- Understand how the many facets of website health impact your SEO results.
- Make your site easily crawlable with sitemaps, standardized URLs, proper Rel Canonical tags and internal links.
- Lower the chances you’ll be flagged as spam by using HTTPS and disavowing spammy backlinks.
- Improve the user experience through site speed optimization, streamlined HTML and mobile friendliness.
When’s the last time you ran a domain health check? If it’s been a while then it might be time for a tune up. While your site doesn’t need to be perfect, don’t let too many issues pile up or Google may send your traffic to your competitors.
Unfortunately, not all website issues are black and white. Some may impact your entire domain, while others might only affect specific pages. To make your life easier, we built a quick website health checklist to fix the most common issues that will hurt your SEO.
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Website health checklist
1. Don’t block important urls
The first thing Google search spiders will look for on your site are robots.txt files. These files are incredibly useful if you want to block less important URLs from being crawled. However, your website will be a ghost town if you accidentally use them on important pages. Check out Google’s robots.txt Tester to see which pages are blocked from the crawlers.
2. Use XML sitemaps
Think of an XML sitemap as a table of contents for your domain. They give spiders a bird’s eye view of your site to understand how everything fits together. Without an XML sitemap, search engines may crawl only a fraction of what you have available. You can build your own XML sitemap or use a third party tool instead.
3. Standardize urls
Incorrect URL configuration is another common problem that even large enterprise websites face. For example, let’s say your homepage is yourcompany.com. It’s possible that this page may appear for the following URL variations:
How does that hurt your SEO?
Search engine crawlers will view each of those URLs as separate pages, yet the content is identical. Not only will that confuse Google, but it will also dilute your backlink profile if websites link to multiple versions of a URL.
4. Use unique meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are an important factor in your domain health. Whether your goal is to optimize for clicks or keywords, you should always include a unique meta description for each page on your site. If you don’t, then Google will cobble one together for you. And that rarely works out in your favor.
5. Optimize your page titles
Title tags are one of the strongest on-page ranking signals, so it’s crucial that you use them properly. As a best practice, put keywords towards the beginning of the tag. But you should also match the Google search intent of the keyword and write something people want to click on.
6. Include image alt text
Images are an excellent way to grab users’ attention, tell a story or explain something complex. However, don’t forget to tell Google what the images are about with descriptive alt text.
Alt text helps your images appear in search results, and it’s used as anchor text if the image is also a hyperlink. For example, we’ve used the alt text “website health checklist” in our free downloadable below.
7. Use rel canonical tags
Duplicate and thin content confuses web spiders and causes keyword cannibalization. As a result, Google might flag your content as spam and push it lower in the SERPs.
Canonical tags tell crawlers which version of each web page should be indexed as the primary source of content. For example, if you have different versions of your site for mobile devices and desktop, or in several languages, then you should canonical each one to the preferred version.
8. Fix 404s
When a spider or user visits a url that doesn’t exist on your domain, they’ll receive a 404 error. Maybe you deleted a page or someone accidentally linked to the wrong URL. Either way, if you haven’t checked your domain health in a while then you probably have some that need to be fixed.
Why? Because 404s aren’t just frustrating to users, they can also impact your SEO in a big way. As you probably know, backlinks are still pretty important for search engine optimization. So if you remove a page with dozens of great links and don’t implement a 301, then you lose all of that link value.
What’s worse, if you don’t fix the issue quickly then your competitors might convince those sites to link to their content instead.
9. Fix redirect chains
Redirects are essential to SEO, but they can also cause problems if done improperly. Over time, the same content may be redirected to one URL after another. That creates a redirect chain which slows down your site and hurts your SEO performance.
Remember, Google prefers fast pages. So shorten your redirect chains and fix any links that point to old 301 pages.
10. Decrease crawl depth
Does it take more than 3 clicks to reach some of your content? If so, search engine spiders may determine that those pages aren’t important.
It goes without saying that updating your site architecture is beyond the scope of our “simple website health checklist.” But there is one quick way to improve crawl depth for important pages: Add Internal links!
11. Add internal links
Internal links are more important than you might think. For starters, they help spiders (and users) discover your content. That’s especially true if you have orphaned pages. Beyond usability, they also indicate which pages are your most important based on how often you link to them.
