Redesigning Websites to stay “Modern”

We humans must periodically retrain ourselves to stay with the current trends and technologies. MadridMan is no exception. If you haven’t noticed yet, the MadridMan.com FRONT PAGE, Madrid Hostels, and Madrid Apartments pages have taken on a whole new look.

MadridMan’s website has gone through (or is going through) only 3 “versions”. The first layout appeared online on a free Geocities.com website account. The second layout, the previous one, lasted a good 8 or 9 years. That’s a long time with the same format but it served me well and seemed to be easily navigated. But things and times change.

Why have I made this latest change? In short, “because Google told me to.” And in today’s internet age, what Google says is Rule of God. Defy God, and, well, “they say” bad things will happen to you. It’s not that I knowingly defied God, I just hadn’t read the Google Bible – which really isn’t even published or publicized.

So after several years of great success online thanks to my hard work, my passion, and shining star in the eyes of Google, “That which Google giveth, Google taketh away,” the number of visits to particular pages started waning.

Why? No one will ever know for sure. Call it a worldwide economic crisis, higher gas prices, and fewer travelers. Call it increased competition for the same slice of the delicious Madrid Travel Pie. Or call it a change in the elusive Google Algorithm.

Errr… What was that last thing? For people working in the Web World, we know that Google periodically changes its search algorithm. The algorithm is a sequence of finite instructions, of mathematical computations designed to better help you, the searcher, find more appropriate results. What makes up the algorithm? That’s a closely guarded Google secret and mortal man will never know for sure. Solve the Google Algorithm and you could instantly become a millionaire. How? By placing yourself at the TOP, #1 search result for any given search querey.

For years, many of the individual pages of MadridMan.com were found as #1 or #2 or at least on the first page of Google search results. And while this fact never made MadridMan a millionaire – or even close – it certainly made life very very comfortable, happy-go-lucky, I’m-on-top-of-the-world-ma’. In short, it was alllll gooooood.

Then, literally overnight, when, for example, a search querey for “Madrid Weather” yielded MadridMan’s Madrid Weather page as a #1 result in Google, the next day it had fallen to PAGE 10 of search results – or wasn’t listed in Google at all? Why? WHY!?!?!?! WHYYYYYY??????!!  If only I knew for sure.

Over the past several months I’d contacted SEVERAL SEOs (Search Engine Optimization specialists). Somewhat to my surprise – but not much – they were all too busy to answer my emails or give me an estimate. These guys are working hard to make big money for big companies and, probably, couldn’t be bothered by my po-dunk personal website.

One Spanish SEO guy, right here in Madrid, gave me a test-run, TOTALLY changed my website including the front page, essentially changing the descriptions, keywords, and anchor text TO SPANISH PHRASES!! I was furious! And then HE was furious because we apparently had a lack of communication. He tried to convince me that if my goal is to drive visitors to, say, “Hoteles en Madrid” I must Optimize the entire website to that goal. I told him that MadridMan.com was basically an English language website with a few Spanish versions of lodging pages but that was all. He said no, that one must optimize an entire domain name to one end. This guy REALLY seemed to know what he was doing. But the more research I did on my own the more I realized that he probably does a good job for companies selling ONE product – but maybe had yet to work with one promoting SEVERAL products, like MadridMan.com does. He also told me that one CANNOT OPTIMIZE individual pages of a domain, that it must be done throughout the domain name. Now, that sounded just wrong to me.

So I took all this SEO stuff upon myself, convinced I could learn it – because I had to! Plus, there are a lot of SEO sharks out there, promising First Page Google search results, charging A LOT of money, and then there’s the maintenance fees! Most promoted themselves saying they guaranteed such results and if they didn’t achieve these goals for their clients that the client would pay nothing. OF COURSE, however, the client had already paid for the initial work. So if the SEO didn’t get the client to the first Google page then, what? He’s already been paid. Sharks.

I’m no SEO expert – and surely will never become one – but I’ve learned quite a bit just from reading SEO discussion forums, and using different software for analyzing website files and structure. There’s A LOT of information on the internet and it alone would take a lifetime to learn it. Plus, it’s always changing!

In a nutshell, I’ve learned that the basic HTML language, upon which all of my websites were built (as are, still, the majority of websites on the internet) contains NUMEROUS outdated and “deprecated” codes. I’ve also learned that “nested tables” are a BIG no-no for designing the layout of websites but are okay when used for localized purposes. Again, all my pages were designed using TABLES, and tables nested within other tables. This was perfectly fine for years, or since the beginning of internet time. The use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a near necessity these days, too. Google “judges” the use of CSS as a BIG POSITIVE, allows the Google bots to better scan webpages and allow it to sift through less code on the HTML pages which also load faster. My new webpages are all based on a very strict XHTML code. Fail the code and you lose points with Google. QUESTION: How could the aforementioned SEO NOT KNOW THIS???? He never mentioned HTML coding or architecture at any time!

So to sum up, the web page’s HTML on which all my websites are built are now quickly becoming outdated. I’m moving to the new XHTML code, using Cascading Style Sheets, and passing the XHTML pages through a W3C Markup Validation Service. When the code fails on check, I fix them until they pass. In rare cases the page will fail because some code I’ve added for one thing or another. In fact, one page failed because of a snippet of Google Analytics code I’d inserted to track the page. That makes me laugh.

Does all the above sound “Geek” to you? Maybe so, particularly if you have a website designed on WordPress or Blogger or something like these where you use the host sites’ graphical interface to manage layouts and add features. Even these websites, sometimes, fail strict coding requirements but less-so than if you would build your website by hand – like I always have, using nothing more than a text editor.

The new MadridMan.com pages, and soon also the BarcelonaMan.com, GranadaMan.com, ValenciaMan.com, and on and on, will be totally re-built using the new (for me) XHTML language and using Cascading Style Sheets. The menus are cool, the visuals are nicer, the page as a whole just looks cleaner and they definitely load faster. While having the new template created, still, adding all the individual links and text from the old to the new page takes a lot of time and, these days, I’m working myself to a frazzle, not sleeping well, and am defini
tely more irritable. That’s not good. But I try to remember those other long days at home, creating the last version of MadridMan.com, working all night some nights AFTER coming home from my day job. It was hard work but fun at the same time an I knew it was all for a greater good later on. Hopefully the new architecture will help me regain some of my former fame, that’s always tough, but at the very least my pages will be seen as keeping with the times, not seem so dated, and this too will tell me visitors that I (seem) to know what I’m talking about and that I care about how my websites look

If you are an SEO specialist, website creator, or know something about design and internet coding DO’s and DON’Ts, please add your comments here (OR CONTACT ME), recommend websites, offer some insider’s information which you think might help or that I lack. I welcome all suggestions and comments.

 
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