The following is an excerpt from our October Social Media Breakfast presentation by Dan Nolan, the SEO manager at Vail Resorts. To learn more about these events, check out our Facebook page. This was also featured in our February 2013 newsletter.
If you have a site architecture issue, then you’re not performing as well in Google as you could. Good site architecture amplifies your content, while poor architecture completely mutes what you’re trying to tell your potential customers. By site architecture, I don’t mean how your site looks to a human, but how it looks to a search engine. The way your content is organized throughout the site determines how well Google can direct people to it.
Here is a simple way to check for site architecture issues for non-developers, and it’s the first thing I do in every SEO audit. After doing this audit for five minutes, you either know if you’re okay, if you need to email your developer later this week, or if you need to call them before you finish your morning coffee.
For this example, let’s pretend your website is www.StompThemGrapes.com.
First, you should have an idea of how many pages your site has. You don’t have to be exact, but you should have a general idea how big your site is: 10-15 pages, a few hundred pages, or a few thousand+ pages (like an online store).
1) Go to Google.com
2) Search for “Site:stompthemgrapes.com”
- There is no space between Site: and the URL (click here to see the search done for you)
- I always start without the www, to see if both www and non-www have been indexed separately (which is not desirable).
3) The search result is a list of EVERY page Google has indexed for your site. Look at the number of results and ask, “Is this what you expected?”
a. More than expected?
Google might be indexing single pages multiple times under different URLs. This creates a duplicate content issue and confuses Google on which page to show a human user. It can be a result of filter parameters, dev/test sites being included, or non-search intended pages not being blocked (like promo landing pages for email marketing purposes).
Advanced Trick: Go to the very last page of results that Google is showing you, and look at these pages. Look at the URLs, and determine if there is a pattern. Plan to spend at least an hour diving into this!
b. Less than expected?
Possibly your site isn’t well connected by internal links, you have pages marked as ‘NoIndex’, or other macro level blocks are in place. Time can play an aspect of this too, but if your site has been fully up for over a month and you’re not seeing full indexation, I would start to become concerned and reach out to a specialist to perform a deeper audit of why.
c. Only the home page?
If your website dynamically loads content without changing the URL (like a Flash-based website or some HTML5 sites), then what you think are different ‘pages’ are actually the same page. Due to this, your content is probably hard to be understood by a search engine because now ‘one page’ has ‘multiple topics.’ Ideally, in SEO we want one page to have only one focused topic.
d. NO PAGES AT ALL?!?!? WHY!?!!?
Many times when developers launch new sites, they intentionally block search engines during the build, but forget to remove the block when the site goes live. Here are two common ways:
i. NoIndex – This might be in the code of your pages, in the <Head> section. This will prevent search engines from remembering your pages.
ii. Robots.txt – If you see “Disallow: /” in the robots.txt file (found at www.StompThemGrapes.com.com/robots.txt), then possibly the entire site is being told to be off limits to a search engine.
Phase Two: Unleash the Frog!
To dive deeper into why Google might be confused, I use ScreamingFrog SEO Spider. With this tool you can find and isolate issues like duplicate pages, incorrect canonical tags, or NoIndex issues. Rather go into detail here, learn more with this review of Screaming Frog I wrote.
I hope this helps to get you started. With so much work behind great user experience, compelling page copy, and spreading the word socially about your site, it is truly a shame when a single line of code in your website architecture destroys your opportunity in SEO.