Biden and Harris have cleaned house at the White House
On January 20th 2021, President Biden was inaugurated. And soon after he and Vice-President Kamala Harris took their oath of office, they got to work. One of the first things they did was to launch the new Whitehouse.gov website.
We’re calling it a “new website,” because that’s what it is: while still powered by WordPress, it’s vastly different from the old one. The new administration has seriously cleaned house — removing thousands of pages — and they’ve adopted the motto of “less is more”.
We also detected some interesting last-minute tweaks made by the Trump administration whilst beating their retreat from office (more on that further down).
We’ll cover the most noteworthy changes since last week, as well as what changes we’re seeing as we’re typing this up.
Grab a cup of covfefe, and dig in!
Alerts indicating a massive shift in URL types
First of all: how did we end up here?
Our real-time monitoring platform sends alerts in cases of high-impact changes and issues. It’s an “early warning system for SEO” so to speak. We’ve been monitoring the White House website for science, and on January 20th, we received an alert:
We knew of course that the inauguration would be taking place that day, but we still hadn’t anticipated a seismic shift like this.
We started digging in, and soon found out that thousands of pages had been removed:
We dug in further, while documenting what we came across as we went down this rabbit hole.
No more worrying about unexpected changes — let go of the stress.
The Biden-Harris administration began with a clean slate
The number of pages on whitehouse.gov literally went from 11,500 unique pages to around 250. The new administration started with a clean slate, and only retained a portion of the “legacy” content about past administrations and The White House.
To give you an idea of the state of the website on January 19th:
/briefings-statements/contained 7,500 pages.
/presidential-actions/contained 2,000 pages.
/news/contained 1,000 paginated pages.
/articles/contained 700 pages.
All the pages within these subfolders were removed and not redirected; only the parent URLs were redirected.
For example, the following 301 redirects were implemented:
The new website’s information architecture is more hierarchical and organized.
For example, there’s one single place where you’ll find news — in the
Old sections such as
/articles/ all redirect to the newly created
/briefing-room/ has the following sub-sections:
- Legislation —
- Presidential Actions —
- Press Briefings —
- Speeches and Remarks —
- Statements and Releases —
A new sub-folder of “About the White House” called “The Grounds” was introduced. Its URL is
/about-the-white-house/the-grounds/. It contains all sorts of content about the buildings and facilities of the White House.
For example, the Air Force One page now lives there:
/about-the-white-house/the-grounds/air-force-one/ while the Camp David page now lives on
Less is more
The entire “issues” section, listing 15 different issue-related topics, has been removed and now redirects to
While a handful of issues are described on the “Priorities” page, there’s just one sub-page: “COVID-19”.
A future-proof URL structure
Some parts of the old URL structure were hard to work with for obvious reasons.
Take for example
/the-trump-administration/. This URL could no longer be used as soon as the new administration took office. It now redirects to
This new URL can be re-used by future administrations. And please note that the
the- part has been left out — a good thing, because both visitors and search engines prefer shorter URLs over longer ones.
The page about “The Cabinet”, which previously lived on
/the-trump-administration/the-cabinet/ now redirects to
The new URL structure is not perfect though
The new URL structure does make some URLs unnecessarily long-winded. That’s a missed opportunity — the new administration started with a blank slate, but it made some mistakes along the way.
Here are some examples:
- The URL for the “About” subfolder is
/about-the-white-house/, but in my opinion just /about/ would have sufficed. We’re on The White House website after all.
/omb/information-regulatory-affairs/federal-collection-information/was fine, but its new version lives on
/omb/information-and-regulatory-affairs/federal-collection-information/. The only change here is that
/information-regulatory-affairs/was changed to
Noteworthy content was removed
On top of the removed content we already covered in section “The Biden-Harris administration started with a clean slate”, here are other noteworthy pages and sections that were removed:
/people/subfolder — containing 30 biographies, ranging from President Trump ( (opens in a new tab)) to Betsy DeVos.
- Article “Operation Warp Speed Delivers Best Early Vaccination Rate of the G20”, published on January 15th ( (opens in a new tab)).
- “Trump Administration Accomplishments”, only just updated on January 15th ( (opens in a new tab)).
- Medals of Freedom that were awarded by President Trump ( (opens in a new tab)).
- First Lady Melania Trump’s “Be Best” Initiative ( (opens in a new tab)).
And the “Miscellaneous” pages below were removed too:
- The “Turkey Pardoning” page, which had just been updated on January 16th ( (opens in a new tab)).
- Christmas Season at the White House, also only just updated on January 16th ( (opens in a new tab)).
- The White House Easter Egg Roll ( (opens in a new tab)).
Noteworthy content was added
The new site launch added new content too. And some of it is especially noteworthy.
It’s fascinating that the new administration published 41 new pages in Spanish. In the top right corner, there’s a link to the Spanish version of the site — “La Casa Blanca”.
