For those of you who don’t know me that well, I’m a computer science major at Oregon State University. Along with that, I hold a day job as a content manager for a multifamily real estate education company, called Multifamily Mindset.
That said, my two passions happen to be computer science and real estate investing. I also happen to find internet marketing and search engine optimization terribly interesting.
Over my (very) short career dancing through the ever-stimulating code swirling beneath the internet, I’ve worked on a few different websites and web platforms. Many of them, quite frankly, are poorly built (by someone other than me, of course!) or simply need a little bit of love.
I’m working on one of these websites currently. Like all the rest, there are a number of ridiculously easy things that can be done to improve both the design and the functionality of the site, not to mention improve the site’s overall SEO.
As I begin the process of fixing up the site, I wanted to share with you a few of the first easy fixes I’m making to improve the overall quality and rankability of the site.
If you are just as nerdy as I am, I hope you’ll enjoy these three quick tips.
Number 1: Set Up Some Kind of Analytics
By far, the easiest thing you can do to improve your website is to simply integrate some kind of analytics tool. Really, this is more of a prerequisite to even get started.
How in the world can you expect to make improvements when you have no idea how to measure improvement in the first place? Before you start messing with your website or that of a client, you should make sure that you have some sort of tool to quantify success or failure. In other words, you need some way to answer the question of “is the website serving its purpose?” and, more importantly, “how do we know?”
To give a case study, the site I’m beginning to work on needs some serious improvement (to say the very least). As I’ve begun to analyze the site, I’ve gotten feedback like “it’s ugly” or “it’s real spammy looking” or even “I hate it!” While I don’t disagree with these statements, these forms of feedback are not especially useful. They might be true statements, but they don’t give me an idea of the website’s actual performance.
The more important questions to ask are “how many visitors are actually viewing the website?”, “where are these visitors coming from?”, “what content are they viewing on the site?” and “are they completing the conversion funnel?”
When I asked these types of questions, I was met with silence. The reason:
We didn’t have any way to collect the data necessary to answer the more useful questions.
So, if you find yourself with this same problem, you should set up some sort of analytics tool. Personally, I opted for Google Analytics. It really doesn’t matter which tool you choose. You could even build your own in-house analytics tool if you really want (I really wanna work on this in the future… but probably won’t get to it if I’m honest). The analytics tool should simply be able to tell you things like how many visitors are visiting your site on a daily and weekly basis, where the visitors are coming from, and what they are viewing on your site.
When you have these metrics in hand, you’ll be able to form a clear idea of where exactly your website’s performance currently stands, and you’ll have a clear way to set actionable, quantifiable goals for improvement.
For example, knowing exactly how many visitors see your site allows you to change a vague, unhelpful goal, like “get more traffic on our site” to more definitive, measurable goals like “increase the number of daily visitors from 25 to 100 by June 31” or “increase Facebook traffic by 25%.” You can even set up more advanced goals to track your site’s conversion rate and monetization. That, however, maybe a topic for a much more in-depth article.
The main point here is that having goals that are quantifiable by some set of metrics is easily the best way to gain traction. Without the ability to measure progress, you’re just shooting in the dark.
Simple fix: Set up Google Analytics
You can set up almost any analytics tool in a matter of minutes. Google Analytics is no different. This article by the Google Analytics team will walk you through the entire process. When you do get analytics set up, don’t be discouraged if there’s a bit of a learning curve to understanding and interpreting the data gathered.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t know how to interpret the analytics data right away, having some data is far better than having no data at all. At the very least, you’ll be able to see relatively how many users are visiting your site. That is a solid starting point.
Number 2: Remove Example Content and “Empty” Pages
This seems really obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked on a site with example content still hanging around somewhere. As simple as it is, I guess it needs to be said: Get rid of the sample content that came with the theme you bought! Or, at the very least, make sure the example content is saved as a draft rather than published somewhere on the site.
While you may think this content is harmless (especially if it’s not linked anywhere on the site), the empty content can, in fact, hurt your search rankings or just confuse your users.
