Website Designs That Kill SEO and Rankings

seo checklist imageConsidering there’s no shortage of SEO and marketing advice floating around on 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 companies 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 on the basics of search engine optimization. You can’t ask the right questions if you don’t know the right words. And don’t be shy about asking prospect 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, their plans to correct any technical errors as well a futures 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 bestSEO tips article, and instead, head in the opposite direction by listing some of the most recurrent errors we see on websites that are killing search engine ranking along with tips on how to fix them.

So read along and compare the things noted on your website and 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 then stuff 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 locate you (and maybe your competition) by. 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 as well as “search terms” data offer great insight. As does Google & Bing webmaster tools. Having these should be the defacto 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 is technically measured in pixels  e.g. 200-512px). 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. But lead descriptions with your 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 is 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 have your contact information text on every page of your website. Because the footer is a global element of a website 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

In the old days, we instructed search engines to “index” a web page with a line of code called a robot META tag, but that practice isn’t necessary any longer. Here’s what Google say 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 not to 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 the 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 thisclient.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 picture. 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 the image is to be placed on within the filename (e.g. a “red shoe” images that belong 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 and how-to articles on them are excellent.

So there you have it – six 1/2 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!

About Chris Sheehy

Rhode Island SEO and local internet marketing specialist at Sidewalk Branding Company - http://sidewalkbranding.co
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