Tips to Improve your Search Engine Ranking by cleaning up your website
As we come to the start of the third week of a new year, Christmas memories fading and we’re all settling back into the daily slog, take this opportunity to clean up your website’s SEO with these handy tips.
Although, these are mainly aimed at WordPress websites, the principles can be applied to virtually any platform, they just might not be as easy to implement yourself!
1. Check everything works
You might think this is obvious but sometimes we assume everything works when it doesn’t.
Go through each page of your website and check it all looks like it should, test if the functionality (for example contact forms/ signups) works, check all images are displaying etc etc.
If there are parts not working, your visitors might leave and your bounce rate will suffer giving Google the wrong impression of the value of your website.
WordPress users: there are a number of plugins that will detect broken links for you – good ones will tell you where the links are (i.e which page or post) and some will let you edit the links there and then.
2. Check all the information is correct
Again, perhaps another obvious one but it might be that you’ve forgotten to change a phone number in one place, or you’re advising a service that isn’t relevant any more. You want the information the search engine is indexing to be the correct information.
Read through each page, post/product and widget – well, as many as you can or at the very least, the most important ones.
However, don’t delete pages unless you really have to as this will cause 404 errors (see below).
3. Check for 404s
If you have registered for Google’s Webmaster tools, then you’ll be able to see any 404s easily. 404s is when someone tries to navigate to a page, post or product that no longer exists (or never existed). The server returns an error code of 404 ‘not found’ and most websites display a custom message advising the visitor.
However, Google’s not a big fan of an increase in 404s so it’s better to minimise them, where possible.
If you have to delete a page, post or product, grab the url before you do it and then you can set up a redirect from that link to another place. Ideally, it would be a similar page, post or product. Redirecting to the homepage is better than nothing but not ideal.
WordPress users: There are a couple of options for you. First, install a redirection plugin which lets you set the old url and the new url, manually. This is best if you want to redirect the visitor to a similar page, post or product – for example, if you have a bright pink duvet that’s now discontinued, redirect them to a pink duvet that’s a slightly different shade.
The second option is a plugin that redirects all 404 links to the homepage. Only use this if you have a lot and it’s simply not feasible to manually add them all as it will be confusing for the customer to land back on the homepage, unexpectedly.
4. Check and compress all images
In addition to making sure they all display properly, this is a great opportunity to add some SEO.
Firstly, compress all of the images if you haven’t already done so – this will help your page load speed and make Google smile. There’s a number of online tools available that does this for non-WordPress users but it might mean you have to download, compress and reupload.
If you do have to do this, take the time to rename the files if they’re not already descriptive. For example, if the photo of a cactus has the file name ‘photo.jpg’, change it to ‘green-cactus-in-brown-plant-pot.jpg’ or use other appropriate keywords.
WordPress users: There’s a few handy plugins which will compress or ‘smush’ all the images in your media library for you without having to download/reupload anything.
The next step for all the images, is to ensure all their titles and alt tags are set. This is also a way to optimise your website for search engines.
Non-WordPress users, this step might be more difficult depending on the platform you are using – it might even need a bit of html skill. Nonetheless, it is a very important step so worth finding out how to do it.
WordPress users: Great news! It’s really easy for you to add them and there are 2 options:
- If you are uploading the image for the first time, make sure you fill in the ‘Title’ and the ‘Alt’ on the upload form. And, when it is displayed on the website, these will automatically be added for you to the code. They can be overwritten on the page if you’d like a unique title or alt tag per instance of the photo.
- For photos already in your media library, simply find and edit the photo in the media library and fill in the boxes for Title and Alternative tags. Note, the title is already filled in from the image file name but it can be overwritten to make it more readable, which would be a wise move. For example if it says ‘green-cactus-in-brown-plant-pot’ change it to ‘Green cactus in brown plant pot’ or even add in some more keywords!
Don’t forget to press Update once you’re done.
5. Check your Meta titles and descriptions
This one is absolutely essential to improve ranking!
Some website platforms only give you the option to enter an overall meta title and description for the whole site (without manually coding it), but ideally each page, post and product should have a unique title and description which sums up the content on that page.
Google displays these in the search results, usually the first 50-60 characters of a meta title tag and meta descriptions should be between 150 and 160 characters but use as much of each as you can, placing essential search keywords in both.
Google doesn’t really use meta tags anymore but as other search engines do (like Bing etc), it’s worth putting them.
WordPress users: As you’ve probably guessed, there’s lots of plugins available to aid SEO for WordPress. The most popular two are Yoast and All in One SEO – both are great, if you’re new to SEO, Yoast might be the better choice. Either way, once installed, there will be places for you to add ‘overall meta’ which will be the default and then a place to edit each page, post and product.
6. Check Directory Listings and Google My Business
Another great way to increase your ranking on search engines is to list your website onto reputable directories – with the emphasise on the word reputable, otherwise it can have the opposite effect. Examples are Yell.com, Yelp, Google My Business (see below) and there are several industry specific ones. If you already have listings in these places, check the details are correct, especially your website’s url and your contact information.
And, if you’re not already on Google My Business – get on it! It’s easy to set up and Google will validate your physical address (if you have one).
And, finally, remember that SEO improvements don’t necessarily work immediately so don’t expect your visitors to double overnight. But, if in a couple of months if you’ve not seen a growth in number then do repeat the process and perhaps reconsider some of the choices of keywords.