December 21st, 2016
These days, when it comes to building up a website, there’s just so much to get your head around, isn’t there? After sorting out the hosting, choosing the right content management system and finding the perfect domain name, working out what to do next can be mind-numbing! Should you start a PPC campaign? What about SEO?
Well, actually, you should start be making sure your website is up to scratch! The last thing you want to do is spend time (SEO) or money (PPC) advertising your website, only for it to fall into oblivion after Google decides it doesn’t like the site. So, what should you be doing?
Here are 9 things you should be sorting out before you start actively promoting the website!
If you want to build a strong foundation in Digital Marketing, the first place you need to start looking at is the navigation structure of the site. Now, this doesn’t mean just making the main navigation pretty! You need to sit down and plan out the user journey!
Every website should have an end goal that you want the user to complete. For a blog it could be leaving a comment or subscribing, whilst for an ecommerce site it would be making a purchase. So, you need to plan out how the user will be lead to this point.
An example of this would be deciding upon which categories are most important, and making sure they can be found within the main navigation. Then, you need to determine which subcategories should be linked to, from the top level categories. In essence, the idea is to create a road map for your site!
Rel next and rel prev
Pretty much every website on the internet uses category pages in one form or another. In fact, even a blog site that only has a homepage and blog posts will also have a category page: the homepage. And unless you are using Infinite Scroll (which you really shouldn’t), you’re going to have pagination.
This is where this next major tip comes into play. It used to be that you would either noindex the second page onwards, or rel=canonical them to the first page. Don’t do that! Instead, just make sure to use rel=next and rel=prev on their respective navigation elements for each page!
This will tell Google that these pages are connected, and therefore, should be treated as such. Google will then be able to understand how to value these pages and what relevance they have. It will also protect against the duplicate H1s and Page Titles that these pages may have.
Key Tip: It also works for multi-page posts! So make sure you get rel=next and rel=prev added to your website today! Once again, I cannot reiterate this enough; you really shouldn’t use Infinite Scroll! Google can’t load the rest of the content on an Infinite Scroll system, so you can either accept that only the first page of your category is going to be crawled, or you’ll need to put in some very technical alternatives to ensure that Google can find the content without it being duplicated.
Moving on to the next step, we’ll look at something we touched on in the tip above; rel=canonical tags. Now, in general, the usage of these is pretty simple. As almost every website will have some sort of duplicated content through parameters, sort functions or other similar aspects of web development, these tags tell Google which versions of a page to ignore, and which version is the correct one. Therefore, to start with, every page on a website should have one.
However, that’s not the only thing you can use them for. Did you know that, if you have a product range that changes constantly, leading to you turning product pages on and off and on again, you can actually use a canonical tag to ensure you don’t lose equity from links to those products?
It’s considered best practice when removing a product temporarily to 302 redirect it so that users coming from search results are taken to a different, relevant alternative. But, if you use a rel=canonical on these products that points to their category instead, all equity they generate from links and shares is passed to the category. On top of that, Google won’t index your temporary products, instead choosing the category.
That means that, even when you remove the product temporarily, your search result rankings won’t be affected, because Google won’t have ranked the product page at all!
So, when you are planning out the content for each page, especially on an e-commerce site, you need to keep track of how many links are being put on the page. In fact, when it comes to product listings, you should also remember that the “add to cart”, “wishlist” and other such buttons count as well!
When it comes to the layout and structure of a URL, or the web address of a page, simplicity is key! Why? Because people need to remember it and crawlers need to use it to help determine the relevance of that page. So, what’s the best layout?
So, if you are selling a smart kettle, and that product page sits in the smart home category, then the URL should look like this:
It’s pretty self-explanatory what that page is going to be about, right? Well, that’s the reason why you need to get the URL structure right! For example, how about this one? Can you tell what the page is about?
You can’t make out the topic or the product from that URL. All you can tell is that the page is a product page, but not what the product or category type actually are. And guess what! Neither can Google! So, with that in mind, it’s really important that you make sure your URL structure is as good as possible.
It’s worth noting that having a strong URL structure at the start, when a site is first created, is far easier than changing the structure at a later date. This is because, when you change the URL structure, you will need to create a foolproof redirect strategy to ensure that no equity or users are lost.
Text over images
Whilst images are great for user engagement, especially infographics, they’re pretty awful from an optimisation and Google point of view. Why? Well, to put it simply, Google can’t see the content of that image!
All Google sees is that there is an image file, but not what the image is. Whilst you can use the “alt” tag to put a description of what the picture shows, you can’t put the whole content into that tag. That’s why it’s important to have written content on a page as well! Images should be in addition to text, not the main focus of the page!
Did you know that it is possible to have up to 6 different versions of your homepage? Scary thought, isn’t it? It can happen because of the way content management systems handle content generation. For example, take a look at the following URLs.
Depending on the way your chosen CMS works, each of these can be a valid homepage URL, loading the same content. Therefore, you could actually have a major duplicate content issue on the most important page of your website!
So, what should you do in this situation? Well, you should add 301 redirects from the all but one specific version (we would recommend the HTTPS version with the index.html or index.php suffix – if you’re not using a quality CMS system). Doing this will pass any equity that these posts hold onto the main version that you chose, as well as ensuring that users are always taken to the correct version!
Just, make sure you only ever link to that version within navigation and internal links. You don’t want to force users and crawlers through redirects unnecessarily!
Recycling lost pages with 301 redirects
What’s a lost page, you ask? Well, if you look in Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) and look at the 404 Not Found pages listed in Crawl Errors, those are likely pages that once existed. By looking through them, you can find ones that have external backlinks and, therefore, have equity.
In order to get the most out of that equity, you should put a 301 redirect for the URL of each of these pages that points to a relative alternative. Not only does this help with equity, but it’ll also means that anyone who clicks on links to those pages aren’t greeted by a 404 error! So you might actually be able to boost conversions as well! In short, it’s a win win situation!
Keep an eye out for soft 404s
Now, this next bit follows on nicely from the idea of lost pages, but is a bit more technical. A soft 404 is a page that loads correctly, giving a 200 Server Code, but has content telling the user that the page wasn’t found. In other words, it is a 404 Not Found error that tells the browser or crawler that it isn’t an error.
For example, you could create an actual page within WordPress that contains a nice header, navigation menu and some content about your business, as well as a big 404 Not Found error. Then, you could set this to show whenever a 404 Not Found error occurs. Because the website is then serving an actual, live page it will no longer give a 404 error code, despite the page being a 404 Not Found page. This is what creates a Soft 404.
Obviously, for a user perspective, this really isn’t the way you want to serve this sort of content. As such, you need to keep an eye on whether you have any of these errors, as they are often considered worse than 404s alone because of their deceptive nature. Search Console is great at letting you know when these happen, and if they do, you should definitely investigate the cause for the page returning a 200 Server Code when it should be a 404 Server Code.
And now the rest
So, you’ve got all of these parts covered and under control? Awesome! Now that you’ve got the foundation built securely, it’s time to start building the walls, putting down the floors and everything else! And by that, I mean it’s time to move into ongoing marketing and optimisation of user behaviour!
Whilst some of these tips may seem like something you can do as an afterthought, they really aren’t! Getting the groundwork solid first will only strengthen your website, so that as you get more links and content and the site only goes from strength to strength.
Of course, some of these tips are rather technical, so if you are worried about how to implement them then you could always get in touch with us! We’d be happy to see which of these different tips apply to your site! And if you have any questions, feel free to let us know in the comments below!