SEO stand for "Search Engine Optimization" and is a key component in any inbound marketingprogram. SEO is the practice of positioning your website so that it is well structured to be indexed by search engines and is powered by a content strategy that attracts the right visitors.
The right SEO strategy can bring lots of qualified traffic to your website and when combined with the right lead generation strategy, can result in a significant growth in your sales pipeline.
We think of SEO as two sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin is the techical component. These are all the elements of your website that affect how search engines index your content. On the other side of the coin is your content strategy. This includes keyword research, developing buyer personas, and a consistent schedule (among other things). Both are important but today we will focus on the technical side of the coin: how your website is structured.
Conducting an SEO audit of your corporate website can seem like a daunting task but we will break it down step by step to make sure you cover the most important elements.
If possible, use SSL for your website
While this is a "lightweight" factor in your website structure, it does play a small part and is very easy to implement so we do recommend getting an SSL certificate if possible. By defaulting your website to an SSL session, you are following Google's advice to encrypt traffic and it may play a small part in your rankings. Again, it's a very lightweight factor but worth a look.
Analyze your home page title tag
You'll want to take a look at the title tag of your home page to make sure it accurately reflects your company's core service or product. We see a lot of websites that simply have the company name in the title tag, like "Smith & Smith LLP" with no other words. Instead, make sure you include descriptive keywords that reflect what you do like "Smith & Smith: Indianapolis Law Firm" or "Smith & Smith: Environmental Attorney Practice."
It's important that you choose your keywords based on keyword research and/or the most commonly-used phrasing by your audience. For example, if you sell device management software, make your title "Acme Corp: Device Management Software" rather than "Acme Corp: Cloud-based Device Management Solutions." The latter may sound fancy but the first variation is what people are more likely to actually search for.
Analyze your interior page title tags
Just like your home page, your interior pages also need to be optimized. The same rules apply. Make sure you are using logical, plain-English titles that reflect what people are likely to actually search for. With interior pages, we recommend dropping your company name from the title. For example, instead of "Smith & Smith: Indianapolis Business Law Services" we would just use the title "Indianapolis Business Law Services."
Make sure your domain is renewed for multiple years
Again, this is a minor ranking factor but it is important to register your domain for more than one year. Some search engines (like the big one: Google) use the domain registration period as a ranking factor. We recommend keeping your domain registered for at least 10 years out.
Use ALT tags on all images
You'll want to make sure you are using ALT tags in all your images. ALT text is the text that explains the context of the image. For example, if you are using an image of a conference room on your website, you'll want to use "Conference Room" in the ALT text.
This also has an important effect of improving usability for visually-impaired website visitors who are using screen readers. This brings up a key point: usually anything that improves the usability of your website is viewed as favorable by search engines. Be sure that all images on your website use ALT text.
Make sure your website is responsive
As mentioned previously, search engines place quite a bit of weight on the usability of your website. Responsive design means that your website will look and function well no matter what device or screen size is used to view it. Think about how frustrating it can be when you load a non-responsive website on your mobile device and you can't find what you need. A responsive website means a good user experience and that means better search engine rankings.
Follow a logical hierarchy of importance on web pages
Going back once again to the concept of better usability = better rankings, the content on your web pages needs to be organized with the most important content at the top. Use page headers that are clear and descriptive (and plain-English) and then get right to the point as much as possible on the page.
Also keep in mind the context of the page. If the page is a product description or a service page, we recommend keeping the page short and delivering the most relevant information at the top. However, if the page is a blog post or article, structure the content logically to fit the style of the page. Articles are frequently much longer so plan accordingly.
Optimize your sitemap for the right keywords
We've seen incredibly complex websites that bury their primary products and services deep in the navigation and then obscure the content even further with vague page titles. This is not ideal for usability or SEO. Make sure your product or services are easily accessible from your main navigation and are clearly labeled. Again, do keyword research to help you find the best way to label these pages.
