Next in our four-part series on gaining more leads from search engines, now we look at website architecture. Here’s what you need to know about how search engines see the structure of your website. Join us as we cover site structure, mobile friendliness, page load time, dwell time, readability, keyword-rich URLs, and your sitemap and robots.txt files.
Chris Raines: Today we’re going to talk about site architecture, what it is, why it matters for search engine results. This is episode three of Grow Your Painting Business. Welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, a podcast for commercial, residential, and industrial painters to grow their businesses in their local or regional markets. We’re experts in digital marketing for painters in other trades and this is a show to share our experience with you. Grow Your Painting Business is a free podcast from searchprimer.com the experts in digital marketing for the trades. All right, episode three Grow Your Painting Business joined by Michael Utley across the table from me. Wow.
Michael Utley: That was loud.
Chris Raines: That was loud. We’re sipping on some Yazoo hot perfect IPA local brewery here in Nashville.
Michael Utley: Episode three gets an IPA.
Chris Raines: Michael what are we talking about today?
Michael Utley: We’re going to talk about website architecture. We’ve talked over the first two episodes of this four part series about content, and in this episode we’re going to shift gears and talk about website architecture, and we’re not going to get too technical but we’re going to really give painters a checklist to either have us evaluate them or if they have a web developer have a marketing company in place this will be a good kind of punch list to put in front of those folks and say, “Hey, how are we doing on these things?”
Chris Raines: Yeah, and you guys these are actual punch lists from searchprimer.com it’s a what we use when we go through websites to optimize them. We’ll publish these on the show notes page.
Michael Utley: Sure, yeah we’ll do that.
Chris Raines: We’ll grab them, everything we’re going through we’ll publish with any relevant links that are there for those. So, let’s get right into it. First element of site architecture, when we say site architecture what we mean is not the content itself but how it’s arranged on the website.
Michael Utley: Yep, so right off the bat there are a lot of … I have a friend who says, “You grow up and then you get out of high school and you sort of for the rest of your life have the hair that you graduated from high school with.”
Chris Raines: I don’t.
Michael Utley: You’re sort of a bull cut I think, but a lot of us in our thinking and our day to day lives we kind of lock in at some point developmentally. Whenever it was we became adults, well that happens a lot with websites. People kind of lock in on certain ideas that were there when they got to know the internet, or when they developed the first website for their company. Well actually a lot of that stuff’s changing quite a bit, so website architecture what that means is making sure that content is laid out, often making sure that pieces of material are in text with images maybe as background elements, not just text included in graphics. Also flash is gone. Anybody who’s got any kind of flash elements on a website, because Steve Jobs didn’t care for it, and it was sort of a memory hog he said, “Yeah, we’re not doing that,” and sort of changed the way the internet works just by leaving it out of Apple products.
Chris Raines: And that was what? Seven, eight years ago. If you still have flash on your website in 2018 you need to fire your web developer yesterday.
Michael Utley: Yeah, and were we see it is not necessarily complete flash websites, but we do come across little elements, little things that are just hanging out there.
Chris Raines: Yeah.
Michael Utley: Also making sure that content sections are structured in a way that’s common sense for people, which is typically a top header area, a top nav, maybe a sidebar maybe not. And then probably the biggest change in website architecture for us is that over the last three or four years we don’t really think of mobile devices as having a separate version, rather we’re thinking of websites being developed with responsive code. And the difference between a mobile version and responsive code this is probably a lot more relevant than flash, but I don’t know, go to an extreme to make a point.
Chris Raines: Right.
Michael Utley: But yeah, if your website, if you’re working with a different set of code for a mobile version and then you’ve got tablets sort of ignored, or maybe even if your mobile version is not being viewed as regularly or as carefully as your desktop version, there’s a real problem there because about half of the website traffic right now on the internet is mobile. And so, what Google has done in recent times is shift to sort of a mobile first really since November of 2017 it shifted to pretty heavily mobile first approach because most of the internet traffic now is mobile based. So website architecture, website structure, making sure site structure matches what search engines are doing, it really means not having any outdated technologies. Like a really bad example, flash being responsive and having things laid out in order that is common sense and not trying to hard to be creative, but is functional first.
Chris Raines: Yeah, and it bares pointing out too that since that so called mobile first update back in late 2017, Google actually penalizes you now if you don’t have a mobile responsive site.
Michael Utley: Yeah.
Chris Raines: You will get dinged by Google on search engine results, so again, if your developer hasn’t built you a mobile first site you need to fire them yesterday.
