Q and A: What files do I need access to when optimizing a site?

QuestionHi Kalena,

No question is a stupid question, right? So please don’t put me on the Dumbass of the Week!

I’m getting ready to optimize a website for someone. I know I would need their files for each page to add title tags and meta description tags, etc, but I don’t know what files I need to ask them for as they are completely unaware of how their website was created. If I wanted to add alt image tags and link title attributes and add keywords and more body text, then wouldn’t those be in separate files? I guess what I am asking, is when you work for a client, how do you get access to all of this stuff to change things? Wouldn’t I need ftp access to his host server too?

I have only worked with WordPress and of course it has its nice little interface where you can edit things right there. But when I go to my host server, I can’t even find the files myself if I wanted to change them there instead of in WordPress. I see my website files, but I guess just not the ones I am looking for to change all those things mentioned above.

So if this client doesn’t have any user friendly interface to work with, I would need to work strictly with the files off his hosting server, right? I just don’t know what to ask for. Please tell me how you handle this? Oh, and if it helps, here is the website: [URL removed]

Thanks again for you time!

Hi Amanda

To optimize a web site successfully, you really need access to the site’s HTML code for each page. Sometimes you can grab this straight off their web server. For example, most home pages are stored as index.htm or index.php or index.xhtml or whatever other file extension based on the programming language that the site was built in.

But sometimes client sites are built using a CMS or Content Management System, meaning they login to a web page and edit their page content in a WYSIWYG page editor similar to how you edit a WordPress blog. This means they never access the actual HTML code. This is more tricky because CMS sites are notorious for being difficult to SEO as they don’t usually allow access to the raw HTML code or the ability to edit Title and META tags for each page.

But in some cases, the job is even more tricky. Some sites are free-hosted or piggy-backed onto other sites. And this is the case with the site you’ve sent me a link to. If you look at the source code for the page, there are 2 BIG problems:

1) It’s a frames-based site. This is ancient technology and neither humans or search engines like frames-sites, so they are very difficult to SEO.

2) All the content for the site is actually sitting on another URL and is just being pulled from this location to display on your client’s URL. This means that your client’s domain is virtually invisible to search engines and has no content to speak of. No wonder it’s not performing in search engines and they are seeking help! A search engine indexing that domain will simply find the link to the main site and all link popularity is attributed to that site rather than the sub-site which belongs to your client.

Here’s what I recommend you do: Encourage the client to ditch their piggy-backed site and create them a new site from scratch using WordPress or another WYSIWYG site builder you are comfortable with. I assume they own the domain you sent me? If so, I recommend you install WordPress on their server and build them a new site, optimizing it as you go. Provided you know how to optimize a WordPress site, you should help this client perform very well compared to where they sit now. There are a lot of resources for how to optimize a WordPress site (email me if you want a list) and you can install the SEO related plug-ins that allow you to optimize the Title and META tags for each post and page on the site.

Once you get the WordPress template installed you can easily grab the HTML files from the client’s server if you want to edit the code directly. But most of the optimizing on WordPress occurs in the post edit pages themselves.

Hope this helps!

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