draw traffic; not huge volumes, but enough to merit your attention. If your company has changed and progressed, you may have pages that represent what you were then — five years ago — and not what you are now. You do not want to show the world an out-of-date version of your company.

Where to Begin?
A very obvious place to begin is to use Google’s Webmaster Tools to get a sense of how many pages from your site are in Google’s index. This is a first-level sanity check. Most organic search marketers use this tool to monitor the level of indexing on a regular basis, but I am suggesting that it is a good idea to take a slightly different slant on how to view the results. For example, if your site has 20 top-level category pages and 1,000 product pages, plus some essential supplemental pages about the business, it would merit further review if the tools showed 5,000 or more pages. Run a spidering tool of your own against your site and check for discrepancies. It’s been my experience that businesses hate to say goodbye to products and often keep product pages up for discontinued and no longer available products. If you don’t have in-place a regular process for handling discontinued products on the site, then you should build one. Consider this akin to cleaning out the closets.

What to Do With the Discards?
During a spring cleaning that includes cleaning out the closets, lots of discards go off to secondhand shops, charity or whatever. You can’t quite do this with your site, but you can generously share any search value with other pages on the site by redirecting with permanent 301 redirects any traffic from your discards to other still-viable pages. This signals to the search engines that you have moved the page. You know that the page has not just been moved, it has been obliterated.

When to Clean?
It may not be practical to set an arbitrary time based on the change in the seasons to give your site a regular cleaning. If your business has a new product introduction cycle, as in fashion, then the best time is when the merchandise changeover has occurred. For businesses that continuously add new products, then a regular schedule must be set to clean up the site.

Don’t just look at product pages. All too often, the supplementary materials on a site are very out of date, so they merit a review, as well. Computer storage is cheap, so we never really see the pages we should be discarding bulging from our digital closets. Unfortunately, we really don’t want our customers using search engines to find and view our out-of-date materials. So if your site has out-of-date pages, be assured that if they are indexed, they will be seen by someone. Jiffy up your organic search presence by getting rid of any out-of-date pages.

Author: Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D.

Amanda is the founder of Searching for Profit, a search marketing strategy consultancy; and CEO of City Square Consulting, a management consulting firm. Amanda is an internationally recognized author, speaker and search marketing pioneer. Her consultancy focuses on using organic search to drive traffic to customer sites. She is an expert on the use of language for search. Her clients have included well-known and emerging brands.
The purpose of this blog is to provide insights and tips for how to use search profitably. It will cut through the volumes of information that threaten to overwhelm the busy marketer and will focus on what is truly important for making search work.

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