A Truly Rotten Website Review – A Brochure Site

Starting with an apology

I’m sorry for that rather emotive title. I was asked about a site owned by a UK based businessman called Steve. I don’t want to reveal his site nor state the exact nature of his business. If I did, everyone reading this would know he’d been sold a sub-standard product. And that might embarrass him.

Steve hasn’t had his site long and he just got a feeling something wasn’t right. Steve’s business is a highly specialised consultancy service. He needs to present a professional face on the web to reflect his knowledge and experience, but his current site doesn’t achieve this.

Steve’s site is a brochure site. I don’t think he expected it to work wonders for his business. He said,

The website is not about selling, but more to give my business visibility and credibility.

Steve’s main question was

Is my site being indexed properly by Google?

The short answer is no. What follows is the long answer.

I wonder what he meant by visibility. It’s just that this requirement (and his question about Google) aren’t generally compatible with brochure sites because from a visibility and search engine point of view brochure sites are practically useless.

First Impressions Count Online

If I were interested in Steve’s service, I’d visit his site to ensure that the quality I’d expect was evidenced there. Given that Steve’s business is information based and deals in complexity, knowledge and current legislation, a site that fails to reinforce Steve’s competency in these areas will prevent visitors from making further enquiries.

A site that fails to reinforce Steve’s competency in these areas will prevent visitors from making further enquiries.

A website for a services business, is to a potential client, like a CV is to an employer. A university looking to employ a research scientist would look at the pile of 200 CVs and immediately bin the ones with spelling mistakes, bad grammar or a cryptic layout. The same thing tends to apply to business websites. Unless of course the business has no competition . . .

Domain Name

Starting at the top, I checked the ownership of Steve’s domain name using this domain ownership checking page.

It turns out that Steve doesn’t own his domain. His web designers do! I don’t know if Steve is aware of this or if he agreed to it (why would he?). Either way, not owning your domain name is bad news.

The danger is that if you fall out with your web designers they can just decide not to give your domain back. It means that you could work for years to build a successful site and then not be able to sell it. It means you don’t own your content. It’s just bad.

Site Design

Steve’s site has a minimalist design with large areas of white space. In this case there’re also areas of text which aren’t broken up by pulled quotes, images, graphs or any other visual interest. If he ever wanted to expand the site and fill it with lots of content, the design won’t lend itself to expansion. Rather like a woman in a tight corset, it’s restricted.

Small sites don’t make much of an impression on Google’s index.

In a way it doesn’t matter how much Google does or doesn’t index a brochure site. Because they’re too small and too infertile to count in the Google index anyway. Small sites don’t impress Google. Small sites don’t do much for their owners.

For Steve’s business, I would have preferred to see a rich, informative, searchable site offering advice online via articles, FAQs and tutorials. This achieves the following, it:

  • builds credibility
  • offers the opportunity to demonstrate he can organise material in an easily digestible format
  • shows he can speak to his audience and
  • encourages the habit of regular writing which in turn, provides a sustainable growth strategy

Size of Site

Steve’s site won’t figure well in the search engines until it has a lot more content. This is because there are millions of pages indexed by Google already.

If you want your web page to show up in a search your site has to contain the words people are searching for. You can’t show up for the search term “seo consultant” if the term “seo consultant” hasn’t been used in correct and various ways on your page.

Usually brochure sites don’t measure up.

What’s more, you can’t show up for the term “seo consultant” if the page you’ve got on your web site isn’t so interesting to other site owners that they haven’t linked to your page using the term “seo consultant” in their link text.

Basically showing up in Google is a culmination of a number of internet events coming together. Some are up to you and some are a result of your influence online. Usually brochure sites don’t measure up.

Although Steve’s adding an article each month it isn’t enough. The site needs three to four articles per week to provide the required growth to kick start the process of being found in Google by people who don’t already know who he is.

From a human perspective the site isn’t big enough (because it doesn’t have enough content) to give credence to Steve’s knowledge and expertise.

Small sites also suffer from a lack of internal link opportunity. There’s nowhere to link to internally, which re-emphasises the shallowness of the content. They are self-limiting.

External Links

The site is quite new (created April 2009), and as already stated, it’s light on content. What content there is is not enriched by links out to other sites and pages. Links out suggest to the reader that the writer has something to say and has the generosity to freely pass the reader to external resources for his further edification. There are some issues with linking out too much, but that’s a topic for another discussion.

External links to relevant related sites also indicate to Google that the site is attempting to help the reader and this adds to a site’s search engine credibility.

Internal Links

Strangely in some places on the site, where visitors are urged to “contact” Steve – there is no active link (except on the home page) to the contact page.

In fact the majority of outgoing links on Steve’s site go straight to his website designer’s home page. There are two of these rogue links on every page. This will leak what little page rank Steve has (granted none at the moment and if the site isn’t rectified, none for the foreseeable future) to them.

A Basic Useability Issue

So highlighted text is orange and links are orange. How are we supposed to find the links?

The colour of the in-text links (the few that there are) is also very annoying to the user.

Links need to stand out somewhat, but the links on Steve’s site are indistinguishable from the copious amounts of highlighted orange text that also appears on every page.

So highlighted text is orange and links are orange. How are we supposed to find the links? Is it a game? If the links were also underlined they’d be indentifiable. Currently the user has to run his cursor all over the place to see if the site has more depth.

The poor user not only discovers the site is practically link-free, but that it’s pointlessly concealed the few it has. It has been shown that underlining links improves a visitor’s length of stay on your site.

