It happened again. I just conducted an SEO audit on a newly launched site. Three interconnected sites: an e-commerce site, the main brand site, and a WordPress blog. The web shop my client hired to build and design the sites promised that it had SEO expertise. (This is kind of like billing yourself as a "social media guru," only it's been going on longer than that.)
The end result was certainly attractive and functional, but also a textbook example of the 10 most common errors seen among non-SEO friendly website builds. So herewith, the most common findings a seasoned search professional makes when looking under the hood of websites designed without consideration for SEO best practices:
Anyone who knows the first thing about search knows duplicate content is a big no-no, resulting in a site being penalized in organic rankings. Yet this happens all the time. The brand site in question sported two homepages, one at "http://www.topleveldomain.com/," the other at "http://www.TopLevelDomain.com/index.html." Worse, the "second" homepage was repeatedly linked to in the navigation, basically advertising to search engine spiders that if they burrowed down even one level deep, they'd come up with duplicate content.
The fix: It's often necessary for sites to have homepages residing at these two different URLs for the sake of the hierarchical index files. The big mistake is broadcasting the fact that you have both of them. Use a 301 redirect on the second "index.html" homepage that points to the top-level domain. And for heaven's sake, update the internal navigation to point only to the top-level domain. Don't forget to also remove "index.html" from the sitemap.
Search engines understand text. Writing. Words. They don't watch movies, they don't appreciate pictures, and as far as they're concerned, a logo is just an image file. Yet on all three of the sites in this most recent SEO audit, both the company logo and its tagline were rendered at the top of all the pages in -- yes, you guessed it -- image files. And what, you might ask, are these image files named? Search engine spiders can, after all, read names and meta-descriptions, so naming is critical. In this case, we have a logo file named "logo.png." A photo of the company's founder and CEO, depicting him engaged in an activity that is core to the site's philanthropic mission, is unhelpfully called "photo-brad.jpg." No meta-descriptions or keywords. No company name. Basically, nada that could help a search engine (or a searcher) make heads or tails out of these images. File these under "lost opportunities."
The fix: Search engines like text, so give 'em text! A logo should be named after the company. A photo of an executive should be "John Doe-CEO-CompanyName" (or something like that). Meta-data and keywords will further help makes sense of these and other types of media files. There's absolutely no excuse not to assign words to images on websites.
Link, link, and link!
As stated above, this audit was conducted on a constellation of three sites. Naturally, all of them linked to one another, but primarily in the navigation bars. Numerous opportunities to link in on-page copy and blog entries were overlooked and ignored.
Take the blog, for example. It's being diligently updated, and refers often to the brand website, but rather than actually hyperlink to the site, it refers to it by name only, or sometimes, as "http://www.nameofsite.com/." That's a URL, not a hyperlink.
The fix: Easy. Don't miss or overlook an opportunity to link both internally and externally. Internal links help spiders navigate your site(s). Outbound links can help build inbound links.
No keyword research
These three sites were built -- and copy was written -- before keyword research was conducted around the offering and core philanthropic mission.
The fix: Unless you're eager to re-write, conduct at least initial keyword research before the site build.
As is often the case, this new company has a two-word name. In the URL and most site elements, it is rendered as "NewCo." This means it's not findable for "New Co," which searchers are likely to look for. Worse (on the advice of a trademark attorney), it's almost always rendered "NewCo™."
The fix: Render the company name, and other key terms, the way searchers are going to search for them. If it's a split decision, use both renderings -- just not on the same page, which looks sloppy.
Every page on the site, regardless of content, has the same title: CompanyName – Tagline
The fix: Page titles are opportunities to tell search engines -- and searchers -- what's on that individual page. Every single page needs a different descriptive title.
Meta-descriptions, which appear under the page title on a search results page, describe what you'll find on that page. Well-written ones increase click-through rates. This site has no meta-descriptions (or meta-keywords, for that matter).
The fix: Same as page titles, you need meta-descriptions for each page on a site. Why wouldn't you include them on a site that wants to be found?
Be explicit, not implicit
Don't let on-page copy blow off opportunities to be descriptive and use keywords. These sites were full of vague, insinuating copy such as, "By buying our merchandise, you support our philanthropic mission."
The fix: How about: "By buying our T-shirts and mugs, you'll help promote literacy and help a child in the third world learn to read."
Categories and tags
If you've got a blog, you want to optimize it with well-considered, keyword-rich categories and tags to associate with posts. This blog had no established content categories, and tags were both random and utterly unrelated to the core business.
The fix: Like keyword research, these critical terms are both an art and a science, not something that are attached willy-nilly at the end of each post.
SEO is not an afterthought
My book on SEO describes appending SEO onto a site after it's built as akin to deciding you want plumbing after you've built a house. Is it doable? Sure. But you'd be way better off figuring where the pipes, bathroom, and kitchen sink are going when the architect is drawing up the plans.
The fix: Don't take a designer, or developer, or web shop's word for it. Demand to see some evidence that they really have SEO chops before they build the site. Better yet, bring in an SEO professional from the get-go to get off to a good start.
Rebecca Lieb is an author, speaker, and consultant specializing in digital marketing, advertising, publishing, and media.
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