Posted on October 10, 2014
Your homepage is arguably the most important page of your site. Contributor Chris Silver Smith provides tips to ensure it’s in top shape!
Wonder what an advanced local SEO consultant might check on your local business site’s homepage? Here’s a list of some of the top health-check items that should be performed in analyzing your homepage to get recommendations for improving your Local SEO game.
1. Shall We Redirect Dance?
Sometimes when you go to a site’s base domain name (i.e. “www.example.com”) the site will redirect, sending your browser to another URL (such as “www.example.com/wp/home/index.php”). This can happen depending upon how your system administrator, ISP or site designer configured your website.
A redirecting homepage is generally not ideal for SEO, particularly depending upon how it’s accomplished — even major brand websites can get this wrong, as I outlined years ago in Coke vs. Pepsi, the Redirection Challenge.
If your homepage must redirect, you generally would want it to do so only once, rather than multiple hops to the final URL. Additionally, you’d want the redirection to be effected through a 301 server status code.
If your homepage redirects, you might want to assess it through a server header check utility – if your redirected URL isn’t passing a 301 status code, this should be corrected. Proceed carefully, however, since changing status codes and homepage redirection can be tricky!
2. Evaluate The Visible Text On The Homepage
Web pages can be a bit deceptive where text is concerned — animations and image graphics can contain text that people see when viewing the page, but which search engines may have more difficulty in accessing.
Determining which text on your homepage is visible is easy, though. While viewing your webpage, perform the keyboard shortcut to “select all” — CTRL+A on a PC, or ⌘+A on a Mac.
This will highlight the text on the page, making it very clear what is plain text and what isn’t. Alternatively, you can view the cached version of your homepage in Google and click the link to the Text-only version.
At minimum, the homepage should have the following items reflected somewhere in the plain text on the page:
- The business name
- The category or type of business that consumers would search for (ex: “Plumbing”)
- The name of the city, and possibly the district name where the business is found
- The street address
- The phone number
Ideally, the homepage should perhaps also have additional descriptive text for related keywords and such, but it really should have these items outlined, at minimum.
3. Evaluate Your Homepage Title Tag
Does the <TITLE> contain the business name, business type/category, and the main place/city name you serve?
The title is probably the most powerful SEO element on the page, so you want it to match the main things consumers would be searching for in order to find your business.
The two things that consumers most search for when trying to find your business are your business name, and your business type/category. So, these should be concisely added to the TITLE text.
Now, there’s wide variation among SEO pros as to how many business type/category keywords should be included — years ago (and even today, in some cases), having 3+ of your top keywords in the title could perform really well.
In most cases, however, I would recommend choosing just one keyword that best describes your type of business — use “Department Store” vs. “Women’s Clothing, Men’s Clothing, Jewelry, Shoes, Linens, Dishes.” (Other pages/sections on the site can be used to target more granular topics and alternative phrases.)
You can check the title tag by viewing the page’s source code , then looking for the text between <title> and </title> tags. Alternatively, you can use a tool such as the On-Page Optimization Tool.
If you need to redesign your title tag, consider using the Moz title tag preview tool at: http://moz.com/blog/new-title-tag-guidelines-preview-tool
4. Check Under The Hood For The Meta Description Tag
The Meta Description text is important – not because it directly affects rankings (it doesn’t), but because it can attract potential customers to choose your business above competitors appearing in search results along with you. The Meta Description currently isn’t displayed in local-pack results, but it is displayed in the organic results.
The text should describe your business – what it does and perhaps what differentiates your company from others. Don’t waste the description text; it should only be about 155 characters maximum, although brief and to-the-point is best. Don’t waste space on repeating your business name, which should already be in the Title.
Again, you can view your current Meta Description by viewing the page’s source code, or you could use a tool such as the Web Developer Toolbar. Also, this snippet optimizer tool may be helpful if you wish to craft a new description.
5. Has The Logo Been Optimized?
I’ve previously dubbed logo optimization as a stealth SEO tactic, because many local businesses neglect it. The logo image needs to have good ALT text.
The logo image on the homepage doesn’t need to be linked back to the homepage. While usability expert Jakob Nielsen calls having a link to the homepage on the homepage one of his “Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines,” I don’t consider it quite that dire (but it can be irritating or potentially confusing).
Many sites use a single static set of code for their navigation headers which often include the logo, so if it’s linked it could also use a link title element. The file name could be descriptive, and you could benefit from incorporating the Schema.org markup for logos.
6. Check For Structured Local Data
I’ve written before about the benefits of using organization schema for local SEO. The business name, address and phone number should be marked up with the local business/organization schema.
