Do you ever feel like the rules of SEO are somewhat arbitrary? It's natural for small business owners to build their websites with customers' needs in mind. If customers can understand your website, then why shouldn't Google's highly sophisticated algorithms be able to do the same? Why worry about SEO if your site is clear and functional?
The answer is that Google, Bing, and other search engines need your help! If we don’t provide search engines with the information they need, then it’s impossible for them to rank our websites high when prospective customers are searching for our products and services. Unfortunately, if you want to ensure your prospects.
Here we'll review several common problems that can hinder your SEO efforts. We've split our list into sections about indexing and relevance issues. As you'll soon learn, both types of problems are equally important when auditing your SEO strategy.
Problems with Getting Indexed
Having a great website that's not properly indexed is like having an awesome store without any signage or advertising. Why bother having all that relevant content if Google's bots just ignore it?
If your website isn't being properly indexed, then one of these problems is probably the culprit:
#1 - Content Locked Behind Forms
Does your website have content that can only be viewed after completing an online form? Placing content behind log-in pages, e-mail signups and other types of forms essentially locks out search engine bots that can't input passwords to proceed. Structure your site to have plenty of accessible content that anyone can view without needing to fill out a form.
#2 - Duplicate Pages
Search engines place a high value on original content, and indexing problems can arise if the content on your website isn't unique. Sometimes, duplicate content can be caused by blogging tools or content management systems. Webmasters might also attempt to cut corners by reusing the same content on different parts of their sites.
You might also find that your original content is being used without your permission on someone else's website. Unscrupulous webmasters often use scraping tools to copy people's websites all the way down to the coding. Also be wary of purchasing content from freelancers or content mills where plagiarism is a threat.
#3 - Uncrawlable Link Structures
Does your website have a logical site map with each page accessible by a link? If not, then don't expect the search engines to index your entire site. Scores of novice webmasters fail to confirm that all the pages on their sites are properly linked, which essentially renders webpages invisible to the search bots.
Making your site map overly complicated is just as bad. When put on paper, your site map should resemble a flow chart that starts with your home page and neatly branches out to menu items and their respective subcategories. Think of it like a family tree, with your great grandparents on the top and subsequent generations branching out below. Your website is much more likely to be properly indexed with a simple and purposeful site map.
#4 - Not Enough Text
Videos and images work wonders for retention and driving user engagement. But while humans see cool videos and catchy images with clear messages, all the search engines see is a video or image file. Make sure each page on your site has plenty of relevant text context to deliver the right cues to search engines. You can also complement your images and videos with relevant captions and alt tags.
#5 - Code is Blocking Google's Bots
Your website's coding could be to blame for your SEO woes. Certain bits of coding instruct search engines on how to crawl your site or whether to crawl it at all - and you definitely won't be indexed properly if parts of your site aren't being crawled. Talk to a Web developer if you suspect this is a problem.
Problems with Getting Seen
Making sure your site shows up in relevant search queries is the other half of the battle. Search engines won't understand when and where to rank your website if your content is confusing or if you're not using language that's common among your customers.
Check your website for the following problems if its search rankings aren't up to snuff.
#1 - Unclear Content Signals
The content on each page of your website should have a clear purpose. For example, your home page should give an overview of your business. Click on an item in your main navigation menu, and that page should be focused on that menu item.
Page content that's too broad can water down the potency of your webpages and ultimately hurt your search engine rankings. Make sure your site map is organized and that each page has a clearly defined purpose that's reflected in your content.
#2 - Not Using Common Keywords
It's not enough for your content to reflect what your customers want - you must also speak in common terms. For example, you wouldn't say "wood cutting tools" when you could say "saws," "chainsaws" or "saws and chainsaws." If you don't use keyword terms that people actually search for, then your site won't rank as high when people search for those terms.
#3 - Inconsistent Language Usage
Subtle inconsistencies of language can also impact your search engine rankings, especially when these inconsistencies appear in your primary keyword terms. A great example is the mixing and matching of British and American rules when spelling out various words (i.e. "flavor" vs. "flavour"). Make sure each page sticks with one language.
#4 - Mixed Location Targeting
Where do most of your website's visitors live? Writing your site for an American audience is fine in most cases, but what if a large portion of your viewers live in other countries? While this isn't a problem for most small business owners, this problem is becoming more common as entrepreneurs leverage the Internet to connect with customers around the world.
Fixing these common problems can work wonders for your SEO. Remember that getting indexed and clarifying your content won't guarantee loads of organic traffic; your SEO strategy must also include marketing efforts to get your website seen by the masses. As more people see your site, they'll share it on social media or link to it from their blogs, which builds your site's credibility and results in better search rankings. But none of that matters if the automated bots can't index or decipher your website!
Want more SEO Tips? Click here to register for our upcoming webinar on Thursday, August 3: “The Death of ‘Old School’ SEO And The 5 New Rules To Follow”.
Phil Frost is Founder and COO of Main Street ROI. Phil leads the company’s operations and is the primary creator of Main Street ROI’s marketing training programs. He is an expert in search engine marketing, website analytics, and sales funnel optimization. Phil’s marketing thought leadership has been published on Forbes.com, Inc.com, MSN.com, and many other major business media outlets. For more SEO help, get your free copy of Phil’s Ultimate SEO Checklist.