In my eleven years within the SEO industry, I’ve spent the majority of my time diagnosing websites. It’s actually my favorite part of the job, digging through code, testing navigational elements, finding things to break, it’s so fun. However, I’m still boggled when I run into the same basic SEO flubups from over a decade ago. I mean, it’s 2015, there’s a plethora of information out there via books, websites, and conferences to give people a basic foundation of proper on-site SEO, and yet, there are many, many websites that still fail at some of its most basic tenets.
Therefore, I’m going to give y’all a freebie. Five freebies to be exact. I’m going to list the five most common on-site SEO issues I run into, as well as a brief rundown on how to fix them. While these won’t be super-comprehensive, they will hopefully push you toward learning more about making your own site SEO-friendly by giving you a foundation to build upon. Now with that said, let’s dive in:
1. Missed Opportunities With Title Tags – This one surprises me the most. So much has been written about title tags that you would think anyone with a passing interest in ranking their website would know this, but nooooooo, apparently this one still flies by people. If you’re reading this and asking, “What’s a title tag?”, go Google that and come back. I’ll still be here. We good? Okay, now, what I mean by “missed opportunities” are basically just that. You wouldn’t believe how many title tags I run into that are either empty(!!!), poorly written, under-optimized, or outright spammy. The key to a good title tag is both brevity and expressiveness. You want at least your top keyword in there along with your branding. So, if you’re selling blue widgets, red widgets, and widget accessories, you can have a tag like, “Red & Blue Widgets | Accessories | Brand Name”. This covers three keywords and slips the brand name at the end all while being under fifty-five characters. You can experiment with word and phrase combinations to get just the right mix that works for you, but don’t get frustrated if it’s difficult, this takes a while to grok.
2. Unengaging Meta Descriptions – While meta descriptions have had a negligible weight as an SEO ranking factor for years now, it’s still important for one key reason: it’s the blurb of text that shows up in your SERP (search engine results page) listing. Therefore, you need to have an engaging meta description that pulls people to your site with a strong call to action. So in sticking with the widget example, don’t just say something like, “We sell blue and red widgets, and accessories.” That’s bland, man. Try, “Come check out our exceptional selection of low-priced blue and red widgets, along with accessories!” for example. Make it call to people.
3. Poor Navigation – Usability is something of a fascination of mine, so it always shocks me when I come to a website that seems to actively work against its users in terms of navigation. You want to give users as many avenues as they can to move around your site. This includes not just a streamlined main menu, but navigational breadcrumbs, links to related stories or products, a well-curated HTML sitemap, and much more. If users can’t find the information they’re looking for, they’ll bounce from your site to another where they can find it. Therefore, you need to make sure your site has multiple avenues of navigation, like those mentioned above, accessible from every page so that users can easily find what they need.
4. Misusing Image ALT Attributes – Many sites are getting more and more image-heavy, which takes away the possibilities for on-page textual content (which is still the best stuff you can put on a site). With this increased reliance on images, ALT attribute usage is just becoming more and more important. If you’re unaware, ALT attributes are where you can place text describing what an image is. These should always be used on images that aren’t spacers or placeholders, in order to help give search engines context as to what the image is and why it’s being used. This is especially important with images that also have text in them. Since search engines can’t read that text, it’s crucial to place that text in the ALT attribute that explains why that image is there as well as what it is. If you have images without ALT attributes filled in, you need to fix this one.
5. Have The Proper Sitemaps – I mentioned the HTML sitemap above, which is crucial for user navigation, but both the HTML and XML sitemaps are very important for search engine spiders, and you would not believe how many sites I run into that are missing one or both of these. Many of today’s content management systems (CMS) include features to create sitemaps by default, but even then, their implementation can be a little problematic. Therefore, you need to make sure your sitemaps are up to snuff. For HTML sitemaps, if you have a larger site, you don’t need to include every page on your site, but maybe the top two levels of your navigation (such as the homepage and product categories, for example), but for smaller sites having every page listed is fine. For XML sites, make sure you correctly use the priority attribute for each URL to denote its importance. For example, the homepage (and only the homepage) should be 1.0, while pages the next level down can be 0.75 and so on. These help search engines spider your site to the best of their ability, which helps your site in the long run.
Now sure, there are a myriad of other issues that can befall a website that can cause it to lose rankings, or rank poorly initially, or have spidering problems, or whatever else, but these are the ones I run into over and over again. Therefore, fixing these issues, if you have them — and I hope you don’t — can go a very long way toward making your site more valuable in the eyes of both users and search engines, which should be the ultimate goal of any website owner. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to hit us up in the comments! Have a great day, and happy SEOing!