“Perfect website SEO” sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Well, it is, however there are lot of reasons why, as a business, your website SEO needs to be perfect. Because there are so many different components to be a addressed when configuring a website to conform with SEO best practices it is easy to start saying; “oh, well this is just a small thing, so we do not have to worry about this or that particular point”. It you want your website to perform to its fullest potential though you can’t do that. You have to be aware of what is expected by the search engines (and that is constantly evolving) and you have to now how to configure your site to conform to these expectations.
Commanding nearly 70% of the search engine market Google still stands as the example to follow when building a site or configuring website SEO. Google has always had a commitment to creating a good user experience with their search product and your business should adopt the same goal when designing your site. In fact, user experience; delivering the right information and services to your customers, has to be the number one consideration when designing your website. However, what good is a pretty website with great, useful information if no one ever sees it?
In the offline (real) world there is a saying that everyone is familiar with; “location, location, location”. The logic behind the saying is simple, in order to effectively reach your potential customers you have to be easy to find and convenient to access. Ideally you should also have an attractive building and be stocked with an ample selection of the products that people in your market are looking for. Finding a low rent building in an out of the way location may seem like a good idea from a financial perspective but that kind of thinking rarely ever proves to be profitable.
The same logic applies to the web. Your business on the web has to be easy to find and your site has to be easy to use and provide a great user experience. Having a site that the search engines do not know about or rarely provide as an answer to a search query is no better than setting up shop in an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere.
The other thing to think about is your competition. The competition has every opportunity that you do on the web and if they do a better job of building their site and configuring their website SEO according to search engine expectations then there is a good chance it is they who will routinely show up on the first page of search results. Since a large portion of the people who use search engines never go beyond the first page of results that can be the difference between success and failure for your business. Once again, location, location, location, if your competition has a prime spot in town and you set up shop in the abandoned building who will get most of the business? That is a no-brainer and so is this.
So what does it take to have “perfect website SEO”? Quite a bit actually. The search engines use several hundred points of comparison every time that they set out on the web to find answers to a search query. They want to find the best content that answers the query and, ideally, the site that offers the best user experience so if two or three or twenty sites seem to have equally valid answers to the query the one(s) with the best website SEO will be the one(s) who show up on the first page of search results.
Of course there are a host of other modifying factors of varying degrees of importance that also affect the position that a particular site will have in search results and not all of them are easy or even possible to change. Things like how long you have owned your domain name or the amount of traffic that your site has gotten in the past or the number of links on the web that point to your site are pretty much what they are. Does this mean that you can not compete with businesses who have been more popular in the past or who have been around longer No, it means that you have to really pay attention to the things that you CAN do in order to make your site the best it can be. If you do that then there is no reason why a brand new site can note compete with larger, more established businesses (especially in a localized area).
How do you know if your website SEO is up to snuff? Do you trust the telemarketer who calls and tells you they can make all your problems on the web disappear? Do you trust your hosting company when they say that their free site builder program has built in SEO? Do you trust your web designer to be on top of all of the latest website SEO best practices?
The answers are no, no and no. It is very easy to “talk the talk” when it comes to designing a website or optimizing an existing website and the web certainly has a plethora of “how to” articles and sites on the subject of designing a website properly. But if you are a business owner you probably don’t have the time or inclination to immerse yourself in the field of web design and optimization to the extent that is necessary in order to get a worthwhile result so you have to trust someone.
I am not saying that there are not qualified people out there and many less than qualified people who certainly have good intentions when it comes to selling you services on the web. But as the saying goes; “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and it is your job to hire the right professional to create the right web presence for your business.
If you would like to do a thumbnail evaluation of your business website or the site of your competitors or even the site of the people who are selling (or would like to sell) you website SEO services it is not hard to do. I recommend WooRank as a decent site evaluation tool. It even comes as a handy Google Chrome extension so you can have it at your fingertips whenever you want to use it.
Of course it is not always 100% perfect and data takes a while to update sometimes but for the most part it is a very handy (and free to use) tool that can help you out immensely. WooRank evaluates some of the biggest elements of on site SEO and provides a list of what is right and what is not on a site along with a handy overall score. Most sites rank around 50% on WooRank without much optimization (just to give you a starting point). IF you get your site to 70% you are doing a good job. Very few sites make it to 80% or higher and most who do have been around for a long time and have a lot of backlinks and fairly high traffic. I have never seen a site rank high in the 90th percentile range.
