Spring cleaning: comprehensive post-by-post upgrades.

As the end of April approaches, it’s time I at least provide an update of what’s been keeping me busy–and what has precluded me from getting my normal minimal goal of five analytical blog posts for this past month. It’s most definitely spring cleaning.

As some of my most loyal readers my remember, I started this blog waaaay back using Google’s Blogger feature (Blogspot). Back in 2009, Blogger was a perfectly common tool for keeping active blogs, and it was (and still is) much more intuitive. But I started getting criticism by around 2012-13 that my blog was starting to look stale in appearance and lacked a lot of core features common to most cutting-edge blogs. It turned out that Google’s Blogger application was DOA: it still existed and worked well enough, but Google had decided not to direct its energies to regular updates. As a result, any blog that used (or still uses) Blogspot was basically stuck in 2006. In late 2013, I looked into migrating my blog to WordPress, an application and tool that has specialized in blogs, offering new features and upgrades on a regular basis. Unfortunately, WordPress isn’t as intuitive and requires much more knowledge of HTML than Blogger (which requires none). My HTML knowledge isn’t non-existent but it’s pretty elementary, and I could easily damage my blog’s operability if I try to experiment with the script on my own.

So I hired a web designer who helped migrate American Dirt not just to WordPress but also to its own domain–the one I’m still using now. In August 2014, I parted ways with Blogspot and have used this domain (and WordPress as the host) ever since, all while using the skills a talented and committed web design operation called Creative Concierge to implement all those essential WordPress updates and the nifty features now available, like word clouds and even the occasional video clip. (My old Blogspot version of American Dirt is still visible using the Blogspot hyperlink above; it’s functional but hasn’t been updated in eight years, and has now been largely overtaken by spam bots. But it also shows how old-fashioned the Google Blogger/Blogspot interface looks these days.)

The change has been great! And while all the old articles from the Blogspot days (from 2009 to August 2014) have migrated over, many of them didn’t quite make a smooth transition. So, in my spare time, in between publishing new articles, my spring cleaning has involved bringing all those old articles completely in line with the WordPress dirtamericana.com site. More specifically, here’s what the spring cleaning has entailed:

  • Thumbnails for every article. Each article gets an associated photo, just like the ones published after August 2014. This will show up in the “Search” feature, or just scrolling through the full record of historic articles from the early years.
  • Eliminating references to Blogspot. American Dirt has always had plenty of internal references, where a new article cites a previous one. But those old articles often still cited their equivalent in Blogspot. As the spring cleaning continues, I’ve been eliminating this. Once the clean is complete, all articles will link internally to dirtamericana.com rather than dirtamericana.blogspot.com.
  • Correcting spacing issues. Sometimes the spacing between paragraphs, between graphics and text, or even between two words has been faulty. I’ve fixed this wherever possible.
  • Improving Yoast SEO search features. I had my web designer install Yoast SEO back in 2015 or thereabouts, which is a handy scripting tool that helped galvanize articles between so that they appear higher ranking on search engines like Google, DuckDuckGo, or even Yandex. This means my articles, graphics, and meta descriptions all get tied to important keywords (the most relevant word or phrase within each article), boosting their visibility on the Interwebs.
  • Using Cornerstone Content when applicable. If I feature an article of a certain minimal length of which I am particularly proud, I can nominate it for Cornerstone Content, which means it will rank the highest in search engine yields. I use it sparingly (some articles are too short), but it will allow my “greatest hits” to remain relevant for months if not years. And that’s the beauty of American Dirt–these articles are timely and timeless. They don’t become obsolete after a week, and I still attract interest and comments on articles I wrote years ago.

Unfortunately, even among this spring cleaning, time consuming though it is, there are a few things I cannot do: I can’t upgrade every external link (many are dead links and simply have no replacements in 2022); I can’t crate unique keywords for every single article; I can’t make my photos too huge or it will slow processing speeds and detract people from really digging through my website.

But I have completely upgraded all blog articles from the start (June 2009) up to April 2011, and I’m continuing to work on those articles up until 2014, at which point the entire dirtamericana.com portfolio will be up to snuff. And, to keep things interesting, I intend to start pulling out some much older photos to feature for new articles now and then. As a general rule, my pics are less than three years old. But I have a treasure trove that predates 2019, and even if the imagery they feature is outdated, the issues and analysis that they prompt often remains as relevant as if I took the photos yesterday.

More exciting things are coming! And while it will probably be summer (or even fall) before the spring cleaning is finished, it’ll be another announcement and cause for celebration. Until then, keep the comments coming!

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5 thoughts on “Spring cleaning: comprehensive post-by-post upgrades.

  1. Jerry

    Most people have absolutely no idea what goes into creating and maintaining a website. They think it can’t be much harder than Microsoft Word! As you’ve experienced, once you get accustomed to a particular design tool, it either doesn’t keep up with your need for change or it dies completely, forcing you to find another tool. You know that your loyal followers enjoy every post. Your dedication is obvious! Keep up the good work, Eric.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Thanks for the kind words! It’s definitely not as straightforward as a Word document. Even the act of curating and installing the photos is a task unto itself. And while WordPress doesn’t adhere to a rigid template the way Blogger did (still does, for the few who still use it), it creates many more opportunities for something to go wrong. I’ll keep plodding through updates to all the old posts; every post takes between 5 and 25 minutes to repair.

      Reply
  2. Jeffrey Jakucyk

    On my own website I’ve found linking to the Wayback Machine (archive.org) a good solution for dead websites. It obviously can’t handle everything, but it’s worth a try.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Yeah, I learned about Wayback and Archive.today (the site that I prefer) many years ago, but I only learned a few years ago how simple it is to archive something all on one’s own. I definitely use it now, especially for big-time mainstream media sources. I don’t always bother with the smaller stuff, since it can be time consuming. And anything older than 5 years is likely to have plenty of broken links that, at this point in time, can’t be restored without even more time investment…something I’m just not willing to do, since that starts to creep into “new research” territory, and the point is that these articles should stand as testaments to what seemed like viable analysis at the time. Something I wrote in 2013 is quite likely to be contradicted by events in 2023 (or already happened in 2019), but in that case, I’ll go and write a new article, rather than sweeping an old, obsolete analysis under the rug.

      But Wayback and Archive.today are fantastic at helping to keep the Internet honest…or at least as honest as the humans that operate it can be (which isn’t very).

      Reply

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