Michael Utley: That’s right. And I would say, so number 17 here is mobile friendliness, and I would say that sometimes mobile friendliness goes too far, and I’m seeing a lot of developers and designers put out sites now that I would argue are almost mobile only, and I think that’s a mistake as well. If 45-55% of your traffic is desktop … and we work with a lot of B to B painters, a lot of commercial painters they think no one on their website is on a mobile device, and they’re wrong, but if they think everyone on their site is on a mobile device that’s also wrong. We really need to design, plan content and develop for all of these types of users. And tablets, if you’re doing best practices tablets are not going to be a problem, the sort of mid-size screens, but yeah so mobile friendliness is important but not so far that you dumb everything down so that it’s thumbable and graphics are too big when someone’s viewing on a desktop. So there’s a balance there. We really like to use responsive website design. We really like to have the real estate of a sidebar on inside pages even if we don’t have it on a homepage, and we can do that with responsive design. And that to us right now that’s the right balance where the market is.
Chris Raines: Yeah and it’s friendly to Google too. Let’s talk about page load time, this is the time it takes when someone clicks on a search results page and your page is completely loaded, and Google pays attention to this, and this is a ranking factor, so what should people be thinking through in times of page load time for their website?
Michael Utley: That’s right, and we won’t quote any actual numbers here, but the best thing to do is to go run your URL through the Google page load test. You can just do a Google search for Google Speed Test.
Chris Raines: Yeah, we’ll put a link to that in the show notes.
Michael Utley: Yep. And that’s the best test. It’ll give you basically a score and give you a list of things that you can do. And a lot of what Google’s recommending has to do with moving code around on the page. If you have some code that does not need to render or be loaded to the users browser in order for the page to work you can probably have your developer move that to the end of the page. We just had a project come in today for a site that has maybe a D, a score of a D in kind of A, B, C, D, F in a different tool than the Google page load test tool, which I think GYPB-EP003 (Completed 12/06/18) Transcript by Rev.com Page 4 of 11 uses different grading system if I remember correctly I think … I don’t know, I can’t remember if it’s A, B, C, D, F we’ll have to look. Basically just moving code around on that website and having it load differently in a different order is going to completely solve their problems. Google is using these tools because what they want is for individuals to be able to see a search result, click on it, and as quickly as possible get to what they’re trying to do. Every tenth of a second that someone has to wait for a page to load they’re hitting the back button, they’re abandoning ship, and it really statistically, it really is a tenth of a second, it’s not even a whole second. You can get frustrated and wish that people were more patient, but that’s not really how it works. Really we’re going after them, we’re marketing to them, we’re going to do everything we can to work with this system. Google knows that, that is how people work and they know that developers and designers can be forced to do a better job. And so, yeah that’s something we focus on and a lot of time we’re even recommending changing a website platform from one CMS to another to solve this problem. A lot of times we migrate websites to a better hosting package because it’s the hosting company that is the problem. Yeah, page load time you can check your site very easily with Google’s page load tester, and know where you stand, and beat up on your developer with that information.
Chris Raines: Yep. All right, let’s talk about dwell time. Now dwell time isn’t necessarily architecture perse, but it’s something you should pay attention to, and you can look at your dwell time if you have Google analytics or another third-party analytics tool installed. So, Michael what should we be thinking about when we look at dwell time? How long people are spending on the site or any given page.
Michael Utley: Yeah, this is funny so, user engagement’s a funny thing. You can want time on page to go up or down depending on what you’re trying to do. We’ve actually a number of times loaded phone numbers to headers of sites where there was no phone number. Really sort of big oversight. I think like we talked about old thinking, you know high school hair creeping in, I think a lot of people saw the website as sort of an alternative and, “Oh, we’re just trying to drive people to the lead form.” Well if you’re in business you want the phone ringing. That’s really at the end of the day what you want, and you want consumers or even B to B audiences to be abl to connect with you however they see fit and whatever is most expedient for them. So, we’ve actually loaded phone numbers to websites and had number of pages visited per session go down and had dwell time go down, well why? Well, because people are getting what they’re looking for. They’re just trying to get in touch with this company, but generally we want people to spend time on the website rather than bounce away quickly. So, how do we do that? Well, we make sure that every page is extremely relevant to one particular topic instead of having elements of information that people have to get through to get what they’re wanting. We make sure that, that information is front and center. GYPB-EP003 (Completed 12/06/18) Transcript by Rev.com Page 5 of 11 Another good way to increase dwell time is to enrich your content maybe use some video. Beginning to use video content on pages is a great way to increase the dwell time, the time spent on a page even the homepage. You can have an overview video above the fold on a homepage and as soon as you load it your dwell time’s going to go up. Why is that? Well, because people are watching the video, they’re getting to know your brand, it’s a new format, it’s interactive and people are there and they’re taking it all in. And generally in business when you’re promoting a new brand or maybe introducing services or cross promoting things having people spend more time is generally always good. So, yeah dwell times a good thing to understand from you analytics and to think about how you want to push it up.
