Lesson Five: Optimising Your Website
Lesson five guides you through the entire process of optimising your small business’ website.
We cover a lot of ground in this lesson, sharing a variety of live examples, introducing a selection of helpful, free, tools and providing a wealth of handy tips along the way to ensure you can optimise your website as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As ever, we aim to keep it as jargon-free as possible, although once or twice we do go a little ‘techy’ as we have to in order to explain what we’re talking about.
Watch the next lesson: Lesson Six: Website Health Check
Hello and welcome to lesson five of Module One where we’re going to take your newfound, on-page, SEO knowledge and combine it with the keyword research we did earlier in this module.
We’re also going to look at duplicate and thin content as these can cause real problems on your website. We’re going to look at how to find and how to correct any duplicate and thin content issues. We’re not going to get into some of the more technical website optimization stuff until lesson six. So for now, this is where we need to focus.
Firstly, let’s talk about duplicate content. What is this exactly? Well this could be one of many different things from duplicate page titles, headings, or meta descriptions, all of which you now know what they are, through to whole pages of duplicate content.
The bottom line, we want as little duplicate content as possible, and I’m going to show you a few ways to check for and identify duplicate content issues. Right now, you don’t need to worry about duplicate page titles, headings, or meta descriptions as we’ll be improving those manually soon enough. Instead, I want to focus on whole-page duplicate content.
Regardless of the CMS you’re using, whether that’s WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, if you’re E-commerce and you’re using Shopify or Magento, or Bigcommerce, it really doesn’t matter. Even if your website’s custom built, you run the risk of having whole-page duplicate content and there’s a quick and easy way that we can find out if this is possibly happening for you.
So, I want you to go on your website and quickly scan over and try to calculate, get a rough idea, of the total number of pages on your website. So that you’re looking at the menu, maybe the footer menu, the sub-pages on your menu, calculate how many blog posts you have on your website just to get an overall sense.
Maybe you have 50 pages and posts, or 100 or 200 pages on your website in total, you get the idea. Now, copy and paste your website’s URL and go onto Google. I want you to enter ‘site:yourwebsitename’. Search that and look for the total number of pages indexed.
It will say it at the very top of the page. Do the numbers that you’ve worked out on your website versus what’s indexed on Google even remotely correlate? I wouldn’t expect them to be the same, but if they’re vastly different we may have a duplicate content problem.
I’m going to hop onto my computer and walk you through this process of how to check, and how we can take it one step further.
So, the first thing we need to do is go onto our website and count up, approximately, how many pages are on the website. Now, I know from my agency website I’ve got half a dozen pages or so in the menu, I know there are around a dozen service pages, I know one of the areas of my website with the most pages is the blog. Often, that is the case and it may be for you as well. I can go through here, and I know there are six per page and I’ve got twelve pages, which means I know I’ve got about seventy individual posts, which are pages on my website. I’ve probably got 100 to 120 pages on my website, so you just need to get a rough idea.
Then, what you’re going to do is hop on Google and do a ‘site:’ search which is this – where you put in ‘site:yourwebsiteURL’ then you’re looking for the number of results. Now, you’re hoping and you’re looking for this result to roughly correlate. It won’t be exact and you probably have 20-30% leeway which will be absolutely fine, but what you don’t want to be seeing is hundreds more than you were expecting. I’m going to give you a couple of examples of the most common reasons why this happens in just a moment.
So, I can see I’ve got 128 results and this just lists all my pages, that’s absolutely fine. Now, if you’ve done this search and you’ve got way more pages than you thought you might have, there are a few reasons why. If your website has a blog, this is one of the most common reasons why. A blog by default will generate a lot of duplicate and thin pages.
Let me show you what I mean. Just prior to recording this video I jumped onto Google and I just picked a couple of websites at complete random. I have no affiliation with these websites whatsoever, no connection to them, I’ve never been on them before, I don’t know them. I just picked them out of Google Search and if we take their URLs and do the same thing – a ‘site:’ search – I can look at the website and again count the rough number of pages. I had a quick look through, and they probably have a hundred or so pages, quite a lot of blog posts. You know it’s a fairly small site in the grand scheme of things, yet we’re looking at 858 results so straight away, I’m thinking that doesn’t make sense.
Now, if we go into settings and then search settings, and select ‘never show instant results’, you can move this up to 100 which just means you’ll get 100 results per page. Save that and it just means, as we work through this process, we can see 100 results per page rather than 10.
