Google constantly improves its search algorithm. Its Hummingbird algorithm that came to replace PageRank is aimed at making web experience as much pleasing for users as it’s possible.
Pretty much all the Algorithm updates that were introduced in recent five years are aimed at improving user experience. Thus, Google Panda punishes websites with low-quality content, Penguin attacks websites with “bad” backlinks, and Mobile Friendly algorithm raises awareness of mobile-oriented websites use.
As one can see from these algorithm updates, there are three aspects of a website that Google focuses:
- Content quality;
- Backlinks quality;
- Performance quality/UX
Thus, all improvements an owner makes to the website should take into account these three major factors.
Hummingbird algorithm forced website owners focus on semantic search as well as on related searches and long-tail keywords. Relevance of the content presented on a page is now far more important ranking factor than the number of keywords used across this content. Relevant, useful and perfectly-written content attracts traffic and backlinks. And those are a significant factor for the website rankings.
It’s not stated directly, but Google treats backlinks very carefully. The more backlinks a website attracts naturally – the higher it is ranked. Backlinks beat other ranking factors that for longtime were considered important, e.g. Domain Rating and Domain Age. Thus, if we check out SERPs, we can see that very often websites with low DR but high number of backlinks outperform those with higher DR but lower number of backlinks.
Website UX includes many factors that affect a user’s behavior – from the website design and layout to its mobile-friendliness and loading speed. When searching for tips for website improvement, in most cases you will find recommendations on loading speed improvement. It’s a very important factor, but no the only one you should pay your attention to.
Since we are talking about overall improvement, there should be many other things considered: what info is displayed on a website, how easy it is to find the necessary forms and buttons, are there any interstitials that block the access to the content below the fold etc. And it concerns not just mobile website versions but desktop ones too.
Tools to Use
Let’s see what soft spots your website can have in terms of the above mentioned aspect and determine how to avoid those issues. But first, here are some tools that you can use on the go while checking your website content, SEO and performance.
Google Analytics.It’s basically the main tool every siteowner uses. It provides the best and the deepest info on the website traffic, its sources, referring pages, backlinks etc. It is also allows you to determine traffic coming separately from desktop and mobile devices.
Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool shows the overall page performance and provides suggestions on what can be improved to provide a better user experience.
Yslow. This loading speed checking tool analyses website pages from the main aspects that Yahoo! uses to determine website performance.
Google Mobile-Friendly Test. Another Google service that analyses a web page from the point of view of its mobile-friendliness. It shows how a website page looks on mobile devices and determines possible issues that may affect UX, like the use of Flash or tiny fonts.
Backlink Checker. This tool allows checking not only the entire backlinks database but also finding so-called “spammy” links that can lower the website positions on rankings or even lead to Google penalties. It also shows 301 redirects and other broken pages that slower the website performance.
Broken Link Check. This online tool for broken links check out and reviews all the dead, 404 or other unsuccessful links on a website. It also finds outbound links that may cause issues and slower the website.
Step-by-step improvement strategy
With the use of the above listed tools and any other you like you should determine what can be improved across your website. Create a list of issues that you can improve immediately, with a little help or on a long-term basis. And start fixing all the errors and optimizing your content.
1. Content improvements
Start with the front-end improvements that should make the page look more user-friendly and accessible. Evaluate all the elements on a page and check those that can be easily fixed without affecting overall page design, functionality or usability.
- Set clear value for users. People should see from the start where they are and what the benefits they can get from your website. It’s especially important when you go mobile: you have limited space to bring your message to smartphone users, so it should be clear from the very beginning, placed above the fold of a tiny screen and have a clear call-to-action.
- Go for simple forms. I would recommend avoiding such elements for mobile-oriented websites. But if you wish to keep a form at least for contacts, you should make sure it is as simple and short as possible. Organize it in a single-column manner. Discard all fields of low importance. Use autofill function to save smartphone users from the routine of typing. Don’t forget to set clear error messages.
- Create intuitive navigation. Visitors should move across your website with ease and without having to guess where are they and where they should go next.
- Improve the content and SEO for your website’s Top pages. Sort your pages by their URL rating (or Page Authority, as Moz.com call it) and improve your Top-10 firsthand. From our experience in Ahrefs.com, specific page’s rating plays essential part in website rating and impacts its positions in SERP stronger than Domain Rating. So improving your top-ranking pages will improve the overall website rating in Google search.
- Make interactive elements easy-to-click. If we speak again of mobile users, they use their fingers to tap links and buttons. So they should be of enough size and with enough blank space around to prevent users from tapping some other functional element occasionally.
- Make your texts easy-to-read. It concerns not just the font size, but also a proper spacing between characters and the compatibility between colors of the font and the background.
No so long time ago Google has claimed that it shifts its focus to mobile-friendly websites. There are still no major changes in SERPs, and we don’t see massive penalties for websites that fail to present mobile-friendly design. But it’s better be safe than sorry. So follow Google recommendations and avoid pop-ups as well as standalone interstitials that occupy the above-the-fold space on mobile devices. These lead to bad user experience and may force users to leave your website without taking any action on it.
