Guide To Troubleshooting Your Website Woes!

Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.

Vernor Vinge

avalanche-002

Do you know how the most avalanches begin?

A small amount of snow starts sliding down a mountainside. This may not look threatening, but in reality, it can cause a major disaster. Why? As the snow-slide gets nearer to the bottom of the mountain, it increases speed and power enormously.

This is what can happen to your website if you leave some minor issues unresolved. But how?

  • Minor issues tend to accumulate and turn into major issues. As you are growing and expanding your business these problems may develop into the avalanche that can destroy your website reputation.
  • You can never know for sure when, how and what exactly can impact your rankings. The best you can do is keeping your website healthy. Just like your own health, website’s health requires routine tests and regular diagnostics.

Below are the most common issues that you may face with as the website owner and some hints that will help you troubleshoot them.

I. Indexing or Crawl errors

indexorcrawl

Crawl errors prevent search engines from successfully indexing webpages of your site. Google expects a high-quality well-operated website to show no crawl errors at all. Crawl errors may turn into a serious issue to be fixed as soon as possible. These errors may mean that some valuable and content-rich pages of your website are technically uncrawlable for Google. Let alone the fact that a high rate of crawl errors may impact your rankings.

1. Blocked pages

Pages can be blocked from crawling by robots.txt or by meta tags in the sitemap (meta http-equiv=”refresh”) or directly on-page (meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”).

How to troubleshoot?

If you for some reason decided to block pages from crawling, you need to exclude them from the sitemap and therefore not confuse Google. If these restrictions were put by mistake or not necessary anymore, you need to remove them.

2. Redirects  

Redirection is not necessarily an error, of course. Follow the best practices and your redirects won’t be a problem. Redirects are meant to show the search engines which pages need to be crawled.
However, there’s no need to add old pages to the sitemap. Don’t create a double workload for the crawlers, they only need to scan the list of up-to-date pages.

How to troubleshoot?

Keep your sitemap up-to-date. Make sure, it updates if you make profound changes to your webpages.

3. Loading errors and invalid server response codes

This group of issues includes well-known errors like 404 or 503. Take a look at the full list of HTTP status codes. And here’s another helpful article that describes those crucial for SEO errors.
A high number of broken links (404 error) on your website may and most probably will influence your rankings. A 503 code can help you handle site maintenance, but in the routine situation, that’s an alarm.

How to troubleshoot?

There’s a great variety of different tools (premium or freemium) on the Internet that will instantly  check your website for broken links and invalid HTTP codes.  Scan your website on the regular basis and fix the errors once you alerted.


III. Snippet Errors

snippets

Snippets are search results listings featured on a search engine results page. They shortly describe the content of each webpage. In most cases, a snippet includes a Headline, URL, Description and other additional information that is shown in the search result.

SEOs know snippets are important.

  1. First, they provide a potential visitor info of the website content. Many people make a decision to browse a webpage or not based on the snippet.
  2. Second, a structured, well-written snippet can make a link stand out of the search results. Even if it’s not in TOP-3, a catchy snippet can attract more visitors.

It’s crucial to understand that snippets are automatically generated by the search engines (and each of them has its own rules). In most cases, however, you can manage and control the snippet content and even benefit from it. All you need to do is to avoid the common rules.

1. Missing titles and/or descriptions

As I’ve mentioned above, a typical snippet includes a Title, URL, and Description. Google will pull a URL on its own. However, you may (and even should) manage and edit the two other components.

Both a Title and Description should be added to every page of your website using the <title> and <description> tags. Whereas there are lots of guides on the Internet that will help you create the best snippet ever, the most important thing about snippet is that it should be relevant to your webpage.

A Title is a short headline that shortly tells a user of the link and its content. It’s the first thing that attracts visitor’s attention and a trigger that can make him click the link.

A Description provides a searcher with more detailed information about a webpage. It’s displayed under a URL and a Title. In most cases, a potential visitor reads the Description if the Title caught his eye.

Missing titles and descriptions may confuse or even repel a potential customer. Here are examples of the search results with no added description. Looks like something is wrong, isn’t it?

error domain

How to troubleshoot?

The best way to avoid missing titles and descriptions is creating them right after you create a webpage or after you add a content to it. However, it’s a great practice to check yourself from time to time and add titles or descriptions if they have been missed. Again, there’s a huge number of paid and free tools that will help you automate the full process if you don’t want or don’t have spare time.

2.  Too short/too long titles and descriptions

Google is clear about titles. It typically displays as many symbols as will fit into a 512-pixel display. It means that an optimal length of a snippet title is between 55 and 60 characters. Anything over it, won’t be displayed and Google will cut off a part of the title.

Anything shorter than 55 characters may provide a user with insufficient information.The optimal length for a Description tag is between 150 and 160 characters. Keep in mind that anything over it can get cut off.

How to troubleshoot?

Likewise missing titles and descriptions, it’s better to avoid errors at all. However, a good practice is to double-check yourself and scan webpages to reveal possible errors. Remember that a Title should represent the key idea of the webpage. A Description is a short overview that includes the essential ideas.

