Over the past year, we’ve conducted more than 200 search engine optimization audits. And in the process, what we’ve found is that the vast majority of websites we reviewed had several problems preventing them from ranking well in the search engines. So, I thought it would be helpful to provide a list of the major factors we review when auditing client websites.
In today’s article, I’m going to address 15 factors for on-page SEO (e.g. optimizing your website for search engines). And then in my next article, on Friday, I’m going to address the main factors we look at when reviewing off-page SEO.
1. Title Tags
Your title tags tell Google what your pages are about, and they are one of the most important SEO factors.
Here’s what we check for when reviewing title tags:
- Are your title tags unique on all pages?
- Do your title tags include well-researched keywords?
- Are your title tags well-written (e.g. not over-optimized)?
- Are your title tags 55 characters or shorter?
2. Meta Descriptions
Your meta description is the text that shows up below your title tag in Google’s search results. Meta descriptions don’t directly influence your Google rankings, but a well-written meta description can help generate more clicks from your Google rankings.
Here are some things we check for when reviewing meta descriptions:
- Do you have unique meta descriptions on all pages?
- Do your meta descriptions contain relevant, engaging copy?
- Are your meta descriptions 150-160 characters?
3. Header Tags (h1, h2, h3)
Headers are the visible headlines on the page. It’s important to include relevant keywords, but most importantly, write headers for conversion since they are highly visible to website visitors.
Here are some questions we ask when reviewing header tags:
- Do you have headers on your webpages? (Many websites we review are missing them)
- Do your headers include relevant keywords, without being over-optimized?
4. Website Copy
It’s critical to make sure that your webpage content will satisfy the intent of the searcher. In many cases, this means having a sufficient amount of website copy on your pages. You want to incorporate your keywords, but you also don’t want to force too many keywords into your website copy. It’s important to write for humans, not search engines.
Here are a few of the questions we ask when reviewing website copy:
- Do you have sufficient copy on pages you want to rank in Google? We recommend at least 600-700 words of copy.
- Does your website copy satisfy the searcher’s intent?
- Is your website content unique? (We recommend avoiding duplicate content both across your own webpages, as well as between your website’s pages and other webpages on the Internet.)
5. Website Structure
By “website structure,” I mean having dedicated pages for each core keyword/topic you want to rank for in Google. Google wants to show the most relevant webpage for any given keyword. So if you have a focused webpage for each of your core keywords, you’ll have an easier time ranking in Google.
Here are some questions we ask when reviewing website structure:
- Do you have pages for each major product/service/topic you want to promote via SEO?
- Are your key SEO landing pages well-integrated into your website’s linking architecture?
Canonicalization is a big, fancy word. The concept here is that it’s important to make sure that each of your pages only loads with one URL format. You don’t want your website to load at both http://www.website.com and http://website.com. The reason you don’t want that to happen is because Google actually considers those 2 different websites – and it’s better to focus your efforts on establishing the authority and reputation of 1 website in Google’s eyes.
In addition, it’s also important to make sure you tell Google which page you want to rank if there are multiple URL versions of the same page (this is especially important for e-commerce websites). Use the rel=”canonical” tag to specify the canonical URL you want to rank in Google.
Here are some things we check for with canonicalization:
- Does your website load with both “www” and without “www” (bad), or does one version automatically forward to the other (good)?
- Does your homepage load at just 1 URL location (good) or does it also load at /index.html or /index.php, etc (bad)?
- If you run an e-commerce website, do you have rel=”canonical” tags in place?
7. URL Structure
We recommend making URLs brief and descriptive, and integrating keywords into the URL when possible. We recommend avoiding lots of parameters in URLs.
Here are some questions we ask:
- Are your URLs short and simple?
- Do your URLs contain relevant keywords?
8. Image Optimization
We also recommend optimizing images for search engines.
Here are some things we check for:
- Do you have relevant, descriptive keywords in the Alt tag?
- Do you have relevant, descriptive keywords in the image file name?
9. Website Load Speed
Website speed is a major ranking factor with Google. Plus, people hate slow loading websites.
Here’s a free tool provided by Google to check your site speed:
10. Schema Mark-up
Schema are HTML tags we can use to help website content be more easily recognized by search engines. Schema markup is especially recommended for local search engine optimization.
If you are targeting a local area, the most important Schema we check for is the geographic Schema with your business category and Name, Address, and Phone number.
11. Contact Information
For local search engine optimization in particular, it’s very important to have complete and accurate contact information on your website.
A sitemap helps Google identify all of the pages on your website. A lot of times, we’ll find that a website has an HTML sitemap in place. We also recommend having an XML sitemap.
A blog is the easiest way to add new content to your website, and more pages of content will provide you with more opportunities to get found in Google. Also, for many topics, Google tends to favor websites with fresh content. In addition, prospects may want to read articles on your blog to gain confidence that you are a knowledgeable, expert provider.
Here are some things we look for when reviewing blogs:
- Is your blog located in a directory of your website (e.g. website.com/blog) or on a subdomain (e.g. blog.website.com) or on another website (e.g. on blogspot)? We recommend locating your blog in a subdiretory of your own website.
- Have you been consistently publishing blog entries (at least 1x/month)?
- Are your blog posts informative and engaging (not solely promotional)?
14. Mobile Optimization
Mobile traffic is expected to surpass desktop computer traffic by 2015. As mobile traffic grows, we expect Google to favor websites that provide mobile-optimized browsing experiences. We strongly recommend optimizing your website for mobile devices, if you haven’t already.
Here are some things we check for:
- Does your website display well on mobile devices?
- Is your website mobile responsive (good) or do you have a separate mobile website on a subdomain, such as http://m.website.com (not as good)?
15. Social Media Integration
Social media is having a growing impact on search engine optimization. We recommend getting set up on social media websites, making your company easy to follow, and making your website content easy to share across social media.
Here are some things we look for:
- Have you integrated your social profiles on your website?
- Have you added social media “share” buttons on your webpages (especially your blog pages)?
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You’ll receive a detailed Search Engine Optimization Audit, so you can see exactly how to start ranking higher in Google.
Plus, you’ll get a 1-on-1 SEO Consultation, so you can get all of your SEO questions answered.