SEO Burn Notice: When You’re a Blogger, A Scorched Earth Policy Is a Bad Idea

Blogger Steve Rubel recently blew away his blog in what he called his “Scorched Earth Policy” on the notion that moving to Tumblr would be better and he didn’t want to “confuse Google.” (Did he talk to an search engine optimizer first?) During Memorial Day weekend, he deleted every post, every piece of written text – all gone, all redirected to Tumblr.

In his own words:

“Perhaps it’s symbolic, but that’s exactly the approach I took to my digital presence this past Memorial Day weekend. I started a fresh new site on the future of media over on Tumblr. Then I promptly turned around and slashed both my TypePad-powered blog, which I ran from 2004 to 2009, and my Posterous blog, which I started with some fanfare back in 2009. With just two clicks of a mouse I rid the web of literally thousands of blog posts, some of which I am proud of – others less so – and redirected the URLs to the new site.”

While there are reasons to sometimes blow away a website (e.g., it got burned in the search engines, you took over a blog with irrelevant content), there are many more reasons to not approach a major blog change with a “Scorched Earth Policy” – no matter how much using a flamethrower on your blog site may appeal to you!

Let’s look at the ramifications of Rubel’s “scorch it” decision, and SEO takeaways for bloggers.

With Just Two Clicks of a Mouse…

“With just two clicks of a mouse” Steve took out “thousands of blog posts,” meaning he wiped out the content. Flamethrower on, and whoosh, blog content gone, erased forever.

Well, from the web at least, he (hopefully) kept a copy somewhere, but wow, thousands of pages of content, content that Google had stored, valued, people had linked to, reposted, bookmarked, permalinked, stumbled upon, well you get the idea right? He blew away not just the content, but the links that told Google this content was valuable and the comments that users made, making the content even more important to Google than it was when it was posted.

But He Redirected the URLs, Right?

Sure, he says he redirected the URLs, but he didn’t redirect the old URLs to the new stored version of the content – most likely just the homepage of his blog (he does not state, but given that the content is gone, this is the likely scenario). All the value, authority, and link value given to that content is diminished, depleted, or simply gone.

So what does this do to his site? What does this mean for his blog?

Well it means that the value that was built into all the previous content likely never found its way to the new site, that users who bookmarked, permalinked, or otherwise linked to Rubel’s content will no longer find it and most importantly, Google will have devalued or eliminated the links to that content meaning Rubel lost up to five years of links and all that authority and value, by following his scorched earth policy.

In turn, he also lost all the searches that people would use to find that content. So if someone only knew to find his content by looking for keywords X, Y, and Z, the scorched earth policy means they will no longer find that content or that site using that method.

But, as Rubel stated, he wasn’t worried about users locating his past content.

Tumblr’s SEO Issues

Rubel’s argument is that Tumblr is the next thing in blog platforms and might supersede a main platform such as Posterous or WordPress, so it’s OK that these links and content are lost. The beauty of Tumblr will make it all OK.

Well, as a platform, Tumblr, is fraught with known search engine optimization (SEO) issues, including:

  • A lack of an .htaccess file or URL rewrite capability (can only affect the end slug).
  • Inability to write separate alt tags for images (inherent in the program).
  • Content isn’t hosted on your server, but on Tumblr, so no root file access & more.
  • Inability to write homepage blog summaries, all content is indexed on the homepage and subpages.
  • Inability to write proper descriptions, Tumblr or Google takes those from the page.
  • Reblogging creates duplicate content.

But let’s say you aren’t worried about those pesky SEO issues. After all, Tumblr has about 65 million users a month globally and 27 million in the U.S., of which about 45 percent are regular users and Tumblr is a sharing platform? Will that sharing be enough to make the difference up?

(Note: For comparison sake, WordPress has 165 million global users and 47 million U.S. monthly users)

WordPress Traffic

This is what Steve tells us about Tumblr:

“Tumblr is a truly unique hybrid. It sits squarely in the center of the Media Cloverleaf. It’s highly social, with an incredibly engaged community and connective tissue to the aforementioned hubs.”

Does this pan out? On Rubel’s homepage the most highly interacted blog post has 44 “notes” (interactions) they look like this:

Steve Rubel Tumblr

Most of his posts have 0 comments, and less than 10 “notes.” If you’re a blogger who values comments, Rubel’s blog would suggest Tumblr isn’t a site that invites that interaction.

