Spring Cleaning, Search Style

If your allergies haven't told you already, it's springtime! Usually that means it's time for spring cleaning – but what does that mean for your home online? (Also known as your nonprofit's website because, let's be honest, you practically live there.) As your resident online cleaning specialist, I recommend checking for broken links and meta tags.

Broken Links

Broken links – just like ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, we all have them. They can happen for a variety of reasons – someone took down a page without telling anyone, you restructured your site which changed some URLs and you didn't catch all the links. The important thing is that you never want a user to land on a 404 error page, so you've got to periodically check for broken links. The problem with broken links is that they're hard to find, but no worries, there are some tools out there to help:

  • Google Webmaster Tools – Since Google crawls your website regularly, you can take advantage of their "bots" and see what errors they found. Log into Google Webmaster Tools, navigate to the Health section, then to Crawl Errors. This page will give you several error types, but if you scroll down under "URL Errors" the Not Found errors are the ones you want (you could fix the other types as well, but the Not Found errors are definitely broken links).

  • Site Crawler (like GSite Crawler, a free one) – If you want a more manual approach (or don't 100% trust Google's bots), you could use a site crawler, which will crawl whatever website or subdirectory that you tell it to, and tell you where it found broken links. (in G-Site Crawler it calls them aborted URLs)



Once you're found the broken links, fix them! Set up a 301 redirect and point each one to the most relevant page that's still live or your website's homepage if there is no other alternative.

Meta Tag Audit

Another important aspect of search that people are often missing on some (or all) of their pages are meta tags. Meta tags (and the title tag, which isn't technically a meta tag) are important because they are what Google and other search engines will pull to use for your website's search listing – the little blurb that shows up on the search engine results page. That blurb is quite important – it's the first representation of your website on the internet for searchers – and if you don't have the proper tags in place, Google will pull its own info from your page's content. While it can be fine for Google to pull content from your page, it can also be bad – I've seen Google pull the first 160 characters from a legal disclaimer on the bottom of a page. So the best practice is to have all the proper tags in place. 

The important tags:

  • Title Tag – this fills the words that will show up not only as the title/header on your search listing, but also the title that you see at the very top of your browser window or tab. The character limit is 70, and it will show in your page's source code as <title>Best Page on the Internet</title>

  • Description Tag – this fills the blurb below the header in your search listing (blurb is the technical term, obviously). The character limit is 160, and it will show in your page's source code as <meta name="description" content="This is a great page that you should click on.">

  • Keyword Tag – this tag has caused a lot of controversy, and is no longer as relevant as it once was, but it's one of the tags related to search, so I didn't want to leave it out completely. The original idea behind the keyword tag was that Google would use the tag to help it determine what keywords or search queries your webpage should show up for. However, trying to game the system and have their website show up for as many search phrases as possible, some people stuffed the keyword tag, putting tons of keywords into one page's keyword tag. It didn't take long for Google to catch on, and just as in kindergarten, we all got punished for the few people breaking the rules (no Pizza Friday for you!). Google has made several algorithm updates since all this happened, and the keyword tag is now significantly less relevant in determining what search queries your site shows up for. That's not to say that you shouldn't still use keyword tags, but just choose one or two keywords that are relevant to that particular web page and move on. The keyword tag will show in your page's source code as <meta name="keywords" content="best website ever">

Unfortunately, I don't know any fancy tools to check all your page's meta tags (if anyone does, spread the love! Leave a comment below and enlighten us all). When I've done this in the past, I've set up a spreadsheet, picked my way through the site's XML Sitemap (which should have all the pages of your site), ticked off which pages have which tags, and updated as I went. Don't have an XML Sitemap? Add that to your spring cleaning to do list! Learn more about XML Sitemaps and other important aspects of your site.

The age-old problem of spring cleaning – carving out time to do it – is still an issue here. If you're like most nonprofits I know, time and resources are always tight. But just like at home, once you've cleaned things up a bit, you'll feel a lot better, knowing that (even for just this moment) your site has been cleaned up to tip-top shape.

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