If we scan through this, what we’re looking at is the URLs to see why there are so many results. Straight away, certain things jump out at me and this is what you should be looking for as well. Have you got category pages indexed? Have you got tag pages indexed? Let me show you what they are; these are auto-generated pages that are created by your CMS. Whether it be WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, Mangento, they’re just pages that are purely duplicated in content.
So, for every blog post that you write, give certain tags to, or that you put into a given category or multiple categories, every one of those categories, everyone of those tags, will become a page in its own right. This is just serving us masses of duplicate, thin content that you don’t need and it will be hampering this website’s overall performance. Its on-page SEO won’t be as slick as it could and should be.
So, all of this content will be found elsewhere on their website. It would just be that this category is duplicated, all of it. Ultimately, every one of these posts will click through to be its own URL. This is where the actual post is, but it’s been found right here, and if they’ve tagged this post in various other categories – you can see all the categories here – that’s a lot of duplicate content. Same for this, it’s exactly the same principle. The tags work in much the same way. Any and all tags will serve as duplicate content.
So, let me give you another example. This is another website, again completely random, no connection to this website whatsoever. I did the same thing for this website. ‘site:websiteurl’ and I just started scanning down. Again, they’ve got 267 results, so a much smaller website but again, the same problem: tags and category pages. There are a lot. This is an easy fix and it’s something that can improve your on-page optimisation and reduce the amount of duplicate and thin content, almost overnight. Now, if you have WordPress installed, there’s a great plugin that I’m going to show you, which I personally use. Whatever CMS you use, you’ve only got to do a quick Google search for reducing duplicate content, removing category pages, removing tag pages and you’ll find a wealth of options. If you can’t find anything and you’re not sure, speak to a developer, your content manager, or as ever, get in contact with me at [email protected] and I will gladly see if I can find something for you.
There are too many CMS’s and plugins out there for me to cover them all so I’ll just quickly show you the one that I personally use in a moment and how easy it is to turn off these category pages. This same principle applies even if you’re an E-commerce store and you sell lots of products because if you sell, for example, T-shirts, you may have that same T-shirt in lots of different sizes and you may have that same T-shirt in lots of different colours. Now, depending on how your website is setup, you could run the risk of that one T-shirt indexing in Google 20 times. If you have 10 different sizes and 10 different colours, it’s endless in terms of the number of pages you could have indexed for that one product. Ultimately, that is only one product. Yes, you’ve got lots of variants of that product with regards to size and colours and whatever else, but it’s still only one product so, you only want it indexed once.
This is why there are tags called canonical tags, which form part of the reduction in duplicate and thin content.
I’ll quickly show you the tags. So, this is the Yoast SEO plugin, which I use. It has simple options and you go into the ‘Titles and Metas’ section under ‘SEO’ and you can click through here. It just gives you a set of check boxes for what you want to index, and what you want to ‘noindex’. The simplest way to remove duplicate and thin content is simply to say ‘noindex’ it. That’s basically a tag that tells Google “please do not index this page”. So, posts, I obviously want indexed, pages, I want them to be indexed. Then, we get into the categories – No I do not want categories indexed, no I do not want tags indexed. Depending on how your website is setup, I’ve got portfolio categories, no I don’t want them indexed, same with portfolio tags and testimonial categories.
Essentially, almost any category pages, I don’t want them indexed.
Archives are a common cause of duplicate content. If you have lots of authors on your website and lots of users on your website, every one of those authors will have their own author page which is, again, duplicate content. Simply disabling this will prevent those pages from being indexed and significantly reduces the amount of pages that can be indexed on your website. Sub-pages of archives, there are lots of options in here so it’s just a case of reading what they are and noindexing all those that apply.
So there you have it. That is how you look for and identify duplicate and thin whole-page content.
So, did you find any potential whole-page duplicate content issues? If yes, you’re going to need to speak to your web developer or whoever manages your website. If you get stuck or don’t have any one to turn to then by all means shoot me an email at [email protected] and I’ll see how I can help. It is a relatively easy fix and simple to do but there are too many variables to cover in this lesson as all the different CMS systems need to be configured in a slightly different way.
If you point out the type of whole-page duplicate content that you find any web developer or website manager should be able to very quickly help resolve that for you. On the other hand, if you’re a little bit techy and know what you’re doing, if you’re running a mainstream CMS such as WordPress there are a lot of plugins such as Yoast SEO, that can remove the vast majority of potential duplicate whole-page content.
Moving on to thin content now. What is thin content? Well, quite simply it’s pages and posts on your website with very little content on them. Google doesn’t like thin content for the reason that often, it’s a bad user experience. Google wants to serve its users the very best content on a given topic or subject and it very rarely is content be summed up in just a couple of lines of copy on webpage.
