Whitehouse.gov LGBT page deleted - How NOT to do a website redesign

Whitehouse.gov page deleted

Last updated: 21 January 2017 (scroll down for the update)

Today, when Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of America, it was not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but from one website to another and the transfer of www.whitehouse.gov was completed in a monumentally terrible way!

When you complete a website redesign, it’s normal that you review what content’s needed and what content you can delete.  Apparently the Trump administration decided that it could delete everything and start again.

A search on Google for site:whitehouse.gov (without a space) lists all the pages Google have indexed for this website.  See www.google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=site:whitehouse.gov for the results.  At the time of writing on 20 January 2017, other than the home page, every page listed on the first result with Google results in a ‘Not found’ error message.  This includes some very important pages like the climate change page and the LGBT page.  Visit the LGBT page now and you see the following:

Whitehouse.gov LGBT page disappeared

That’s an awful lot of white space!

Given that the pages have just vanished and there's no redirect and no obvious message saying anything else, the media are having a field day with headlines like:

The official White House website has dropped any mention of climate change (Tech Crunch)

And

Activists Alarmed by Missing LGBT Rights Page on WhiteHouse.gov (Advocate)


Obviously the media are only referring to one or two specific pages, whereas the truth is that 100’s of pages have been deleted.  This is also part of the standard process when a new political party gets into power and exactly the same thing happened eight years ago when the Obama administration deleted the Bush website and replaced it with their own.

Screenshot of the whitehouse.gov website on 20 January 2009

President Bush website showing environmental page that was deleted

Screenshot of the whitehouse.gov website on 22 January 2009 (2 days later)

Many pages were deleted at this point too, including the 'Environment' page.

President Obama website redesign

 

Given that this blog is about web design and SEO, rather than politics, I’ll leave other sites to ruminate on the political implications of this, other than saying that while 2017 may be the year that policy changes are announced by Twitter, it's not the year that they're announced by a website redesign.

I’ve seen this happen several time when companies complete a website redesign (albeit without the dramatic headlines) and it’s worth exploring how to avoid this kind of error if you’re considering a redesign yourself!

Number 8 in our 9 step Web Redesign Process Checklist discusses how to avoid this kind of error – Implement a 301 redirect.

To summarise, if you have a business website, when doing a redesign:

  1. Make sure you keep all the important pages, like your environmental policy and LGBT page (if you’re looking after a government website - Kind of obvious this one, but apparently even Presidents can overlook it!)
  2. Create a 404 error page so that visitors to the site still see your menu, logo, etc. and have a way to navigate to the rest of the website easily.  See 24 cool examples of 404 error pages for some inspiration on what to put.  This saves visitors finding a ‘missing page’, like on whitehouse.gov.
  3. If you delete outdated pages, 301 redirect them or forward them to a newer, or other relevant page on the site.  From an SEO perspective, this also keeps the benefit of the links going to the deleted page, whereas if you just delete the page without a redirect, you will also plummet in the search results.

Update

Since the original post, there's now a 404 error page on whitehouse.gov, which is a big improvement over blank space, however the press and social media have already had their say!  The new 404 page also includes a link to https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/ which is where the old content has been moved.

Whitehouse website 404 error message

One thing I'm interested in is how the site performs from an SEO perspective over the next few weeks given the huge number of 404 errors.  I'll update this page with how it performs in the search results as a result of the new website launch and let you know!