In order for companies to be found online by their prospective customers, they need websites that rank well in the search engines. The problem is, that’s easier said than done.
Google, the largest search engine, uses a complicated algorithm to decide how a site ranks. No one (except Google, of course) knows exactly what each of the ranking factors are. And there are hundreds of them. What is known is that sites that are not optimized for search according to Google’s guidelines have a harder time ranking.
While there are many different factors that are important to ensuring better rankings, here are five areas to focus on: duplicate content; site speed, SEO writing, analytics, and mobile site optimization.
Duplicate content is when there are similar or exact chunks of text on different pages throughout your site that are not canonicalized. This dilutes the SEO value of the pages and can lead to pages that are less competitive in search results. Large amounts of thin, duplicate content can also trigger Google’s Panda algorithm penalty. In fact, every time a new iteration of Panda is released, sites with duplicate content take a hit.
To assess your site for duplicate content, conduct a “penalty audit” (your agency can also do this for you). There are different tools that are available to help you analyze your site for duplicate content, but you will need to take the time to implement the fixes. Be forewarned that this can be an enormous undertaking as it will likely involve re-writing content to ensure that it is original, as well as having all pages feature canonical tags that correctly link to the “canonical” version of a page.
As Internet speeds grow faster, users become more impatient waiting for webpages to load. The longer they have to wait, the more likely they are to leave your site and look elsewhere to purchase their product. In fact, a conversion study conducted by Amazon found that a 0.1 second reduction in page load time can equate to a 1 percent increase in revenue.
There are a few key things you can do to ensure your site’s speed is sufficient.
- Run a speed test using one of the many free online tools that exist, such as Speedtest.net and Speakeasy.net.
- Make sure your site is Gzip compressed on all websites and subdomains. Gzip compression reduces the size of files sent from your server to increase the speed to which they are transferred to the browser. This compression can result in a 70-90 percent reduction in website file sizes. If your site is not Gzip compressed, it’ll be much larger than it needs to be and will likely get zinged by Google.
- Use a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN copies the data from your server and places it on various servers around the world in duplication. If you’re not using a CDN, it’ll take longer to load your web pages, images, etc. If your company does business nationally or globally and uses graphics and video, then you’ll want a CDN. However, if your business is highly localized, a CDN isn’t necessary.
SEO writing includes page titles, meta descriptions, H1 tags, and images. Page titles and meta descriptions are what you see in the organic search results, so how they are worded is very important. Both need the appropriate amount of keywords should be written to approximate how users would search for your site – not necessarily in the way that you would describe your offerings.
With many of our clients, we find that their sites are either missing their page titles and meta descriptions, or else they are too short or too long. And sometimes, they are duplicates of each other, which means they will incur a penalty from search engines.
Tips to improve: Ensure that your page titles and meta descriptions are of an optimal character length and use a variety of keywords relevant to the content on the web page. When possible, include valuable keywords at the beginning of page titles and meta descriptions to make them stand out.
H1 tags – An H1 tag is used to define the most important heading within your HTML. There is evidence that keywords in H1 tags are given extra weight when search engines determine ranking. Proper H1, H2, and H3 tags also provide a structure to page content that is beneficial to site usability. Since Google looks at headers hierarchically, use only one H1 tag on each page.
Images – The most important aspect of an image for search is the image’s alt text, which allows search engines to determine the content of an image. Here are a few best practices for optimizing your images:
- Ensure that all logos, product pictures, and category hero images have descriptive, keyword-rich alt text.
- If the site’s CMS allows for it, name image files descriptively.
In order to track and attribute valuable user interactions, as well as understand past site performance, it’s essential to properly set up analytics platforms. First and foremost, make sure your Google Analytics code is installed correctly. Second, ensure that your site’s Google Webmaster Tools, AdWords, and Google Analytics accounts are connected so that you can get the most actionable, comprehensive data.
From there, there are a plethora of tools available that allow you to set up different tests and goals so you can get statistically significant data on things like user behavior, what is working on your site, and what is not.
Mobile Site Optimization
As people spend more and more time on their mobile devices and tablets, companies will need to have either a site with responsive design or a separate mobile site if they want to continue engaging with those customers.
If your site has responsive design, your SEO writing will be the same for your mobile site since the page isn’t changing, its grid is just adjusting to the device’s screen size. If a separate mobile site is used, then a number of considerations must be made to ensure that the mobile site’s content isn’t seen by search engines as duplicate content. With regards to SEO writing, a separate mobile site does allow you to use characters that are different and shorter due to mobile’s smaller fields, which would give you the ability to fully customize your mobile site for a unique mobile experience.
Follow these best practices for mobile site optimization:
- The desktop version of pages should have rel alternate tags, linking to the corresponding mobile version of the page.
- Mobile pages should have canonical tags that link to the desktop version of the page.
- Ensure that touchpoints on the mobile site aren’t too close, making it difficult to click on different pages of the site.
To see whether your site is optimized for mobile, check out Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. The search engine will also share their criteria for a mobile-friendly site and how it may affect Google’s search results.
Companies that wish to improve their ranking on search engines or that have experienced a sudden drop in organic search engine traffic would be well-served to have a site audit done. A technical SEO site audit can help determine what is causing the issue and identify inefficiencies on a site.
Request a digital marketing strategy audit from Acceleration Partners to find out how your SEO could be improved.