by Josh McCoy,
As SEO professionals or webmasters, we have built or maintained a website molded to our perception of what a site should be. But while piece-mealing an SEO project, band-aiding, or adding features/content, has the role of your site gone off course?
Taking a step back or “getting out of our own head” allows us to revisit why we even keep this site going in the first place. It exists to convert, to inform, to portray a brand or message, to facilitate a user.
Bringing it Back in Scope
Your site may “look good” but be a failure when it comes to SEO, usability, or conversions. Looks don’t matter to those of us who pay attention to analytics and know the benefits of organic visitors.
While this post has the overtone of usability of conversion optimization, it’s also important to think about the search engines. After all, search engines use the site too, don’t they? Like users, search engines crawling the website must understand it.
What follows are a few common situations where sites have become so consumed with growing, adding to, adapting, and trying to be “it” that they lost focus of what their site truly is supposed to do.
Think Like Your Customers
Search engines have the ability to form semantic relationships. Thus, they have the ability to quickly take a 30,000 foot view of your site, understand the theme of your site, know link relationships and the content of those sites that help form your topical relevance, and so on.
A user doesn’t necessarily know those acronyms you use internally as a widely known reference for what you do or sell. You need to get out of your head and into the heads of your customers.
Just because you refer to products in acronym or slang in-house, this may not be how it is searched or understood by your potential site visitors. The bots may understand you, but you just lost a sale from the human visitor.
First Time Visitors Navigate Differently
If you want users to see your most important information, you have to place it in common areas.
If you sell products at all your locations, then “Locations” should be in the main navigation of your website and featured as a call to action on the page as well. The user sees this and now with heightened internal linking, while the search engine bots see the importance too.
The Navigation Nightmare
There’s nothing more annoying than being lost digitally. Visitors should know in the first few seconds of looking at your main navigation what you offer.
Visitors who land on an internal site page have no idea where they are on the site if the website doesn’t use of breadcrumb navigation, the URL structure has no folder structure, pages are located directly off the root or dynamic in naming convention, the internal page lends no use of sub navigation or is different between internal site pages.
Let us take our human hats off for a moment and think about the search engines. Might it annoy them too if they enter a site and can’t understand where they are or how this site is tied together.
Key point: people don’t always enter your site on the homepage and neither do search engines.
The Apology Page
Even a well-managed site that is quickly changing or growing is going to see 404 pages appear. We’re human, we sometimes forget redirects.
Would you show up at someone’s front door for a first date with your zipper down, or go to a big job interview with a huge stain on your shirt? 404 pages reflect badly on you – and it’s a bad experience for users and search engines.
You messed up. You have to apologize and hope the user or crawler forgives you.
Counter this by at least serving a custom 404 page providing an apology for the error, showing the standard page template with main navigation as well as including links and messaging to visit top areas of the site. The worst thing you can do is show a blank page.
404’s are a lost opportunity. Don’t believe me? Go visit your Google Analytics Content section and search for Landing Pages of your 404 URL or by Landing Page with the filter set to the title element of your 404 page and take a look at how many people encountered a dead page on your site in the last month.
While this article has only brushed the surface of how you should cater to a visitor or crawling bot experience, these are some of my biggest pet peeves that are often times easy fixes.