There are lots for things you can and should do when it comes to Search Engine Optimisation (known universally as plain old SEO) but in this blog I’m going to look at some that your definitely should not do!
Know your Canonicalization
Have I lost you already? Canonicalization is process for converting data that has more than one possible representation into a “standard” or “normal” or Canonical form. Still lost? Well to put it simply it is a long word that is hard to say quickly but refers to normalising multiple URLs. To give you an example, a user (and lets not forget Search Engine crawlers) are sometimes able to navigate to the same page of your website via many different URLs.
Let’s take an example that Google uses to illustrate this point, the following URLs could all land on the same page:
http://www.example.com/products/women/dresses http://www.example.com/products?category=dresses&color=green&cruel=no http://example.com/shop/index.php?product_id=32&highlight=green+dress&cat_id=1&sessionid=123&affid=431 http://example.com/dresses/cocktail?gclid=ABCD http://www.example.com/dresses/greendress.html
This can not only be confusing for the user when navigating your site, but also importantly it is confusing for Search Engines as they will view each URL as a distinct page. Why spread the SEO juice across in this case 5 pages when it would be much more effective on one – your Canonical page.
It’s confusing for a user and it’s especially confusing to Google which will view each of these URLs as distinct pages. So to avoid this you need to specify your preferred version to help Search Engines better understand your site. You can do so by adding rel=”canonical” tag to your preferred page.
This leads us perfectly to mistake number 2.
The other method of ensuring that only one URL is indexed by search engines (and one thats more fail safe then rel tags) is to have the alternate URLs redirected using the 301 redirect. But thats not all, one of the commonest issues I see on SEO audits is that no 301 redirects are in place at all. If you go to a browser and type in your domain with or without www. in the address you will probably still get to your website, for example:
http://www.example.com and http://example.com will both go to the same page.
Without a 301 redirect in place Google will take this as two separate pages so already your whole site is duplicated! Use the 301 to redirect all traffic permanently to only one of those. Check out this handy guide to various methods of setting up 301 redirects.
Duplicate Page Content
The first two points I talk about discuss technical elements of your sites structure to avoid duplication. But there is also one other area that we need to address in the war against duplication. Page Content. What is actually written on your page, also counts. Is it unique? have you copied an pasted content from another page? Its easy to do, grab the manufactures description of a product and pop it on your page with no thought. Well now think how many other websites now also have that exact same text from the manufacture on them. Now why should Google display your page above them in Search results? Exactly so this is where you need to add your own spin on text that might already be in use by others.
In fact it does not just have to be manufacturer, supplier or partner information that has potential to be duplicated, maybe you have 3 store locations each with a website, but each offers the same services or products. Were you tempted just to copy text from one site across all 3? Well now you have duplicate page content.
Broken Links AKA 404 errors
Search Engines penalise sites with broken links. So its important that you stay active on your website and keep checking links. Not just internal links but links to suppliers or 3rd party websites. Pages are removed or sites die or are relaunched all the time so broken links are going to occur and who has not made a small typo and not noticed it.
Also if its bad for Search Engines then its probably bad for customers, have a broken link to your booking form and you’ll soon notice the drop in business and wonder why!
The easiest way to keep track of 404 errors is via a Google Webmaster account a must have tool for all website owners with the added benefit of being free. It will provide you will a report of broken links on your pages, making it very easy to remedy. I would suggest maybe having a weekly look at you account.
This article was meant to be a short look at some of the more hidden aspects of SEO but actually it turned into a more complex look at SEO then I had expected. Stay tuned and I will also do a much more simple SEO mistakes to avoid looking at a few other aspects that won’t require that much technical knowledge.