Every business owner wants visitors to easily find his or her website. For some, the success of the business depends on it. But, because search engines don’t divulge their ranking algorithms, there isn’t a way to pinpoint exactly what one needs to do to get a website to rank well organically. This leads to many misconceptions to flood the internet, confusing business owners and novice web developers alike. However, not having a precise checklist doesn’t mean that there aren’t fundamental things that one should do to position a website to rank higher than one of its competitors.
A big change is coming to how Google ranks websites. Historically, Google has ranked websites based on the content in a visitor’s desktop experience; but, soon, Google will begin to index and rank sites based on the mobile experience instead. If you have a responsive website, you don’t have much cause to worry unless you added CSS rules to hide large portions of content. However, for those who use subdomains with stripped down content as their mobile websites, once Google switches to a mobile-first index, your websites are going to take a hit in the rankings. To combat this, switch to a website with a responsive design as quickly as possible. WordPress and other content management systems are the best places to start.
Poor and Missing SEO Tags
Saying that a page’s title, description and robots meta tags are some of the most important things for it to rank well would be an understatement. And, just making sure that they aren’t empty doesn’t mean that they are effective. In the “medieval days” of SEO, developers would notoriously load up titles and descriptions with keywords. But, as we discussed in a previous article, current theories state that Google considers how visitors engage with your website, including time spent, bounce rate and pages per session–this makes titles and descriptions that attract visitors critical to a page’s success. And, because search engines view title tags as the primary labels of pages, it’s important that they send a clear message.
Although having spelling and grammatical errors in your content doesn’t give a good impression, poor heading tags and thin content can be detrimental to a page’s ranking. Like title tags, heading tags provide top-level labels that indicate what a page is about for users and search engines. When organizing the content on a page, using heading tags–H1 being the highest priority and H6 being the lowest–clarifies the structure of the page and the content that’s on it.
In addition to the structure of the content, the quality of the content is just as important. Although there isn’t a set rule that defines the minimum word count that a page must have, pages with thin content don’t perform well because of the simple fact that visitors typically don’t find them to be useful and quickly leave. And, when these pages form a large percentage of your site, search engines are likely to rate your site as having poor content and penalize your site overall.
Poor Site Structure
In additional to evaluating pages within themselves, it’s important to measure how they work with each other. One problem that many web developers create is having too many pages that are very similar to each other. This is called “thin slicing.” When this happens, you get caught in the trap of having duplicate content. While Google doesn’t directly penalize websites for this, duplicate content can cause three main issues for search engines, such as:
- They don’t know which version(s) to include/exclude from their indices
- They don’t know whether to direct the link metrics (trust, authority, anchor text, link equity, etc.) to one page or keep it separated between multiple versions
- They don’t know which version(s) to rank for query results
Furthermore, when you have multiple pages with similar content, you compete against yourself, splitting the potential backlinks amongst your pages. It’s best to consolidate your pages, combining their value and improving your site’s overall rank.
The opposite of thin slicing is having too few pages. While this might cause some business owners who maintain their own sites to say, “Make up your mind,” this comes down to stacking information that is distinct from each other into one or two pages rather than creating separate ones for each topic. Allow your content to breathe and compete for keywords that will draw the visitors that you are targeting.
Just like it’s important to have a clear structure with your pages’ content, it’s imperative to have a clear, simple hierarchical structure when it comes to your website’s navigation–search engines like sites that are relatively flat and visitors like sites that are easy to navigate. If a page is four or more clicks from the home page, not only will visitors have a difficult time finding it but search engines won’t view the content on that page as being important. Find ways to insert internal links throughout your website so that visitors can easily find content and search engines have a clear crawl path to key pages on your website. Even if those pages are in a submitted sitemap, search engines won’t assign much value to them if they can’t crawl to find them.
For business owners who are looking to get the most from their marketing dollars, SEO often is one of the most effective tools to increase brand awareness and sales–only if it is done correctly. Evaluating your website’s health and fixing its weaknesses can result in drastic increases in your rankings and bring great success to your business. Show patience and persistence, and you will be rewarded.