Fix Your Site!

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.

SEO is Not a Genie

Sorry, I can't help!

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.

First, Let’s Take a Look Under The Hood

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.”

  1. Bad Fuel Mix – Backlinks are the fuel to your website. If you have no backlink profile, or a BAD backlink profile, this could be hindering your website’s ranking performance. We should take a look and determine what types of links are pointing to your site. First off, are there any? Are they related to your business? Are they credible or are they just link farms? Be sure you have records of your backlink profile if you’ve had previous companies performing link building on your behalf. Often, we spend more time dismantling a bad SEO strategy than we do working on a new, good one.
  2. Lack of Compression – The compression process in a car engine allows the fuel to do its work; similarly, holes in parts of your website may let out value and cause it to not rank properly. Tools like Screaming Frog or Xenu are valuable, free site-scraping tools that allow you to uncover these holes in minimal time. Regardless of what tools you are using, some important holes to consider are:
    1. Navigation and Internal Linking – You have to let the air and fuel know where to go, and without proper navigation and internal linking, both the users and search engines won’t have a clear idea of where to find the information they are looking for. Make it easy for them to find the necessary parts to make your site run efficiently.
    2. 404 Errors – Parts that lead to nowhere or are disconnected aren’t doing much good. Too many broken links from your website will lead users and search engines to not trust your site’s information and go elsewhere.
    3. 301 and 302 Redirects – In your car engine, you find a hose that has a big hole in it. You replace this hose with a much longer contraption you’ve built using a garden hose, paper clips and duct tape. You get the engine started… great! But these are temporary fixes. As this relates to your website, 301 and 302 redirects should be remedied once you have the right URL in place. Redirects help, but taking a detour to get the air or fuel to the proper area isn’t as good as a direct route. Too many temporary fixes can reduce your performance. Get those parts you need and install them properly.
    4. Island pages – These are pages that are isolated from the rest of the website. They may be great, but they are not doing your site much good since no one can reach them. Connect important pages, preferably in prominent places like the navigation or sub-navigation within other pages.
    5. Page Load Time – If the parts of your engine are working but everything is moving slower than it should, this will reduce the performance. Your website can suffer from similar issues, so make sure it’s loading within a reasonable time. If you notice lag, reduce the amount of scripts (the “footprints” of your images) to help assist with the page load speed.
    6. Canonical Issues – Probably one of the most overlooked issues, canonicalization can cause the splitting of authority between URLs that have identical content. Make sure the proper redirects are in place to avoid this. The fuel may get to the engine, but if it’s dispersed in two (or more) different locations within the engine, it may not be as effective.
  3. Lack of Spark – The spark is what ignites the process in the engine to do its work. I would equate this to keywords and what we traditionally consider search engine optimization. Piquing interest with the right keywords is what is going to get your site flowing properly in search results. Ignite your site with proper keyword research–relevant terms in the proper tags and especially your content–so search engines can see the importance of your website as it relates to information searchers seek.

Ok, Engine is Good–Let’s Check The Outside

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.

  • How are your calls to action?
  • Are important pages visible in the navigation?
  • Do you have a contact form? Is it part of the global navigation?
  • Social Icons?
  • Phone number?
  • Robots.txt?
  • Sitemap.xml?

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.

Great, Your Site Works Properly (But it’s Really Ugly)

Do the aesthetics of the site make a difference in SEO? Not really. Do they make a difference in sales? Most likely.

But she purrs like a kitten.

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.

Wow, Your Site Looks Great, But You Have WAY Too Many Options

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.

Do NOT Put up an Identical Site on a Different Crawlable Domain

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.

This is what split authority feels like.

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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