We optimize a lot of websites for our clients. We get asked the question "how do I make sure my website ranks in Google". This blog post is our short and sweet formula for simple things almost any business can do to improve their Wordpress website.
Basic ways to help a site rank better
Make sure there isn't a NoIndex tag
The first thing to do is make sure your developer didn't accidentally leave a NoIndex tag on your site when it was developed. The NoIndex tag tells Google to ignore your site completely. This is pretty embarrassing for a developer to miss, but it's quite common. To find out, right click on the desktop version of your website and select View Page Source. Then do a this search "noindex" (without quotes). If noindex shows up in your search, ask your web developer about it.
Quick page speed test
Next, copy the URL of your home page. Then go to tools.pingdom.com and paste it in. Select the geographic area nearest you, and click Start Test. In about a minute you will get a website grade. If your grade is A or B, great. If it is C, D, or F, ask your developer what their problem is.
If your Pingdom test looks like this you have a problem - the grade is D, the page size is 19.0 MB, and the requests are 203.:
One good thing about the result above is the Load Time. 1.3 seconds is pretty good.
See, most web developers don't really know much about SEO. They say they do, but often are mistaken when it comes to an honest evaluation of their skill level. This simple test using Pingdom is something any Marketing Director with little technical knowledge can do.
A better page speed and experience test
To get the best possible data use Google Search Console. Follow the instructions and setup your site. Once you have set your site up in GSC, and a few days have passed, look in the left sidebar for "Core Web Vitals". At the top you will see Mobile, and a graph showing URLs that are poor, need improvement, or are good. You don't want any "poor" URLs. If you have them (as in the screenshot below), ask your developer why. Then ask them to fix it. Culprits are usually images with giant file sizes, video that isn't setup properly, your website may be using too many "requests" - that is, contacting a bunch of other websites before being able to load your page, etc.
Sometimes you have to redesign and redevelop your site. If you could double your traffic, leads, and number of closures by doing so, would it be worth it?
Ask Grandma - Don't make them think
Does your home page, and other pages, say what you do without scrolling? In other words, if you sell widgets does it say so at the top of your page without the user having to search for the information?
Is your website super easy to navigate? To test this, find the oldest person you know and ask them to perform a function on your website like "find the blue widgets page". Then stand behind them and watch. Don't talk to them. Don't answer questions. Just watch, and time it. Do this with a few different key requests like "set an appointment" or "download a white paper on red widgets". You will learn a lot. Some people video it. Then, they show the video to their developer and ask them why it took grandma so long to find this key bit of information.
Ask your vendors to link to your site
Lots of good links make your site rise in Google.
Link building is one of the most grueling aspects of SEO. We won't get into the whole thing about link building here because this is an article about simple things you can do to improve Google ranking. But one easy-ish thing you can do is to ask your vendors who rely on your business to create a link on their website that links to some important page within your website.
Again, there is a Wonderland of detailed and byzantine information on SEO link building, but if you do that one thing it will get you some links and your Google ranking should improve somewhat.
Get a free trial of Ahrefs and / or SEMRush
Get a free trial of the SEO analysis tool Ahrefs. Really use it for your site for the free seven day period. You can cancel if you don't like it. We use Ahrefs everyday. You can run a detailed site audit, find the keywords that your site ranks best for, get SEO link building ideas, and a whole lot more. We suggest spending a few hours a day with it and also spending time taking their free classes and reading their blog. It'll open your eyes to the improvements you can make on your site although it may seem a bit technical at first.
Another great tool we use everyday is SEMRush. There is overlap between Ahrefs and SEMRush, but we find the site analysis tool with SEMRush easier for clients to use. At this writing we aren't sure there is a free trial of SEMRush.
Developing a better website
If you used SEMRush and Ahrefs, and also Google Search Console, you'll likely have noticed a lot of problems with your site. At least, most people do. You may be thinking that it needs a wholesale redesign. If so, read on.
A word about web developers
It is exceedingly difficult to find a web developer that knows SEO, user experience, information architecture, front end, back end, and graphic design. The do exist, but we prefer to get two to three experts in their fields.
Why? Most developers just take a pre-made template, put some images in it, change the logo, drop in your text, setup a form, and call it a day. That's why most websites don't perform well.
The person in charge of marketing, or the entrepreneur, doesn't know what she doesn't know. She doesn't know what questions to ask. She thinks a developer is a savant. When in reality they're just people trying to make a buck.
Do your sitemap before you hire a designer or developer
At Reputation X we do a lot of work before we build a website, especially our own. First, we develop the site map. We use OmniGraffle on a Mac. It looks like this:
If you cannot do the sitemap and wireframes yourself you can hire a User Experience Design expert to do it for you for between $50 and $100 per hour.
Do wireframes before you hire a designer
The sitemap shows the pages and, though it's hard to see in the above image, the template number. This site has 13 templates. After the sitemap is done, we create a wireframe of the templates using Adobe XD. XD allows us to make interactive template wireframes so we can click through them and discuss with the team. We do this all in-house. Adobe XD is surprisingly easy to use. The templates might look like this:
Write some notes before you hire the designer
Once the sitemap and templates have been roughed out, but not designed, we put together a website specification sheet. This might say things like:
... etc. You can also provide URLs of websites in your industry you want to emulate to some degree (but not copy) with notes as to what you like and why.
The site notes are informal notes (you can be really formal if you want) that direct the eventual developer as to what we'd like.
Only after the sitemap, wireframe prototype, and notes are ready do we hire a developer. When we hire a developer we generally use TopTal. TopTal enables us to really find the right designer quickly and for the price point we want. We give the designer the sitemap, wireframe prototype, and notes. After a phone call with them we get started and have a great design after a few iterations in a few weeks. Designers are $50 - $100 hour. But you save a lot of money by doing the sitemap and wireframes yourself, if you can.
Designers and developers are different
You will almost certainly need at least two different talent sets to create a decent SEO friendly website. They are a designer, and a developer.
The designer does the bit people see. The developer the bit they don't generally see. When looking for a designer you wan the following attributes:
- Wordpress expert
- Has SEO training
- Understands Google Core Vitals
- Is an expert at User Experience Design (UXD)
- Is patient with noobs like you :-)
You want a developer to take what the designer does and make it work online. They should also understand a few things like:
- Wordpress development (if you are using Wordpress)
- PHP, HTML, CSS, JQuery, MYSQL
- Project management experience
- Knowledgeable about SEO
Again, the good folks at Toptal can help you out with all of this.