Here is where you can gain some insight into the people selling (or trying to sell) you services on the web. It is very easy to go to their site and evaluate it. How do they rank in comparison to your own site? After all, would you trust a mechanic to work on your car if their own vehicle is broken down and they can’t seem to fix it or an interior decorator with peeling paint and clashing colors in their office? They can tell you how skilled they are until they are blue in the face but will you believe them? Probably not.
Having said that I suppose that I should put up or shut up and before I go any further with this article I will do just that. In the image below you see a screenshot of the overall WooRank score for the Street Punk Productions/specialized Digital Marketing website. If you run a scan and scroll down through the report you will see that nearly everything on the site is perfect. There are a few things that still need a bit of tweaking but it is not an overnight process and it is constantly evolving so you are never really “finished” with optimizing a site.
I challenge you to find another site in the business of web design or SEO/website management who scores that well on their own website. This is especially true of sites of comparable size and reach. It will take you a while even if you include larger, older sites in your search. For me, quality comes first and if I can not show clients my own site as an example of quality work then how can I expect them to trust me with their sites? Unfortunately this logic seems to escape many companies in this business. Once again, it is easy to talk the talk but in the end numbers don’t lie.
Understanding Website SEO
For the balance of this article I will introduce you to the elements of website SEO that WooRank usually includes in their free analysis and try to provide a bit of insight into what each one means. Sometimes these elements vary a bit depending on the site being evaluated but this is important for you to know especially when comparing sites to each other because there are some things that are very hard to change and knowing which ones are which makes it much easier to have perfect website SEO in every way that you can.
I should add that not every site out there can be optimized in all of the ways that I will discuss. Some site building platforms are better than others. Most of the free website builders have a lot of limitations in this sense. They are built to allow inexperienced users to create a decent looking website and nothing more. For the most part you do not have access to the more behind the scenes aspects of the site and even those that do offer paid access to some things usually do not offer very much more than bare bones tools. If you want Lamborghini performance you don’t buy a Kia.
Section 1: SEO
- Title: The title of each page on your site should be unique. It should contain keywords specific to that page and be no longer than 70 characters (including spaces). This is very general and offers a lot of room for creativity and there are common sense rules that apply. This is referring to the Meta Title of the page as opposed to the title that is visible to visitors who come to the page. It is the title that the search engines see and the one you “suggest” to them as best expressing the content of the page. This is very easy to change.
- Description: The meta description of each page of your website should be unique. Once again, this is something that you provide to the search engines as a suggestion as to what the page is about. It should accurately describe the contents of the page and contain the unique keyword or keyword phrase that is associated with the page. The search engines are not obligated to use this description in search results and may take a description from the actual content of the page if that description better matches the users search query. This too is easy to change. The meta description should be no longer than 156 characters including spaces.
- Headings: This refers to the headings within the content on the page being evaluated. In general terms each page should have one h1 header tag (usually the page title) and several more h2 tags on the page. Headings help to establish what each section of the content on the page is about and provides a better user experience. Heading should ideally contain keywords as well. This too is easy to change.
- Keywords Consistency: WooRank scans the content on the page and tries to determine the keywords on the page. It gives you a list of its findings along with a chart showing what positions that these keywords occupy on the page (title, description, headers). It gives you a sort of pass/fail on the proper utilization of keywords on the page and is useful. These elements are also easy to change or improve.
- Images: Here we see how many images are found on the page and whether or not there is a description associated with them. Ideally each page on a site should have at least one image (if appropriate). That image should have a description of the image as part of the meta tag that embeds it in the page. This description should accurately describe the image (since the search engines can not “see” images. The image description should also contain the keyword associated with the page. You should not go overboard with long winded image descriptions to try to gain some sort of SEO advantage or stuff every related keyword you can think of into the image description to try to gain position in search results because the search engines are smarter than that now. Note; just because WooRank says that the images on a page have a description does not mean it is a GOOD description. If you did not design the site yourself it is in your interest to actually go and look at the image alt description on each image to make sure that the description accurately describes the image and is not something meaningless like “image327.jpg”.
- Text/HTML Ratio: Very simply this is just a measure of how much written content is on a page. Web designers like to create visually appealing websites and right now the trend is a whole lot of pretty pictures as backgrounds and sub backgrounds and in parallax sections with very little in the way of words on the page to get in the way of the awesome visual impact. Unfortunately, while cool to look at, this is bad for SEO as the search engines tend to look at written content as being an important part of user experience. As a rule of thumb each page on a site should have at least 300 words (more is better) or a text/HTML ratio of at least 15%.
