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Our Site Re-Design Is Complete (almost!)

Our Site Re-Design is Complete (almost!)

The Olympics are over (thank goodness)

As people stop being glued to their televisions at all hours of the day or night, their attentions will shift back to their own community, their regular lives. And to local businesses like YOURS, and like OURS. And it challenges all of us to also be the BEST that we can be!

Why Re-Design?

We have been fortunate to use the same content management system since launch, but it finally need to be replaced. We are migrating our website(s) from a system that worked beautifully for the past 18 years.

The system was incredibly efficient, and it has helped us with multiple redesigns over the years: expanding from 6 to 30 cities, adding a mobile version, moving to responsive design, and lastly, adding the “Pinterest wall” look. It used object-oriented programming, and let us pre-compile HTML pages on a local PC to upload to our webserver. The server could speedily serve pages to visitors with a SINGLE file download, instead of compiling a lot of file sub-components on-the-fly.

But it just finally just stopped working. And the Calgary company that created it (bless their hearts) hit the Internet Graveyard about 15 years ago, so support and/or software updates was no longer available. It wasn’t that the website stopped working, just that it ceased to be swiftly and easily update-able (and consistently) across the website’s many pages, cities, and business lisitngs, and content areas.

That meant, that to  be able to update & maintain the website and add future improvements on a timely basis, the entire site (all 100,000 pages) had to be re-architected from the bottom up. And done in a way to minimize user disruption and minimize broken links (or at least quickly re-direct to new links–see below) for both consumer-visitors and those maintaining their business listings and other details in our FREE DIRECTORY serving 30 communities.

First Principles & Learning

The re-design process forced us to go to First Principles: What were we trying to do for users? How was our content going to be updated and published? It was NOT an easy choice. Those familiar with WordPress think it’s easy. NOT when you have a hundred thousand pages to manage…. How would your Pages menu work with that many files?

This past Fall, we converted our TransCanadaHighway.com site, and our MovingInCanada.com site. They were—for us—a much smaller 3,000 pages of content. We tested methodologies, coding styles, and identified efficiencies for the FoundLocally.com conversion.

New Best Practices. We are 18 years old now….

Since our sites have been around since 1999—longer than Google— search engines had “grandfathered” our sites on many site ranking criteria, for which new sites may be heavily penalized. With a new version of our site, the “grandfathering” was on the line, so we moved to today’s Best Practices.

We made filenames more meaningful, separating words with hyphens (and not underlines), and abandoning short-forms that sped URL typing, which hurt us in future search results.

Old File Names (a sample!)New File Names & Link (click to bookmark)
EntMovieTimes.aspEntertainment-Movie-Times.asp
HW-Printers.htmHardware-Printers.asp
Trans-TaxiListing.htmTransportation-Taxis-Listing.asp
KidsThingsToDo.htmKids-Things-To-Do.asp
Rec-SkiReport.aspRecreation-Ski-Report.asp

We made some of our directory names more descriptive (also better for search engines):

Old Directory nameNew Directory name (click to view)
/Dining/Restaurants
/Hr/Jobs-HR
/Home/Homes-Gardens
/Personal/Consumer
/GenBus/Business-Operations
/Sports/Sports-Fitness
/Trans/Transportation

Our process involves to review & re-coding each of our 100,000 pages of content (across all 30 cities), so we have updated many along the way. We also have identified some pages to improve, once ALL THIRTY FoundLocally.com cities are converted.

During our research, we identified potential programming changes, interface simplification, new features, and more. These are “big picture changes” which will also begin after all cities are converted.

Ad Tweaks on the Website

ADVERTISEMENTS are a bone of contention. For some users they are annoying, but they ARE what pays our bills. In the Fall, Google added several “in-content” and “responsive ad units” to allow sites to display more ads more often. Like you see when you are scrolling down Facebook’s feed, or on those horrid ad-heavy “Clickbait” websites. They looked promising.

We tested those ad units and found many were SLOW LOADING (cookies!) and actually (a) slowed the site enough to reduce our Google ranking (go figure!) and (b) reduced the total ad revenues, so we got rid of them returning to in-the-margin ads, like before. Pages now load 20-40% faster than they did a month ago. (Google please reward us!)

Why are SOME Google ads so slow?
They often have multiple tacking cookies, files, or a pixel to verify that the ad has been loaded (and seen by a human eyeball, and therefore worth paying for). The advertiser may have one, the designer may have one, an ad agency may have one, and google certainly has one. Each one goes to a different server, requiring a separate HTTP REQUEST, each slowing down the website load time… and not surprisingly the ads effectiveness.

Furthermore, ads that have multiple images, or interactive graphics, or incorporate product pricing and availability from a database also go to different servers, and do not fully load until THAT server’s work is done… it all ads up to a “moves like molasses” experience.

We’re Now Done!

All cities have the updated files & directories incorporated into their menus & content, and ALL communities are now full converted. By mid January, we had 10 communities done, and by late March, we have completed all 30 communities, from coast to coast.

There is still on-going quality control checks required. The old site grew gradually over 17 years, adding cities, content, and information over time. Changing that many pages and that many links impacts not only our site, but the search engines that link to it, and individual users’ bookmarks. (Update YOUR BOOKMARKS!)

More Coming Soon…. And quicker!

We expect the other cities to be completed by first week of March!

Watch for the pace of change to accelerate after that time…. Please stay tuned!

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