June 23rd 2020
Joe is a Futurologist & tech expert with dozens of accurate billion dollar predictions.
SEO, the art of ranking higher in search engines through optimization techniques, is an increasingly complex necessity for nearly every business owner in the world. While it’s often called a “dark art” and consider mysterious by most, there are some rather simple things you can do to drastically improve your own website’s SEO.
1. Remove unwanted pages from search engines. Nearly every website I have ever done SEO for, including Fortune 100 websites, has had pages in a search engine’s index that really didn’t need to be there. These are often things like test products, demo content pages, internal search result pages, outdated services, or pages with personally identifiable information on them.
WordPress users pay close attention here. Many plugins, pretty much every theme install, and every single demo import on WordPress creates pages that you don’t want listed in a search engine – and you almost never know they exist until you go looking for them.
You can find these pages by doing a site:example.com search on Google / DuckDuckGo / Bing, inside of Google Search Console, or just by looking through the published pages in your CMS backend. When you remove unwanted content from search engines that keeps their bots crawling efforts and therefore their algorithmic scoring efforts focused on the content you want to be found.
Unwanted pages can be removed a few different ways. You can either add a robots meta tag with “noindex, follow” to the HEAD section of your page, you can deprecate the page and redirect the URL to another page, or in the case of Google you can remove the page directly inside of Google Search Console (GSC) using the Removals tool. The Google Search Console removal is temporary and typically I recommend only using this after you’ve setup the other methodology and only if it is an immediate need (i.e. you’re showing someone’s Social Security Number, etc…). The Removals tool is manual so you can’t bulk upload URLs. You can remove entire directories, which makes using directories for content that may later get deprecated a really good idea.
2. Remove that link in your footer to whoever designed/built your website. Look down in your footer at the bottom of your website and you’re likely to see things like “Powered by Shopify” or “Website Designed by Blah Company”. These almost always link through to the platform, host, theme developer, or website design company. That means these links are considered by a search engine’s algorithm and pass value out from every single page on your website to those linked in the footer. This reduces your chances of ranking higher in search engines, especially for competitive queries.
Here is an example of a Law Firm where the web design company gave themselves a link back. The link is the brand name of the agency and can be seen on the right-hand side:
Here is an example of a Public Library that is giving a link to the WordPress theme company ThemeGrill because they use the theme “ColorMag”. This link is placed by default, but can be easily removed. The link is ThemeGrill’s brand and can be seen in the lower left-hand corner just before the “Powered by WordPress” which also includes a link:
3. Make your website WCAG 2.1 Compliant. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which is a set of recommendations from the W3C for websites to be accessible by disabled users. Search engines have an inherent desire to ensure all users find content that is usable for them, so it only makes sense they would prioritize compliant sites higher in the rankings. By following WCAG 2.1 you’ll not only ensure your website does better in search engines, but also that you at least have evidence of your efforts to be ADA compliant to present in case of an ADA lawsuit as currently WCAG is the standard websites are held to.
Be careful of any company claiming they can make you automatically compliant overnight. They might try installing a plugin, but this is only a temporary solution at best and at worst it could slow your site down and have an adverse impact on your performance.
4. Use Google Search Console (GSC) to find 404 errors and fix them. If you have a GSC account setup you can find the 404 errors Google is seeing under Coverage on the left-hand side. When you click this it’ll default to a list of errors and how many of each error Google is seeing on your site.
Click on the words “Submitted URL not found (404)” and you’ll be able to view all of the 404 errors. You may want to verify that each page is still a 404. Especially with large teams errors can be fixed without you knowing, but still appear here.
To fix a 404 error you should try and determine if the page is erroneously broken or not first. If it should be a live page, then submit this to your dev team to have it fixed. If the page is old and no longer exists you can fix it in one of 3 ways:
- You can 301 redirect it to a similar page or the new URL for the same page on your site.
- You can 301 redirect it to the homepage of your website.
- You can have your website return a 410 Gone response for the URL instead of a 404.
When you’re done fixing the 404 errors in your GSC report, click the gray “Validate Fix” button at the top to start the process of Google confirming the fixes.
5. Make sure every page has a meta description written. Meta descriptions just sound unimportant and old school, that’s because they predate Google and came about with the explosion of meta-search engines in the mid-1990’s. For an SEO though, they are a powerful component of driving more organic search engine traffic because they serve to provide the call to action to convince a user to click on that link and not scroll past to another.
Most websites, especially those for small business, have no meta descriptions or only have one on the homepage of the site. In the absence of a meta description, search engines just make up what to put there (Google sometimes does this anyway, which is annoying). In most cases this means the engine just snags a bit of text from the start of your page and puts it there. For WordPress users however, this could be even worse. With the rise of shortcode powered page builders like WP Bakery, when a meta description is not present it means that shortcodes appear in your snippet inside of the search engine.
Missing meta description tags mean you might be losing search engine users to your competitors and missing out on chances to capture more conversions and sales. Don’t let that happen, write them for every page.
I hope you use these 5 SEO tips to help your website projects rank better and bring in more traffic from search engines like Google, DuckDuckGo, and Bing.