Everyone Is Looking For Quick Wins; Here’s One That Drives Leads
Your website might be holding back your entire lead generation program. Yep, that’s right, your website. Not the words on the site, not the design of the site and not the flow of the site. The technical SEO (search engine optimization) underpinnings of the site might be preventing you from ranking as highly as you could.
That’s what we found when we started digging into the technical optimization of our own site. We already had a great site that was driving new visitors and leads every month. But because our site is old (the domain is over 15 years old) and the site has undergone several design and content changes over the years, technical challenges with the site were putting downward pressure on its ability to rank.
To help you understand, new sites we build from scratch rarely have technical SEO challenges because we’re building them, designing them and architecting them with SEO in mind. But older sites that were built before some of Google’s recent updates, and sites that have been updated or upgraded a few times over the past few years, almost always have search-related challenges that you uncover by doing a technical SEO review.
Here’s what we learned and how it drove our site’s ability to be found and produce leads.
Page Load Speed
The speed at which a page loads on a browser is one of over 200 factors that go into Google deciding how highly to rank your pages. Is it the most important factor? No, but it is definitely one to consider. Google wants pages to be served up in less than two seconds, and if you’re at 2.5 seconds, that half-a-second can be a big deal to people visiting your site, believe it or not.
Remember, Google ranks pages, not sites. This means you need to know how all of your pages perform, not just a single average for the entire site. If you’re running your SEO, landing page and content strategy correctly, you’re working hard to rank specific pages on the site, and you need to have page load timing data for all of them (or at least the major content pages on the site).
A ton of free speed testing tools for your website are available. Just Google “page load times for my website” or something similar. Be careful to pick a respectable one, or else you’ll be bombarded with emails. I know, marketers ruin everything. What you also want is a list of pages that are taking too long to load, so you can go back and start looking at what’s causing the slow load times and then work to fix those before running the tests again.
Big images on site pages (or images that are not optimized for the web) are one of the more frequent contributors to slow page load times. Sites today are so visual and have so many images, background images, videos, carousels and other site features that sometimes the size and optimization of the images gets overlooked.
Most of the speed testing tools will look at your images and give you an idea of how optimized they are or how their lack of optimization is impacting your ability to rank. Some also have optimization tools that will quickly go through your images and optimize them. This service is not usually part of their free toolkit but would be worth using if image optimization is an issue for your site.
Site Errors And Broken Links
Again, newer sites tend to have fewer errors and broken links. Having an extensive QA process prior to launch helps with catching issues like this that come up during the development process. But if you have an older site and you’ve added pages, deleted pages, reorganized the site or changed pages in any way, it’s highly likely that you have site errors and broken links.
While Google and other search engines are crawling your site, they’re going to find these issues and use them against you when it comes to ranking your pages. It’s critical that you identify these issues, correct them and constantly monitor the site for new errors that can come up even when you’re not doing anything major to the site.
Here’s an example: You have a partner program and you link from your site to a partner site. That partner changes the name of the page, removes the page or moves the page. Now you have a broken link. Here’s another example: On one page you link to a blog article on your site, but the blog used to reside off domain, and by design you moved your blog to your domain (good move, by the way) but you forgot to update those links. Now you have more broken links.
This kind of stuff happens every day. Trying to prevent it is tough but monitoring for it and making sure you fix it when you find problems is how you keep your site ranking highly.
Designed And Built For Mobile
You should know that if your site is not designed to be responsive, it’s not even going to show up in mobiles searches. That’s right. Your site must be built strategically to look great and work great on mobile devices if you want to be found when your prospects are doing searches on their phones.
If your site isn’t ready for this, more bad news. Google reports that more than 60% of searches are initiated on a smartphone. Makes sense to me. I’m constantly looking for stuff on my phone and then following up on my laptop.
This doesn’t mean that people can find your site on their phones. This means that your site must be built to present and render differently on phones than on a laptop. This means having a conversation with the person (or agency) who built your site about menus, content presentation, order of content and more.
Building mobile-ready sites is more complicated and more expensive than simply hoping your site looks good on a phone. Google knows the difference, and if you want to be found in those mobile searches, you need a mobile site.
Security And Site Maps
Google is also hot on secure sites. Sites that have the SSL certificate in place are going to be ranked more highly and, in some cases, sites without a security certificate are going to be left off altogether. It’s not hard and there is no expense associated with having the SSL certificate on your site. It should always be a requirement, regardless of what business you’re in.
Historically, SSL was much more important when e-commerce transactions were being executed on the site, but today, secure sites are important to every business. Google is making that clear by using SSL as one of the many signals it’s looking for from sites that rank highly.
Site maps are another example of well-designed sites that have search as a key driver baked into the site’s strategy. Google and other search engines use the site map to crawl the site, index the pages quickly and signal that this is a highly effective, well-designed site for visitors to find what they’re looking for. If your site doesn’t have a site map, it needs one. If it has one, you can actually use the site map and proactively submit your entire site for Google to crawl and index.
This is by no way the complete technical SEO checklist, but it is a good start. Several tools are available to provide this and other technical information on your site’s ability to rank on Google, including SEMrush, Moz, SpyFu and Raven Tools. Some of these tools are free to try out, and that might be enough to identify some technical upgrades for your website.
Producing Results And Lift
The secret is not in the tools or the analysis but rather in what you do with this newfound information. As with all of our work, the key is prioritization, maintaining a backlog and running data-driven tests as you start making your upgrades.
We started looking at this for our site back in January, and as early as February we saw a 20% increase in visitors from organic search. We also saw our daily number of visitors from search continue to increase into March. This is the number we use to project month-end results, and at the current daily rate, March will be our best month for organic search visitors in the history of the 15-year-old company. We are executing no other search-related campaigns, so we know the results are solely from this effort.
How To Organize Activities Associated With The Audit Data
First, prioritize all of the upgrades needed as identified by the technical SEO audit. Which of these upgrades will drive the biggest impact for the least amount of effort? That’s where you start. Rank the upgrades using this methodology and start at the top. You already have a benchmark for organic visitors over the past few months, and you should have a benchmark for keywords ranking in the top three and top 10. Use that as your baseline.
As you tackle various upgrades, track the results. While ranking data for individual keywords might be challenging because of Google, you can always see how many visitors are landing on your site from organic searches. Plus, here’s a hint, you can always see which keywords are ranking if you run an AdWords campaign. Consider more tightly integrating the teams or people handling PPC with the people handling organic SEO so that intelligence is shared and leveraged across tactics.
This is another great reason to start breaking down the silos within your marketing team or start consolidating your agencies. There is no need to have an SEO agency and a paid media agency anymore. In just a few days (or weeks at the most), you should see the number of keywords in the top three and top 10 increasing. You should see the number of visitors from organic rising, and you should see the number of leads from organic searches rising as well. If you can drive a 20% increase, you’ll be a rock star in no time.
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