Considering there’s no shortage of SEO and marketing advice floating around the internet, it perplexes me why the majority of business websites I see are missing the foundation SEO elements needed to get their website discovered online.
It isn’t the business owner’s fault if their SEO sucks — the blame falls on their SEO or website design/development firm.
Any businesses who outsource their SEO needs to make certain the company they hire is fully experienced and qualified to tackle the ongoing SEO by educating themselves with the basics of search engine optimization. You cannot ask the right questions if you do not know the right words. And don’t be shy about asking prospective providers to explain their strategy for your business — by all means, do it! Listen for a “unique” strategy built for your unique business, and pass on menu pricing and automated solutions. As you go through the process, just remember what Einstein said:
“If (they) can’t explain it simply, (they) don’t know it well enough.” ~ Einstein
Any SEO or web designer/developer worth considering should be able to explain (in non-technical terms) your current website status and their plans to correct any technical errors, as well a future outlook. You don't need to know how to do their job, but you desperately need to know how to negotiate and prioritize the scope of work your business needs with them. Learn the basics.
Lastly, when looking for service providers, consider where they have spoken or presented as well as where they have been published — these are litmus test items for any professional.
For those who take the DIY SEO approach to their business, focus on nailing the basics before applying more advanced SEO tactics like SCHEMA, starting a social media campaign, or opening an AdWords/PPC campaign. The website should be the focal point for all your marketing activity, so you need to get it right.
Now that I’ve laid the foundation for my story, I’m going to pass on writing a “best SEO tips” article, and instead head in the opposite direction by listing some of the most recurrent errors we see on websites that are killing your search engine ranking along with tips on how to fix them.
So read along and compare the things noted against your website. Make it a priority to get them fixed soon — your online visibility will be all the better for it.
1. Lack Of Keyword Focus
The days of brainstorming to capture every conceivable word (called keywords) or phrase (yep, this one would be the key-phrase) that your business could rank for and then stuffing those onto your website are long over (they did exist though). So too are the days of creating individual pages to target every iteration of these keywords.
Keyword research is tough, but it’s got to get done. Use Google’s Keyword Planner as a starting point, and be sure to select your targeting area so your results are geographically relevant (i.e., local). While you’re at it, selecting “Google and search partners” along with “Only show closely related ideas” under the “Customize your search” header may yield even better results.
You still should build pages based on keywords, but use them as a larger theme instead of a tight silo; macro vs. micro, if you will.
Write to be read — but in a way that search engines favor.
2. The Wrong Keyword Focus
There are the keywords that people type (or speak) into their keyboards or device to find answers, and there are the words that you want your business to be discovered by. While you very well may hit it out of the park with being discovered for both, at the beginning, focus on the words people are using to discover you and your competition. Very often, businesses have a long list of terms they want to be discovered for, and very often, these don’t match the words people are actually using to find businesses like theirs. The solution? See tip one. The reports from Keyword Planner will give you a sense of historical search volume for keywords.
In addition to using Google's Keyword Planner, AdWords keyword conversion data and “search terms” data offer great insight, as do Google & Bing webmaster tools. Having these should be the de facto standard for all websites.
3. Poor META
Here’s what you need to know — every public-facing page of your website needs a unique META Title, which also goes by the name Page Title. This is a primary and most foundational SEO element that identifies the title of every page of your website. Think of it as the chapters of a book; no two could be the same, and each should succinctly describe the chapter (page).
Here’s the fix: keep your META Title between 30-60 characters (top limit is 65 characters, and it’s actually measured in pixels; 200-512px, if you will). Place your keyword as close to the beginning of the narrative that you can, and end with your brand. Keep punctuation to a minimum, and use dashes and pipes (this >|< is a pipe) as separators if you need to, and remember to write to be read — but in a way that search engines like. Nothing on your website should read robotic. Oh yeah — it’s the opposite for the homepage (brand focus first — keyword focus last). Seriously, that’s how you do it.
As for META Descriptions (Page Descriptions) — not a ranking factor. However, begin descriptions with a keyword, and write to entice someone to click your link. This is your #1 conversion element, but few people actually read all 165 characters of it (that’s the limit – 932px, if you will), so keyword placement for skim-reading is vital.
Lastly, META Keywords — just stop using those; they have not been useful for anything in a long time, so give it up. For real, all the search engines have depreciated them, and you’re likely to get yourself into more trouble than they’re worth. See step one instead.
4. Inconsistent Local Attributes
This one’s for businesses marketing locally and impacts more than 85% of the websites we see. Read how screwing this up is easier than you think --Click Here.
Be certain that your business Name, Address, and Phone Number (referred to as NAP) are on your website as text, not words within an image. Search engines can only see written text — they can’t see images — so make sure your contact information (and primary keywords) isn't layered in an image.
Best practice would be to have your contact information text on every page of your website. Because the footer is a global element of a website, that makes it a prime location for your NAP. While you’re at it, consider adding your contact information as structured markup code (schema); it offers descriptive behind-the-scenes data that search engines eat up.
5. Robot Tags
Back in the day, we instructed search engines to “index” a webpage with a line of code called a robot META tag, but that practice isn’t necessary any longer. Here’s what Google says about it: The default values are “index, follow… and do not need to be specified.” Adding an index META tag to a site today could be perceived as being a bit pushy (forced directive), so it’s best to not include it. Don’t worry though, the default has you covered as all pages are indexable unless noted otherwise.
Surprisingly, just like the index META code, we see a lot of pre-production/in-development websites that aren’t using the “noindex” tag when using a separate URL during the website development stages (e.g., yoursite2.com). In the absence of this code, the in-development pages will show up online instead of or in addition to your clients’ existing pages. Getting caught doing this will not be a fun conversation.
We’ve also seen website developers using a subdomain on their own website to host a pre-production website. It looks something like this: client.yourwebsite.com. Can you imagine the mess this makes when they forget to use the correct META tag?
6. Missing Image Elements
The number one thing that prevents pictures from being discovered within image searches has nothing to do with the image. It’s a poorly structured filename that will kill any chance of an image being discoverable online.
The filename is the strongest SEO element for images, as well as for podcasts and videos
This is a super easy fix, but could take a ton of time to change. If your website is on WordPress, there are some decent file-renaming extensions that do a good job with the heavy lifting, but be careful of using a fully automatic one; those are usually a compromise solution that could triple your headache.
Here’s the advice we give our clients: format the filenames in lowercase using dashes-to-separate words (not spaces or underscores), and make sure to include the keyword of the page that the image is to be placed on within the filename (e.g., “red shoe” images that belongs on the “red shoe” page of your website should contain the keywords “red shoe” or “red shoes.” Remember, iterations are important). This is an overly simplified explanation, but it’s not rocket science, and most business owners can do this. If you have tons of files, set up a schedule to do a few every day; you’ll get through it.
6 1/2. Not Using Analytic & Webmaster Tools
Not a ranking factor — but as the saying goes “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” so I've included it. I don’t have hard data, but anecdotally, I would have to say that 1/3 of the websites we see do not have a Google Analytics tag installed or at least the most recent version of the code (it changes over the years). Fewer still have Google & Bing Webmaster Tool access (Google’s is now called Google Search Console).
Before making any change to a website, make certain you can measure the effectiveness of those changes. These tools are FREE, and the self-help/how-to articles on them are excellent.
So there you have it — 6 ½ ways to bolster the foundational elements of your website that often go missing and kill online visibility. Set a schedule to fix these, and watch your rankings trend up!
by Chris Sheehy