Chris Raines: Good, good. Number 20, readability and design. What should be thinking about … part of this is mobile response and making sure your sites mobile responsive, but another part is, is kind of this tension that exists between keywords and serving the Google robots, giving them what they need, and then giving users something that’s readable, something that’s actually valuable. So, talk about readability and design.
Michael Utley: Yeah, the policy at Go Eps and Search Primer, Go Eps is the parent company of Search Primer, our policy is to always lean toward readability and usability, and quality content and the SEO will follow. We do all the technical work for good SEO, but we always lean toward usability. What does that look like? Well, typically my gosh people are just trying to cram too much stuff in. If I see a starburst or some sort of thing that’s meant to sort of grab my attention …
Chris Raines: Starburst like the candy?
Michael Utley: Yeah.
Chris Raines: I love those.
Michael Utley: Yeah, any kind of visual noise that feels like a direct mail piece, any kind of big graphics that are sort of almost gross motor movement trying to tell you which way to go …
Chris Raines: Or long pieces of happy talk copy.
Michael Utley: Yeah.
Chris Raines: That talk about, “Welcome to our website.”
Michael Utley: Yeah, we’re really glad you’re here. You don’t have to tell them that you can just …
Chris Raines: Just for the chase.
Michael Utley: You can just cut all that out. What they’re looking for is, is this a company I want to use? Do I trust them, and when can I get them here? And so, serving those masters almost in a tyrannical way is the best way to protect the user experience. Your customers are not coming to your website because they like you, and they’re not coming because they enjoy looking you up, they’re coming because they have a problem.
Chris Raines: Yep.
Michael Utley: So what’s the problem they’re trying to solve? It’s probably getting something painted, or fixed, or a new epoxy floor, or getting some concrete polished. Well, why would you put anything in the way of that? And so, it’s really hard but if you can just take a set of fresh eyes to a page, cut out any sort of filler on the front end, cut out anything that’s trying to demand attention instead of earning it. The best way to earn it is relevance. And so, yeah it’s really just trimming away. I think a lot of readability and design has to be done with things that you take away not things that you add.
Chris Raines: Yeah that’s a good point. A lot of people think about design because it’s kind of an artsy kind of word, so we think about winning design awards or something that’s really clever, but a lot of times a designer could be thinking that they’re being really creative and design something really unique but if it doesn’t solve the user’s problem in a better way as a conventional design you should scrap it and go away, and just go with something that solves the user’s problem. So, instead of trying to develop a new kind of scroll bar that’s really interesting looking …
Michael Utley: Yeah or company timeline on the homepage.
Chris Raines: Right.
Michael Utley: It’s not the most relevant piece to put forth, yeah.
Chris Raines: Believe it or not, not a lot of people care that your great granddad started the business …
Michael Utley: It’s a hard truth, hard truth.
Chris Raines: … from his pickup truck.
Michael Utley: It’s good for being authentic and kind of dropping little hints of your story and legacy.
Chris Raines: Now what they do care about I think is, is this a fly by night company that just started last week or are they established?
Michael Utley: Right.
Chris Raines: So you want to communicate establishment, but you don’t want to bore them when they don’t care who your great granddad is.
Michael Utley: Yeah. So, a quote that I’ll refer to often is from John Lennon he said, “Put your message on the back beat.” And sometimes the message is, we’re part of the community, we’re connected, we’ve been doing this for three generations. Those are all good but they’re better as secondary elements to support your value proposition, which could be as simple as we do this in this geographic area. If you have that information front and center everything else will follow. Do they care about those other things? Yes, but on the internet people are moving really, really fast. They’re clicking in, they’re clicking out, they’re bouncing around. You’ve gotta tell them, yes we are a residential painter or yes, we are a commercial painter, or yes you know us and you looked us up and yes we do epoxy floors. You’ve gotta make that connection as clear as possible, not just on the homepage but on any page that could be a first page someone hits on the website. Somebody comes in looking for epoxy flooring after they’ve used your other commercial services in the past you better make sure that, that epoxy listing is coming up in the search results and that when they get there they see epoxy flooring above the fold on the first page that they’re seeing.
