New website? You may have broken Google links

After you rebuild your website, you may be upset to find that Google has old links to your website, which then may work.
If you changed website providers, this can be especially troubling as people will complain that your links are broken (when they are not). 
The sad reality is that many people type web addresses into Google search bars (bad) instead of using the address bar of their browser. 
This means that they are depending Google to take them to every single website that they visit. Obviously this is not good.
As a website owner/manager, you must find a way to correct the bad URLs that exist in Google that point to your old website's content.  
In this article, I will explain the steps you need to do to correct this.

Some website URLs should die. Here is your chance to correct them.

If your website was particularly old when you upgraded it, it is possible that the URLs were not very search engine friendly to begin with. 

For example, a link to an FAQ area of an older website might look like this: 

http://www.somecity.com/faq.aspx?faqtopicid=213&viewtopics=true

That is called a "dynamic URL", and it is not very friendly to both visitors or search engines. A better URL structure would be: 

https://www.somecity.com/faq/

This is a search engine friendly URL. It is easy to simply add "/FAQ" to the end of a domain to get to the FAQ application. Perfect. 
Our CMS and platform (www.evo.cloud) supports friendly URLs for ALL of your website content.
So, if you are a customer of EvoGov, you should take advantage of this and make sure that all of your applications, pages, department areas, etc. have friendly, unique URLs.  
If your old website had a bunch of these ugly URLs, this article will explain how to tell Google to replace them all anyhow with a newer, better URL for each app and page. 

Let's get started doing that.

Prerequisites:

  • You should have access to your DNS settings, or to the files in your website.
  • Remember that your domain name registration and your DNS server settings are not the same thing. 
  • If you are non-technical or if we are managing your DNS for you, please contact us for help in getting your site verified with Google.

Step 1. Setup a Google account for your city, district, or organization

Google offers a number of free services that are invaluable for website owners.
To take advantage of these tools, however, you need to have a Google account. 
A GMail account will do, but you should not use your personal GMail account. 
For that reason, it is best to make a new, generic GMail account for your organization that is not tied to any one person.
This is so that you don't have to worry if there is staffing turnover in the future. 
Setup your new GMail account with a name that matches your organization, like so: yourorganizationname@gmail.com
Share the login information to that account with several people in management, so that they can all have access to it. 

Step 2. Setup Google Webmaster Tools

Even if you are not a webmaster, someone at your organization should have a Google Webmaster Tools account.
It is free, and it gives you tools to check on your website's health, and to see how your site appears to the Googlebot.

Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/ and sign in using your new Gmail account from Step 1. 

The Google Webmaster Tools Page: https://www.google.com/webmasters/
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Click ADD PROPERTY and add your website address. 

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At this point, Google Needs to verify that you own your website. 
It will offer you one of several methods to verify that you own the website;

  • you can upload an html file to the root of your website, that they provide on the next screen. 
  • you can add a META tag to home page of your website.
  • you can add a DNS entry (a TXT entry) to your DNS. 

If you aren't very technical, then you may need help on any of these three methods. 
In my experience, the easiest thing to do is to create the DNS entry.
If you chose to add a DNS entry, Google asks who you DNS provider is. 
Scroll to the bottom and chose "other", then copy the entry that they provide.
Google will give you a code, that looks like this one:

google-site-verification=OIabKcXIeZ7knSNyBUvJTSePjZbTkGFczrBDxS4gcDE

Don't use that one that I am showing above, as they are all random and made on the fly for each new domain account. 
To use the DNS entry, you log into your DNS provider (sometimes this is who you get your domain name registration from), and add a TXT entry to your DNS. 
If you are a customer of EvoGov, and we manage your DNS, then we can do this for you. 
After you add the DNS entry, you can click the VERIFY red button on your Google Webmaster Page.
This makes Google go out, lookup your DNS, and see if they codes match. If they match, then they can see that you indeed own the website. 
You should see a success message that looks like this: 

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Now you can get Google to Index your site.

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Step 3. Setup Your Sitemap.xml File in Google Webmaster Tools

Most modern Content Management Systems (CMSs) include a way to generate a special file that is named "sitemap.xml".
It should be located in the root of your website (but does not have to be), so can check to see if you have this file by adding /sitemap.xml to the end of your site's address. 
The sitemap.xml file is text file in XML format that includes links to all pages and URLs of applications of your website. 
It serves as a roadmap of your website for Google and other search engines to follow. 
Usually, search engines will look for this file, and if it exists, the bot that is indexing your website will use it instead of trying to follow all of the links in your website manually to determine your site's structure and links. 
Google webmaster tools gives you a mechanism to register, test, and re-index your site's Sitemap.xml file. 
This is an invaluable tool to make sure that Google knows where this file is located, and how to get to it. 
For VERY large websites, there can be 20 or so sitemap files, with the root sitemap.xml file serving as a directory to the other files. 
Typically that is for ecommerce websites that have tens of thousands of links to index, so it is out of the scope of this discussion. 

Setting up your Sitemap.XML file in Google Webmaster Tools
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Entering the sitemap.xml address is pretty self explanatory once you are on that page. 
From there, you can check on its health and make sure that Google can see it.


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