Repair or Replace? | A SEO Case Study

Recently, I assisted a local PR agency within my range of MarTech offerings. One of their clients, an I.T. managed services firm, wasn’t tracking online effectively and requested an SEO analysis and strategy.

Having come from a background in B2B marketing, I knew the task of highlighting a heavily commoditized business like I.T. services online would be difficult, but not impossible if prerequisites were met; clean code, engaging UI, a steady flow of original content and a reasonable amount of time to show results.

Therein lies the challenge, all are of equal importance with the code heath and usability of a site being at the core. This particular site scored below 65% (via SEM Rush) so my natural inclination was to recommend a rebuild due to potential unseen issues. However, with the site being less then a year old and budgetary concerns in-play, we were slated to repair verses replace.

Analysis

Questionable Code
I like to use the analogy of buying a used car (or an older home) when explaining the inheritance of website code – you never know what you are dealing with until you get under the hood, or behind the drywall so-to-speak. We quickly discovered missing HTML declarations, duplicate titles, meta-descriptions and a host of 404 errors – and would later find the CMS template could not be updated and their main URL was blacklisted.

User Experience
A visual inspection of the website from the users experience (UX) was very telling as well. My biggest takeaway was an essentially monochromatic home page, coupled to a poorly placed CTA eBook and no ‘action color’ to draw the eye into a click.

Additionally, interior pages lacked a consistent look and missed engagement opportunities through social sharing and blog commenting.

Content and Competitors
To fully understand what would compel a click-through and keep the bounce rate low, a review of content assets was followed by research of ‘lanes’ competitors had left open online. Regarding ‘lanes’ – when everyone else is covering the same topics ad nauseam, or worse yet engaged in ’product’ marketing, I recommend finding ways to offer a contradictory opinion, educate or use story telling around people.

For the most part the rich-content (white papers, infographics etc.) I reviewed were very good, and my recommendation to convert static PDFs to HTML would only serve to boost site content needs further.

The Process

While having worked in HTML and CSS for many years, it’s not a passion of mine, just a necessary evil to aid in my online endeavors, so locating a competent developer would be key in repairing the site fundamentals. Working in tandem also frees up my time to optimize content and and work towards macro strategies, like scoring favorably with major search engines over the long term.

After a false start with a temp who was quickly overwhelmed, I was able to locate a talented developer who would partner with our team over the next three months to improve and repair the site as best he could, ultimately resulting in a site score increase of 12+% (via SEM Rush) with a much improved home page conversion funnel and esthetics.

The Reality

About 90 days in, a determination was made that the CMS template was stretched beyond intended limits and could not be updated to meet future WordPress versions.

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-2-28-06-pm
Fix one error, two more appear.

My original recommendation for a new site had now become the best (and only option) to move ahead.

Over the following six weeks, in concert with the full-time marketing manager, we tackled the rebuild through methodical steps, defined roles, and regular status meetings. The new site was delivered on-time and within budget, sans a few hiccups with the client’s server.

What Was Learned

I can confidently state our work towards UX improvements and code compliance better positioned the legacy site for success. Additionally, the subsequent rebuild will leave the next SEO professional and developer with a solid core to house content and build meaningful backlinks.

The saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ rings true for web development, so as a business choose your web development partner and CMS template wisely. Also, know what questions to ask pertaining to future CMS compatibility and SEO scoring throughout your site build.

Conversely as MarTech professional, when faced with a similar challenge, lobby for an efficient and cost-effective rebuild vs. time consuming (and ongoing) repairs which inevitably lead to diminishing returns.

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