2. Backlinks improvement
Backlinks were always seen as that pixie dust that takes a website to the tops of searches and brings showers of traffic. That’s right, backlinks play vital part in SEO and are one of the top ranking factors that improve website performance on Google.
However there is a dark side of backlinks that may ruin website’s reputation and summon a Penguin with its penalties. I’m talking about “spammy” backlinks that come from low-authority websites. A couple of “bad” backlinks will do you no harm, but when their number grows… Well, you see the point.
Thus, in this part of website improvement you have two activities, equally important:
- Earning high-quality backlinks;
- Removing bad backlinks.
Earning backlinks is a long and never-ending process. You should establish connections with website owners, reach out for bloggers, and write great content to be posted on other websites.
Removing spammy links requires a lot of handwork. You should create a .txt file where you will be noting all the links you consider “spammy” to submit them to Google for disavow. List the links that come from websites with low (or not attested) Domain Rating, containing anchor text that doesn’t correlate with the content your link presents. Evaluate each link, disavow only the links that have low quality content and those from suspicious websites/domains.
3. Performance improvement
In terms of website performance, most improvements are made to increase its loading speed and make it more mobile-friendly. Both those aspects are closely connected. Improving website loading speed, making it more lightweight and less cluttered will help it perform better across mobile platforms. Thus it will improve the overall UX.
Go for cleaner code
More and more of users today go for ready-made themes to make their website look attractive and professional. The drawback of using such WYSIWYG platforms is their sometimes buggy and messy code. Ordinary users inspired by an opportunity of creating a website without an external help tweak their websites. Sometimes they can unconsciously drop a couple of useless page breaks or extra code lines that could be avoided.
Go to Google PageSpeed Insights Test and run the analysis for your page. Then scroll down to a Minify HTML section, click “Show how to fix” and follow recommendations for your page.
Set website caching
When a user visits a website for the first time, its browser loads multiple resources to the cache folder on a user’s hard drive. Next time a user visits the same website, it already has the most of the page resources loaded, and the loading time for the page drops significantly. The lesser the page components a user has to download – the faster the page loads.
Thus, you have to enable website caching for all those assets that you will hardly change the nearest time, e.g. CSS and JS files, cookies etc. Set an expiry date for an asset you’re about to change to tell the server to go for a fresh copy. Follow the directions in Google Developers to improve this issue.
Reduce HTTP requests
Browser sees a website page differently than a user. It loads it not in whole but each element separately: images, fonts, stylesheets etc. The more elements a page has (and the “heavier” they are) – the longer it takes to download a page. It is of vital importance to reduce the number of such elements for mobile use. There are a few reasons for this:
- smartphone owners are less inclined to wait for the page to load;
- their mobile internet traffic may be limited to a certain amount of GBs;
- mobile users often browse website on the go, so they need to get info quickly.
So, making a website design lean and minimalist from the start is a great idea. It’s harder to do when a website design is ready but you can always rethink some elements and substitute some “heavy” elements and forms with more lightweight stuff.
- use CSS to create the most of website elements including images and buttons – it reduces their weight significantly;
- consider the number of page elements you have – some of them may be just for decorations and can be easily avoided, at least for mobile version;
- merge multiple style sheets into one – CSS works perfectly in separate files as well as in one large file;
- organize CSS files properly – the browser will know then that some files are less important (like “print.css”) and will render them in the last turn;
- put scripts at the page bottom – it will let other important elements appear on a page faster while loading.
Optimize your images
There are two factors you should pay attention to when optimizing your images. Make the images lightweight by compressing them and use a proper format (.jpg is the best option for most cases).
Set the proper
<img src=“”> attribute. If you leave the quotation marks empty, browser will make unnecessary requests to the page directory. And we are trying to avoid excessive HTTP requests, remember?!
Go for less plugins
Having too many plugins can affect your website loading speed as well as lead to errors. Some plugins may not work well with others and slower the website as well. Just turn off all the plugins you don’t use. Then try to evaluate what of those that left affect your website speed and remove them or substitute with others.
This issue is closely connected with HTTP requests minimisation. When a browser spots 301 redirect, it has to create additional HTTP requests. And it results in longer loading time.
This issue is often spotted for mobile versions of a website. See, when you set va responsive website, the redirects will appear in order to get visitors from the desktop website version to the mobile one.
Google recommends setting HTTP redirect that sends users to your mobile URL with the help of mobile user agent. And don’t forget to add a
<link rel=”alternate”> attribute to your desktop URL to help Google bots crawling the right page.
Running a website is a constant work. There’s no way of setting everything once and for all. The web changes everyday and you have to constantly improve your content, follow the trends and provide the best experience for users. It’s the only chance of making people back to your website as well as getting new visitors.