We just completed a huge SEO (Search Engine Optimization) mess on a site. The client was not getting the results they wanted to see on their search results. The problem came down to several common mistakes that were done by a national graphics company. The graphics on their site were stunning and the site was beyond a beautiful site to the site visitor. Below we will cover what we discovered and explain the major, not all; of the problems that we found were wrong with the site so that you can work on making these changes to your site as well.
There are two types of redirects you can use on your website; a 301 and a 302. These numbers refer to the HTTP Status Code returned by the server for a given websites URL. A 301 redirect tells the search engine that the page has moved permanently to a new location and the old location that is in the search engines cache needs to be updated to the new location. A 302 redirect tells the search engine that the move is only temporary, and you may decide to show content at the original location in the future without a redirect and the search engine will not update its cached information.
Redirects to the site you specified in the Forward To field using a "301 Moved Permanently" HTTP response. The HTTP 301 response code tells user-agents (including search engines) that the location has permanently moved.
Redirects to the site you specified in the Forward To field using a "302 Moved Temporarily" HTTP response. The HTTP 302 response code tells user-agents (including search engines) that the location has temporarily moved.
The word canonicalization is the process of picking the best website URL when there are several choices to provide to a site visitor. For example, consider the following URL's:
To the search engines all of these URL's are different. A web server could return completely different content for all the URL's above. When a search engine "canonicalizes" a URL the search engines are trying and pick the one that seems the best for the search criteria. This means in the above scenario that you are competing against yourself! The key is to make all of your pages come out either as (1) www.example.com or (2) example.com. To the search engines whether you use www or non-www doesn't matter. The key is to decide on which one you, the customer, like and inform your web designer which one you want and they write a few routines that make it happen. Using the 301 redirect option above you will improve your sites quality within the search engine results.
Within a website you have headings. These headings are prefaced with h1, h2, h3, h4, h5 or h6. Having all one type within a page is bad. Having none on a page is also not a good practice. You should always have an h1 at the top of the page which identifies and helps users and search engines know what the title of the page is. For example, on this page "Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Common Mistakes" is the h1 section. For h2's we have "301 versus 302 Redirection", "URL Canonicalization" and "Page Headings" listed above. Within the URL Canonicalization we have "301 Redirect" and "302 Redirect". As you look at the page this helps identify what each section is to the user and the search engine.
There were two issues we found with the issues and we've routinely seen with people that don't look at every byte of a website. The first was they had an image shown as 500 pixels wide by 300 pixels tall. This was set correctly on the page which is great. The problem is most of the picture were 3,840 pixels wide by 2,304 pixels tall at 300 dots per inch. The image was shrunk proportionality but larger than it should be which affected the page load time. Page load is critical. We resized the images and saved them as a -small image with a click on the image to the full size image. By doing so we decreased the page load time from 7 seconds to less than 2 seconds. The site also gained the ability to have the full size version, when clicked, available to the user.
The second issue we found with images was that the images either had no alternate (alt) text or the same alternate text for every single image. When the alternate text was the same it was always something like "our picture". That's not very descriptive and doesn't say anything to the search engine, or visitors with handicaps, what the image is. Alternate text should be less than 75-100 characters in length or 1-2 sentences.
The title tags which are used to identify the page itself either didn't exist, were very generic or were longer than the page content itself. A title tag should do the following:
Every page of our customer's site had the exact same description. This isn't always a bad thing but if every page has the same description for the search engines to display they will typically only display one of the pages rather than multiple. Plus, if every page has the same description why not just have a single page as they're all the same, right? Each page you create has a purpose whether it is describing a product or a service. Take the extra time to put in a description that fully explains the page the user is visiting. This information will be seen in the search results for your users. Keep it clear and concise as well. People are in a hurry to find their information. If you write a book they will typically skip over to the next site.
When you are thinking of keywords think of them in two parts. Your site as a whole (every page) and your site as individual pages which can incorporate the keywords from the site as a whole. Unlike descriptions where they can very a lot from page to page keywords can be the same on several pages. Think of who will be, or that you want to, visit your site. What "phrase" will they be looking for? Are you selling fishing bait for a specific fish? Try "fishing bait sardines" rather than just "fishing bait".
There was no industry accepted site map on the site for a search engine to know what every page was within the site. The page was called site map but only listed a little over a dozen of the hundreds of pages within the site. The page wasn't setup or optimized for search engine use. There are great, free, products that allow you to create valid site maps for your site.
A free site map generator you can use is XML SiteMaps. They provide a great generator and if you need more power than the free version you can upgrade to their more powerful solution.
Webpages are defined in groups of headings, paragraphs, etc. A paragraph will start with < p > and end with < /p >. Many web designers and content management systems (CMS) routinely are poorly written that they leave off the training < /p >. This causes syntax and validation errors within your website. Browsers will still display fine as they have learned over the years how to work around poor programming. Having poorly written code though can affect your SEO capabilities. Take the time and clean up your mistakes. Use a site like W3C Markup Validation Service that will validate your page and tell you exactly how to fix it (if you do have errors). JM2 Webdesigners utilize this service for every page we create and verify that at the time of creation it fully conforms to the current internet based design standards.
The final and possibly the biggest killer for the company is they opted to change their domain name. The old name had been around for over 10 years and had hundreds of pages of content. The new name was purchased a month before going live with the site. The age of your site does play a factor into how you rank. Additionally, you should never kill off an old site. Pay the extra for hosting and do a redirect of every page (301) to the new site. This won't help the age of the new site but it will allow you to maintain whatever SEO you had and point it to your new site.
On the other hand, if your site is highly known as being a spammer site it may be worth dropping and starting completely over. For our customer, this wasn't the case. We brought back to life the old site and put in the hundreds of necessary 301's from the old domain name to the new domain name.
If you have a physical address and want or expect people to come to your location then you need to think about Local SEO. Local search engine optimization is the same locally as it is when you do your broad/national search engine optimization efforts.
The above isn't everything that was wrong with the site but was the most visible items we saw and corrected. This list is also something many are able to do themselves if their CMS (Content Management System).