May 8th, 2013
Search Engine Optimization
Let me preface this by saying I know very little about cars. If the car is making noises or not running, and the gas tank isn’t on “E,” then I’m usually at a loss. So my somewhat crude analogies here should be based on my knowledge of websites and not my auto-tech savvy.
As much as SEO can help your business, it is crucial to identify issues on your website before jumping headfirst into optimization and link building. And one of the biggest recurring problems I’ve seen throughout my career is jalopy-esque websites. So I plead with website owners: please be aware that half the problem with your search engine rankings may reside within your site.
Expecting SEO to be magic for a horribly built site is like giving us a beat-up car with a myriad of problems and having us put high-performance fuel and a spoiler on it. So for this journey, I’ll be the mechanic to get your site working for better performance first, and then we can start putting on those premium options: sunroof, chrome rims, and a sweet music system for the total experience.
We’ll take a look at your website’s “engine” and see how it’s working and communicating with the outside world. There are many reasons why your website may not be working properly. From my limited understanding, car mechanics generally will focus on the “big three.”
Your website’s user experience (UX) can dictate performance as well. The engine may run really well, but if your tires are flat, or your engine block is about to bottom out, you’re not getting too far. Make sure the users can get to information they need. The easier it is for the users and search crawlers to find your information, the easier it will be for Google, Bing, and other search engines to determine your website as valuable and boost you up in those rankings.
Make these items prominent. Get them somewhere on the site that people can see. Not only are some of these good practices for conversion rate optimization, but they have practical implications with SEO, since the user experience is what search engines ultimately want to perfect.
Do the aesthetics of the site make a difference in SEO? Not really. Do they make a difference in sales? Most likely.
Let’s face it; humans have superficial tendencies. If someone offers you a car with a great engine, but it’s rusty, worn, or otherwise looks terrible, you likely won’t buy it. People coming to your site may feel the same. If you haven’t updated your website since Y2K, then you may have issues. Not just because it’s outdated, but because modern web browsers may render your site improperly and people may get discouraged. It is recommended that you get with the times. It does not have to be a top-of-the-line design with all the fancy amenities, but you should keep your site up to date in terms of layout, typefaces, images, coding language, and CSS as much as possible. Having a site from 1996 is good for nostalgia, but I’d be willing to bet that most users will buy something from a better designed site, even if it’s more expensive.
Spoiler, ski rack, trailer hitch, front exhaust, mirror tinted windows, chrome spinning rims, and a chameleon paintjob all on a Toyota Corolla can be a bit much. A website with too many fancy options can have the same effect as a site from the stone age of the Internet. Too many video players, audio as the site loads, and fancy graphics that move around can be distracting, may slow down the load time of the site, and discourage a user who wants simplicity and functionality. Fancy amenities have their place, but know your audience and use the best tactics to make their experience more desirable. Some options are great for user engagement; however, sometimes simplicity will win over fancy design.
Ever walk to “your” car in a parking lot but your key and alarm do not work? Then you realize you’re at an identical-looking car that isn’t yours! How embarrassing. I’ve seen this happen with websites too.
Some designers or website owners get overzealous and place the new design on a new website instead of a testing server. They place it on a domain they may own but aren’t using, thinking no one will see the site. Well, if the search engines crawl that identical site, they may not penalize it per se, but they will split the authority of the content.
So those terms you were ranking on the first page for previously have now slipped to page 7. This is canonicalization at its worst, as the entire site is duplicated. The search engines can’t decide which is the most important so it gives both some of the authority. They just spent time trying to get the key in the wrong car. That time means everything to rankings, so essentially you are devalued. Use a development server, or if you want to use a domain that you own, please place a robots.txt file on the site disallowing everything.
You might think car maintenance and SEO don’t have much in common, but this isn’t the first time we’ve made the comparison. Remember, when it comes to improving your search rankings–start with your website first!
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