For example, President Biden’s page is marked up with the following hreflang:
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US" href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-biden/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-MX" href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/es/administracion/presidente-biden/">
Interestingly, the hreflang value for the Spanish content —
es-MX — is targeting Spanish speakers within Mexico. Not Spanish speakers all across the globe, or within the US (which the value
es-US could have been used for).
The (opens in a new tab) doesn’t contain any hreflang markup though, which to us seems like a bug, as it’s a localized version of the regular homepage.
More focus on accessibility
Not only does the new website come with “dark mode” and a setting to increase the font size, the new website also comes with an (opens in a new tab) with the aspiration that “…all functionality and all content is accessible to all Americans”.
While the idea is good, the Accessibility Statement page itself — and other pages — leave much to be desired.
To name a few things:
- We would recommend making the phone numbers on the Accessibility Statement page clickable, so you can easily call while on mobile.
- The link target to jump to the COVID-19 page on the homepage is tiny, compared to the massive page section dedicated to leading people to that page.
- The White House’s logo on the 404 page isn’t linked to the homepage.
We know it’s still the early days, and there’s a ton of other work cut out for the Biden-Harris administration and their web team.
We’re just hoping for a small miracle: that someone at the web team sees this article and thinks, “Oh yeah, that’s useful” :)
The 404 page
With so much content that’s been removed, and millions of people hitting the 404 page, the link to the (opens in a new tab) is useful indeed.
If we could suggest one more improvement there, we’d include the direct link to the archived version of the page you hit a 404 page for.
For example, if you were looking up the “Turkey Pardoning” page, you’d appreciate a direct link to the archived version of that page, instead of the overview of past Presidential White House websites.
Hidden recruitment message in page’s source
Invisible on pages itself, but clearly shown in any page’s source code, is a recruitment message:
<!-- If you're reading this, we need your help building back better. https://usds.gov/ -->
And it’s paying off, as The Digital Service reports “The U.S. Digital Service is excited to report that we’ve recently received a large number of applications,” (opens in a new tab).
That’s a nice touch :)
Last-minute tweaks made by Trump administration
It wasn’t just the “Turkey Pardoning” and “Christmas Season” pages that were tweaked last-minute. A lot more changes were made just before the Trump administration left office… even on Inauguration Day itself.
- “Secretary Carson: ‘Unlocking America’s Full Potential’“ — compare (opens in a new tab)to the one from (opens in a new tab). You see the double quotes in the page’s heading have been changed to single quotes.
- Mike Pence’s profile page — compare (opens in a new tab) to the one from (opens in a new tab). You can see the copy has been edited.
- Melania Trump’s profile page — compare (opens in a new tab) with the one from (opens in a new tab) in the Wayback Machine. You can see the copy has been edited here too.
- Briefings & Statements — On January 16th, the title was changed from
Briefing Statements | The White Houseto
Briefings & Statements | The White House.
- Economy & Jobs issue page — On January 20th (Inauguration Day), the hero image — together with the Open Graph and Twitter Card Images — was updated from (opens in a new tab) to (opens in a new tab). Compare (opens in a new tab) with (opens in a new tab).
- National Security & Defense issue page — On January 16, the hero image — together with the Open Graph and Twitter Card images — was updated from (opens in a new tab) to (opens in a new tab). Compare (opens in a new tab) with (opens in a new tab).
Gain insight in what changes were made, and when!
All these edits were in vain though, because this content has been pruned. All that’s left of it can be seen in the archives.
Some next steps for better SEO performance
As with any website migration, there is always a huge list of things to fix post-launch. This migration is no different. Here are the most important things for them to work on right now in my opinion:
Whitehouse.gov is one of the most authoritative domains in the world, so you’d think they wouldn’t need the authority that’s going down the drain due to all the linked content that’s been removed.
But what if they wanted to rank quickly with new content, and they know they have several well linked, highly related articles that were removed?
We would definitely implement 301-redirects to the newly published content.
We wouldn’t implement blanket 301 redirects, because that would lead to soft 404 issues but we’d do content inventory on the content that’s been removed and seek out highly-relevant counterparts on the new website.
The site contains a lot of broken links — some on very important pages. Take for example (opens in a new tab) — most documents that are linked there return 404 errors.
Links to redirecting pages
There’s a lot of incorrect links embedded in body content where the trailing slash (the last slash of a URL) is missing. The site automatically redirects clients to the version with a trailing slash, but it’s best to just directly link to the correct URL. This reduces the page load time.
For example, on the Legal page, there is a link to the Contact page, but instead of linking to
https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/, they’re linking to
https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact, with the strange anchor text
We recommend adding an XML sitemap that contains the Spanish content. If it’s really important, this content should be listed in an XML sitemap too. And that XML sitemap should be submitted to Google Search Console.
The following XML sitemaps are listed in the (opens in a new tab) but don’t list any pages. Therefore, it makes sense to just remove them:
The White House website has just seen a massive makeover. We were able to compile a timeline listing all of the events thanks to ContentKing’s monitoring technology. This kind of power is why many companies, including FedEx, GroupM, Atlassian, Netflix, and Gartner, use our platform as a watchdog for their sites, keeping track of every change.
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