Fix My Site

Does your site suck? Do you need professional advice? Do you not want to pay for this advice? Send me an email, and I'll take a look at your site and provide you with some real suggestions. By real, I mean real.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Alcohol and HTML: Best Friends or Worst Enemies?

Bob, the creator of http://www.keukalake.com/, writes:Keuka Lake
I recently made my first attempt at creating a web site. I thought it would be a simple process….my first mistake. I built a site for “Keuka Lake” a popular tourist spot in western New York State. I uploaded it and submitted it to the search engines. Within three weeks it went from “nowhere to be found” ” to the 50 spot on Yahoo and 8 on MSN for any search that contained the words “Keuka Lake”. It was still nowhere to be found on Google. ... My overall question is “what am I doing wrong?” ... I have looked at the source code for other sites and I see several that contain this meta tag: <meta content="index, follow" name="robots"> Should I add it? I add to my site daily – should I create and upload a new site map each time I make changes? I have promoted this site regionally with newspaper ads and flyers, so I am getting traffic, I am just not being found via the search engines. Can it be fixed or should I give up the whole damn thing and just start drinking heavily? Any advice is greatly appreciated.

As I mentioned before, Bob, often the best solution to any problem is to begin drinking heavily. It's the only way you can focus on the minutiae of code. In fact, at my office, you're not even allowed to go in the building until you've chugged a handle of Jack. That's just how we roll around here.

After analyzing your site, though, I needed another. What. A. Mess. If I had a whole day, I wouldn't be able to list everything that needs fixing in your site. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for you, I don't have all day, and honestly, it's not all bad. The things you have going for you:

  1. Great content. You have a ton of content and it looks like it is all solid. This is actually the most important part of any website, so don't be too discouraged.
  2. Your metadata, including page titles and keywords are very good and descriptive. You're missing descriptions, though. Yahoo! is big on page descriptions, which may be why you're not listed there.
  3. You don't have any animated .gifs or blinking or scrolling text or random, worthless DHTML effects.

I know it's a short list, but hey, it's something. Now for the main things working against you (ready?):

  1. Design: godawful. If I were the head of tourism for Keuka Lake, I would have your head on a platter. It looks like it was made by a fifth grader in 1996. However, this may not be entirely your fault (from a design perspective), either, as I see you're using a Yahoo! page generator. I worked with one of those during my salad days and found it to be extremely inflexible as well. My first suggestion: learn HTML and stop using automatic page generators and WYSIWYG editors. Then, learn about design and implement a good one. And get rid of the tables surrounding your pictures.
  2. Navigation: overwhelming and unclear. I counted 26 navigation bars, and even one below the fold. How do you expect someone to find what they are looking for? Try creating five or six main categories and use them as a main navigation, then when people click on your categories, they're presented with a sub-navigation consisting of pages within that category. For instance, categories could be Food, Entertainment, Accommodations, Commercial, Photos, and Miscellaneous.
  3. Code: this is the worst part of your site. Your code is some of the messiest I've seen (try validating your code...143 errors). Again, I'm guessing this isn't entirely your fault because the page generator or WYSIWYG editor you're using is creating your code for you. I noticed you don't even have a CSS stylesheet. What do you do if you want to make a site-wide font color change (aside from begin drinking heavily)? Again, I understand this is probably handled by your generator/editor, but in case you decide to pull the plug on it and start manually editing your site, you should learn some CSS and try to implement it. Right now, without some sort of program, your site is virtually uneditable.
  4. Incoming links: you have none. My site is a start. Now go get some more. See if you can get those to whom you have linked to link back to you. Google's single largest factor in determining site importance is incoming links. This explains your 0 PageRank.

Unfortunately, I have to cut this short because I have other things to do today, but this should get you started. The good news is that your site is not un-salvageable. Learn HTML (or XHTML, if you can) and CSS and read up on site layout and you can clean this site up considerably. Oh, one thing I forgot: you mentioned you submitted your site to a bunch of search engines. Be careful when you do this, because you may be submitting yourself to a bunch of link farms and spammy neighborhoods, big no-no's for all the big search engines. If you're going to submit yourself to search engines, only do it to the GYM. And yes, you should include the "robots=follow" meta tag.

Be careful with that whiskey, and by that, I mean don't spill any when you're slugging it. Good luck. I'm curious to see the re-vamped version.

5 Comments:

At June 20, 2006 8:03 AM, Anonymous Bob said...

Jason,

I would like to thank you for your review and advice regarding my site. As I previously stated, constructive criticism is the best learning tool. I plan to implement your all of suggestions, including a complete rebuild by the end of summer, once I get a better grip on HTML.
On the subject of HTML, “automatic page generators and WYSIWYG editors”… This was my first attempt at creating a site and, propably like most, I took the easiest path. Let me share some insights with you from a beginner, some based in ingorance and some based in frustration.
Back about the time that you were not much more than a twinkle in your mother’s eye I bought my first computer – a used Tandy TRS-80. I had to learn TRS-DOS to make the damn thing do anything. Next came a Texas Instruments TI-99/4 and I had to learn TI Basic. Followed by a Commodore 64 and C BASIC, then an IBM Clone with that stupid blinking MSDOS prompt that really was saying “Feeling lucky?”. Now it looks like I need to learn one more collection of hieroglyphics.
Commodore introduced “Geos”, an icon based OS that began the move toward “user friendly”. Apple’s Mac took it to a new level, setting the stage for Windows. Why is there not a similar evolution in web page design. I am at a loss to understand why anyone still needs to grind away with HTML when the technology must surely exist to produce a functional automatic page generator. I don’t need to know how to build a clock just to see what time it is. I will take the HTML plunge and pay my dues, but if you know of an adequate WYSIWYG editor, please pass it on. If not develop one and you are one your way to the big time.
Back to your review, “It looks like it was made by a fifth grader in 1996.” I probably should have mentioned that I am in fifth grade and if it is not 1996 I am way late for school….Now, where the heck did mom hide her bottle of Jack….
Thanks again for all of your help.
Bob

 
At June 20, 2006 8:16 AM, Blogger Edelman said...

