What is a Search Engine Optimised WordPress website?
Web designers sell ‘Search Engine Optimised’ WordPress websites but some don’t actually don’t do anything SEO related to your site except install an SEO plugin and leave the real search engine optimisation up to you. Let’s call them cowboys. They might also be women, so for the sake of equal opportunities we can call them cow-people (moo), but it doesn’t really have the same ring to it, so cowboys it will be.
I think selling website optimisation but not actually doing it is really misleading and unfair on the average business owner who isn’t really sure what ‘Search Engine Optimised’ means but they do think their site will be found in search engines if they buy the website package that advertised ‘Search Engine Optimised’ websites for sale.
The huge gap in what was delivered and what you thought was delivered only come apparent after a while when you realise your website isn’t being found as much as you hoped.
This has happened to several of my clients, so you suspect this has happened to you, you are not alone.
Search engine optimised sites are only search engine optimised if you have targeted search phrases for each page you want to be found on Google and you or your designer knows what to do with them.
Not only that, they need to know a few technical optimisations too otherwise any SEO work will be almost useless.
I have written this blog post to help you identify if any search engine optimisation has taken place on your website. You can then go back to your designer and get them to clarify what they meant by a ‘Search engine optimised’ site. You will be armed with some basic knowledge to help you have a conversation around your website requirements.
They will either:
- Commit to setting your website up correctly, giving you something in writing to fall back on if they don’t deliver
- Admit they don’t know what they are doing so you can go elsewhere and get your website set up properly
Either option is a good result don’t you think?
The big lie being told about building Search Engine Optimised websites
You may have a few ideas about SEO that might lead you to sign up for the sale when a web designer tells you they will create a Search Engine Optimise website. Please don’t fall for this lie….
The lie: Installing a Search Engine Optimisation plugin is sufficient to improve your visibility in search engines
It really isn’t. Your web designer needs to know how set up your website and set up your plugin.
A search engine optimisation plugin does the following:
- Guides you on how to write better content
- Allows you to hide content from search engines
- Add structured data to your pages
- Creates a site map
These things alone won’t improve your ranking. Your SEO strategy should be driven by your goals and the competitiveness of your market. Your strategy will be very specific to you. If installing a plugin on your site made it that easy then everyone would be top of Google.
I’m not going to turn you into an SEO expert overnight
These checks are only top level checks intended to give you a quick indication about the quality of the SEO on your website. They do not replace a full SEO audit or SEO education. SEO audits are designed for SEO experts to interpret. This is a layman’s checklist, designed for business owners who are not SEO experts to check their website themselves. If you want to learn more about SEO there are lots of good, free resources online. Check out Neil Patel, Moz and SemRush for starters. I have also written a few blog posts about SEO.
Before we start, I want you to go to Google and type site:yourwebsite.co.uk in the search field.
This will bring up all the page Google has in the Google index. We will use this data to perform our research on.
You also need to look at the code that is creating your website home page. So, go to your home page and do a right click to bring up the menu that has ‘back, forward, reload’ etc. On my mac tracker pad I do a two finger press to bring up this menu. When you see it, find the option that says ‘View source’. Click on this and a new window will open with some code. Don’t be freaked out. We are going to search that code for a few things in a minute.
The SEO quick checks you can do to see if your website has been SEO’d
There is a lot work involved in correctly optimising a web page for search engines. I can’t give you the full list here. This list is just a small part of what to look for but it will give you an indication of the level of SEO that has ben applied to your website.
1. A ‘h1’ heading containing your target search phrase
Each page should have a title containing the keyword you want to be found for. It should be wrapped in a H1 tag. Go to your ‘view source and search for the following “<h1”. Notice there is only 1 left hand bracket. You should find only 1 if these. Each page should have the main keyword for the page wrapped in a H1 tag. You might have once. Does it contain your search phrase? Maybe you have none, or you may have more than one. In which case, you need to fix that. You should have only one.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: You don’t have a H1 tag on your page
Entry level: You have one H1 tag or multiple H1 tags. Your main search phrase doesn’t appear in the first one.
