In Part 1 of this post, we shared several tips to help you optimize your website’s SEO. Here we delve into two things you can do at a code level to improve your site’s SEO.

Tip #4: Use Structured Code to Help Search Engine Crawlers

In a perfect world, search engine crawlers would traverse websites with the ease they did decades ago, say, back in 1993. Granted, at that time, sites were not bloated with scripts and external calls. Instead, websites were simple and HTML-based. 

Over time, functionality and users have demanded more in-depth experiences. Personalization, JavaScript, and other complex code end up giving crawlers a lot to chew on. The more code there is on a page, the longer it takes crawlers to get through. This is compounded by the number of pages and amount of content on a site. 

Circling back to our filing cabinet metaphor from Part 1, if you start throwing in a Tom Clancy novel, a VHS tape, and a handful of potato chips into your filing cabinet, it’s going to be much harder to find what you are looking for. Ideally, your filing cabinet would consist of neatly-labeled folders. Similarly, you can make it easier for search engine crawlers to register content faster by using structured code and page elements like metadata, H1 tags, and clean CSS/HTML5 when possible.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:  

  • Externally reference JavaScript. In today’s age, JavaScript can now be crawled by search engines such as Google. However, it’s recommended that JavaScript be externally referenced, so it doesn’t bloat the source code of each page and cause crawlers to take more time to process the content.
  • Be aware (but not paranoid) of the crawl budget. While crawl budget is a real thing, it’s only a concern if your site has hundreds of thousands of pages, or each of your pages is extremely dense (the Google “Santa” only wants to spend a certain amount of time on each site as there are a lot of sites to visit). But you can help improve your site’s performance on Google using the Google Search Console tools and reports.
  • Improve page load speed to improve SEO. Page load speed matters for SEO and is taken into consideration with algorithms. Page speed contributes to increased site performance as well as a better user experience. The cleaner the code is on a page, the faster it can load.

Tip #5: Managing 404 Pages

Authors are continuously adding and deleting content, or your systems are producing automatically-generated pages, which means that there's a good chance that there are broken links on your site. Unfortunately, running into a non-existent page is frustrating. People often feel like they’ve hit a wall, and the feeling of being let down can diminish trust in the site as a whole. 

Managing 404 pages can sometimes feel like a relentless round of amusement park whack-a-mole.

The good news is that you can get a handle on this ongoing challenge by starting with and focusing on your most important pages. Cleaning up loose ends and giving people the opportunity to find content that they might find relevant can help provide a better user experience. This also helps website crawlers, as they follow this same logic, but without the emotion.

Manage broken pages by using 301 redirects to capture most of the link equity (the influence of links on a page’s ability to rank for particular search queries). This will help provide a boost in value for the new page that the link redirects to. The default server code for this type of action is often 302 redirects, which do not pass link equity as they are temporary, so use them judiciously. 

In addition to handling broken links, a 404 page should contain certain elements to promote good UX. Here are the elements I’d recommend for a default 404 page:

  • Use search functionality. This allows users to type in keywords and get to content they are looking for. Search providers such as Coveo offer powerful search solutions by studying context to understand intent which helps return more relevant results, greatly enhancing the user experience.
  • Recommend pages. Help people find similar content to what they were looking for or funnel people to frequented or important areas of the site when possible.
  • Express empathy or make people laugh. A kind, funny, or clever message on a 404 page is a small but powerful way to improve the user experience. When people feel like they are being helped and guided instead of being made to feel as if they messed up, they are more likely to maintain a positive view of the site and brand. 

Conclusion

At the heart of good website development is a great user experience, which means that sacrificing user experience for SEO is discouraged. Fortunately, what works well for people often works well for search engine crawlers and is aligned with what Google has been pushing for almost two decades. 

As passionate advocates for all things digital, we work with our clients to develop great user experiences and powerful websites, and are also committed to helping our clients improve their SEO. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to us directly at info@velir.com or Tweet Us @Velir.