Yeah, unfortunately, there are no good WYSIWYG editors out there. The problem with them is that there's simply no way to give users all the flexibility of HTML and CSS without them truly understanding the code. Yeah, you can have them add colors and sizes and pictures, but the problem is the editor doesn't know your design, doesn't know your plan, and doesn't know what you're persisting or not. I suppose that's programmable as well, but there's really no way to avoid the ridiculous code bloat created by WYSIWYG editors.

Also, HTML is not even a language, and it's really, really easy to learn. There's not one thing in HTML that you can't find out how to do somewhere on the internet. Just go to a search engine and type in "HTML tutorial" and you'll come up with a bazillion tutorials, probably more than half of them good.

I'm glad you liked my review. Stay tuned for today's, coming around 11ish :)

 
At June 22, 2006 8:49 AM, Anonymous JC said...

"there are no good WYSIWYG editors out there"

I have to partly desagree... I started out writing HTML a good ten years ago using a WYSIWG edit from tripod (a free hosting site). and you're right, there was a alot of bloated code in my site. but it did have a feature that showed the code and the preview page side by side (like frontpage does) which helped me learn HTML.

I found a few good sites that teach HTML and then i kicked the WYSIWG and fired up notepad. (btw, W3 schools is a great site to start learning)

You can write great sites by hand but it takes way to long... you can find a good IDE (some are free) that has a great WYSIWG editor built in. I write a lot of asp.net so i use visual studio you can download their free version(called web express i think) at http://asp.net there are tons of other tools out there that will do the same thing and save you a boat load of time.

 
At June 28, 2006 3:13 AM, Anonymous Carol W said...

You quoted: "I uploaded it and submitted it to the search engines. Within three weeks it went from “nowhere to be found” ” to the 50 spot on Yahoo and 8 on MSN for any search that contained the words “Keuka Lake”. It was still nowhere to be found on Google. ... My overall question is “what am I doing wrong?""

Do a search on the phrase Google Sandbox, which happens to affect a number of new sites (if going by the number of comments/posts by people claiming their new sites 'are no where to be found on Google', that is).

Upside - the Sandbox is temporary and, once the site is out of it, will bounce to higher, better rankings. Downside - reputedly lasts for anywhere from 3 to 9 months.

Good news? Well, although the Top 3 search engines are different in algorithems used, they also share some common ground. If ranking decently on 2, while in the Google Sandbox, then you can roughly speculate you will do similar on Google once out of the Sandbox.

You wrote: "Yahoo! is big on page descriptions, which may be why you're not listed there."

Actually a neither here nor there thing. Yahoo! shares part of the META description in the abstract/snippet, if the author shares one, but it does not help with ranking. Or, at least, observations have not shared that having META description does help with placement on Yahoo! although Yahoo! has let it be known that they will take slightly more notice of that information shared than other search engines. Although them sharing a snippet of it in the results page is about the extent of their "noticing it" ... ;)

You wrote: "Incoming links: you have none."

It would have to have _some_, due to the mentioning of the site's placement on Yahoo! and MSN. Google's sharing of backlinks is not worth the time to use - Yahoo will share more of an idea of the number of backlinks to a page or site.

I agree about not using sites stating they will submit your site to search engines. Many of the search engines ignore auto-submissions and a number of these "let us submit the site URL for you ..." make their money from "free services" by selling the email addresses collected - and what sites _do_ accept the automated submissions may not ever send any traffic.

Best way to submit one's site to a search engine is just by getting some links (from other sites also showing up on those search engines - be it some small engine or one of the Top 3). Spiders follow links, get good links and the spiders will be by the site in short order. Once found - you don't need to fuss about submitting again as the spiders know where you are now.

You wrote: "And yes, you should include the "robots=follow" meta tag."

Robots.txt is better - robots="follow" is essentially telling _all_ spiders to do what comes naturally, so redundant and unnecessary while not preventing the spiders, from Google and other search engines, trying to locate a robots.txt file (thereby sharing error messages about that txt file not found showing up in the log files ...). Just better all around to share a robots.txt file versus the meta tag.

 
At June 28, 2006 5:23 AM, Anonymous Carol said...

As an addendum, the Google Toolbar's PR display is only updated 3 to 4 times a year now. I believe the last PR display update was in February or March.

Therefore PR0 may be what we see on the toolbar _but_ not the PR value that Google sees on their side (in terms of indexing and ranking of sites - as they update the rankings more often, almost daily, on their side).

One link can bump a site up to PR2 or PR3 ... but it may not yet reflect that PR2 or PR3 on the toolbar until that public display information is updated.

 

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