Written on March 15, 2011 by  /  with no comments  /  in the Content Strategy, SEO category.

SEO Strategy: Bringing Old Websites Back to Life

10 specific steps for bringing an old website back to life and increasing traffic from Google organic search.

So let’s say you find yourself in a situation where you are having to take an old or aged website and increase it’s traffic from Organic Search sources. Mainly Google, Bing, and Yahoo! Oh there’s so much that can be done. But where do you start? What should you be putting your effort towards and what should you ignore?

The answer is of course Search Engine Optimization. But what specifically should you be doing? Let me show you what I do with old/aged websites.

Recently I had the privilege of reconstructing an aged website for SEO purposes and I wanted to take some time to share with you the strategy and the specific steps I took to drastically increase traffic from organic search. The following are the steps I took (shortly before the Google Farmer Update) and I am seeing fantastic increases in rankings and traffic mostly from Google.

1. Identify Any Basic On-Page Optimizations

So you’re probably looking at this old site like it’s an episode of Hoarders. Junk and garbage everywhere. So take a deep breath and relax. Let’s take this 1 step at a time. First look for any of the basic on-page SEO optimizations that need to be taken care of. Here is what I look at:

  • HTML Titles = assuming there is already a keyword strategy in place along with the research to back it up, you want to go through the site’s cornerstone pages and locate any opportunities in the HTML page titles. Chances are you have some low-hanging fruit here that can increase some rankings quickly.
  • Canonical issues = the classic www and non-www problem is usually what you are looking for here. Also look for possibly needing to use the Canonical tag in order to tell Google the proper URL’s they should be indexing.
  • Keyword Cannibalization = this is basically when a single or set of keywords/phrases are being featured repeatedly throughout the site. You can learn more about this topic on SEOMoz.org. I would immediately dive into this issue and begin to look for any issues and make changes immediately.
  • Duplicate Content = is there any duplicate content on the site? With the site that I reconstructed, it actually had been duplicating it’s own content throughout the site in different categories of content. I made a strategy to either keep and change that content or delete it entirely. (see #3)
  • Code Errors = using the W3 Validator tool I checked the site for HTML errors and began fixing them 1 by 1. In the process I found a bunch of div’s that weren’s being closed along with a bunch of other errors that didn’t work well with my doctype.

2. Perform a Content Audit

This is by no means a fun exercise… but it’s necessary. Performing a Content Audit will allow you to accurately and fairly begin to analyze and judge the current content on the site. Make sure you gather EVERYTHING. This step is critical because it will help you perform the next steps necessary to reconstructing your old site that you are working with. Read my article on Content Audits to learn how to do this quickly and efficiently.

3. Delete Unnecessary Content – “Cut the Fat”

Now here is where it starts to get fun.This is the part of the Hoarders episode when you start chuckin’ stuff in the trash. Now that you have your content audit in place, you can begin to evaluate articles (or groups of articles) based on the following criteria:

  1. Is the content “spam?” = ask yourself if Google would think consider it spam or not.
  2. Does it have any link value? = I usually just use the toolbar pagerank here to speed things up.
  3. Is it getting any traffic? = using Google Analytics I just run a “top content” report to see how many unique visits and pageviews a page has received in the past 30 days.

These are the basic criteria I have for whether or not you should keep content. I do have a more detailed process which I have outlined in my article about Deleting Old Blog Posts. My most important recommendation here… don’t hoard! Get rid of the garbage. Don’t hold back. There’s really no reason to keep content on a site that is not valuable to the end user. This is the most critical decision you must make moving forward.

4. Make Sure Content Structure Is Organized

Now that you have deleted the unnecessary, it’s time to begin making sure all content is organized and in it’s proper place. Understanding your navigational, topical, and categorical organization and where all content is assigned is what this exercise is all about.  Smashing Magazine wrote a great piece on Organizing your Web Content and I think rather than repeating what they say… it’s better just to read their article.

