Over the past two decades, as the online world has experienced exponential growth, websites have become increasingly complex. Web pages have evolved from simple HTML pages with a few graphics to responsive, personalized pages that focus on the user experience. In tandem with the growing sophistication of websites, customers’ quality standards have also matured.
For example, customers have come to expect that websites load quickly, regardless of the device they are using. In 2009, a mere 5 percent of people expected load times of one second or less on e-commerce sites. Six years later, in 2015, a survey found that this number had increased to nearly a third of all customers, with 30 percent expecting pages to load in one second or less.
As web pages have evolved, however, the potential for problems has increased. Even seemingly small issues can drastically impact site performance, hindering visitors’ ability to find the content and information they want. Such site issues can quickly damage the reputation of brands in the eyes of customers — not to mention damage web traffic and hurt search engine rankings.
Given the competitive nature of the digital ecosystem, no organization can afford unchecked issues that will hurt their ability to engage their audience. Avoiding such problems comes down to a thorough site and content audit, allowing brands to correct issues and errors before they hurt site growth. Ideally, problems can be uncovered in content and web pages before they go live. Audits also empower brands to continue to manage what the customer sees and ensure organizational departments are working in tandem on site projects.
The devastating impact of site issues
Website issues have the potential to be devastating for brands. A great example, as mentioned above, is poor page speed. Akamai’s recent Consumer Web Performance Expectations Survey found that nearly half of all consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. Worth noting among the insights gleaned from that survey:
As consumers’ expectations for page load-speed increases, their patience for slow-loading websites decreases. Currently, only 51% of consumers “wait patiently” for a website to load, compared to 63% who would “wait patiently” five years ago.
In other words, if your site isn’t loading quickly enough, chances are that you’re losing more customers with each passing second.
Site speed is also not the only issue that will adversely impact success. For example, when customers land on a website from a referral site, half will proceed to the navigation menu to orient themselves. Brands that have unclear, dysfunctional navigation systems that do not function as users would expect stand to lose these visitors.
Additionally, 38 percent of people will stop engaging with a website if they do not find the content and the layout attractive. The design of the site matters, and failing to account for this can result in higher bounce rates and poor engagement.
Discussion of common site problems would not be complete without mention of the various errors that can be penalized directly by Google. Site issues that result in duplicate content or poor-quality, thin content will not only create a negative user experience but will also risk hits from the Google algorithm, further lowering your rankings and thus reducing your visibility on the SERPs. This reduced visibility can result in fewer clicks and lost revenue.
A poor user experience will also hurt the brand reputation, hindering the organization’s efforts to build rapport with their users and discouraging visitors from engaging with the site in the future. Given that there are billions of websites on the internet, customers have plenty of options when it comes to having their needs met, and competitive brands cannot afford this loss.
The site audit three-step solution
To avoid these common pitfalls, brands need to run a thorough site audit to identify errors and correct them, while also implementing a system that empowers them to prevent potential problems in the future.
Here is a three-step process you can use to ensure that your site audit uncovers all potential problems and protects your site rankings and the engagement of your visitors:
Step 1: Identify errors and spot anomalies
The first stage will be to run a complete site audit to look for any problematic pages or page anomalies that could be hindering the success of your site. This audit should include checking site speed, finding page errors, looking for incorrect page redirects and faulty links, and anything else that might sabotage a positive user experience.
Matt Cutts, formerly of Google, has remarked in the past that a top error among marketers is failing to make a page fully crawlable. However, this should be the first priority of any site audit. He also said that people often do not consider keyword phrases and how people search.
For example, if your customers often ask questions such as, “How do I make a pizza?,” then including that exact phrase in your content will provide you with more of a boost than just starting an article listing the ingredients. This attention to wording and phrasing that match consumer intent should also carry over to the descriptions and titles, particularly on the most prominent and important pages.
Step 2: Prioritize by severity
Not all issues and errors will have the same level of impact on site performance and users. It is important to first fix the errors that will make the most difference.
- Focus first on any errors that directly impact the visibility or navigation of your site. For example, if a page has been accidentally blocked from Google, that should be the first item on the list. Also look at redirects, error pages and broken links.
- Next, move on to content issues, including page titles and meta descriptions. Ensure that appropriate keyword phrases are used, that there is no duplicate content and that thin material is either rewritten or removed.
At the end, you will be looking more at schema markups, missing alt tags on images and similar issues that may have arisen.
Step 3: Fix the errors throughout your site
- Set up 301 redirects to ensure people arrive at the page they intended to. If you have removed a piece of content, then remove the link or redirect people to the content’s new home rather than allowing them to go to an error page. Check all robots.txt on your site to ensure Google can find what it should. After running your initial audit, make sure those managing the website understand best practices for redirecting users to minimize these errors moving forward.
- Include a content audit to check for duplicate or thin content. Remove any content that is duplicated, and rewrite any material that is thin and offers little to no value to the reader. Focus on including information that customers want to read rather than just producing material to fill space.
- Communicate SEO best practices to your site contributors. Make sure they understand the value of using various SEO elements, including meta descriptions, identifying keywords and topics and structuring text in a reader-friendly manner, which includes headings and short paragraphs.
- Check your page load speed with the Google Developer tool, and use suggestions to improve the efficiency of your site.
- Mark up all pages with structured data (where appropriate) to help Google recognize their place and value. This is particularly true for local marketing pages and pages that can receive Google’s rich displays, such as Quick Answers.
- Comb through pages to find missing alt text, tags and related markup errors to help boost performance.
Site problems can tremendously reduce website engagement, which will ultimately lead to loss of revenue. In today’s competitive digital landscape, brands simply cannot neglect the structure of their websites. A successful site audit run at regular intervals, in tandem with major site events such as migrations, can help brands avoid mistakes and keep a site, and its revenue, running smoothly.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.