Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.
The 8 Most Common But Simple Missed Opportunities In Optimizing Content
These SEO errors can be easily fixed, but not if you're unaware of their existence. Contributor Janet Driscoll Miller shares the most common simple problems she's come across in her 10 years in the business.
This year marks my tenth year in business as an SEO firm, and over that time, I’ve seen my share of missed opportunities on websites.
With the changes that are always emerging in SEO, it can be difficult to differentiate the tactics that will be most effective, especially if you’re resource-strapped.
Here are the eight most common but simple missed opportunities I typically see for optimizing content for SEO.
1. Poorly Written Or Duplicated Page Titles
Why is it that some websites feel the need to list everything but the kitchen sink in a title tag? Yet other sites may just ignore the title tag for each page, choosing to duplicate them by default. The poor title tag has often been an abused tag on the Web page, with some SEOs desperately stuffing keywords into the title tag like it was a Thanksgiving turkey.
The title tag’s most important role, however, isn’t SEO rankings — it’s what it offers you after you get the ranking.
Take for example this search for “Italian restaurants in Charlottesville”:
The first result is adequate, and the site ranks well. However, compared to the second result, the first result has a lot of missed opportunity in the title. Travinia does an excellent job including keywords (“Italian,” “wine bar,” “Charlottesville”) in the title, but far better, Travinia tells you what they are right there in the title tag.
Use the title tag to your advantage. You have approximately 50–60 characters to complete a message in the title tag. Certainly, use keywords, but also think about what message you want the title tag to convey to the searcher.
2. Poorly Written Meta Descriptions
I like to think of the title tag and its partner — the meta description — as the marketer’s opportunity to write something compelling to entice the searcher to click on the SERP. Unlike titles, descriptions also show any keywords from the search query in bold, helping the searcher identify at a glance which search results are more likely to match the query.
But in addition to containing some keywords to help with bolding and visibility, the meta description should be a sales piece. Why should the searcher click on this result? Sell it!
I always enjoy looking at political candidates’ sites to see what they need to fix. Here’s the search result for “Ted Cruz for President”:
What? We’ve got some conflicting messages here. The title tag says “Ted Cruz for President,” but the description has not been updated since he used this website for his last Senate campaign in 2012. That’s just causing confusion all around. It may lead to someone not clicking on this site, thinking it is not the correct result.
On the other hand, Chris Christie does a good job of using his description well, being very clear that this is the site for the presidential run versus his official government pages. His team also did a good job using most of the space available (approximately 140 characters) and presenting a completed message and thought:
But what happens if you don’t write a meta description? This is where the fun begins. Google may choose a description for you. Do you really want Google to decide what is best for essentially advertising your site? Let’s turn to candidate Rand Paul’s search result:
The description for the home page seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? That’s because Google pulled this text from Paul’s home page because he has no meta description on the site:
While the site has an open graph description, it has no meta description, and, sadly, Google will not pull your open graph description for use in search results. So, define your own meta description. Tell people why they should click on your result and not your competitors’. Make your most compelling argument.
3. Monitoring Sitelinks
While sitelinks are generated automatically by Google, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them out once in a while to see what’s being generated. Sitelinks are a great way to drive traffic deeper into your website — if it’s to a place you want visitors to go. Let’s look at the Ted Cruz example again for a minute:
What is that second sitelink – “Here?” That link leads to the donation page, but it isn’t clear from the label on this sitelink — which could be costing Cruz some donations.
Or take this one from Google itself on a search for “Google Search Console”:
As you may remember, Google rebranded its Webmaster Tools as Search Console back in May. Yet the sitelinks still show the old branding in the links.
So, ironically, be sure to use Google Search Console to monitor your sitelinks for errors and those links you want to exclude.
4. Lack Of Structured Markup
Rich snippets are a fantastic way to make your SERP result larger and more visible. If you can’t program structured markup, then use Google’s Data Highlighter tool (however, this will only generate rich snippets in Google, not in other engines).
Here’s an example of how product- and review-rich snippets can enhance a SERP:
Even though Best Buy outranks Amazon in this search, where is your eye immediately drawn? The ratings/reviews rich snippet on Amazon’s result helps it compete for clicks, even though it isn’t the highest ranking result.
If you can, be sure to use structured data to mark up your code. If you’re using templates in a content management system, this may be as simple as marking up a few templates to show snippets for many pages. But if you’re not tech-savvy, use the Google Data Highlighter tool to at least get your rich snippets started.
5. Broken Analytics Tracking
If you take nothing else away from this article, I sure hope you will heed me on this. Analytics are the marketer’s and the webmaster’s best friend; it tells you who comes, who goes, how they get there and how they interact with your website. However, about 80 percent of the time when I’m doing an SEO audit, I find that the analytics has errors.
You can’t adequately benchmark organic traffic levels and track your progress without analytics firing properly. So if you’re using Google Analytics, be sure to check your code.
A handy tool from Google is the Google Tag Assistant plug-in, which checks Google Analytics tags, as well as other types of Google tags (like AdWords conversion tags) for errors.
6. Poorly Executed Video Embedding
Case studies are compelling marketing tools; however, the popover doesn’t allow Francine’s story about the Hyundai Santa Fe to rank on its own Web page.
To me, this is a missed opportunity to get additional content ranked. Instead, Francine’s story is on a page with lots of other information. That’s not entirely bad, but I do think there was an opportunity to have this page rank in addition to the main car page.
In contrast, Ford embeds its videos into their own pages, making each video have a rankable page:
We have to stop the insanity with extraneous code. If your page doesn’t need that code, get rid of it. Extra code just slows down your page load speed. Google provides a helpful list of suggestions of certain types of code that can be mini-fied to improve page speed load times.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool and enter your URL to see what improvements you may be able to make.
However, Google’s tool can’t always tell if you have old code on your site. For instance, if you started using one marketing automation tool and changed to another but never removed the old marketing automation code, you’ve got extraneous code on the site.
One helpful tool to see what types of code may be on your site is the Ghostery plug-in for Chrome. This plug-in identifies all of the tracking code on a page, which can help you quickly see if you have old tracking code on the site, even if you don’t know HTML.
If you’re more HTML-savvy, check out the raw code directly, and see what you can remove.
8. No XML Sitemap
I once did a test several years back to ascertain how fast a new post on my company’s blog would appear in the Google index if I had it on the XML Sitemap and the Sitemap registered with Google Search Console. The result? Eight seconds.
It was literally indexed by Google more quickly than I could switch browser views and search. You’re writing great content on your site, right? So make sure the search engines see it as soon as they can so it can be ranked.
To create your XML Sitemap, you can typically use a plugin with your content management system, such as the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress.
Have some common yet simple content fixes for SEO to share? I’d love to hear what you’ve come across.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.