Check your website load time
The speed of your website plays a part in your rankings so it's important to optimize it for speed. We love the speed test tool provided by Pingdom to check website load times so see how your website performs using this tool. While there is no magic number to shoot for, you do want to try to get it to load as quickly as possibe. Some ways to improve the speed of your website include:
- Remove any unnecessary code that makes external server calls
- Reduce the file size of images as much as possible
- Use clean code to reduce the size of the page itself
- Use high-quality servers to host your website - don't skimp on resources
If your website takes more than a couple of seconds to load, you may have some issues to clean up.
Eliminate duplicate page titles and content
Search engines can sometimes penalize websites with duplicate page titles and content since it represents an un-tidy website structure. For example, if you have a page that is accessible by two different URLs, like "/business-law-services" and /index.php?gendocs&ref=business-law-services" this can be a problem. The former URL is a clean, human-readable URL while the second one is a database-driven URL, which are often the kind rendered by content management systems.
There are a number of ways to clean this up. If your CMS allows you to configure content to only use one URL, that's the best route. Otherwise, you can use a robots.txt file to exclude the unnecessary URLs or you can do this within Google Webmaster Tools.
For a thorough rundown on how to find and clean up duplicate content, head over to HubSpot's post on eliminating duplicate content.
Clearly list your address and contact information on your website
This may seem like a no-brainer but we've seen many corporate websites that obscure their contact information. List your address, phone number, and email address(es) on your main contact page and preferably in your site footer as well.
Configure your Google+ presence
Google's social layer is becoming an important component in how the search engine organizes content. Ignoring your Google+ presence can hurt your corporate website. Be sure to create your Google+ business page and tie your website to it.
Configure your other social media properties
In addition to Google+, make sure that every other social media platform that you are active in is fully configured and links back to your website. Also, be sure you are linking out to these social properties from your website. The most logical places are usually in the site header or footer.
Configure your meta descriptions
While meta descriptions have no bearing on rankings, they can play an important part in your actual traffic from search. A meta description is what shows up in Google's search results as a preview to give the searcher an idea of what the content is about. A compelling meta description can improve your chances that the searcher will click on the result and visit your website.
Make sure all your pages (including your home page) have compelling meta descriptions that are less than 150 characters.
Bonus: meta descriptions are also used as a preview when your pages are shared on social media which can improve click-through rates.
Create 301 redirects for deleted or moved content
Sometimes you may have pages that have been deleted or simply renamed. In these cases, the page may have been indexed by search engines but they can no longer find it because the URL has changed. While the content will likely be re-indexed at some point, it's better to give the search engines a hand by redirecting them. This is done by setting up a 301 redirect for any page that you want to stay indexed.
If you need help finding pages that may need redirects, Screaming Frog has a nice broken link checker that you can use for free for up to 500 URLs.
Set your preferred domain
Some websites use "mycompany.com" as their preferred domain format while others use "www.mycompany.com." Some don't set a preference which means that the website can be accessed using both addresses. Be sure to set your preferred format. It doesn't really matter which one you big (although we prefer "www.mycompany.com") but be sure that all content on your website is served up under the same format.
Create your content strategy
While we make no claim that this is an exhaustive list, these elements will help you determine how well your corporate website is structured for SEO and what you can do about it.
Once you've cleaned up the technical side, it's time to flip to the other side of the coin and focus on your content strategy. A well-structured website is a good thing and can help you with both SEO and usability, but you also need a content strategy to really win at search. This is where a good inbound marketing program becomes important to grab a copy of our Inbound Marketing: Executive Summary guide to learn more.
At this point, a common question for many business leaders is "do I need to redesign my website or can I just fix these issues on our current website?" That all depends. If your website is not responsive, you need to invest in a new site. However, if you only notice a few issues and your site is already responsive and working well, you may only need to fix a few things. If you want a more in-depth process to help your company determine next steps, download our Corporate Website Self-audit Kit (coming soon - contact us if you want a note when we release it).
Either way, a well-structured website will give you a strong foundation for SEO.
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