January 3, 2020 | Posted in: Search
Have you received an email from a self-proclaimed marketing expert warning you about serious problems they’ve identified in a recent audit of your SEO strategy? While some of these issues may be worth investigating, more often than not we find that emails like this are nothing more than spammy sales pitches from companies whose reputations are questionable at best.
That said, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of these supposed issues so that you can make your own judgement when the time comes. Today we’ll consider five SEO issues that may not always be quite what they seem.
Issue 1: Missing h1 Header Tags
This is an issue we see time and time again in unsolicited sales pitches from SEO companies, and it should always be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism. Some automated audit tools will falsely report missing header tags on websites, so take a moment to manually double check them before you start panicking. The good news is, you can easily do this right from your browser.
Start by navigating to any optimized page on your website (product and service pages are a good place to start) and press CTRL + U to view the page’s source code. If you’re on a Mac, you’ll need to press Command + Option + U instead.
Next, press CTRL + F (or Command + F on Mac) to search for specific lines of text in the code. Search for “h1” and press Enter. Chances are, you’ll find that the page does, in fact, have a header tag.
Search engines use header tags to determine what the content of a webpage is about, but it’s also worth noting that header tags are not strictly necessary on every page of a website. Some developers may choose to exclude them on pages that aren’t leveraged for SEO purposes, such as “Contact” or “Financing” pages. Google’s own Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller had this to say about the relative importance of h1 header tags in a recent interview:
“Some SEO tools flag this as an issue and say like, ‘Oh you don’t have any h1 tag or you have two h1 tags.’ From our point of view that’s not a critical issue … Your site is going to rank perfectly fine with no h1 tags or with five h1 tags.”
Issue 2: Long Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are the little snippets of text you see below each link in a search engine results page. These descriptions are designed to give users a quick preview of what they can expect to find on the page should they decide to click through. Although some SEO analysts will argue that the optimal length for meta descriptions is around 160 characters, our own independent research has shown that companies targeting many different services and locations can benefit from having meta descriptions that are somewhat longer than this recommendation.
Regardless of your opinion on how long meta descriptions should be, it’s safe to say that they have virtually no value in terms of ranking. Google announced that they would no longer use meta keywords or descriptions as ranking factors way back in 2009, in response to concerns that they could easily be manipulated to unfairly game search results.
Issue 3: Long Title Tags
On a similar note, some companies may cite long title tags on pages as SEO issues as well. It’s true that Google truncates title tags after around 50-60 characters on their search engine results page, but this doesn’t mean that title tags longer than this limit are bad for SEO. Even if Google only displays a limited amount of characters to users, their bots will still crawl the entire title tag.
Make sure the first 50-60 characters in any given title tag will make sense to readers, but feel free to include longer, keyword-rich title tags on your site as well. In fact, we’ve found that using long, descriptive title tags can actually be an extremely effective SEO strategy for our clients.
Issue 4: Site Speed
There’s no doubt that snappy load times can be beneficial from a user experience standpoint, but the relationship between site speed and SEO performance is considerably more complex. While Google does take site speed into account in its ranking algorithms, some changes that are designed to improve load times on a site can actually have unintended negative consequences on SEO performance.
Server caching, for example, can improve load times for repeat visitors by storing pre-assembled website files locally on a server. This way, users won’t have to load these files again each time they visit the site. Instead, they will receive cached versions which can be quickly deployed by the server. But server caching can also have a detrimental effect on SEO, because it will take longer for Google’s crawler bots to notice changes on a heavily-cached site.
While some things like image and video compression can speed up load times without harming your SEO, it’s important to be aware of these potential trade-offs before making drastic changes aimed at improving site speed.
Issue 5: (Some) NAP Audit Issues
NAP audits (or name, address, and phone number audits) are designed to ensure your local listing information is consistent across the web. When companies have conflicting listing information on platforms such as Yelp, Angie’s List, and Google My Business, it can not only confuse prospective customers, but also make it harder for search engines to effectively index them in local search. This is why periodic NAP audits are so important for businesses that depend on local SEO.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that not all NAP audits are created equal. While a careful, detailed audit can uncover outdated listing info that needs to be corrected, automated NAP audits will sometimes flag errors in listings that are already up to date. This is because they often use exact-match searches to find conflicting listing information. While Google’s search algorithms are smart enough to know that “123 Elm Street” and the abbreviated “123 Elm St.” are the same address, automated NAP audit tools aren’t always refined enough to make these connections.
If you receive a notice from an SEO company notifying you of inconsistencies they find in a NAP audit, be sure to verify their claims with a quick search of a few of the most popular local listing platforms, such as Facebook, Google, Yelp, and Bing. These platforms carry the most authority in local search, and are therefore more important to your local SEO efforts than other smaller local listing services. If you can’t find any errors in your own search, there’s a good chance they’re using one of these fast but fallible automated tools.
Still have some lingering questions about a potential optimization issue on your site? At Range Marketing, our SEO analysts are always just an email or phone call away.