- Indexed Pages: This shows you the number of pages on your site that are currently indexed by the search engines. Here too, more is better. The search engines pretty much assume that the more content you have on your site about a subject, the better the site is as an information resource for users. This is kind of a hard one to change and takes time but is a very important part of overall site SEO and can not be ignored. If you are comparing your site to another and your site scores better on a lot of points and yet the other site has 1,000 pages of related content and yours has 10 the other site will usually rank a lot higher in search results. This is part of the reason why an ongoing content strategy is so important to have on your site. This means HIGH QUALITY, ORIGINAL content not randomly generated crap from a shady article spinning program or plagiarized content from other sites.
- Internal Page Analysis: Here WooRank has a look at the other pages of your site (besides the page being evaluated) and checks for things like duplicate titles and tags. This is important because the search engines expect every page on your site to be unique. If your site has a lot of duplicate content then it reduces the quality core of your site overall. After all, how many people want to read exactly the same thing on multiple pages? Sometimes a site can have what will be interpreted by search engines as duplicate content without meaning to do so just by having things like categories and description tags that show up like independent pages and without the analysis you may not even know the problem exists although it is not that hard to fix.
- Google Publisher: This lets you know whether or not you have Google Publisher markup configured for your page. Having it requires you to link a Google+ page (ideally your business page) with your site using the Google Publisher markup tag. It is not hard to do and doing it provides some advantages in Google search results and should be part of your Organic Remarketing plan.
- In-Page Links: Yes, the number of links that you have on a page matters. It also matters whether the links are internal (pointing to other pages on your site) or external (pointing to content on other sites). Ideally each page should have a mixture of the two types of links with more internal than external links. Part of the reason for this is that the search engines expect you to make it as easy as possible for people to navigate within your site and so internal linking serves this purpose. External links are good to provide additional information on specific points or to point to other sites with content that is important to the subject of the page.
- Broken Links: Obviously having broken links on a web page is annoying to visitors to the page and the search engines do not like them. If you have them they should be removed. This is easy to fix and this section alerts you to their presence.
- Backlinks Counter: Backlinks are probably the most easily and therefore most frequently abused part of Search Engine Optimization. This has always been the case but now it is harder to abuse because, once again, the search engines are smarter and they can tell when someone is trying to game the system by creating a bunch of bogus links out on the web pointing back to their site. The search engines look for quality backlinks. These are links on other sites that point back to your content. The other sites should be about the same thing yours is (in general terms) and ideally of equal or higher quality than your site. Of course those other sites know that by giving you a link they are essentially promoting your page so they are not easy to get. It is a very big part of your overall ranking and a hard one to change. Again, an otherwise somewhat crappy site in terms of website SEO can rank high if they have a lot of good quality backlinks because important information supersedes a visually appealing site without much substance. Google says that a few, high quality, backlinks will do more for your site in terms of SEO than a whole bunch or crappy ones and this seems to be true.
- WWW Resolve: Duplicate content can happen in the eyes of the search engines in many ways and is a recurring point in these evaluations. In this case WooRank is evaluating whether or not your site has only one way that it loads, either with www as a prefix or without it. If your site loads as www.mysite.com or as mysite.com the search engines will see that as two seperate sites. In order to prevent this you have to decide whether you want the www or not and set a redirect on the why you don’t want it to display so that, no matter which way someone types the URL it always resolves to the preferred way of displaying it. This is easy to fix.
- IP Canonicalization: Here is another way that your site can show up as duplicate content. In this case, if your site will load by entering the IP address of the site (00.00.000.000.mysite.com for example) then it will show up as duplicate content. Not hard to fix but unless you are aware of it then it never will be.
- Robots.txt: Does your site have a robots.txt file? This file can restrict access of web spiders or bots to certain parts of your site and suggest that specified spiders or bots do not access your site at all. Your site should have one and this part of the evaluation lets you know if it does.
- XML Sitemap: This is a very important part of making sure that all of the pages of your site are properly indexed by the search engines. The XML sitemap lists the pages on your site so that search engines can more easily crawl and index your entire site. It can also add information like when pages were updated. Once again, many sites do not have an XML Sitemap file and you will never know unless you check.