One of the checks that you can do is to go through your website and check that each page and post on your site is worthy of being indexed. Have a look through and if you’re seeing lots of pages and posts with only 20, 50, or even 100 words, then it might be worth asking yourself ‘do I really need that page? Is that page or post adding value to my website as whole?’ Or, ‘could I possibly consolidate one or multiple pages into a single given resource, and maybe section that page page out with sub headings?’.
So, you maybe consolidate five thin pages with only 20 or 30 words into one resource that then has 200-400 words and a couple of images. Straight away, it becomes a better webpage, adds more value for the user and creates a better page on your website. Google much prefers this and often, when I’m auditing client’s websites, I will do this on scale for their entire website. I have been known to cull 60% of a client’s webpages across their entire site.
You can take the thin content process one step further by simply raising the minimum content bar to maybe 150 or 200 words. The more quality content you can put on your website, the better. The key way I like to assess thin content is: Imagine if you went on to Google, you looked up whatever it was, and you arrived into that page or website, would you be satisfied with that page as the result that Google has given you? If you can’t confidently turn around and say ‘yes, this a fantastic resource’, then look at how you can make that single page better. Like I said, do you consolidate resources into a single page to make one more in-depth guide? Or, do you add images? Do you maybe create a short video? Whatever it is to make that page so much better for the end user.
Okay, I hope that all makes sense regarding duplicate and thin content, as were now going to move on to the optimisation of your website pages themselves. To do this accurately, I have created a checklist for you which you can download just below this lesson.
Essentially, every page or post on your website needs a page title, meta description, a heading tag, which is a H1 (we just want one of those), informative and well-structured content, subheadings (these will be H2s), two to three internal links within the copy of the page and with optimised anchor text, one or more external links out to an authority, trusted website that is related to your page’s content, an optimised URL string which is as short as possible, and lastly, an image with an optimised follow name.
When you upload optimised anchor text, remember you’re going to use your keyword group template to help with the structure of the various on-page tags. But you need to use a little bit of common sense as well and just be sure that every link that your optimising makes sense, it reads well, and is of use to the end user and to Google. In addition to the checklist which you download beneath this lesson, we’re going to use a very handy tool which you can download for free and it will help us organise and structure your website order.
The tool is called Screaming Frog and I’m going to jump onto my computer right now and show you how to install it and then how we go about using it to audit your website.
Right, its time to get into the fun stuff of optimising your website. Now, depending on the size of your website this can take a little bit of time but is absolutely worth it, so don’t skip over this and make sure that you get this part right.
If your website is only small and only has maybe a half a dozen or a handful of pages, then what you can do, and what I would recommend is to just log into your website and work through on a page-by-page basis. Have the back end of the website where you do the updates in one tab, and in the other tab have the front end of the website, use Firebug, work your way through page titles, meta descriptions, headings and make sure all of those things are optimised using your keyword groups and using synonyms. Make sure everything reads well but that all the content is built around those key terms and those keyword groups.
If, on the other hand your page has say more than 10, 15 or 20 pages as most websites tend to do, then I’m going to show you really handy way of organising your audit so that it gives you a little bit of structure and gives you a template to work through. It’s what I do when I’m auditing my websites.
So we need to download Screaming Frog. Its a bit of a random name, but go with it. If you just Google search ‘Screaming Frog download’ you will get the option to download the tool. It’s a completely free tool, you can download it here, follow the instructions and within a couple of clicks you can have it installed. It’ll put an icon onto your desktop which will look like this little frog icon down here. When you click into the tool it will look very similar to this.
Now, what this tool does is it essentially scrapes your website, it goes on and it indexes and collates all the pages from your website. The free version of this tool does up to 500 pages, if your website has more than 500 pages you’ll very likely run into the duplicate content thing. Which if you go and sort that issue out, and then come back, you’ll very likely have fewer than 500 pages, unless of course your website has just hundreds of products or services. In which case, there are some other tools that we can use. You may need to get the paid version of this and maybe just email me with your questions and I can help on that basis. But I would imagine 9 times out of 10 you’ll fewer than 500 pages so this tool is more than adequate for what we need.
So, I’m going to show you how I would do an audit and I suggest that maybe you just run through this and then come back, maybe watch it again, just until you’re happy with this entire process. I’m going to try to keep it as straightforward and simple as I possibly can.
Now, I’m going to use this website as the example I want us to work through. So, you copy the URL and you paste it into this bar and then you press start. What this does is this will pull Google and it will go out and find all the pages that are on the website, it’s generally pretty accurate but it’s always worth just looking over the pages to make sure that it has pulled everything in. Once it’s finished and it’s 100%, what I like to do is click into ‘pages titles’.
