SEO is typically one of the first things that practices focus on when it comes to their online marketing, and it is the primary means they use to measure the effectiveness of their Internet marketing partner.
Unfortunately, most practices only look at the surface level (a handful of vanity search phrases) to gauge the effectiveness of their webmaster and are quickly persuaded by SEO sales reps to make changes, only to repeat this process 12 months later.
What To Look For When Evaluating Your SEO
We have been in the business of positioning practice websites on the search engines for nearly 17 years. Over that time, SEO competition, as well as complexity has grown exponentially. Many of these factors appear on your website, but there are a large number that also appear outside of it, on other websites and platforms. To provide a resource you can implement, this guide focuses on on-site factors. We will address off-site evaluation in a subsequent article.
The intent of this “How-To” guide is not for you to go out and manage your own SEO. It is a resource that identifies key areas and insights to evaluate and understand the SEO strategies of your agent. Use it to take more control and participate in the direction of your website marketing to attract more high-quality visitors that turn into customers.
Basic On-Page Optimization
Although the number of ranking factors that Google uses to index listings has grown to over 200, some of the most influential are the basic core elements to on-site SEO strategies. The following are some quick basics to assess your website’s optimization.
You probably heard about “meta tags”, but most practices are not sure what they do, or just too intimidated to find and understand them. There are two primary meta items you want to look for at least on your most important pages: 1) Title Tag and 2) Description Tag. Both of these elements appear in Google’s organic search results.
To find them, here are some easy steps:
A) Simply go to the target page and right-click on a content area of the page. You will see a command pop up, and you will want to find “view page source” or the like. (find similar)
B) Click on the link to view your source code. It will open a view of html code that shows the page’s programming. To find your Title Tag, you will need to open a “find” command (“Ctrl + F”) and search for <title> and that’s all there is to it! Check to ensure that page titles are unique to each page and includes your most important keywords that relate to the subject of the page topic. Ideally, your page titles tags should be about 50-65 characters long.
To find your Meta Description Tag, use the same find command and search for <meta name=”description” and you will be able to see the page’s description. The description should include target keywords, including geo-qualifier (if relevant) and effectively describe what the page’s content is about. Since search engines only display about 160-180 characters (varies based on pixels) for the description in search engine results, you want to make sure they are shorter than that range.
The headings at the top of each page and subheadings that separate sections of content are also important SEO elements because, like a well-organized article or book, they immediately let visitors (and search engines) know what the subsequent content is about. Headings should include prime keywords, but remain concise and not overly repetitious to visitors or “spammy” to search engines.
Long-tail Search Phrases
Keyword research indicates that the volume of searches for most short, traditional vanity phrases have declined over time, as users type (or speak) a wider variety of questions and search requests (long-tail). To address these types of search phrases, consider incorporating Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) sections. Not only can they effectively include long-tail search phrases and questions, they can provide a wider variety of more useful information to your most interested visitors.
Content is one of the biggest ranking factors for your website. One consideration is the amount of content on the page. Most SEO experts identify 300-400 words on the page as a minimum. However, minimums are subjective. In some cases, pages that dominate your target search phrases may have substantially more. It is not unusual to find over 1,500 words on some of these pages (long-form content). The key is to identify if long-form content is needed and write to the length that is appropriate for the subject of the page.
Another consideration is frequency or freshness. When Google crawls your website, it must find new, relevant and timely information. Most practices rely on the website’s blog for this content. We recommend weekly posts or more, but it is more important to post quality rather than quantity. An epic post that has great user interest and engagement is far more valuable than several short blog posts that have no user value and only adds more words to your site.
You will also want to consider the types of content on these key pages and posts. Search engines also recognize that users like diversity in content. Effective copy writing is essential, but more interactive content such as images, graphics, PDFs, videos, quizzes, presentations, etc. can deliver user experience and SEO benefits, but you will need to make sure whatever you add to the page does not impact load times (see Site Speed below).
Lastly, in addition to adding new pages or blog posts, it is also beneficial to update content of existing pages that have established equity with search engines. Find pages of your site that are closest to securing important top listings and take the time to actually read the content. You will likely find there are updates to that page that can enhance user experience and improve authority with search engines.
In many, if not most cases, the majority of your website visitors are viewing your site and pages with a mobile device. Google has made it abundantly clear that it prefers websites that are built mobile-friendly and enhance the experience for smartphone visitors. This not only means that your website pages are built to display on a mobile device, but that mobile visitors are viewing, engaging and consuming these pages effectively.
One important aspect to provide impatient, "on-the-go" smartphone users is speed. We all realize convenience-driven consumers, as well as search engines, will have a negative experience if their visit is impeded by slow loading pages.
In fact, over seven years ago, Google published a blog post stating the importance of site speed and that it is not part of its algorithm to index search results:
“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we've seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there . . . we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed.”
So how fast does your site need to be? According to Google spokesperson, Maile Ohye, “2 seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability.” So does that mean your SEO is hurt if it is longer than 2 seconds? Probably not, if you are relatively close and load times are not significantly longer; but 2 seconds or less would be a good goal.
One of the more comprehensive website speed testing tools is https://tools.pingdom.com. You can also get some idea on your website speed by using this Google Insights tool to see how it performs on both mobile and desktop views. It will also provide some suggestions to improve the load times.
More To Come
Of course there are a lot more factors that go into a highly optimized website, but these core areas that should give you some insights on what you and your agency can do to improve your on-site optimization. We will address some important off-site strategies in an upcoming how-to guide.
SEO Evaluation Checklist
Meta Tags – Identify your highest priority pages and check your Title Tags and Description Tags.
Page Heading and Subheadings – Make sure your prime pages include keyword-relevant headings and subheadings.
Long-Tail Optimization – Are you able to find relevant content and headings that target commonly asked questions or long-tail search phrases?
Ongoing New Content – How much ongoing content is being added to the website regularly and what is the length, nature and quality?
Interactive Content – Is your new content just text or does it incorporate more interactive and more engaging visual types of content?
Re-writing Existing Content – How much of your new content is replacing old, less effective content on existing pages?
How fast is the website and internal pages loading for mobile and desktop users?