- Underscores In The URL’s: Very simple to check but a lot harder to fix, especially on an existing site where changing URLs will change a lot of the actual pages of your site and how they are indexed on the web. In a nutshell, search engines do not like underscores in a URL. One place where you may have them and not realize it is in image URLs.
- Blocking Factors: Things like Flash content and iFrames can prevent search engines from indexing parts of the content on your site and should be avoided. Flash animation does not play on many smartphones. If you have a YouTube video embedded on your site then you will probably be notified you are using frames. Not a huge factor but better to avoid Frames and Flash if possible.
- Domain Registration: This is a hard one as you cannot influence the past. The search engines use length of time a domain has been registered in order to somewhat gauge whether a site has been or plans to be around for a while. If you register your brand new domain name for one year it kind of looks like you may be a fly by night sort of operation. If your competitor has been in business for 10 or 20 years and has owned the same domain for the entire period this will be a hard one to beat. However you can somewhat offset this advantage by registering your domain name in advance. The limit to do this is 10 years and sine domain registration is cheap why not book your name for the full 10 years. If you pay $12 a year for example that is only $120. If you are not in business for the full 10 years? Oh well, but the advantages of registering the domain name outweighs the small amount you may have not had to spend if the business goes belly up after a few years. Always keep your domain name purchased a minimum of 2 years in advance.
- Page Rank: A system developed by Google to rank websites based mostly on the number and quality of links to the site which even Google says is somewhat outmoded and will not be updated as regularly as it has been in the past. Still a good number to be aware of.
- Blog: It simply provides a yes/no answer as to whether or not it finds a blog on your site. A blog can be an important part of your content strategy and overall website SEO plan. Of course this only applies if you actually post new, original content on the blog on a regular basis. Just having a blog means very little if you do not use it.
- Mobile Rendering: With more and more people all the time searching for products and services on their smartphones it is very important that your business website is easy to use on mobile devices. While the idea of “responsive” web design has been around for a while just having a site that can (somewhat) adapt to screen size does not make “it mobile friendly”. WooRank measures some aspects of mobile friendliness but the true authority in this respect is Google. Very recently Google has added a mobile friendly designation to search results on mobile devices. If your site is not mobile friendly according to Google’s standards then it will not get the designation. fortunately google has added a mobile testing tool to Google Webmaster Tools which evaluates your site and tells you whether or not it is mobile friendly and if not what changes need to be made in order to make it mobile friendly.
- Mobile Load Time: We all hate to wait for a page to load on the web. A fast loading time is good. This applies to the way your site performs on mobile devices just as much as it does on the web.
- Mobile Optimization: Evaluates several aspects of your site in terms of web friendliness. The Google tool evaluates much more but if you can not pass on WooRank you definitely need to look at your Google evaluation as well. The impact of mobile usability on your site performance is becoming more important all the time.
Section 3: Usability
- URL: The first item in this section is just an overview of your site URL. It does not really give you a determination on how good it is. I suppose this is because it would be one of the hardest things about your site to change.
- Favicon: Does the site have one? A simple yea or nay determination. It is pretty easy to fix and does make the site look a bit more professional to have one.
- Custom 404 Page: A site should have a custom 404 Error page. When people land on a page of your site that does not exist they are usually not left with many options on a standard 404 page. I usually use a site map page (not sitemap xml) so that visitors who encounter a 404 page on one of my sites has plenty of navigational choices so that they an find the page they were originally looking for. This aspect is of medium importance and fairly easy to fix.
- Conversion Forms: Since your site represents your business to consumers having site visitors contact you or provide you with their contact information is probably pretty important. In this respect you should find a way to integrate a conversion form into all pages of the site where it is appropriate.
- Above The Fold Content: Ideally you should put the most important content of a page “above the fold” or in the top part of the page that will appear when a visitor accesses the page without scrolling down. The idea is to catch the attention and interest of the visitor right away and to inform them what the page is about.
- Page Size: Not a direct influence on the quality of the page but bigger pages take longer to load so the smaller you can keep it the better.
- Load Time: This is an important aspect of site design because it affects user experience. Faster is better and the faster you can make the pages on your site load the more user friendly your site will be overall. This is of medium difficulty to change. Under a second is good. Under half a second is better.
- Language: Your site should declare the language it is available in and search engines should be able to detect this.
- Printability: Site visitors do often choose to print out web pages that have useful information. Good user experience on your site should include a print friendly css.