Experienced level: You have one H1 tag containing your main search phrase.
2. A page meta title
The meta title is what Google sees. This should be defined on your web page. In your ‘view source’ page above search for ‘<title’. You should have only one of these. If you have multiple you will be confusing Google so this needs to be fixed. For more info on what should be in your meta title read this meta title article by Moz.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: The meta title doesn’t contain your brand name or your search phrase.
Experienced level: The meta title does contain your brand name and your search phrase.
3. A page meta description
The meta description is what Google sees. This should be defined on your web page. In your ‘view source’ page above search for ‘<meta name=”description“‘. Please note the word description is in inverted commas. You should have only one of these descriptions. If you have none, Google will randomly select words from your page to show in search results. This can have some interesting results. It’s best to define what you want Google to show. For more info about why and how to use meta descriptions please read Neil Patels article on meta descriptions.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: The description matches the exact text on your home page.
Entry level: The description is different to the text on your home page but it does not contain your search phrase.
Experienced level: You have a well written description that makes you want to click on it and it contains your main search phrase.
4. Images with a descriptive file name
To check this, look in your media library and see what your file names are. If they are all random numbers and letters like xyz123.jpg then it has not been SEO’d. The file name needs to be changed to something descriptive containing the search terms you want the page to rank for.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: All the files names are gobbledygook.
Experienced level: Your filenames have SEO friendly descriptions.
5. Images with a descriptive alt text
Now check to see if there is alt text for your images. Alt text is the text Google reads to work out what your image is about. It uses that text in place of your image if your image failed to load. So not only is it Good for SEO it is good for usability too. If you have YOAST SEO plugin you will have to go into the details of each image one by one to see if an alt tag has been set, if you have RANK MATH you can see all your image alt text in one screen. The alt text should be similar to the file name.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: All the alt text fields are empty.
Entry level: It took you some time to look through your images because you had the Yoast SEO plugin installed. When you could see the alt tag field you noticed that some fields have been filled in but they are not search engine friendly, i.e they don’t reflect your search phrase.
Experienced level: You could see all your alt tags at a glance because you had Rank Math SEO plugin installed. All your images had SEO friendly descriptions.
6. You have low quality pages in the Google index
Go to the Google results page you created before by typing site:yourwebsite.co.uk into Google. What you see are all the pages Google looks at when considering whether your website is a good online resource. If you have a lot of low quality pages it will think your website is low quality and you will find it harder to rank. It is better to have few good quality pages than lots of low quality pages. Look through your pages. You are looking for page that have very little text, pages that contain duplicate content or page that are just plain useless to someone searching on Google.
An example of these pages are:
Tag archives – so if you have a blog and have created tags, a page will be made for each tag containing a list of posts with that tag. You want to remove these tag pages from Google.
Image attachment pages – these are just pages that have an image on, nothing else.
Author pages – unless you are an author and you have a detailed bio page then this page is low quality because of it’s lack of content.
Individual testimonials – these are not useful on their own and should be embedded in another page, e.g you services pages or a testimonials page. You may have a page per testimonial because that is how the website works. You need to get rid of those pages from google.
Appointments, events and calendar pages are poor quality page too.
If you find that you have lots of low quality pages in Google then your web designer hasn’t set your SEO plugin up correctly. It really is the click of a button, you just need to know which one.
If you already have lots of poor quality pages in Google you can get rid of the but the damage is done. It will take a bit of time for Google to let these pages drop out of the index. I have doubled traffic by doing this so it is well worth the wait.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: Lots of low quality pages that are no use to anybody
Experienced level: Just a few main pages and blog posts
7. WordPress settings
There are two main settings you can check to see if your web designer has scuppered your SEO.
Are your URLs SEO friendly? SEO friendly URLS are short and readable and and don’t contain unnecessary characters like the date.