Page Not Found Errors – No 404 File

Page Not Found - no 404If you try to visit a page that doesn’t exist on Steve’s site, you get a page cannot be found error and you get a page like the one on the left.

Having a custom 404 page that kindly guides users back to a working page can improve a user’s experience.

A 404 page should at least have a link back to the site’s home page and could also provide links to popular or related content on the site. As it is, a 404 error will just make people leave the site before they get there.

No Sitemap (.xml)

There doesn’t appear to be a sitemap.xml (at least I couldn’t find it) for Google to use as a guide to the pages on Steve’s site. Search engine spiders usually discover pages from links within the site and from other sites. Sitemaps supplement this data to allow spiders that support Sitemaps to pick up all URLs in the sitemap.

Not having a sitemap is like inviting Google to a party in the middle of nowhere, and then not giving him directions.

No Favicon

Liz Jamieson FavIconA favicon brands a site and is also saved alongside a bookmark so that users can easily identify pages from a website. Steve’s site has no favicon. A small omission but these are beginning to add up.

Navigation

All site menu links – even to pages like the contact page don’t employ nofollow tags. This, if the site was growing – it would matter long-term to the site’s visibility to have a more sophisticated navigation structure.

Contact Page

There are a couple of things wrong with the contact us page. First, it’s possible to send empty email messages via the contact page. Code for validating the form (i.e checking that people filled it in) is included in the site but has no effect because it’s not being called. Even if it were called, it wouldn’t work that well as the validation code is pretty basic.

Once the search engines actually find the site, the contact form will be bombarded by spam bots, because the contact form makes no attempt to protect Steve from them.

Worse, the email address is visible on the site which again means it is open to spam attacks. Malicious spiders love this type of thing as they’ll collect email addresses and then use them to send masses of pharmaceutical and porn laden spam.

Companies Act

The site has no proper company details. All UK company sites (I assume Steve’s business is a registered company) are supposed to display certain information. The omission looks especially poor in this case as Steve’s business is one that is strictly rules based and regulated by stacks of legislation.

The fact that the site does not comply with the Companies Act doesn’t reflect well and suggests a lack of attention to detail. Not good for someone in the details business.

Internal Structure

This site has probably been created by a package because internally the whole thing is arranged in HTML tables. This is very 1990s and makes (amongst other things) the search engine’s work harder than they need to and it will hamper Steve’s SEO efforts.

Title Tags

This isn’t an achievement. If you’re not number one in Google for your company name, who’s going to be??

These are the easiest SEO item to get right and Steve’s worst offenders. One of the problems with getting a site set up cheaply is that there’s no budget for SEO. The site’s title tags are all the same (each page’s title tag is supposed to be different). In this case they all contain the company name.

As an aside, I’ve always been amazed at how excited some people are that they show upon page one in Google for their own company name. It isn’t an achievement. If you’re not number one for your company name, who’s going to be??

The internet is choc-o-bloc full of free articles that explain how to do title tags. The only keyphrase this site is going to rank for is it’s own name. Which when you think about it, isn’t much use.

Heading Tags

These are not used enough throughout text to break it up and lend hireacrhy to the document. Heading tags are used by Google to help rank a page for relevant keywords. The most important tag on the page for this is the title tag, whose contents should be reinfornced by heading tags. This isn’t happening on Steve’s site.

Other Meta Tags

On each page tags are supposed to be setup to reflect that unique page’s content and keywords. Every page in the site has the same keywords and description tags. Without title tags though, the effort of putting even those in, was pretty much wasted.

Google’s Index

Steve’s site is indexed in Google without the www. In other words page.html is in the index, but www.page.html is not. That isn’t great as it means that if the site ever did get indexed with the www versions of the pages, it’d suffer from duplicate content issues.

This is the because Steve’s designers (check the HTML code on the site) have set the site up to be referenced without the www prefix. However this problem can be addressed in Webmaster Tools. But Steve, if you are listening – get someone else to re-write your site and you won’t have to deal with any of these problems again. The problems on your site cannot be fixed by tweaks to Webmaster Tools alone.

Google Analytics

Google analytics is a free and comprehensive web site stats package that helps site owners understand their visitors. It tells you how many visitors you’re getting, where they come from, what they typed to find your pages, and much more. Google Analytics is missing from Steve’s site which keeps him further in the dark about the site’s performance.

Is Steve’s Failing Site, Steve’s Fault?

After all this, I think we can conclude Steve doesn’t have a great website. Is this Steve’s fault? I can’t answer that. Is it my fault my kitchen extension is so bad it has to be demolished? I’m not a master builder of kitchen extensions and Steve isn’t a web design and SEO expert. I guess it’s called civilisation – we are all specialists now and rely on others to do the right thing.

There are so many errors here that the only justification the web designers could possibly have is that the customer wanted it cheap and cheerful. Well, he may have got it cheap (I don’t know), but if this was my site I wouldn’t feel particuarly cheerful.

A Remedy? Start Using WordPress at The Power Bog Service

Power Blog ServiceThe advice I’d offer Steve is to get a new site elsewhere. He really needs a site built in WordPress as this lends itself perfectly to building a good looking, usable, rich information site over time.

WordPress also gives site visitors the opportunity to subscribe to the site, comment on articles ask questions and engage. WordPress used properly is the fastest way to build an interested audience.

If you recognise the sorts of problems Steve has check out our web design offering – it’s new, it’s different and it works.

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