Note: You do not want to skip this content not only because of it’s immediate positive effects on SEO but also because of the positive effects it will have in the future because of the future content you should be planning on publishing.

5. Grade Existing Content

After step 4 one of the things I like to do is to actually grade the existing content based on certain quality content factors that I think are important for the site. I will be writing an article soon on how I like to grade “Quality Content” for the web but until then… just know that you need to create some sort of scoring system/algorithm that you feel best fits your content needs.

If you are looking for something more generic because you don’t have the time to create your own scoring mechanism… Hubspot created a Content Analysis Tool that you can use for free to help you with this. It’s pretty well thought through and detailed in it’s scoring process.

This process simply involves scoring content then…

6. Go Back & Improve The Content

Working from the lowest scores up begin to go back and improve the content you just finished grading. You will most likely find yourself along the way going back to #3 and deleting even more content that you find just too low when it comes to your high quality standards.

If you take this step seriously and put forth a great effort to improving the old content, you WILL see drastic results. Think about it from Google’s perspective for just a second. A) they are re-indexing your content because you have updated it and B) they are seeing a noticeable increase in the quality of the content you have updated. This improves Google’s search results which is why they will in return improve your rankings.

Note: you must understand that MOST (and I truly mean most) of your competitors will not spend the time and energy to go back and improve old content. The lazy/spammers of the world hate to do this. This is why it’s such a big opprotunity for you. Not to mention the fact that Google is already beginning to look at this sort of stuff.

7. Check For and Fix Bad (spammy) & Broken Links

Remember the article I wrote earlier this month about TrustRank? If you did you will know what I mean when I say outbound links are critical to your SEO success. But on the flip side spammy and/or broken links can destroy your SEO opportunities and possibilities. Take the time while going back through your old content to fix all the bad (spammy) and broken links on EVERY SINGLE PAGE!

There’s a Firefox add-on called LinkChecker that analyzes the links on a given page and tells you which ones are broken. This will help you on the broken link side of things. When it comes to analyzing whether or not your links are spammy… I recommend analyzing that with your own human eye on a 1 by 1 basis.

You won’t be disappointed in the results that come from doing this. I guarantee it.

8. Switch to a CMS (WordPress or Drupal) If Not Already Using One

This is one of my favorite activities when working with an old site. Getting it transitioned over to one of the popular Open Source content management systems. It’s like rebuilding a house from the ground up.  If you are dealing with an old website that doesn’t use one of these systems, it can be a great process to put your website through because of the mess it will force you to clean up! There are literally dozens of benefits for switching to one of these open source cms’ most of which i’m sure I don’t need to be telling you… as i’d be “preachin to the choir.”

9. Improve Site Speed and Performance

Old websites are typically very slow websites that don’t coincide to well with Google’s new Google Instant Search. Google has made it clear on several occasions that now is the perfect time to tighten some loose ends when it comes to loading time and site speed. I like to start by looking for these opportunities to increase speed performance:

  • Javascript between the <head> tags
  • Embedded Code from 3rd party sites
  • Caching opportunities using .htaccess
  • Images, Flash, and Javascript that is not truly needed
  • Code in general that is not needed
  • Last but not least… server loading time

At the end of the day there are hundreds of tactics that you can perform that can increase load time. Six Revisions wrote a great article on some of the more recommended methods that include what I have listed plus how to actually do them. And if you are running WordPress as your CMS then you can read my post on Increasing Speed for WordPress… that should help you as well.

10. Last But Not Least, Publish New Content

And last but not least it’s time to begin publishing new content and publishing frequently. And why not? There’s just so much that can still be published:

  • How-to Articles
  • Blog Posts
  • News
  • Ebooks
  • Whitepapers
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Free Tools etc.

Got anything you would add or take away from this strategy? I’m interested in getting some feedback from you as to how you might adjust this strategy for your own SEO project.