Common Web Dev Mistakes To Make Any SEO Facepalm

 
 

Having started off as a web developer myself, I can totally empathise with a lot of issues that affect search engine optimisation on existing sites. A web developer has the complex task of building a website based on the materials they are provided. I always use the analogy that a web developer is like a builder of houses. Once they finish the house they are building they move off onto the next one and are not really concerned with what happens after. This is often the case, particularly in high turn around environments that many smaller companies and agencies find themselves in. Unfortunately, this leaves the occupant of the house standing in the doorway looking around and waiting for the traffic.

Lion Facepalm

SEO fundamentals shouldn’t be overlooked by any means and should be part of the standard web development process. It’s not as exciting as capturing and manipulating data but simple things like unique titles & META descriptions are essential & still need to be written. Anyways, this article looks at some of the common issues that web developers have unanimously employed or mistakenly rolled out, such as:

  • Multiple versions of the homepage
  • Duplicate META Tags
  • Poor Use of Headings

I will be using a fictitious website called “Safari Pet World” (http://www.safaripetworld.com), an online seller of baby African pets, to help illustrate my examples.

Multiple Versions of the Homepage

There should only ever be one version of the home page, e.g. http://www.safaripetworld.com and this should be the only one used throughout the site when linking internally and externally. It may come as a surprise to many people but even adding a forward slash (“/”) to the end of a URL is different to its equivalent without!

Here are some examples of common home page duplicates:

  • Non-www – http://safaripetworld.com
  • HTTPS – https://www.safaripetworld.com
  • File names – http://www.safaripetworld.com/index.php

Multiple versions of the homepage

Worst Case Scenario

In the worst case scenario we could have 8 versions of the home page:

  • http://www.safaripetworld.com
  • http://safaripetworld.com
  • http://www.safaripetworld.com/index.php
  • https://www.safaripetworld.com
  • http://safaripetworld.com/index.php
  • https://safaripetworld.com
  • http://safaripetworld.com/index.php
  • https://www.safaripetworld.com/index.php

Solutions

The quickest and easiest is to implement the canonical tag in the <head> section of the page. This would look like:

<link href=”http://www.safaripetworld.com” rel=”canonical”/>

This would let search engines know which is the one and only canonical version.

Homepage canonical version

Here is some further reading to help you implement a solution for Apache (UNIX) or IIS (Windows) environments:

Duplicate META Tags

Since websites are visual mediums, sometimes the site plumbing is overlooked and a site is unleashed into the wild without some very important elements included. Every page must have a unique title, meta description and URL otherwise we start running into the world of duplicate content which make it hard for search engines to identify the difference between your pages.

Duplicate Titles

Site-wide duplicate titles are bad because they can have direct impact on rankings. For example, if we had a pet store with the following titles (generally the same as the home page):

Page ThemeURLTitle
Zebrashttp://www.safaripetworld.com/zebrasSafari Pet World – We Are The Greatest
Lionshttp://www.safaripetworld.com/lionsSafari Pet World – We Are The Greatest
Giraffeshttp://www.safaripetworld.com/giraffesSafari Pet World – We Are The Greatest

Duplicate Titles

There would be no way for search engines to be able to identify the themes or topical relevance of each page quickly and easily without analysing the rest of the content. So if your competitors are doing it right, they are one step ahead. As a bare minimum, titles should be unique:

Page ThemeURLTitle
Zebrashttp://www.safaripetworld.com/zebrasZebras – Buy a Zebra from Safari Pet World
Lionshttp://www.safaripetworld.com/lionsLions – Buy a Lion from Safari Pet World
Giraffeshttp://www.safaripetworld.com/giraffesGiraffes – Buy a Giraffe from Safari Pet World

Unique Titles

Obviously further attention needs to be paid when creating these titles and using a nice blend of targeted words based on your keyword research is advisable.

Duplicate META Descriptions

Similarly, META descriptions should be unique. These do not impact on rankings but definitely influence click-through-rates in the search engine results pages and should not be ignored.

Here is an example where the titles are unique but the META descriptions aren’t:

Duplicate META descriptions

It would be much better to have the following unique META descriptions instead:

Unique META descriptions

Poor Use of Headings

Even heading tags get misused quite often. In this section I will look at 2 of the more common issues:

  • the first heading tag being used as a logo, and
  • headings used in navigation.

H1 Used as Logo

The “Heading 1″ tag (<H1>) is reserved for the first heading of the page and this helps identify the document’s relevance. It can only contain text.

Sometimes a website’s company logo is wrapped around heading tags and rolled out site-wide.

Why do I see this time and time again? It’s like it was some sort of unwritten law. This is problematic because there is no document heading on the site. Also, if it’s rolled out site-wide then all pages inherit the same header. Each page should have a unique header!

Here are some real world examples (I found it quite funny that it did not take me long to find some random examples!):

Loan Market:

Loan Market Example: H1 Used as Logo

RAA:

RAA Example: H1 Used as Logo

Zuji:

Zuji Example: H1 Used as Logo

Headings Used in Navigation

Sometimes headings are used inside a site’s navigation whereas they should only be used within a document’s body. To put it in context, sometimes a menu may be broken into sections of the site & these sections are often assigned headings. See a visual representation below:

How the menu looks to the site user:

Menu Example

Code behind the scenes:

Menu Source Code Example with Poor Use of Headings

The <h3> tags should be <strong> tags (or similar like <span>).

As you can see, these are just a few common mistakes that should be sorted from the outset but are often overlooked by web developers. Fix these and your clients will be happy!

 

Woj Kwasi is an Australian online marketer specialising in web strategy & SEO. He is the owner of Kwasi Studios, an Adelaide SEO Company taking care of websites for robots and humans. Connect with him today on Twitter or .

 
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4 Responses to “Common Web Dev Mistakes To Make Any SEO Facepalm”

  1. Nice article!

    I too started out as a web developer and understand their position well. I also work with many developers, and to help them out, have put together a checklist of basic foundation SEO items that they should be aware of during development.

     
    • Bill Vasiliadis
  2.  Thanks Bill – that checklist sounds like a great idea. There should also be some sort of “standards” manual targetted at developers, perhaps with a “don’t be lazy with HTML tags” preface. Althoug, the W3C site is slowly getting more user-friendly :)

     
  3. We used to have sitewide H1 as “Call us now on 1234567…”.

    I remember looking in the source code for the first time and banging my head against the table.

     
  4. I actually tried Kwasi but found it was a joke. Ended up doing it myself and now have a very successful website.

     
    • David

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