You should check your markup using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool and the Operator Toolbar for errors. The Structured Data Testing Tool will reflect one alert that should be ignored: “Error: This information will not appear as a rich snippet in search results, because it seems to describe an organization.
Google does not currently display organization information in rich snippets.” This error should be ignored because, while it’s true that Google does not currently display a rich snippet based upon organization Schema, Google and other search engines can and do make use of the information.
7. Is The Phone Number Formatted Simply Enough?
The phone number should be in visible text and punctuated in a fairly common manner to ensure that search engines can interpret it and successfully identify it as a phone number.
Either use the E.164 standard format (which is more commonly used in Europe), or use one of the standard punctuation formats composed of parenthesis and/or dashes or periods. Examples: (123) 456-7890, 123-456-7890, 123.456.7890
8. View Your Website On a Mobile Device
Find out how friendly your site is for mobile devices. If it’s not already mobile-optimized, familiarize yourself with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for Building Smartphone-Optimized Websites and make the site friendlier for those smaller devices!
Mobile design is increasingly affecting rankings, and Google has confirmed that it can negatively affect rankings in mobile results if a site is badly-configured.
To test out your site for mobile, try it out by using the Mobile Validation tool provided by Mobile Moxie.
9. Are Major Navigation Links Spider-Friendly?
The homepage is typically a website’s best-ranking page, because it typically has the most external links out of all the site’s pages. It’s something of a door into the website for visitors and search spiders alike, and those spiders ideally should be able to locate all the site’s pages once they arrive on this top page.
Following a standard site layout can help with search engines’ automated hierarchical analysis of a site, so typical navigation features such as a top masthead toolbar or sidebar are frequently a good idea.
Just remember that the links into the other pages and main sections of content should be spiderable. Sometimes, designers use scripts or Flash to generate dynamic pull-down menus for the main navigation, where regular HTML/CSS combos would appear and function equivalently. Check to see that your main navigation element links appear as straightforward links in the page code.
10. Is Your Image SEO Up To Par?
I already mentioned the logo on the homepage, which is a specialized type of image, but other main images on the page can also contribute significantly to the site’s SEO if executed correctly.
The best base for Image SEO is using original photos — if you have photos on your site and aren’t sure where you got them, you might perform a reverse image search with them using Google Image Search or TinEye to see if other sites are using them as well — which would be a clear flag that your images are stock photography rather than originals.
Good Image SEO is mainly accomplished by including an ALT text parameter with the image tags, and writing super-brief text that incorporates valuable local keywords related to your business while also precisely describing the images.
Images are sometimes also hyperlinked to deeper pages, and in those cases the links should be well-formed and the URLs should also contain good keyword text.
There are many additional optimizations and advanced techniques possible with images which I’ve outlined previously in “Using Images For Local SEO.” You can even go super advanced by geotagging images via editing the EXIF meta data.
11. Clock Your Homepage’s Speed!
Google has maintained that rankings can be affected by a page’s speed of appearing in a user’s browser, so you should periodically check this out using independent tools.
While this probably is not a heavily influential ranking factor, it’s still worthwhile to make sure your pages are up-to-speed for the sake of a good user-experience. And, of all pages that need to deliver rapidly, the homepage needs to come up quickly.
Try using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, and then see what recommendations it makes that could rev up your homepage to come across the finish line faster.
12. Analyze Your Social Media Presence On The Homepage
Check to see if your social media links are properly sociable! I’ve analyzed a great many local business websites that have messed up with their social media links in some way.
If you don’t have a social media presence, you really should integrate this into your online promotion mix. Even if you only accrue small numbers of followers as a business in a local market, these followers can be very important and valuable for you.
For those that don’t have any social media accounts yet, there shouldn’t be icons for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+ on the homepage or other pages on the site.
Quite a number of WordPress design themes have social media icons integrated into the design — and businesses sometimes don’t know how to edit to remove them — or perhaps they keep them based on plans to eventually set those up, only to have those plans never materialize.
Even worse, I’ve seen quite a number of instances where designers don’t check these links, and they’ve made typos in them which apparently no one ever checked. Broken links to social media makes a very poor impression, and siphons off PageRank to no benefit.
A final mistake is in choosing to implement a “submit a link” button for the homepage — so that when a visitor clicks the button in hopes of finding your social account to connect with, they instead are offered the option to submit your homepage in a status update in their own account.
This is terrible usability! Check your links or buttons if you have them – actually click upon them and see that they work as they ought to.
While this checklist is not all-inclusive, it is still a good start to getting what is probably the most important page on your site into top condition.