Biden and Harris have cleaned house at the White House

  • January 26, 2021
  • Steven van Vessum

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:

Screenshot of ContentKing Alert Pages Changed Type for Whitehouse.gov

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:

Screenshot from ContentKing's Page Changes visualisation

We dug in further, while documenting what we came across as we went down this rabbit hole.

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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.
  • /remarks/ and /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:

  • /briefing-statements//briefing-room/
  • /presidential-actions//briefing-room/presidential-actions/
  • /remarks//briefing-room/speeches-remarks/
  • /articles//briefing-room/

Consolidation

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 /briefing-room/ section.

Old sections such as /briefings-statements/, /1600daily/, /articles/ all redirect to the newly created /briefing-room/ section.

The /briefing-room/ has the following sub-sections:

  • Legislation — /briefing-room/legislation/
  • Presidential Actions — /briefing-room/presidential-actions/
  • Press Briefings — /briefing-room/press-briefings/
  • Speeches and Remarks — /briefing-room/speeches-remarks/
  • Statements and Releases — /briefing-room/statements-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 /about-the-white-house/the-grounds/camp-david/.

Less is more

The entire “issues” section, listing 15 different issue-related topics, has been removed and now redirects to /priorities/.

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 /administration/.

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 /administration/cabinet/.

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 /information-and-regulatory-affairs/.

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:

And the “Miscellaneous” pages below were removed too:

Noteworthy content was added

The new site launch added new content too. And some of it is especially noteworthy.

Spanish content

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 Spanish homepage (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 accessibility statement (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.
    Screenshot of White House homepage COVID-19 link
  • The White House’s logo on the 404 page isn’t linked to the homepage.
    Screenshot of White House website's 404 page

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” :)

If someone on the team does see this, reach out and we’ll provide a free ContentKing account. It’s non-partisan! We offered the same to the previous administration.

The 404 page

With so much content that’s been removed, and millions of people hitting the 404 page, the link to the archived Presidential White House Websites (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,” according to CNBC (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.

Some examples:

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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:

Implement redirects

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 Legal (opens in a new tab) — most documents that are linked there return 404 errors.

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 http://whitehouse.gov/contact:

Screenshot of link that redirects

XML Sitemap

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.

Additionally, we’d disable the author pages if they aren’t used — the “White House” author page returns a 404 right now (opens in a new tab). This will disable the author XML sitemap (opens in a new tab) too.

The following XML sitemaps are listed in the XML Sitemap index (opens in a new tab) but don’t list any pages. Therefore, it makes sense to just remove them:

  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_nec-sitemap.xml
  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_iga-sitemap.xml
  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_ope-sitemap.xml
  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_dpc-sitemap.xml
  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_ondcp-sitemap.xml
  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_nsc-sitemap.xml
  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_ceq-sitemap.xml
  • https://www.whitehouse.gov/eop_cea-sitemap.xml

Wrapping up

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.

Curious what timeline you’ll see for your site? Set up a free trial account in less than 20 seconds and see for yourself. No installation needed, no commitment required.

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Steven is ContentKing’s VP of Community. This means he’s involved in everything community and content marketing related. Right where he wants to be. He gets a huge kick out of letting websites rank and loves to talk SEO, content marketing and growth.

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