Website Hygiene: Does Your Site Structure Stink?
Sara Heins |March 26, 2013
This blog post was originally written by Carrie Royce.
(Note: If you outsource your SEO, you can save yourself a lot of frustration by knowing the questions to ask and the answers to seek. Our SEO posts are written for self storage operators who dabble as well as for those who outsource.)
You’re reading up on SEO, sitting through the webinars, blogging and linkbuilding like a pro…but you’re still not seeing improvements in your website’s search ranking.
The culprit could be your website’s structure; no matter how diligent you are with your off-page SEO, if your on-page structure stinks, the search bots will pass you by.
Poor website “hygiene” is not unusual in web development. Over time, on-page errors have a tendency to simply build up. But if you don’t go back and scrub them up sometimes, what starts as a trivial issue will grow into something much bigger. Eventually, it can be toxic to your web visibility. So, don’t neglect website cleanliness, particularly in the following areas:
If your website is hosted on a server that is too slow, too crowded or poorly organized, your pages will take too long to load. Fast load times are critical for keeping both human users and search bots happy. Ideally, search engines prefer a sweet-spot speed of less than two seconds, but they’re okay with anything less than five.
You can use your Google Webmaster tools, WebSiteOptimization or Pingdom to check your website’s general health and server load times. If you discover sluggish performance, consider moving your site to a different server or a better-controlled environment. A good server can be higher priced, but it’s worth the added expense.
Other methods of decreasing load times are reducing image sizes and widgets, cleaning up code and shrinking scripts. A good rule of thumb is, “less is more.” Just a few small changes can make a major difference to speed.
All web users have experienced the frustration of clicking on a link, only to see a “Page Not Found” message. Worse than that, broken links are now thwarting Google too. On-page broken links leech vitality from your landing pages and undo the trust your website has established with search engines. It’s hard to come back from that.
Unfortunately, broken links are common in web development. A site migration, page update, change in site architecture, addition of a plug-in or even a simple typo can break links. It’s tough to imagine, but large sites that rely on page templates or content management systems have been known to return tens of thousands of link errors.
Google recognizes this, so it suggests some relatively painless solutions. Good web developers will be super diligent about these fixes.
If a page is removed from your website or if a URL is changed, you can use a “301 redirect” to tell Google bots the page is gone. The 301 status code means the page has moved permanently to a new location.
Use Google Webmaster tools to see if your links stink. Xenu’s Link Sleuth is another nifty tool that quickly assesses link structure. Just download a copy, unzip it, add the URL and stand back as it crawls around your website.
Regrettably, there is a teensy bit of loss of PageRank through a 301 redirect. So, try not to overdo it with the 301s.
Another option is to keep the original page where it is and to put a duplicate page in the new place. Google dislikes duplicate content, so use a “canonical tag” to suggest that it focus on only one of the pages. Canonicals tell search engines that one page is a copy of another page, thus all metrics should be applied to the canonical page.
It’s smart to schedule regular on-site audits—especially if you have more than one person working on your site, use a content management system, or change web service providers. If your SEO vendor balks or won’t show you the data source, shop for a new vendor.