Chris Raines: Yeah, and a lot of this is hard to kind of get around because it’s understanding that people don’t look at websites in the same way that you do when you’re writing them. So you pour over every single word, every sentence, every paragraph but really when people come to your website they’re not reading top to bottom, they’re scanning, they’re feverishly looking for anything that might have a scent of something that could solve their problem.
Michael Utley: Yeah, and going back to what you said about design, yeah it’s all about cutting to the chase and getting the most important stuff first. Webpages are not written like movies with plot point one, plot point two, and a climax. They’re written like newspaper articles, most important stuff first, and the editor can start from the bottom and cut anywhere they need to because they’re just trying to fill a certain number of inches of column. And so, webpages need to have the most important stuff first, and websites need to have the most important stuff first. If your above the fold on your homepage is beautifully designed and it’s something really creative and artistic that maybe it’s a slideshow of a lot of projects but no words that’s probably a mistake. Maybe you need to throw some words over it and use those background images, and highlight each of your core services with that slider, or maybe get away from a slider all together and focusing just on one key image that exemplifies your quality.
Chris Raines: Yeah, and we move onto the list here of side architecture, but a good resource … and we’ll link this up in the show notes, is a book called Don’t Make Me Think, it’s a great book on website usability that kind of talks in depth about a lot of these things we’ve been talking about. All right, number 21, keyword rich domain name. So, domain name obviously is the thing that’s before the dot com or dot net on your website. Michael, what should painters, painting contractors be thinking about in terms of their domain?
Michael Utley: Yeah, typically these days we’re working with companies that are already established and committed to a domain, but sometimes we’ll run into folks that have two or three and they’re trying to figure out maybe they’ve bought one that they were trying to get for years and they’ve got it. And if you can have some good keywords in your domain it’s good, shorter is generally better, so the way we handle that sort of tension will lean towards shorter, but if we have the option to have some good keywords in there we’ll take it. For example, if you’re a roofing company serving a single state having that state name and roofers that’s not a bad way to go. And this is tough because sometimes it’s a family name, and it’s an evolving company, sometimes it’s a company that was aligned with one state and it’s growing to serve a region, so as change happens think about the keywords that your customers would use and use those in your domain name.
Chris Raines: Yeah. We should probably point out too just so people don’t think that if they don’t have lots of great keywords in their domain, it’s not like it used to be. It used to be that you could throw up a site called NashvilleConcreteCompany.com and instantly rank for Nashville concrete company, it’s not that important anymore. It is in some sense a signal but if you’ve already got an established brand that’s on your URL that you like, maybe it’s a family name .. and see if you agree with me or not Michael, I don’t think people should go through the trouble of porting everything over to a different domain that has a keyword, what are your thoughts?
Michael Utley: That’s right, yeah I would agree with that. And then a secondary thing we’ve run into a handful of folks, different companies across the country who have been essentially running the same website through two domains, almost I wouldn’t say spoofing the system, but literally having two different domains for the same website, and that’s not recommended either. So, yeah picking one going with it is always good. As companies evolve it’s good to be aware that this is a factor, but yeah having something that has some domain age would trump having keywords in the domain.
Chris Raines: Got it. Number 22, keyword rich page URLs using hyphens. Why do hyphens matter in URLs? Talk about that.
Michael Utley: Yeah, so this is a pretty easy one and we’ve covered this a bit previously, but if you have a page that you’re creating on your site that’s related to maybe a particular location, maybe it’s a project that you did in a certain suburb, or an industrial park, or region of a city go ahead and throw that city and state name in the URL. If it’s Sand Blasting Project Snapshot Greenwood Indianapolis, go ahead and throw Greenwood-in at the end of that. And then all of those good keywords in the page name, include all those keywords and separate them with hyphens. Some people use underscores, we think that hyphens look better and they tend to be the most common. Those are good to include as separate keywords in the URL of that individual page, because that’s yet another signal to search engines on what that page is all about.
Chris Raines: Yeah, great. Number 23, Google Search Console … now this used to be called Google Webmaster Tool if you started a Webmaster Tools account a while back you’ve seen it change to Search Console. So, Michael let’s explain for the audience what is Google Search Console and why is it valuable to always have that setup on your website?
Michael Utley: Yeah, there really are two sort of free tools from Google that everyone should have on every website they’re working on and that’s Google Analytics to see what’s happening with traffic coming to the website, what the audiences are, but another one is Google Search Console, and it’s good for when you need to troubleshoot things. Also, if you load a large batch of new content or you make some significant changes, for example, a relaunch of a website or a redesign you can go and manually push an update to the index. And so, getting that connection made, and verified, and setup is a good thing to have handy. Also, if you want to troubleshoot and see maybe why some pages are not showing up that you think should and to check for errors, there are a number of different tools and capabilities within Google Search Console that are not available in Google Analytics. And so, it’s good to have both, it’s kind of a standard for us to setup any website we’re touching to make sure that we have both of those running and working properly, and we have logins where they need to be, and everything’s ready to go.
