SEO can be a complicated business – the search engines’ algorithms change often, your competitors change their sites often and new ranking factors such as social networking comments can all have an impact on your sites rank and hence, traffic.
However, there are a few hard and fast rules that just have to be done, most of which aren’t terribly complex, that enable you to gain a good base. Here’s six that I recommend.
- Check for WWW versus non-WWW.
Decide how your site should be viewed – either with or without the ‘www’ at the beginning and make sure search engines are aware of that. e.g. for this site I use www as you can see in the browser address bar at the top of the screen. The reason this is important is that if you have both (i.e. www AND not www) this can be seen as duplicate content which is a huge no-no in SEO. You can check how this is today by using the site: command at a Google search box.
So, go to Google and type site:yourdomainname.com and then do it again for site:www.yourdomainname.com (replace your website where i’ve written yourdomainname.com obviously!). You should see the same number of results at the top of the screen AND your preferred version of how your site is used today in the green text that is just below the blue text (more of which later).
If things aren’t right you can tidy up by doing the following. Contact your hosting provider and ask them about redirecting (ask them about a 301 redirect) either the non-www version to www or vice versa, depending on your preferred version (most people use www.) You can also give Google a nudge by setting the Preferred Domain in Webmaster Tools (essential and free), which is in the Configuration/Settings screen.Google will then consolidate external links to your site and how it indexes your site into your preferred version, it can take some time but this combined with a 301 redirect – which is a permanent ‘belt and braces’ way of setting your preference is hugely important and beneficial.
- Check your site results.
Go back to a Google search box and use the site: operator again for version you chose in Step 1 and see how many search results are returned. This ought to be very close to if not exactly how many pages are on your site. If you know you have 60 pages and there’s only 30 results there’s a problem. If it’s a few out, that’s ok. So, if your website is www.bestdogfood.co.uk type site:www.bestdogfood.co.uk in the Google search box. Your homepage really ought to be the first result here.
If the page count is vastly different there’s a crawling problem in that Google’s spider can’t find its way round your site, you’re blocking some pages and/or some of your pages have problems. If all ok here move on, if not you need some help.
- Check how your site is indexed.
Whilst the Search Results box from Step 2 is open look closely at what is displayed. The blue text is the Title Tag that is written by you in your application used to create your site and the black text is the Description Tag (can sometimes be different if Google has found a good snippet of text on the page though) and again is written by you. The Title Tag is hugely important as a ranking factor, the Description Tag isn’t…but is important to ensure people actually click on you which ultimately determines traffic. If the blue text wraps (i.e. ends in …) it means it’s too long (should be about 70 chars) and if the black text is repeated often and doesn’t actually represent more of what the page is about you can re-write those or pay someone like me to do it for you. The Title Tag ought to have primary keywords about your product/service at the front and should end with your brand. Here’s one for this site:Don’t spam this whatever you do, by this I mean don’t put “Dog Food | Cheap Dog Food | Tasty Dog Food | Dog Food UK” – this kind of thing will get you demoted and besides, it looks awful. The Tag has to be easily read, make sense and look as if they’ve actually been written with some care and consideration.
- Check Google’s Cache.
Whilst on Google replace site: with info: and do another quick check. So, type info:www.yourdomainname.com
This result ought to be your homepage and then click the Show Google’s Cache link below. We then want to check two things here. Is the date displayed in the first line at the top of the page quite recent? Anything up to a month ago is ok, if it’s 3 months or similar this means your site is just not being indexed regularly enough – remember it’s the index Google searches against when a search is made not your actual ‘live’ site. No indexing – no rankings. Secondly, click the ‘Text-only Version’ link on the right hand side. This shows you how Google’s spider is seeing the page, does it look ok? Can you read it? If this page doesn’t really represent your full page there’s a big problem that needs to addressed. Try not to use images where text might work better on the page for instance, and whilst video and flash might look cool, these aren’t the greatest of formats for good search indexing.
- Check for Duplicate Content.
Do a quick duplicate content of some text off one of your sites pages that you think is unique. Search engines hate duplicate content, if there’s ten versions of the same text around they need to be sure the one(s) they show are the most relevant. To do this copy a sentence of eight or so words off your page, then go to Google and paste this in AND surround it in quote (“) marks either side. Your page ought to be first, and in a perfect world, the only result here. Sometimes you may see other sites that have info about you and are ‘scraping’ that text in their listing of you. This is ok as long as those pages aren’t about someone else and are providing a link back to you. If there’s many different sites being returned here you ought to have a good think about rewriting your pages and making your content unique. (especially if you’ve copied text from say, a manufacturers site about your product)
- Check how fast your site loads.
Finally, how quickly your site loads is a big factor in Ranking. This is quite a new development too. Easiest way to do this is to use Google’s Chrome browser – if you haven’t got it already, you’ll need to install it. With your site open in Chrome, right click a blank area of the page, then click Inspect Element. From the pop up box, click the ‘PageSpeed’ tab on the right hand side. (note, you may need to install something here, so just follow Google’s instructions, it’s safe to do so.) Then just click the red ‘Analyze’ button and wait a few seconds. There’s a whole plethora of results here but the one you’re most interested in is the Overview one. Your score here really needs to be above 60. If not, there’s a list of improvements that can be made, some of which are very technical. The easiest one to fix and usually the first one in the list is scaling/reduction of images. The amount of sites that use massive/hi-res photos all over their site is crazy, these need to be shrunk to the right size and most often their colour-depth reduced. Any photo-editing tool can do this. Check your image sizes! If they are 200k or even bigger (you’d be surprised how many are) get them down to 20k/30k. It’ll do wonders for your site.
That’s quite a long post, I hope some of it makes sense to you. Please read more about my approach to SEO or contact me for a free appraisal of your site.