The first application of an SEO tool, such as Searchmetrics, can sometimes result in a rather gloomy atmosphere in marketing departments. The crawler relentlessly exposes every tiny technical imperfection or inconsistency in a website’s structure and the source code. However, the problem is often less dramatic than at first assumed. It is definitely worth taking a good look at the detail of the data provided. Searchmetrics divides the imperfections into three categories: errors, warnings and tips. Within each category, the severity of the effect of the technical flaw on the URL score is then evaluated on a scale of 1-3.
What are the most common problems, why do they arise and how can you correct them?
A problem that frequently occurs is the so-called Error 404. The number 404 refers to the error code sent back by the webserver, informing the user that the page being searched for cannot be found. There are so-called “broken links” on the website which refer to a non-existent page. There are many reasons why this can happen, the most usual are:
- Incorrect link (error in the URL).
- The target page was deleted.
- The URL of the target page had been changed and the link was not automatically adjusted by the CMS (either because this function is not available in the CMS or because the link was incorrectly set as an external link).
- A language switch generated a link even though the page in question is not available in another language.
- There are problems with special characters in the URL (UTF-8 coding).
If one of the above applies, then it is possible to correct the error. However, if the error is due to cause 4. or 5., then a more detailed technical investigation will be required. This, in turn, has the advantage that all errors with the same cause will also be rectified.
Duplicate Title Tags
Another, rather frequent, error is the existence of duplicate title tags, i.e. several web pages with the same title. This error can also have a number of causes:
- The same page title was given to several different pages (e.g. only the company name or the word “Download” on different download pages.
- There is a print version of every page and these all have the same title.
- The same title is used for pages that are available in different languages (e.g. “News” in both the German and English versions).
- The same title is used on the different country versions with a shared language (e.g. the word “Contact” in both US and UK English).
- The same page is available under several different URLs (with varying lower and upper cases, with or without a trailing slash “/“ at the end, with or without SSL encryption, with or without “www”, use of different domains etc.).
Here, too, there is a different solution for each problem. For example, where the same title has always been used just for convenience’ sake (e.g. “Download” or the same title regardless of the language),
the only solution is to find a separate title for each individual page. If an identical title has been used in the different language or country-specific versions, then the CMS needs to be modified so that the word “Download” or the name of the country are automatically inserted in the page title. Here again, all errors with this source will also be automatically corrected. The same would apply when a page is available under several different URLs. In this case it is necessary to agree on just one URL format and one domain and to then redirect all the others to the chosen URL using Permanent Redirect (301 redirection).
A related source of errors is the problem of duplicated content material. Two or more website pages with the same content can be reached via different URLs. This can happen, for example, when there are country-specific versions of a page which are all published in the same language; for example one for the USA, one for the UK and one for Australia. In this case the crawler needs to be informed that there is no duplicate content because the pages are specific to different countries. This can be achieved by the relevant input in the XML site map or with so-called “canonical links” which define one page as the canonical copy (master copy) for the other pages.
Links, Links and more Links
Another, very frequently found error is duplicated link destinations. This happens when differently designated links all lead to the same website page. This presents problems for the search engine which classifies the destination page on the basis of the link description. Of course this is an error that cannot always be completely removed. For example, it can be that the link description has to be much shorter in the page navigation than in running text. However, every care should be taken to ensure that the number of duplicate link destinations is kept to a minimum.
Lots of internal or external links and “link dead-ends” are also a very common and frequent source of errors. This always concerns the linking of the website. The recommended number and proportionate mix of internal or external links on one page always depends on the page’s relevance or position in the hierarchy of the website. It is therefore not possible to make wholesale recommendations for this issue. However, good SEO tools, such as Searchmetrics, do give an indication as to the best way to rectify the errors. When one lands via a link on to a page from which there is no further link to exit, these are called “link dead-ends”. In this case the visitor can only resort to using the browser’s “back” button. Clearly, search engines do not like such pages.
The last error categories that I would like to mention today are “missing/duplicate meta descriptions“, “URL is too long” and “title too long/too short” which are all problems associated with the metadata of a page. The errors can only be corrected manually and one by one. This takes time, but the reward is a much-improved site score and consequently a better rating by search engines, such as Google & Co. And that’s really what this is all about: an error-free website is not just an end in itself, but gets better ratings by search engines and, in turn, is much easier to access.
It only remains to say that some errors can be identified with the help of the complimentary webmaster tools provided by the various search engine providers. However, it is of course more convenient and easier to use professional SEO tools, not least because they provide you with clear recommendations as to how to rectify the problem.
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