By now, people know that their sites need to be optimized to rank well in organic listings. This awareness has been compounded by Google's recent algorithmic updates that are slowly eating away at organic real estate in favor of paid and local listings. This means that marketers must continue to advance their search engine optimization efforts to ensure that their revenue-driving pages earn and maintain high rankings. With every company vying for the same top rankings and competing against paid listings, every aspect of an SEO campaign must be close to flawless.
There are typical places were SEO initiatives begin. Title tags, content strategies, and link building are the obvious places to start, but there is more to SEO than these high impact elements. As best practices in SEO elements become widely implemented, the finer details can help make the difference over the life of a campaign.
I often view my campaigns from a lens of "all things being equal," and this helps me isolate those seemingly smaller, but sometimes extremely impactful tactics that can fine tune a campaign to success. Over the years, I have found that there are a few optimization areas that are oftentimes overlooked in a standard SEO engagement that can have significantly improve a site's SEO strategy.
Let's take a look at each of these areas.
Oversight 1: Squandering internal links
Most marketers consider an internal linking strategy when developing an SEO plan, and external link building is a well-documented booster of SEO results; however, marketers are still not putting the two strategies together to maximize their link equity.
In ideal situations, external and internal links would be directed at revenue-driving pages with relevant anchor text. With external links, the combination of a link from an authoritative domain to a specific product page with anchor text that relates to the product is the holy trinity of link building. For the links that do not direct outside traffic and authority to targeted pages, there is still SEO value in referral links if they pass link equity to other pages through internal links. It's important here to think beyond a global or even a contextual navigation. The key is to link where the user is spending his or her time: in the content. It's also important to think about whether a global navigation is cannibalizing in-content internal linking anchor text variance by listing links to target pages first in the source code.
Usually an internal linking plan is devised when a site is built, so it might not necessarily direct link equity to revenue-driving pages. External referral links are the ones that can influence rankings the most, but if a site is not structured to direct link equity to targeted pages, the value of these links can be largely diminished.
Food for thought: One of the most competitive words to rank for is "terms of service" because this link appears on nearly every page of almost every authoritative website. These pages are usually optimized with proper title tags, and the anchor text of internal links directly relates to these pages. In this scenario, a portion of a page's link value is siphoned off to the terms of service page. It might not seem like a waste, but what if that link was to a high-value product page? While this might be an extreme example, if there was a page that was optimized structurally and received the link juice of many critical pages within a site, it would certainly rank better than in the scenario where this page only received links from a category parent page.
Oversight 2: Pagination and filter errors
If a site has paginated pages or category filtering, it is necessary to make sure that SEO efforts are not cannibalized by the different pages rendered to display additional pages or filtered results. In a simple example, say a website has a white paper broken up onto three different web pages. When browsers find the white paper and want to link to it, they could link to any one of the three pages. This potentially divides external link value between these pages as they likely have the same metadata and cover the same topic. By structuring the pages on three separate URLs, search engines could also rank either or all of the pages. The alternative is to have search engines index one page and build an SEO strategy around increasing rankings for the preferred page -- not each individual page.
To maintain SEO integrity without sacrificing user experience, marketers can use a structure and design that allows users to scroll through different sections of content without leaving one page. If pagination is the best UI solution to the problem, the utilization of canonical tags around paginated or filtered URLs is your best bet to avoid diluting your SEO value across multiple similar pages.
Oversight 3: Keeping (some) content consistent
Some websites continually update content on templated pages. This is especially common for e-commerce sites because they have a need to update, add, and remove products to coincide with their inventory. While search engines favor websites that are continually updated, content needs to be around long enough to be crawled and indexed.
Most e-commerce sites are indexed on a regular basis, but it is challenging to make SEO headway for keywords if your content does not stick around. To overcome this, marketers should included static text on product and service parent pages. This gives marketers the benefits of both worlds; they earn long-term rankings for targeted keywords with static text, and they encourage frequent re-indexing of their sites by continuously updating dynamic product- and service-based content.
Oversight 4: Managing 404 errors
There are countless reasons why pages would be moved or deleted from a website, and in these cases, a 404 page is served to users who stumble across a non-existent URL. Instead of letting 404 pages litter your site as it matures, SEO professionals can use a 301 to redirect users from an outdated URL to one that is related to the original. This does two things: Users are not sent to a nondescript 404 page, and with a 301 redirect, any SEO value of the old page will be passed along to the linked page.
For example, if a service specific page is deleted, marketers would be wise to redirect the URL to the service section page. Users will be able to navigate to other service subpages, and search engines will consider the SEO value of the linking page when ranking the service section page. Choosing a subpage rather than a homepage is also important because it is likely more related to the missing page. While this might seem a relatively obvious solution to some, I frequently come across sites that have no procedure in place to manage 404 pages. As such, theses sites amass large lists of 404 pages over time.
It's best for site administrators or SEO professionals to establish a protocol for 301 redirects, and then regularly audit 404 pages with locally installed tools or by using a web service like Google's Webmaster Tools.
Oversight 5: Leveraging proper H tag hierarchies
Optimizing heading tags is SEO 101, but there are still a significant amount of websites that do not have an H tag hierarchy in place. While H tags are not a decisive part of rankings, they go a long way to help SEO professionals develop a coherent content strategy, and they help search engines index a site.
By giving an H tag hierarchy additional thought, it makes it easier to create keyword-rich headers and content, which absolutely affect SEO rankings. Keyword-rich and well-written heading tags also make your content more scannable and digestible, which is critical to helping gain trust and a positive brand experience from users looking to quickly find information on a ranked page of your site.
Oversight 6: Considering SEO during site builds
SEO best practices generally align with website development standards. Even so, SEO is often overlooked during the planning and design stages of a project. Bringing SEO into the development process involves changing the paradigm around SEO because there is still the perception that it can be implemented after the structure and content of a site has been determined.
While SEO can absolutely help after a site has been built, it is much more beneficial to implement SEO best practices from the beginning. One reason is that from launch, a site is optimized to gain traction for targeted keywords. The first time an engine crawls the new site, it will start its path to top rankings. It also prevents costly rebuilding of portions of a website, including a content management system or database structure.
Another consideration of the design process that impacts SEO is a site's flexibility. SEO strategies should change and evolve with users search habits and competitors' strategies. If a site is not able to adapt to a changing SEO requirements, a site could lose rankings or it might not be able to capitalize on new keywords quickly. A site should also be built with consideration to a keyword and content strategy. Navigation structure, page nomenclature, and page layout all impact SEO, so they should be evaluated from an SEO and design perspective from the beginning.
Oversight 7: Leveraging internal site search
If your website includes search functionality, you have access to valuable user insights that can influence an SEO strategy. This provides primary keyword research for SEO professionals to incorporate into their keyword and on-page content strategy. Not to mention, if users are continuously searching for a certain phrase, you can reasonably infer that they cannot easily find this information on their own. This information can help optimize a site's structure and content development.
Maximizing internal search data will require analytics support, but ideally with this support, marketers can segment out organic traffic to see the internal search patterns of SEO visitors. If trends surface, SEO practitioners can target resultant keywords.
Refining search engine optimization strategies requires that marketers take a step back and look at their campaign from a holistic perspective. It is easy to focus around a certain targeted keyword and wonder why rankings are not increasing, but viewing SEO from a website-wide level allows for foundational optimizations that impact an entire SEO program -- not just the effort around certain keywords or pages. If SEO is implemented completely and properly, marketers will have solid foundation to support all their digital business channels.
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