From your WordPress admin area go to Settings >> Dashboard >> Permalinks and make sure your permalinks are set to ‘post’ or ‘custom’.
Cowboy level: Your designer has not touched the WordPress settings, they are in the default settings and the permalink structure is not set to ‘post’ or ‘custom’.
Experienced level: Your permalinks have been set to ‘post’ or ‘custom’.
Did you know there was a settings that hides your website from Google? You need to make sure this hasn’t been set.
From your WordPress admin area go to Settings >> Dashboard >> Reading and make sure the ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’ is unchecked. It should be unchecked by default but your designer may have checked it when your site was in the test or develop phase.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: Oops, your designer forgot to uncheck the box!
Experienced level: The box is unchecked.
8. SEO analytics
Ok, so this one isn’t strictly about your website but it is still important. If your designer is offering an SEO optimised website then you expect them to know a little about SEO right? They should be helping you set up the free, invaluable tools that are recommended by most SEO agencies and consultants. Those tools are Google analytics and Google Search Console.
Don’t take my word for it, read this article about how SEO experts use Google Search Console for SEO.
You should know if you have access to these tools are not just by knowing if you have an account.
If you have a Google Search Console account, check to see if you have submitted a sitemap. This doesn’t make or break your SEO but it does help your website pages to be found quicker. Here is a guide from Google to explain how to see your sitemap.
What did you find?
Cowboy level: You don’t have access to Google analytics or search console. In fact, you are relying on the hosting account analytics tools.
Entry level: They set up the free tools but use dedicated plugins to do it. The even advise you to use a plugin to display your analytics data in your dashboard. Adding analytics to your site can be done using an SEO plugin or in your theme. There is no reason to use a dedicated plugin to do it. I advice against analytics plugins because they bloat your site unnecessarily. They are not needed at all. The data they display is over simplified vanity data and not very meaningful. You get more meaningful data if you just look in your Google Analytics account.
You have seen in your search console that no sitemap has been submitted.
Experienced level: Your analytics would be set up using Google Tag Manager. This means you only add one snippet of code and you save on lots of plugins and code additions later on. It future proofs your website and makes managing your code snippets much easier. It’s not that complicated but believe me if you are using your website for marketing your business will benefit from Google Tag Manger. You website goals should also be set up Google analaytcis so you can see how effective your marketing is.
You should also get a bit coaching on how to use Google Analytics
Next steps – what to do if you want to improve your website
Download the checklist to help you keep a track of what you found and identify a few areas for improvement.
If you are unhappy about the quality of your website. Talk to your designer. Let them know you feel like you have been mis-sold services. Theres probably not a lot they will do but it’s important to let them know it’s not a good way to do work.
Next, if they can’t give you the service you expected, find someone who can.
I can certainly help get your website up to the level you need for it to be a ‘Search Engine Optimised’ website. Take a look at my services to see what you get.
Next steps – What to do if you are shopping around for a new website
First, don’t be fooled by the ‘Search engine optimised’ description.
Ask the web designer exactly what they mean by it. It may be sufficient for you to just have a plugin enabled but if you want more than just a plugin, now is the time to get your requirements and expectations clarified. Not a year after your website has been delivered.
Here is a set of very basic requirements you can give your web designer if you want your website search engine optimised. Of course, the level to which this can be done will depend on their skill level. You may want to go into more detail with your web designer too, so use this list as a starting point.
Each page you want visible in Google to:
- Have a researched search phrase
- Follow all ‘On Page Optimisation’ guidelines (H1 tag, alt tags etc)
- Load in under 3 seconds
In addition you want:
- Google analytics and Google webmasters tools set up using Google tag manager.
- Coaching on the basics of those tools.
- Applicable schema data to be set up for your website (this is advanced so I left it out of the checklist but it should be part of setting up your website)
If you can’t get those very basic search engine optimisation requirements agreed then look for another web designer who can.