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SEO: How to Do It [Wrong] Quickly! A Common Developmental Beta Website Problem

When we are asked to a assess an online property such as a client’s website, one of the first things we do is perform a quick check of basic items to get a feel for where things are and the basic structure of their website. Still today, our 5 Steps to Assessing a Website for SEO is a useful place to start.

Today, because of a recent assessment we performed for a potential client, we wanted to share a commonly found issue we have been noticing a lot again lately due to the overwhelming amount of businesses updating and redesigning their websites for responsive design considerations (aka: the mobilgeddon concerns due to Google’s announcement that mobile-friendliness would be included as a ranking signal starting in April 2015). Many businesses feared penalization by Google should their websites not be made compliant to mobile screen sizes. Website owners reacted by rushing to immediately update their websites. With that rush, we saw website owners with even more problems than they would have had if they had instead moved a tad more slowly, systematically and strategically with these changes.

problem-howtofixHere is one such Case Study scenario we see commonly occur when a client says that they are updating or recently updated their website (for whatever reason). And, we’ll address why and how to fix it too:

Case Study: Let’s say your website already exists. Let’s call it: http://www.yoursite.com and reference it as the “www” website. It needs a new design and you want the old site live and active while your IT/development staff works on the new version. The IT staff creates a developmental, beta-testing area for you to look over the new design changes. They create a special area where you can see the new site with a web browser and call it : http://beta.yoursite.com and we will reference this one as the “beta” website.

Problem: Because they were moving quickly, or maybe didn’t know, the “beta” website was not blocked in some way from the search engine indexes.

Reason it’s a problem: Google, as with the other search engines, are able to index website pages that are left unblocked and on public hosting servers. This could cause duplicate content issues due to the fact, in this case, that the content of your pages isn’t changing, just the design (look and feel) of the site.

This, in turn, has search engines, like Google, having to decide which of those duplicate pages should be listed in the SERPs (search engine results pages) when someone searches for a specific keyword where one of your pages should show up. Is it the “www” page or the “beta” page? This type of situation not only can confuse Google but also your traffic/visitors. Additionally, it could hurt your keyword rankings. because the older “www” page maybe gets points for age and past links or other (basically already has developed some rankings), but now the new “beta” gets some points for being “mobile-friendly” and losses the age points, has no links to it, or other because it’s a new page. There’s more… basically, it can become complicated and potentially problematic. And, it simply doesn’t have to be.

How to Fix: From the beginning, when your IT or web development staff is directed to set up a developmental beta site area for your new design or reformatting, simply ask them to make sure to block the new “beta” site by doing one of the following:
1) Use the robots.txt file exclusion protocol, or
2) Password protect the site at the server level, or
3) Ask them to add a meta robots tag with a “noindex” parameter to each new page created.

Not sure what or how that all works or is done? Your IT/development guys will, or you can ask us for help should you need more. BUT (capitalized on purpose) DO NOT FORGET once you go live with the “beta” pages and have them become your new “www” pages that you do not copy and/or you remove any of the blocking or exclusion parameters above that you implemented.
And, depending on how you replaced the old site with the new design by, maybe, creating new URL/page names, then don’t forget about your 301 redirects. Not sure what that means? That’s ok, that’s another “How To Do It [Wrong] Quickly” posting for another day – or you can contact us for specific questions or concerns about SEO! 😉

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