Chris Raines: Great. That’s great, and there’s a lot more to Search Console we could cover at a later time, but just at the very base level just make sure it’s installed, so you can start gathering that data to see how people are finding your website, how they’re coming in. All right, moving on. Number 24, is XML site map. Just kind of like a table of contents for your site just to kind of serve up to Google. Michael, why is having an XML site map useful?
Michael Utley: Yeah, it sounds like kind of a technical thing but really what it is, is just a handle for search engines to go to the same place every time to index your website easily. And most CMS systems have this built in, but if for whatever reason you’re working on some custom CMS that someone built you might want to check and just make sure that you have this in place. It’s really more of a convenience, and a speed, and ease of use thing for making sure that you’re pushing content to search engines the way that you think you are. Search engines will scan every page on the site and follow any links they can follow, but it’s just a good standard practice to make sure that you’re XML site map exists, that it’s in place. And also, you can have multiples of these. If you have a lot of video content you can have a video site map. There are different ways. XML just means extended markup language, it’s a little different than HTML, which is hyper text markup language. It’s another way of marking up or identifying the content on the website for search engines. And it’s just a given best practice, and something to make sure is on your punch list for your developer.
Chris Raines: Yeah, and if you want to do it yourself, if you’re on WordPress for instance there’s a really simple plug-in called Yost that will make that XML site map for you, so you don’t have to go into the code and do anything, and we’ll lin that up in the show notes too. Number 25, this is another highly technical term here, robots.txt. Michael, why are these things sound like something that I would find on my PC from 1998?
Michael Utley: Yeah, well we probably started having these things on PCs in ’98 that’s right Robots.txt is another little handle and it’s a good way to indicate to search engines pages that you don’t want indexed, you don’t want included in search results. It’s typical to exclude your CMS login page from search engine indexes because that’s just another brightly lit path for robots and spam attacks and all kinds of crazy stuff. So, yeah, robots.txt it’s a good thing to have in place and to make sure it’s working properly. It’s a good way to tell search engines which pages to ignore.
Chris Raines: Great. Number 26, this is our last item for site architecture, avoid duplicate content. Now, Google as a general rule does not like duplicate content, so you get penalized. This is why you can’t rank if you just go copy a really popular article and paste it on your site, Google long ago has been smart enough to understand that they were there first, they did the content first, and you’re stealing from them. But this is in reference to your own site, so let’s talk about duplicate content both from other sites to your site, and from within your own site. What might be some issues that might pop up with a website accidentally duplicating their own content, how do you combat that knowing that Google does not like it?
Michael Utley: Yeah. So, a lot of times there are two different ways to get to the same content on your site in terms of the URL structure, and this to a search engine means there are two separate pages that exist with that content. And so, typically what we’re doing is using website architecture that avoids having multiple different URL structures, either variations in the way that categories are used, or variations in how queries are constructed and used on the website. Yeah, avoiding duplicate content is important in a broader sense for content strategy but in terms of website architecture it’s important to make sure that every page is a wanted page and has just one way to get to it from a website address bar. And that can be just a good challenge for the developer. We typically what we’ll do during the first month of an engagement is scan a website using some tools that we use and processes we’ve created, and identify any duplicate content, and just go in and resolve the issues. Sometimes it’s when someone has poorly formed a link internally, and it opens the entire website up to replicating that poorly formed link. It may work visually, you may see the same thing clicking around, but it has a very bad impact on how search GYPB-EP003 (Completed 12/06/18) Transcript by Rev.com Page 11 of 11 engines perceive. For example, two sets of all the pages on the website, because of that one link as they spider a sight and go through and review all the content. So, we scan for it, we use tools to do that, it’s a good thing on the checklist to making sure you’re doing everything to make sure your site architecture is helping you and not hurting you.
Chris Raines: Perfect. Thanks Michael. Okay, that’s all the time we have for this episode. Coming up next is part four, episode four and this will round out our series on SEO Best Practices, and probably a little less technical episode next, but we’re going to talk about external signals and things that happen away from your website, external links back, and things like that, that can affect your SEO and best practices around that. The Grow Your Painting Business podcast is a free service of searchprimer.com. Visit us today for more information and how you can grow your business using the latest tools in digital marketing. Searchprimer.com