You've spent countless hours making sure your website looks beautiful and covers everything you want it to, only to find out that no one is coming. Sound familiar?
If you've spent any kind of time working with websites you've almost certainly had this experience. This isn't the movie Field of Dreams. Just because you build something, doesn't mean people will come.
The reality is, there are many things that developers and marketers do to make sure a website and its pages can compete on a search engine for traffic.
This SEO checklist is a useful guide for those just starting out, or anyone that may have experienced an unexpected drop in traffic. In any event, read on to learn about some common SEO mistakes that cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales every year.
1. Your Pages are Tagged NoIndex
I'm starting with this one because the purpose of a noindex tag is to explicitly tell search engines not to list your webpages on the search results. Unlike many of the things on this checklist which might hinder your rankings, applying a noindex tag will prevent a page from ranking at all.
I met a gentleman a few years back that runs a successful retail business. We were talking about online marketing and when I asked about the traffic he was getting to his website, the response I got puzzled me. How could such a well known and established business get so little traffic online? After digging into his website, we discovered that a noindex tag was incorrectly applied to every page on his site. Why? I'm not sure. But once the issue was fixed, the website's pages quickly regained their rankings and the phone calls and emails increased along with it.
This simple mistake can cost a business thousands of dollars in lost revenues if it goes unnoticed. That's why it's important to keep an eye on your traffic month to month and investigate if you ever notice any unusual drops in traffic.
2. Your Website Is Not Mobile Friendly
Search engines like Google scan webpages across the internet to learn what they're all about. They're looking at all kinds of things, like the page titles, headings, keywords and links to other webpages. Google uses the information it gathers to decide which webpages to show when a user searches for a particular phrase.
In the past, Google's bots scanned the desktop version of a website, but in 2018 Google announced they were moving to a mobile first index.
Keep in mind, this part of the update wasn't as big a deal for newer, responsive websites that show the same content to both mobile and desktop users. The people most affected by this had older websites or had a website specifically for mobile users.
However, there was another part of the update that assessed the user's mobile experience. That meant that even responsive websites would need to optimize to stay competitive. Now it would look at things like the font size on mobile and its legibility, how close the buttons or links are, does the content shift on the screen as it loads up? Multiple signals would give each webpage a mobile score.
What it boils down to is this. If you want your webpages to compete in the search, they need to give mobile users a great experience. This applies to the content you're providing, but also the usability and intuitiveness of the page itself.
Checkout Google's free Mobile-Friendly Test to test your webpages.
3. Your Website is Too Slow
Page speed is such an important ranking factor that we're giving it its own section. Google even came out with a tool to help people troubleshoot many of the things that slow a webpage down. Google's Page Speed Insights analyzes your webpage and gives you a speed score. The speed score is different for mobile users and desktop users and you can toggle between the two.
The tool gives you suggestions on the things that you can fix to speed up your website. Remember it's a tradeoff though. While it would be fantastic to score 100%, it's not always realistic. Especially if you have an eCommerce site that runs apps. Even a simple popup that promotes a sale is going to slow you down a little.
4. Your Content Needs Work
Hundreds of companies just like yours are competing to show up in the search results for phrases that they think will help their business. That means your webpage about a certain topic needs to be pretty good if it's going to show up on the first few pages of Google's search results.
If you're trying to build organic traffic, start by putting together a content marketing strategy. You want to find some niche topic that you can write about with some authority.
For instance, if you're selling something like garden products, you can start a blog about gardening. Or if you're a carpenter, you might showcase some of your work with a DIY blog.
The key is to write about things that people are actually searching for online and in your target area.
What I mean is, you can write the best article about a certain topic, but if very few people are searching for that topic, you're not going to get many people clicking your links. You would be better off writing about a topic that many people are searching for, with the hope of capturing even a fraction of that traffic.
You can use tools like Google's Keyword Planner to get ideas about which topics to write about. Take a look at the Avg. Monthly Searches column in the chart below. You can also see a Competition column which gives you some idea for that (although vague). A better way to see the competition, is to search for the phrase in Google and visit the websites that are listed at the top. Can you write content that's as good or better than that? If so, go for it!
When you're doing your keyword research, look for phrases that form a question related to your business. Write articles that answer those questions.
Content marketing is a long game, but it will be well worth it down the road when your webpages are bringing in a steady stream of earned traffic. So there's no illusions either, know that it can take months for a page to realize it's true potential, somewhere in the neighbourhood of six months from the time it's first indexed.
You can think of it as the compound interest you earn on an investment. The articles that you post today will pay you back monthly, over and over again in traffic.
What's the difference between good and poor content?
Write for people and not to game the algorithm. You always want to be a good source of information first, so take the time to drill down on a topic.
Wordcount matters does matter. But keep your content relevant and don't waste the readers time doing things like keyword stuffing.
Include links where it makes sense
Make sure you're speaking in a way that is easy to understand
Proofread your content to make sure it's free of mistakes
You get points for being unique, so don't be afraid to come at it from a different angle than everyone else.
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5. Your Site's Structure Changed
It's not uncommon for a company to lose traffic after a complete redesign or overhaul of a website. In most cases it's because the site's structure changes. A page gets deleted or removed from the menu, links get broken and it goes unnoticed, especially for sites that have hundreds of pages.
First, redesigns need to be handled with care. You always want to carry over your best content that draws traffic to your website. Update them if you must, but keep them.
But even when you're not doing a redesign. You always want to look at your analytics before you decide to remove a page from your website, or change the site's structure in any way.
Keep an eye on your website's traffic as well as a log of any and all changes you're making to it. If you notice any significant and unexpected drops in visitor traffic, investigate it.
For many businesses, online traffic is directly tied to revenues. So it's imperative that you're able to quickly identify any issues before they become problems. The last thing anyone wants to see is a loss in traffic dragging down revenues.