What I’m looking for are the most important tags as we previously discussed, things like page titles, meta descriptions – you can ignore meta keywords – H1s, H2s, they’re the most important tags. We tend not to worry about images and all this sort of stuff at this point, nor all these internal and external links.
So, with your page titles what I want you do is just export these. Now, this is just a list of all the pages on the website so I want to export this and we’ll just pop it on to the desktop. Then we’ll do the same thing with the meta descriptions. Then, I want to do the H1s. So, I’ve now got three. For now, I’m not going to worry about H2s, but you can do the H2s and maybe H3s as well.
So, we now have have several spreadsheets on our desktop. Here’s the first of those spreadsheets which is the page titles. If we just move this column along we can see this is a list of all the URLs and crucially, this column contains the page titles. I’m now going to move into the second, keep that one open, and we’ll move into meta descriptions. Now, everything exports in the same order, so you need not worry, all I’m going to do is copy this column, which are the meta descriptions for these pages. I’m going to copy that and I’m going to paste it into this template here. Then we don’t need that anymore. What I’m going to do is then move it into the last one which is again the H1. Now, all we’re interested in is the first H1, sometimes it will say there’s more than one H1 more than one H2, don’t worry about that right now. I will actually be removing them. The first column with the H1s, copy that and paste them over into this column over here.
So, instantly what we’ve now got is a list of the URLs on the website, we have the page titles for each, the meta description for each, and the heading for each. And this straight away gives us the hierarchy and gives us the structure of all the content on the website. What I tend to do then is quite simply, just create spaces beneath each row. Then, once I’ve done this I will work my way through on a page-by-page basis and optimise the tags. So it would be a case of, if the order needs changing, I will put it here. Then the page title I’m going to evaluate what it is right now, and then, does this need to be improved? How am I changing this? You’re going to then at this point have your URLs, and let’s assume they’re not very well optimised, you’re going to take in everything we’ve learned so far and the keyword knowledge, and you’re going to write the improved page title here. The improved meta description there, and improved heading.
You do this for every single page that you’ve found that Screaming Frog has provided for you and straight away you’ve then got a spreadsheet which details every single page and the improvements. Once you’ve completed this spreadsheet for all the pages, it’s a much quicker and easier process and a more organised process for you to then just log into your website and just select each title and replace the page title, the meta description, the heading tags, the subheading tags etc.
This just ensures that, when you have your keyword groupings and you create a template to hand, that you’re not over-optimising at any time, that you’re getting a good mix. Once this is all filled out, I like to put them in different colours so you can the difference. You can then look back over and think ‘have I got enough mentions of my target location?’, ‘have I got enough mentions of this particular service?’, ‘have I got enough mentions of my product’s name’ or whatever it is.
It’s a nice, organised way. Otherwise, if you got more than half a dozen pages, it can get really confusing: What have I optimised?, What did I make this tag?, What did I make that heading?.
This is how I optimise my websites and how I recommend you optimise yours.
There is no single right or wrong way to go about optimising your website, its about trial and error and experimentation. Let me give you an example of what not to do. Let’s say you run a cake shop in Manchester, say it’s called ‘Piece Of Cake’. What you don’t want to be doing is writing a page title that is ‘Cake Shop’, ‘Cakes for Sale’, ‘Cheap Cakes’, ‘Buy Cakes’, and just have it as one long page title. That looks spammy and you’ll be amazed by how many people still think that it’s the right way to go about optimising their website and writing tags for their site.
It isn’t about cramming as many keyword variants into that page title, or that tag as possible. Instead, it’s about creating a distinct few words that accurately describes what that page is about. So, using that same example, a much better tag might be ‘Cakes for all Occasions by Piece of Cake’, which is the company name, in Manchester. It’s short, its sweet, it says exactly what it is, it features the company name, the location, and what they’re all about. Simple, but effective.
There are many ways to write a good page title, meta description, or a heading tag. It’s very much down to your interpretation. Just keep it natural, be mindful of your keywords, and if applicable, your location and target area. Now, depending on the size of your website this may take a little time. It’s really important that you get this right, so don’t rush and if you have any questions you can email support.
Remember, you have access to this course for life, so there really is no need to rush or skip over some pages. Google values on-page SEOs very highly and rightly so because the better your on-page optimisation is, the better the user experience, and if we have happy users we have a happy Google, and that’s what we want.
In the next lesson, the final lesson of Module One, we’re going to take a look at the more technical bits and pieces. Again, I will keep this basic so you can easily follow along. I’ll see you there.