New administration, old mistakes.
It’s expected that when a new administration comes into power, especially one that is almost completely opposite of the previous one, that there will be changes. Almost immediately after the inauguration big changes were seen on the whitehouse.gov website. Though it is still powered by Drupal on the backend, the frontend hasn’t just had a face lift, it’s had a complete transplant. How will the website recover from this operation? This article is taking a dive into the technical changes on whitehouse.gov and how it will likely affect the website’s traffic.
Quick note on how you generally handle a website migration / re-design
Real quickly, let’s cover the basics.
- Content on your site gets crawled by Google and other search engine “bots.”
- The search engines digest this content and rank your pages
- People read the content and link to it from their sites, social media, etc
- Search engines rank your content higher based on the quality of these incoming links and activity
When you migrate a site or re-design it you should
- Not remove content unless necessary
- Use 301 re-directs for content that is moved / removed so people are sent to a page on your site that is relevant / not broken
That’s basically it in a nutshell. If you remove something, put a 301 redirect in there so people are sent somewhere on your site. These are basic practices of web development.
Change in policies means archiving content and losing links & rankings
With 8 years of content under its belt, the previous whitehouse.gov site was a behemoth in search. Granted, a lot of this content is around topics that the new administration will not want to be related to. It is only natural that they would move most of this content off the site onto a different domain. You can find the Obama administration whitehouse.gov site archived at obamawhitehouse.archives.gov. At a glance, it looks like URLs from old content go to this domain. That’s good for this domain and bad for whitehouse.gov. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the site’s stats change over the next month or so as Google learns about the drastic changes to the site content.
Let’s look at some numbers.
Here are metrics for the previous Obama administration website.
Obama site, estimated number of search visits on a monthly basis: 3 Million
*I will update this area after a month or so when I can pull updated metrics for ranking changes in AHREFs.
Obama site, number of pages in Google’s search index: 127,000
Trump site, number of pages: 168
THAT IS 0.13% OF THE CONTENT ON THE PREVIOUS SITE. If you did this to your business’s website, you’d be in for a world of hurt!
Google’s cache hasn’t updated yet, but I crawled the site using Screaming Frog. You can download the XLS file of the crawl if you want to look at the data yourself.
Here’s a page summary.
- Total accessible pages: 168
- Total broken pages: 80
- Total redirected pages: 14
The whitehouse.gov webmaster needs to throw some 301 redirects on there. Around 33% of the pages on the site are broken. And these aren’t Obama era pages, they’re general information pieces about past presidents and other informative articles. SAD!
Removal of Spanish language website
This is an interesting political commentary as well, but there’s a distinct lack of a Spanish language website in the footer links.
Obama site, Spanish site option in footer
Trump site, no habla Espanol
Complete removal of mentions on climate change
Another political commentary, differences in pages mentioning climate change on the site.
Obama site, pages indexed mentioning climate change: 27,300
Trump site, pages mentioning climate change: 0
As you see, this page happens to mention the words “climate” and “change” but not “climate change.”
Complete removal of mentions on LGBT
Obama site, pages mentioning LGBT
Trump site, pages mentioning LGBT
404 Error page leading to previous whitehouse.gov site
I really would have thought that the Trump administration would try to cut any and all ties to the Obama site content. But if you put in a URL that errors out, you’ll get this page.
That leads directly to the archive of the previous website.
A really bad meta title for the homepage
Here’s the new whitehouse.gov title:
whitehouse.gov | the WHITE HOUSEPresident Donald J. Trump
Interesting things to monitor over the next four years
For anyone that is a website and / or news geek, you will want to monitor the following.
How do these changes affect whitehouse.gov’s rankings, traffic and keywords?
I can’t imagine a world where the website does not lose massive rankings and traffic. When you start chopping content off your site, you’re going to lose the following:
- Any links pointing to that content from outside sources (hence, the need for 301 redirects)
- Any internal linking you had on your site that was funneling traffic / “juice” to other pages
- Context around what your site is about, though I hazard a guess Google knows what whitehouse.gov is.
- Keyword rankings due to not having words to get crawled
If you pair this with the fact that Steve Bannon will likely drop news on breitbart.com instead of building a blog on whitehouse.gov, I think we will see rather anemic traffic to the website over the next four years.
How similar are breitbart.com and whitehouse.gov?
I’m very very curious to see how similar breitbart.com and whitehouse.gov are for keyword rankings over the next four years. I will be monitoring this and updating this page with more details in the future. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we see direct copy and pasted articles or an RSS feed dumping breitbart.com onto whitehouse.gov. That will be a disturbingly sad day.