The Search Gospel: Part 2, is your site quality?

Gather round, children. Today’s story time is all the structure and quality of a website and the effects that has on your search rankings.

You can have the best written, highest quality piece of content with an amazing search engine optimised headline – but if it’s on a crappy slow badly-designed site, it won’t rank well.

Now, incoming links are a lot to do with site quality in terms of domain authority and all that, but we’re going to cover those in Part 3 of the Gospel.

If we remove incoming links from consideration (for now, only for now) we’re left with a few key quality indicators:

  • Is the site in question well organised and logical?
  • Is the site in question well designed and user-friendly?
  • Is the site in question well built and fast-loading?

These are the key indicators for site quality in search ranking that have nothing whatsoever to do with how other people link to you.

It’s all about how good your site is.

Let’s start with organisation.

Any old website is a bunch of pages hanging out in the ether of the online world, but a good website is one with a logical site structure, where pages link to one another making it incredibly easy to navigate between topics and articles.

A good magazine site, for example, should have sections like News, or Features or Blogs – and all content uploaded in those sections has a url that starts with /news/, /features/ or /blog/. And when the user removes all the extraneous shit from their url bar to leave them with a url that reads, that user should then see a list of all the news items published.

That’s just good sense.

Ideally as I said last time, an article should include links in the body text to articles on your site and articles on other sites, and this contributes towards good site structure. But the main on page element here is tags or topics.

Check out this timely article from the Guardian about the newly announced Black Panther film:

Black Panther coverage by Gdn

Black Panther coverage by Gdn

Do you see how many links there are? Here let me help you:

Black panther article with arrows to show the links

Look at all those links

Right at the top (Blue Arrow) there’s a link to another article on the same topic, and then within the first few paragraphs there’s body-content link (Red Arrow) to the exact same article that is linked to with the Blue Arrow – double the linkage, double the potential clickage.

And then over on the right we’ve got the author link (Green Arrow, oops no, wrong comics-verse, let’s call this the Emerald Arrow) which links off to a page full of articles this author has written previously.

And then we have the Purple and Orange Arrows – Orange being a link to more content of this type – in this case more film blog or blog or news content, and Purple being the links to pre-selected tags which vary from genre descriptors to film titles.

So on this one little Grauniad article about a new film, we have not one, not two but 15 different links showing how the reader can get to more content just like this.

And so when a search bot comes in and navigates to this page, it will find a plethora of internal links to follow, and follow, and follow, because good ol’ Grauniad has organised their tag structure sensibly and logically.

Just like all good internet children should.

What do your users experience?

Does your site load in all browsers? Does it load on all devices? Is it, like so many others, broken on Windows tablets?

Part of this comes down to design – remember that optimising your site for mobile is not as simple as rearranging content blocks on a page. You need to make sure the menu items are spaced far enough apart that users with fat fingers can still tap them individually.

Think about what a user on their mobile phone and a user on the desktop need from your site – because its quite likely these things will be different.  A user on their desktop may want to browse the news, waste time at their desk. A user on their phone may be looking for an instant answer or update, or may be also looking to browse away a commute or long trip. Unless your mobile user is on Wifi it’s unlikley they will stream videos. If they’re on a small screen large infographics that need to be zoomed in upon won’t display well.

Mobile optimisation is more than just design – it’s functionality.

The other element of design is accessibility. Right now this isn’t really a Google ranking factor, but if I come to your site and the entire think is lurid pink (or, god forbid entirely Flash), it’s not going to encourage me to return or link to it.

Shitty web design costs visits, and if your site looks appalling no amount of SEO will save you from the fact that people don’t want to visit.

Now, how fast is it?

Or rather how fast does a search bot or engine think it is, with a side order of user experience.

Google have a lovely tool called Google Page Speed Insights and you can find it over in the Developer tools site.

You can run any url you want in Google Page Speed Insights and it will give you a score out of 10 for:

  • Mobile speed
  • Mobile user experience
  • Desktop speed

This is a nifty little tool that shows you what site improvements need to be made (for example are your images optimized? Does your Javascript or CSS need minifying?) and gives you a score so you can see how much difference the changes make.

And this is also a good way to see if your mobile optimisation is doing what it’s supposed to or if the design killed the functionality.

Use the tool, make it so all the scores for you site are as high as possible. This makes Google happy. And you want to make Google happy, don’t you?

And there we are.

Here are your lessons from today:

  1. A good site links to itself as much as it links to other high value sites.
  2. A good site has a sensible url map
  3. A good site is mobile optimised in terms of functionality as well as design
  4. A good site is fast loading

Go forth, sweet baby search marketers and make your sites (rank) better.

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