Site structure is one of the most overlooked aspects of search engine optimization. Internal linking, information architecture, clean code and fast download speeds are integral to optimizing a site for search. Yet sometimes the subtlest updates can have the greatest significance. Below are a few of the most common and most easily cured site structure mistakes:
Absence of Page-Specific Meta Descriptions
Some websites have site-wide meta descriptions. Some have no meta descriptions at all. Page-specific meta descriptions are necessary in order to properly inform the searcher or potential customer of page content and to help earn the click.
A meta description is an aspect of the code and is not visible onsite. It appears in the search results listing and acts as free ad copy, which is why it is integral to earning the click. Take a look at the search results listing for Stephens College below.
Stephens is the second oldest women’s college in the nation and has been repeatedly recognized as one of the best colleges in the Midwest. But you wouldn’t know that from their homepage meta description. It does not appeal to the searcher or potential student, nor does it provide valuable information. Instead, it purely states “The homepage of Stephens College in Columbia, MO.”
Lack of Keyword-Specific Title Tags
Like the meta description, the title tag is an aspect of code that is not seen onsite. It is visible in search results listings and at the top of the browser window and applicable tabs. As explained by SEOmoz, “it is the single most important on-page SEO element (behind overall content).”
The title tag should be an accurate and concise description of page content. It is important to naturally integrate target keywords into the title tag in order to effectively communicate page content to the search engines and the searcher.
As previously stated, the meta description functions as ad copy. The title tag serves as the headline. Let’s look at the Stephens College search results listing again.
Root Domain Canonicalization
Cu-non-ick-ul-eye-zay-shun. The concept is simpler than the pronunciation. Most clients I’ve worked with have had root domain canonicalization problems.
Root domain canonicalization occurs when multiple variations of the root domain exist. The most common instances of this are when a site’s root domain has a “www.” and “non-www.” version. For example, www.ABC.com and ABC.com are viewed as different domains with the same content. This poses a problem.
When external sites link to another site, they pass some of their online authority on with the link. If sites are linking to multiple variations of a root domain, such as one site linking to ABC.com and another to www.ABC.com, that authority is being split between the variations.
In order to consolidate this authority, one version must be permanently redirected to the other (ideally the “non-www.” version redirects to the “www.” version) by use of a 301 redirect. If a 301 redirect is not possible, then the rel=”canonical” tag must be used with the preferred URL.