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.
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
Worst Case Scenario
In the worst case scenario we could have 8 versions of the home page:
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.
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.
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):
|Zebras||http://www.safaripetworld.com/zebras||Safari Pet World – We Are The Greatest|
|Lions||http://www.safaripetworld.com/lions||Safari Pet World – We Are The Greatest|
|Giraffes||http://www.safaripetworld.com/giraffes||Safari Pet World – We Are The Greatest|
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:
|Zebras||http://www.safaripetworld.com/zebras||Zebras – Buy a Zebra from Safari Pet World|
|Lions||http://www.safaripetworld.com/lions||Lions – Buy a Lion from Safari Pet World|
|Giraffes||http://www.safaripetworld.com/giraffes||Giraffes – Buy a Giraffe from Safari Pet World|
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:
It would be much better to have the following unique META descriptions instead:
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!):
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:
Code behind the scenes:
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 Google Plus.