To give an example, when I first analyzed the website I’m currently working on, I found that the site had two home pages: one which was the actual live home page with a URL of “http://examplesite.com/” and the other which was leftover from a previous design with a URL of “http://examplesite.com/home/.”
The extra home page (“/home”) was an example template from the theme that had come with the website. Rather humorously, the template home page was designed as a theme for writers and was displaying a bunch of random book titles and book signing events. Being that the website is for a real estate education company, the template homepage was pretty misleading about the website’s content — not to mention just plain confusing for anyone who might drop by the page looking for a real estate event instead of a book signing.
Fortunately, when I looked through the site’s analytics, I saw that no users had actually visited the extra home page instead of the real home page, so the SEO effects, in this case, may actually have been negligible (which we wouldn’t have been able to tell unless we set up Google Analytics to give us the data). However, this could have been very different had the page been linked from somewhere on the site. Anyone who accidentally navigated to the wrong home page would most likely leave the site in a matter of seconds, leading to a higher bounce rate and thus lower search rankings. Additionally, the content on the wrong home page would confuse the Google crawler about the site’s content and intention, again lowering the site’s relevance and ranking.
Simple fix: Delete the page
Obviously, the quick fix was simply to set the extra home page as a draft. Removing the page from the Google crawler by putting a “no index” tag in the robot.txt file might also be a great idea, but again, this may be a topic for a different article. If you want to know more about robot.txt files, check out this article by Neil Patel. (As a side note, I don’t typically like digital marketer types, but, I’ll admit, this guy knows his stuff).
For God’s Sake, Make It Mobile-Friendly
Last but not least, I’d like to beat a dead horse. If you’ve read any sort of SEO article before in your life, I apologize, you’ve heard this before. You’ve probably heard it ad nauseam:
But, for everything that is good and holy in the world, please just let me see your content on my phone.
You don’t have to do anything fancy. You don’t have to create entirely different layouts for mobile. You don’t even have to change any of the content. Just make sure none of the text is overlapping, spread off to the side of the screen, covered by a photo, or too small to read when I pull it up on my phone.
It’s really that easy!
The site I’m working on again fell prey to this fault. After fixing the aforementioned issues, I pulled up the site on my phone. The mobile wasn’t bad. However, certain portions of text were just a wee bit overlapping on mobile, some of the text was misaligned, and photos were sized incorrectly. All the usual suspects.
Issues such as these are quick to fix and, at the very least, increase the functionality of the site on mobile. Usually, a good mobile site is correlated with higher search engine rankings, since most users these days are looking at sites on their phone, and consequently, the easier a site is to navigate on mobile, the lower the bounce rate.
Simple fix: Use the page builder or media queries
These days, most of the sites I’ve worked on are built using WordPress, which I can’t stand (sorry WordPress lovers!), or some kind of drag-and-drop page builder. If this is the case, the good news is that fixing the mobile stylings of a website is usually as simple as clicking a few buttons on whatever page builder was used to build the site. Most page builders these days come with a mobile style option, which is generally just as easy as designing the desktop layout. Some people simply forget to double-check this option or forget to view their site on different-sized devices prior to launching.
If your site wasn’t built using a page builder with mobile styling capabilities, don’t freak out! Instead, you can apply the wonderful magic of media queries and good old fashion CSS to change the mobile view manually. If you love to code as much as I do, this method is actually a lot more fun (not to mention easier to figure out than those stupid page builders). There are endless amounts of quality resources available if you’d like to learn more about media queries. I’d recommend checking out this article by Mozilla. In fact, you can learn just about anything web development-related on the MDN web docs site. It’s maybe my favorite internet resource.
While this was not the most informative resource on the internet (trust me, there are so many), these are at least three things you should fix right from the start of your work on any website.
As a web developer, these fixes seem so ridiculously obvious that they need not be mentioned, but remember, most clients are not developers. So, as long as poorly built websites continue to permeate the cornucopian landscape of the interweb, you should still be aware of these problems and know how to fix them.