While this screenshot shows a few reblogged posts (where the users reposts the blog –duplicate content anyone?) most of the 44 “notes” are likes and hold little hope for site traffic or future user engagement.

Site Value

With a lack of SEO value and a seemingly low number of interactions, how does this translate to site value?

Because the site isn’t competing well in its overall, let’s call it SEO “score,” and the traffic it gets from the “highly engaged” Tumblr audience is seemingly low (Rubel has 59,000 Twitter followers, so it would seem he should have a higher engagement than most, yet the highest engagement level on the current homepage is 44 notes), what does this do to his site traffic?

Site Traffic

Quantcast data (and the same with Compete) shows that there isn’t enough site traffic to register site visits. Now this doesn’t mean there are no site visits, but that the site traffic is too low to measure. Unfortunately, no other blogs of his have any site traffic that is measurable except one, and that is at less than 30 visits a month, so being unable to measure traffic tells us much.

Steverubelme Quantcast Visits

Using Rubel as an example, another site (I can’t mention the name) followed this same policy. That site has lost 78 percent of their traffic in two months, so this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident.

Tumblr, while a sharing site, doesn’t seem to have an active engagement of sharers and commenters, but more of likers like Facebook, which doesn’t drive traffic to the site like a WordPress site that can be properly SEOd. However, this is preliminary and sites such as humor, where the affinity is much higher, might be enjoying a better experience.

Tumblr’s Blog Value

It isn’t that Tumblr has no value. It can be used to quickly share content when SEO value and traffic is less important, for a site that has limited life expectancy, or as a secondary platform it can be quite useful.

However, as a replacement for a site that has hundreds or thousands of pages of content, and that has an established authority and value with the search engines, it simply falls short as a primary platform and should possibly only be considered for secondary platforms or for sites with such well known brands that rankings and placement in the search engines is relatively unimportant.

10 Lessons We Can Learn From This

Rubel shows us how not to start a new blog for your website. Here are 10 quick things to keep in mind when you’re starting a new blog, especially when you want to point that flamethrower at everything that came before.

  1. Choose a proper platform and make sure it is search engine friendly. This means you can do things like access the root folder, fully rewrite your URLs, write proper titles/descriptions and alt tags, as well as do full 301 redirects and have access to an htaccess or similar file. Note: When using 301 redirects on a new site, you will see a “dip” in your rankings while Google tries to reindex the new locations. This is normal and natural and usually the rankings will be regained over a few months.
  2. If you want to eliminate your old content, resist the urge to blow it away. Create an /archive/ folder on your new site and move the content there – this creates an easy redirect, a place where most people will never go to look and an easy way to retain your site value and links authority. Content is still king, especially after the Panda update!
  3. When you move your content, make sure you have 301 redirected your content from the old page to the new /archive/ page. Since you only added the /archive/ path to the URL string it will be easy to script the 301s and shouldn’t take very long to do.
  4. Make sure your homepage allows summaries. Create those, and then link to your full post, so you aren’t duplicating your own content on the site.
  5. Make sure to add canonical URLs to the new site, so as to establish this is where the content is originating.
  6. Launch your new site with at least 20-25 pages of new content. This is a somewhat arbitrary number, but will give you enough new content to get you started on the right foot.
  7. Make sure your archive link is available from the homepage, so Google can find it, but if hiding that content is your goal, make it less obvious visually. Then it won’t be seen easily by users.
  8. Make sure you have proper social media buttons – for example, you need a retweet button as much or more than a follow us button for Twitter. The retweet button gives you SEO value, the follow button doesn’t (in a direct way).
  9. Put Tumblr on a subdomain, so that you can keep the content separate. For example, (though try to be more creative than using the word Tumblr).
  10. Then to use Tumblr from a blog such as WordPress, simply add in the Tumblr plugin, then you can manage all content from one platform.

Though using flamethrowers can be fun, it’s usually a dangerous activity! If you follow these simple steps you are well on your way to keeping your old site value, while making a new start with new content on your new (or even old) blog. Follow Steve Rubel though and you just might wind up playing the rube!

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