Sweat the small stuff
Bruce Clay Australia does SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and works on some very large websites. Too large to hand craft or edit each individual page. Many would of these sites have in excess of 100,000 pages indexed and some in excess of a million pages indexed.
While managing millions of pages can be a little like steering a large ship i.e. you head in a general direction, the user, on average takes a selfish perspective and wants unique, customised content on the pages applicable to their want or need.
Search engines on average deliver a significant percentage of a websites total visitors, and those entering a site from a search engine result page (SERP) can be from different cultural backgrounds, languages and countries. These users have found the site by searching on a relevant search phrase and are usually unforgiving. If you don’t look, behave or have what they want, they are gone, but at the same time, given they are searching, if they like what they see, the potential for conversion is high.
The challenge for large websites
How do you make a large, complex website targeting “the world” relevant to a specific individual, who wants to find something specific to their needs, in their local neighbourhood, in a hurry.
For example, say you operate a restaurant review website, with millions of pages targeting restaurants around Australia. Your search engine user is a single mum searching for the cheapest, kid friendly Chinese restaurant closest to her home, offering value for money, acceptable quality and paper table covers so the kids can draw on them. You see the problem?
Not only that, but large sites inevitably run into duplicate content issues, complexities around site structure, the challenge of getting all pages in the site spidered by the search engines, as well as the need to build relevant links from other websites.
Large website SEO Considerations and more
1. Site structure:
If you do not start upfront with a logical and hierarchical site structure, over time the chances are that your site will become unwieldy and harder to manage, especially when it comes time to add new content or categories.
Also ensure you consider what keywords and keyword phrases people actually look for when deciding on this site structure. For example, for the restaurant site, people will search on average as follows:
- restaurant name
- suburb + restaurant
- restaurant type (e.g. Chinese) + restaurant + suburb
- restaurant attribute (e.g. cheap, take away etc) + restaurant type + restaurant + suburb
- and so on and so on…
You might want to consider having landing pages for these search phrases.
2. Technical elements
You can argue all you like about HTML elements and which ones are better than others. Does the H1 count? Do I need a Keywords tag? What about breadcrumbs? Is the Image alt more powerful than the H1 tag? etc. etc. The bottom line is that the more of these you get right the better, SEO is a competition, so make sure your site template includes all SEO relevant HTML elements and that these are populated correctly.
Writing unique title tags for each page can be a challenge, so understand if there are any automated options such as “make H1 the page name and title” etc. understand how these are applied and how they will impact each webpage. Make sure you can get relevant text into the required HTML elements without being spammy or replicated.
Building internal links and HTML sitemaps is also a good way of ensuring that your entire site gets spidered by the search engines. Think about it this way, if I could pour a glass of water into my home page, would it drip out the lowest level pages in my site?
Finally, your CMS (Content Management System) can also be responsible for generating duplicated pages in various forms. Audit your CMS and how it renders content to ensure you minimise duplicate content using canonical tags, webmaster tools or Meta tags as required.
Train your copywriters. Make sure they are aware of SEO, using keywords and keyword phrases, as well as associated words on the page, and that while “tone of voice” might be sexy, it is often not all that sexy to the search engines.
Where pages are generated dynamically and have little or no unique content, review these pages and consider the following:
- Are the SEO relevant HTML elements present and populated?
- Do they make sense?
- Are these pages unique or are they highly duplicated across the site?
- Where do they link to?
- What relevance to the user are they and what do you want the user to do once read?
- What screen resolution do my users mostly use, what will they see when they arrive?
4. Engagement Objects
Have you got engaging tools useful to the user, such as a restaurant finder, what pages does this generate dynamically? Will these be indexed? Do we want these pages indexed?
Blogs are a great way of building engagement, links and ensuring changing and flexible content on the site, as well as social signals. Is there a blog, is it useful and managed properly?
Images. Pictures of smiling kids and good looking people are great but do they add any value, unless of course you are building a dating site. Try considering images that are more useful to the user, graphs, charts etc. Think about how these are used or created across the website. If you have numerous images, think about setting up a gallery of all site images in addition to using them on various pages.
Video. Recent posts from Google indicate the growing importance to Google of getting your video’s optimised and indexed. Videos on a page are good engagement objects, just consider your strategy and wether you submit to YouTube, host them yourself or both and how you optimise these videos accordingly.
5. Page speed
On average dealing with code at a page level will produce results with respect to speed rather than running out and buying new servers, and is ofcourse a lot cheaper. Use one of the many tools around to check your site speed and implement the recommendations. Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) gives recommendations and will benchmark your site speed to similar sites.
So you spend all this time and money, are very excited about the launch and don’t consider what you actually want people to do at a page level. Note, not talking about at a site level here. All or most sites would have some sort of objective attached.
You create a beautiful landing page, but don’t make it obvious what the user should do once they have read the page. Likewise with articles, you pay money, get them written and then rely on your footer to get them to convert? What user path do you have in mind when a user arrives unannounced from a search engine at a page deep within your site structure?
At a minimum, try to get your users to subscribe to your newsletter by just inputting their email address.
7. Social signals
You may have heard the old adage, “man cannot live by bread alone”, and before I get comments about being sexist, don’t shoot the messenger. Likewise it is harder and harder for a website to live without social signals. Social signals being references and mentions from around the web, to your site and domain name. If you are being spoken about, you must exist, right?
Websites will find it harder to rank by structure and content alone. Building links on large dynamic sites can be tough. There are only so many directories, link requests and articles/ press releases you can do for a million odd pages, so making sure you build link magnets (pages that attract links) is of utmost importance. Link building strategies need to be scalable across the site, especially where you have numerous landing pages of similar relevance and want to rank for multiple terms.
9. Usability and Accessibility
Many usability and accessibility factors tie closely in to SEO and the guidelines provided by search engines. This article is not about usability, but on large sites this should not be overlooked, especially for your users with disabilities.
10. UGC (User Generated Content)
Be careful what you wish for. The dream can be multiple users, interacting on your site, building free content for you. The reality can be high levels of sometimes costly moderation, playing referee between squabbling members and arbitrary, low value content.
Think about your objectives, your target market and what you want discussed; try to build a valuable community, rather than a free for all community. Think about the comments you encourage, where you encourage people to comment and on what topic.
Operating a large website increasingly requires attention to detail and flexibility to meet increasingly demanding user’s expectations. SEO should not be overlooked as part of these efforts, as if done correctly can significantly change your traffic volumes, bringing relevant users to your website and increasing your ROI.