- Metadata: Metadata lets the search engine know many things about your website and its content. There are meta tags that are used for this purpose that were developed by schema.org and adopted by all of the major search engines. Google also has a testing tool within Webmaster Tools that will allow you to test the metadata on your site. Most sites have not effectively implemented metadata at this point so if yours does not have it you are not alone. This is a relatively important component to site design and one that is relatively easy to remedy.
- domain Availability and Typo Availability: Not really a crucial part of SEO but WooRank gives you other versions of your domain name which are available in case you want to prevent competitors from buying domains very similar to yours and using them in some way.
- Email Privacy: Is your email address available on your site for anyone to see? This enables spammers to harvest your email and send you spam. Hiding your email address from spammers is a good thing.
- Spam Block: Is your domain listed in the Spammers Directory? Hopefully not but this will tell you if it is.
- Safe Browsing: Is there malware on your site? Hopefully not and here WooRank tries to let you know if there is. Obviously having your site compromised with malware is very bad for SEO and an important thing to be aware of.
Section 4: Technologies
- Server IP: Lists the IP address of the site and the location of its server. Handy when doing comparisons with competitors’ sites. Ideally your server should be close to your intended customers.
- Technologies: Another handy section when doing site comparisons. It shows you what platform a competitors’ site is built on and what sorts of performance enhancements they are using.
- Analytics: This shows whether or not the site is using analytics and what platform they use. This is another great bit of information about the competition and a crucial thing to have on your own site.
- W3C Validity: Here you get to see how many coding errors thee are on the site. Too many can have a negative impact in several ways.
- Doctype: The site should declare its doctype to help browsers render the page correctly.
- Encoding: The site should specify character/language encoding to help in rendering the page correctly.
- Directory Browsing: This should be set to “off” to prevent visitors from browsing your site directory.
- Server Signature: This should also be turned off. This helps with site security.
Section 5: Promote
- Social Shareability: In the firsst part of the Promote section WooRank provides a list of likes and shares associated with the site being analyzed across the top social networks. This is a great resource both for keeping tabs on your own site and for analyzing competitor sites
- Social Networks: This section pulls in elements from the actual social network pages of the site on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Another great feature that lets you check consistency of appearance and description across the big 3 social networks.
Section 6: Local
- Local Directories: Local directories are a great source of promotion and backlinks on the web. Most are free to list your business on and provide other, less obvious benefits as well. If you are not listed the only question is; why?
- Online Reviews: Here you see a small collection of local reviews that exist for the site on the web (if any). This may be one of the more important growth areas in SEO and it is good to be aware of what is is out there.
Section 7: Measure
- Traffic Estimations: A measure of the sites’ total estimated traffic given in terms from very low to very high.
- Traffic Rank: This is your Alexa traffic rank and if your site gets less than 100,000 visits a month then it is an estimate. However, it is a useful benchmarking number to compare one site against another.
- Adwords Traffic: This gives you the estimated amount of traffic going to a site that is generated from paid advertising on Adwords. This is a fantastic insight into how your competition is driving traffic to their site.
- Visitors Localization: A map showing the geographic area where most of the traffic to a site is coming from. If your market is in Iowa and most of your traffic is coming from India you may need to make some adjustments…
That is a somewhat mind numbing array of diverse points to consider when building and running a website, isn’t it? Yes it is but it is also only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the knowledge that is required to develop and maintain a successful web presence for a business. It is tempting to kind of ignore points that are deemed “less important” but everything you ignore is points off your total quality score. It is also an opportunity for a competitor who chooses not to ignore small things to get ahead of you.
It never ceaases to amaze me how so many agencies out there who design websites and claim to manage the online presence of businesses do it so poorly and yet continue to make a comfortable living from their efforts. I have asked agency owners that I meet that very question and usually they say something like “oh that stuff is not that important” or “the customer did not want to invest in that kind of website”. All I can do is shake my head at the sheer nonsense of statements like that. Since when is that a good way to do business?
When I design and manage the web presence of a business and handle their website SEO I want everything to be as close to perfect as I can make it. I feel that the success of my customers is my success and I don’t want to put my name or the name of my business on a sub-standard website or a half hearted content or social networking strategy. I hope that you feel the same and will check into the people you hire to work with and represent your business on the web. Use the WooRank tool to check out their websites and those of the other businesses they work with and make sure that they are worth your trust and your money.