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by Mike Essex on 1st March 2011
There’s been a lot said in the last three weeks about the problems which led to Gawker Media, and their network of sites, seeing a record drop in visitor numbers after the redesign of their blogging network [Gawker's Gulp Moment]. Much of this is due to reader dis-satisfaction at the redesign, in fact barely a post goes by on the Gawker websites without a reader expressing their hate for the new design. However I feel the bigger problem, is the re-indexation of content by the search engines, and the knock on effect this has had.
So just what problems have Gawker Media created with their redesign? As the UK version of Kotaku has yet to suffer the redesign of its big brother, we’ll use the UK site as a point of reference to show how the problems came about:
Duplication Of Home page Content
The default view for Kotaku.com displays the top story in the main news feed. You can change this, but for search engines it’s what they will be automatically presented with. The main issue caused by this is the search engines can index this main news story at both http://kotaku.com/ and the URL for the article itself (accessible by clicking the title of the article, which the engines would do).
What do the search engines do when they have to choose between two identical pieces of content? They pick their favourite and one gets shuffled down the rankings. If they pick the Home page, which then updates later as a new post takes over, it means that they’ll take a while to show the original article. Kotaku could resolve this quickly by making the classic view the default.
The biggest Meta FAIL on the new Kotaku website, is that there’s simply no Meta Title, and that the Title has instead been allocated as the Meta description:
The above image shows this in the new code, and although there are also Meta keywords, this is a pretty poor indication of what they’d like shown in the SERPs when you search for Kotaku.
So let’s imagine I’ve heard about Kotaku for the first time. I go to the search engines and what do I see:
Oh, well that doesn’t tell me anything other than it’s a website about Skin. Interesting. How about Bing….
Whilst search engines can create good descriptions for static sites, if you update your site frequently you need to have a Meta description to tell first time viewers what to expect. Oh and that Meta description can’t be your page title…
Focus On New Content Over Old
If you view a piece of content on uk.kotaku.com there’s a handy list of related posts on the right-hand side of the site. This shows both readers and search engines the other content that is worth reading. That content will continue to get indexed, and the engines are given a reason to take a fresh look at it every time a new post on the topic is made.
New Kotaku does away with this, instead forcing a list of latest posts, or most popular posts in to the right hand column. This removes with the site wide links from other pages (and any relevance they had) and makes it harder for search engines to crawl the older content. At the very least Kotaku should add related posts to the bottom of articles.
Lower numbers of visitors means less comments, and having less comments gives the search engines less content to crawl. Old Kotaku showed all the active comments, but the new Kotaku design doesn’t help this by defaulting only to showing the featured posts.
You can get the other posts by clicking a tab, which will still get indexed, but it’s an unnecessary step in hiding content.
We’ve covered one issue of content duplication for the Home page and here’s another. I can view every article with both a number and a number with text in the URL. Here’s an example:
I’m a search engine which do I index? I’m a reader which one do I point links too?
Kotaku had better hope the reader points to the same one as the search engines choose or it’s bye bye link value. Better yet Kotaku could just ensure the version with numbers and text is shown at all times.
There’s No Consistency
Browsing the UK website doesn’t mean you’ll stay on the UK site. Clicking tags or certain articles and you’ll be bounced to the US site. This won’t happen on every article, giving search engines conflicting signals as to just where they should be looking. Other links just remove the content entirely. For example if I click to see the Sunday Comics this is what I see:
No comics for the UK, and in the US a cramped version of the comic which can only be read full screen. Another problem.
Lack Of Correct Redirects
On other occasions redirects have not been correctly implemented to take the old content to new. For example the search engine result for http://uk.kotaku.com/#!5746393/save-your-ps3-games-in-thin-air takes you to the Home page and not the article. Worse yet, the URL doesn’t change, creating a duplicate Home page. That means eventually the ranking for that page will be lost, and as Gawker must rely on an incredible amount of traffic through search engines it’s vital they get these redirects working again.
There’s a lot of problems with the Gawker redesigns – especially on Kotaku – the majority of which could be resolved quickly with a little bit of SEO work. Whilst the bad design is putting existing visitors off, it’s the new visitors that will really be burned by the redesign. Would you want your site to give off the above first impression?
This article is by Mike Essex who you can follow on Twitter @Impact_Mike.