Finally, internal links are the only way to move PageRank throughout your website. Have several amazing blog posts that attracted tons of backlinks? Add some internal links to your services pages or other relevant blog posts to boost their visibility, too.
12. Use HTTPS
You probably hit the back button ASAP when Google tells you a website is unsecure. You aren’t alone, and that’s terrible for bounce rate and SEO. That’s why having an HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) site is so important. Google not only labels HTTP sites as unsecure but also gives priority to HTTPS sites in the SERPs.
Need proof? Moz conducted a study and found that secure sites dominate Google page one rankings, especially for head terms.
So if you exchange any sensitive information on your site, credit cards, usernames or passwords, make sure you have an SSL certificate. Luckily, securing your site with HTTPS isn’t that difficult.
13. Implement hreflang tags
Have you ever visited a site with multiple language options and wondered how Google served you the correct version? Spoiler alert: that website probably used hreflang tags. And they’re really important to SEO.
Why? Hreflang tags help search engines know what country and language version of your site to show to users. If Google believes a certain IP address is in Germany, it’ll show that user the version of your site tagged hreflang=”de=de”.
14. Disavow spammy backlinks
This is a judgement-free zone. Maybe you were desperate for backlinks and hired a shady black hat SEO agency. Perhaps they didn’t use the best off-page SEO strategies. Did your previous SEO partner buy backlinks, spam blog comment sections or target link directories?
Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us.
Although Google has said they ignore those links, it’s best to disavow them just to be safe. You’ll sleep much better if you clean the skeletons out of your closet.
15. Improve site speed
2018 was a big year for SEO. Google announced that page load speed is a ranking factor for mobile searches and rolled out their mobile-first index.
While Google claims the “Speed Update” will only affect the slowest pages, it’s best not to take any chances. In the competitive world of enterprise SEO, every single ranking factor matters. In fact, Google recommends that web pages load in less than 2 seconds.
As you tackle items on your domain health checklist, pay close attention to factors that can affect site speed, such as:
- Slow or shared servers
- Large image files
- Heavy site traffic
- Lack of CDN
- A high number of HTTP requests
- Bloated HTML
- Using too many WordPress plugins
16. Keep software up-to-date
Outdated software is a security risk because it makes your site vulnerable to hacking and malware. Malware doesn’t just slow down your site and endanger your users, it may also inject spammy links into your carefully-crafted content.
If Google identifies malware on your site, it could apply a malware warning label to your organic search listings. Few things will put a dent in your SEO like a “proceed at your own risk” warning from Google.
Even worse, Google could opt to blacklist your site and wipe out 95% of your organic traffic.
17. Streamlined HTML code
Your website isn’t a bunch of images and words that just show up on a screen. Every element is made up of lines of code. How much code? Well, a simple iPhone game has more than one hundred thousand lines of code, so just imagine how much code your website has. (Facebook has upwards of 60 million lines of code.)
Dense code will slow your site down, so get rid of unused WordPress plugins and redundant code that might be bogging things down.
18. Missing images and videos
Imagine if you visit a page to download an infographic, but you click the link and nothing happens. The infographic doesn’t even show up! Or what if a video is displayed on a page but won’t play?
Google takes note of those broken links and missing elements, and so do your users. That hurts your SEO, your traffic and ultimately your conversions.
In 2015, mobile searches finally surpassed desktop queries. Three years later Google rolled out mobile-first indexing. Of course your site will still be indexed if it doesn’t have a mobile-friendly design. However, it’s clear that Google’s priorities have changed.
User priorities have shifted, too. People now expect responsive web design on mobile-friendly sites. That means they won’t waste time if your website doesn’t render properly on a mobile device. They’ll bounce, and your SEO will suffer.
20. Website downtime
It goes without saying that domain downtime is a bad website user experience. Google may not give out actual penalties for site downtime, but you’ll still see a temporary dip in your ranking until your site is crawled again and the search engines are notified that you’re back online.
If you plan to take your site down be sure to let Google know that it’s just temporary with a 503 status code.
Bottom line on domain health
Your website is a digital marketing hub that unites your content marketing strategy, social media and advertising campaigns. Because it’s so critical, your website needs regular check-ups to stay in tip-top shape. So keep our list handy and revisit these factors frequently.
If problems do arise? You’ll be well-equipped to handle them swiftly to give your users (and Google) the best site experience possible.