“Shiny new website designer, you stand accused of crimes against SEO. The charges are as follows…”
To be fair, and especially for a new site, some of these ‘crimes’ will slip through the cracks – that happens. For a site relaunch though there’s no excuse (unless the site has been developed by your 13-year-old nephew). A relaunched site is the ideal opportunity to build on years of SEO, not to step back into the SEO dark-ages.
Using ‘home’ anywhere within your home Page Title
Yes, it is a home page, but the Page Title (especially on possibly your most popular page) is also one of the most powerful tags in your SEO arsenal. It’s a crime not to wring every last drop of SEO value from those precious 50 characters. Not just who you are, but what you do.
Using default Page Titles
Now this is a crime of laziness. You have a page on the web so that people can find you, but you don’t take the time to populate one of the key SEO elements?
Missing Meta Descriptions
Sure, Google will populate your SERPs listing with what it thinks your page is about, but do you really trust Google to make that call? Your Meta Description is your chance to craft a 150 character enticement for people to click on your SERP, rich with keywords and Calls To Actions. Use it!
404 Errors Especially true following a major site redesign, chances are you’ll have new pages or existing ones will have new URLs, while Google and people’s Bookmarks will point to the old pages.
Solution: find the top 10 pages most landed on, and ensure you’ve a 301 redirect in place to direct people gracefully from the old pages to the new. In doing so, you’ve reduced their new journey by several clicks, and you’ve told Google ‘hey, that page is now here!’
Not Updating Your Analytics
This is especially important for a redesign: without a planned transition you’ll end up loosing analytics data, without which you’ll find it hard to judge both SEO efforts and the User Experience.
While the development team are working feverishly on the look, your analytics team should be working on the substantial changes need to the analytics set-up. Which Goals, Segments, Filters, Views will need to be changed to reflect the new site structure, new URLs, new user flow? You need clean data for your analytics, because analytics is the key.
Failing to record your e-commerce conversions
A sale is great, it’s what it’s all about. But aren’t you a little bit curious as to how they got to that point? If you’ve not turned on e-commerce with Analytics, or if you’ve not implemented the tracking code properly, you’re in the dark: you can’t even begin attribution modelling or examining multi-channel funnels to see the real value of your channels.
Failure to review site performance in Google PageSpeed Insights
Page Speed and general site performance are key elements in your ranking… and your visitor’s enjoyment of your site’s experience. No-one likes friction: slow loading pages, jerky infinite scroll effects. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool shows you how Google sees your site’s performance. It’s there for a reason. Use it.
Not defining a sitemap…
Or defining it wrong. For example, pointing your sitemap to your staging server will confuse the hell out of Google, and you use a site map precisely to clarify your site to Google.
Forgetting your Rich Snippets
Your Rich Snippets are another weapon in your SEO effort. Like many SEO elements it’s included in your arsenal because well anything that may help doesn’t harm. To have it, then lose it in a redesign, is a SEO crime.
Missing Call To Actions
This is still an SEO issue as much as a usability one. You’ve spent time, effort & money to get people to your site. Help lead them where you want them to go!
For all I talk about GA, there’s should always be a point where one steps back and ask the questions ‘why?’ and ‘what?’. Why are we analysing this traffic, and what exactly are we looking for.
This is best done at the start of the project, whether it’s when we first set up analytics, or when we first get access to analytics.
To do this we need to sit down with the client and begin to understand the business. Sure, we can make some assumptions at first glance, but we really need to get inside the business.
For instance, what are the aims of the business, beyond of course increased sales. What are the key KPIs? What goals are we interested in? And what are the reporting questions that are asked on a regular basis? What other sources of traffic are we interested in – for instance, do we need to combine multiple sub-domains into one account?
Another good question if you’re setting up GA for the first time, is ‘what level of traffic do you expect?’. Standard GA has a limit of 10 million ‘hits’ a month (see this article) and while this sounds a lot, it can be reached. Other limit include the number of profiles/views; my point is that an understanding of the business in the early days of analysis will go a long way down the line.
And finally, the big question: whatcha going to do with this data?!
The final part of our basic SEO audit looks primarily at how Google sees your site. Remember that we’re using tools that that are free and don’t require getting under the hood (by looking at GA for instance).
So I’d head over to Google’s Page Speed Insights and plug-in the URL you want to check. You’ll get a score out of 100 for both mobile & desktop versions of the site.
In particular, look for the highlighted message. It should just confirm what you know about how mobile-friendly your site is, as well as offering tips on how to improve the user experience.
One final check is really the most obvious. But do a search in Google for your website. Better still, do a “site:yourdomainname.com”.
Check that your carefully crafted Page Titles and Meta Descriptions are showing just as you’d like them to. Remember that Google will use the Title towards ranking your site. And the user will use the Description to judge if it’s worth clicking into your site.
After the initial look at a site, phase two of our SEO audit process delves a little deeper without the need to roll up your sleeves and get mired in analytics. To do this we turn to a wonderful tool with a wonderful (!) name: Screaming Frog Spider.
SFS as we shall call it from now runs through your site and collates key elements that we as SEO professionals want to know about. It give a sense of how strong the site is, SEO-wise, as well as providing specific points that need addressing.
The Page Titles and Meta Descriptions tabs should be our focus: we must see no blank page titles or Descriptions, and their lengths should be towards the optimal length (more on that in another post!), so the ability to sort by these columns is a particularly useful feature. As is the ability to export the report – for example I like to use it as a basis for a report about old/new page titles & descriptions.
The free version of SFS has a reasonable limit of pages that can be crawled. I also like their focus on not just meta tag lengths but pixel width. After all, the value of a Meta Description is in it’s ability to entice the users to make that click from the SERPs to the website, and if your well-crafted Description gets cut off its value is diminished.
And the enemy is… friction, drop-off, attrition, cart abandonment – engagement in general for sure, but specifically by device. But the enemy can be defeated with the right tools. Segment your traffic, and analyse the user experience.
For example, look at the source of your successful conversions. In this example, it’s clear that desktop (blue) has a far far better conversion rate than other devices. So get A/B testing versions of your mobile site!