Optimization, as they say–and I say often, is part art and part science. What it really means is that Google, Bing and any valid others just want to deliver the best search results for their search customers. If your site doesn’t tip the scale into the “this looks like the right stuff” category then they simply won’t share it with their customers. Surely that’s not hard to understand. It’s like a grocer who only wants to buy the best product to put on the shelves. So you want to create the better content and present it in a way that is simple for the users to find what they are looking for.
Everyone can benefit from an Optimization Audit–including me; that’s why I purchase one from time to time from someone other than myself. In fact I’m due for one now. That said there are 5 things that virtually every website I look at for the first time needs to have done. Chances are yours needs it right now. Just in case I’m going to throw in a couple of bonuses just to make sure you’re in top notch shape to get started. What, you thought there were only 5 things you’d ever need to do? It changes all the time….
The items listed below are perennial. They have been valid for years and will continue to be valid into the future. These are not opinion based criticisms. They are backed with years of data and information disseminated directly from the search giants themselves. If you operate a website and have ignored these few points that probably explains why you get very few, if any, transactions from your web presence. Many of these can also be translated to sites like Etsy or EBay that let you have some control over your own pages.
YOUR TITLE AND BYLINE ARE YOUR CALLING CARD
Mine currently reads: “Social Engagement Engineer | I help you connect with your best prospects.” I have been to plenty of sites that simply read “Home”. Or worse yet, “Just another WordPress blog.” Set your title and byline. If you don’t know how to do it you can trust Google to show you. If you’re hand coding, which these days is unlikely, it will be in the HTML code thus: <title>Social Engagement Engineer | I help you connect with your best prospects.</title>
Make your title say what you do. I actually changed mine a few months ago to dial back because I had too much business. It simply read “Free Web Articles | Choose from pre-selected articles for free.” In your case just think about what you are: “In-town Bakery Tarpon Springs | We make tasty things fresh and healthy.” The good news is Google will use your title instead of making one up. That means when your listing shows up in search your words pop.
And I’m not talking about dimensions in pixels. I’m talking about the number of bytes each image in your website contains. A few months ago I was hired to help out a restaurant chain. Like many restaurants they wanted little images dancing all over the screen and fading in and looping around. Pretty — but useless when it crashes the browser on the beefiest of computers. They had a slide show with 7 images. Each image was in excess of 100mb and they were set to pre-load.
The first thing I would do would be to go to http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ and run the page load test on each page in your site–especially the home page. If it takes longer than 5 seconds to load because of images I would begin by optimizing the larger graphics on the page. The Pingdom tool will tell you exactly which ones are the most offensive. I use Photoshop for most image optimization needs but you can also try the online tool at http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/imageoptimizer/
On another note make sure you have images. Reading a few lines of text is okay but when you get into publishing paragraphs a little eye candy goes a long way. Relevant, valuable images can really improve the usability score for your website.
BAD LINKS KILL, GOOD LINKS GIVE LIFE
Bad links can be broken links or links to sites that are excluded from Google. Linking to spammer sites or sites that are blacklisted for some other reason can get your site delisted or penalized as well. While there are many ways to accomplish this you can use the tool at http://www.drlinkcheck.com/ to check individual links to see if they are blacklisted. This isn’t the only thing you need to do but it’s a great start. Checking for broken links and making sure the links are still pointing to valid pages is also important.
Along the same lines I often find sites that have no outbound links to authoritative and trusted sites. Google loves to know you’re a part of the greater community and not just an island of self-validated omnipotence. Use Google to find the right sources and link to those. You’ll truly be glad you did! I even link to competitors.
SPILLCHUCK, SPLEECHICK, SPELLCHECK
If Google doesn’t recognize the word doenits in the title on your Donut Website, just kidding–everyone can spell doughnuts, then you may not get the visitors you want. Most web editors have spell check built in but what if you just used the wrong word? I’ve done that and fortunately I have really good friends who call my attention to it. I also pay people to proof my content (sometimes, especially when I’m being paid to write it) and that really pays off.
Making sure you have keywords spelled correctly is even more important than just any-old-word on the page. Misspelled keywords can result in wasted time, revenue, and lost income. Make sure to check the keywords on every page and especially in the title and headings. Google pays very close attention to those. It reminds me of some years ago when one of my salesmen sold a job to Arctic Cat. On the work order is was spelled Artic Cat and the customer had signed off on it. Since it was printed work I took the 5 minutes to verify. Good thing I did.
CHECK IT ON MOBILE FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!
You may not think many people are going to access your site on a mobile device but you’d be wrong. If you get any traffic at all some of it will be on a mobile device. While it’s not all you need, because most people don’t use an iPhone, the simulator at http://iphone5simulator.com/ does give you a great idea of what people may be seeing when they visit your site with their mobile device (phone).
If your site looks wonky (aka bad) in the simulator there are two things I have to say: It may not actually look that bad because the simulator may be munging it. Secondly you’re not alone because the vast majority of websites are yet to be optimized for mobile. The problem with that is Google now prefers sites that are mobile optimized over sites that are not. It’s not always a simple matter to optimize a site for mobile but it is possible. If your site is built on a framework like WordPress or Joomla it’s all in the theme. It may be as simple as selecting a responsive theme. If not let me know what the issue is and I’ll see what I can do to help.
A COUPLE OF BONUSES
I’m not going to beat this drum too loudly just know that it’s an issue. Firstly, if you have any sounds that play automatically when the page loads or when the visitor mouses over a link- get rid of them. Auto-playing noises are generally unwelcome. If you want to start a video do so with the volume off. And by all means don’t have a little “you” walk out at the bottom of the screen and start talking. The end result is people leave and it hurts your bounce rate. Google does not like sites with high bounce rates when there are other sites with a better rate.
Secondly ditch any Flash videos you have in your landing page. Primarily because many people cannot see them. Many phones just wont play them and many computers, like all of mine except one, have Flash disabled in the browser due to security concerns. Flash was a graphic designer’s idea of forcing the web to do things the browser didn’t intend for it today. The protocol has never been fully accepted or trusted by many security professionals and browser developers. Sounds like you’ll be busy.