3. Duplicated titles/descriptions

Many website owners (by mistake or on purpose) add duplicate titles and descriptions for different pages. The only unlikely variant that would allow duplicates is that you want all your pages to rank for a single keyword. Most probably, it’s not our case.

Make no mistake: there’s no way to benefit from it. What’s more, the possible negative aftereffects include both: confused visitors and confused Googlebot. And that’s why it may cause even a drop from Google index.

How to troubleshoot?

The easiest way to detect duplicates is to use Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools. Alternatively, run your favorite paid or free SEO Audit tool.

When you get your results, brace yourself and do your best to create unique and structured snippets for each page of your website.


 III. Link Related Errors

link errors

Links are a circulatory system of the Internet. I guess there’s no need to explain how important they are for everyone in the SEO and Digital Marketing. Without links, we are simply nothing.

However, even this essential part of the website sometimes lacks a proper care.

As most of you know there are internal and external links. The first group is your website’s own circulatory system. The second will connect your site to the global Internet. Each group should be treated in a separate way. But there are some common errors that should be avoided.

1. Broken links

A broken link is a link to a page or a file that has been removed, never existed or is temporarily unavailable.

When I mention broken links there I mean both:

  1. The links to your internal pages or any files that return a 404 error (I’ve written how to handle them above);
  2. The links to external pages or files that return a 404 error.

The sad fact is that the overwhelming majority of website owners never scan and check the external links on their website. However, the huge number of broken links on your website can confuse and disappoint your visitor. What’s more, it’s a signal to a search engine that your website’s quality is poor.

How to troubleshoot?

Regular website scanning to detect possible broken links would be a very good practice if your website contains lots of external links. The golden rule here is ‘Trust by verify’. Update or remove the links promptly to make sure your webpages are friendly for both: visitors and crawlers.

2. Anchor (attribute title=”…”) text is missing

Anchor text is the visible and clickable characters displayed in a hyperlink. The anchor is added using a <a href=”http://www.example.com”>Anchor Text</a> syntax. It is meant to help the visitors and the search engines realize the context of the target page.

The words and phrases in the anchor text are also one of the factors that help a search engine determine the ranking of the page.

How to troubleshoot?

A missing anchor is an SEO error that should be fixed.

To detect all links with missing anchor text, I recommend running an automated tool. There are plenty of them on the Internet: both paid and free.

Remember to apply the best practices when you add anchor text.

The Internet contains dozens of webpages with ultimate guides to create SEO-friendly anchor tags.

There are just the most significant rules you need to follow:

  • The anchor text should be relevant to the page it is linking to. it’s not recommended to use something like ‘Click here’ or, worse, adding a spammy anchor text that has nothing in common with the page you are linking to;
  • Avoid exact matches in the anchor text. It may trigger Google spam filters;
  • Do not over-optimize your pages with anchor text.

3. Improper use of the attribute rel=”nofollow”

Attribute rel=”nonfollow” instructs a search engine not to follow a specific link or all links on the page.

Google doesn’t follow these links and therefore doesn’t transfer PageRank or anchor text.

If you use the attribute rel=”nofollow” in an inappropriate way, it may prevent a search engine from crawling an important link and make a search engine crawl improper links.

How to troubleshoot?

Google’s best practices dictate to use the attribute rel=”nofollow” in three cases:

  1. You link to untrusted content (the content you cannot vouch for);
  2. For paid links (for example, you place a sponsored review);
  3. You don’t want Google to crawl these links on your website (for example Signup links)

However, most of the internal links should be crawlable to allow the search engine indexing webpages of your site.

Scan your website from time to time to check all dofollow and nofollow links. This way, you’ll be able to control where you really need a rel=”nofollow” attribute and where you can remove it.


 IV. Image-related errors

image missing

Images can be tricky. There’s no doubt they spice up the content and make it more appealing. But images can also be a good SEO-tool.

However, adding random images to your articles won’t play into your hand. If you want to benefit from them, follow the 4 golden rules:

  1. Add images relevant to the text;
  2. If possible, add your own images;
  3. Optimize images for SEO;
  4. Regularly scan your website to find any image-related errors.

1. Broken images

Broken image is an image that won’t show up for a website visitor. This may happen for a number of reasons. The image can be deleted, moved to another place, get corrupted, etc.

Broken images and broken links provide you visitor a poor user experience. But does it technically hurt SEO? Well, Google doesn’t seem to give out good ranks to the websites with poor user experience.

How to troubleshoot?

In most cases, the biggest challenge is to detect all broken images on your website. If your website contains a lot of images, you can use an automated tool to reveal all errors. After that you can start fixing issues: remove, replace or update broken images.

2. Missing alt-text

The alt-text or alternative text is an attribute that provides alternative information about the image in cases when it cannot be viewed. This may happen due to various errors, slow Internet connection or if a visitor uses a screen reader.

Google places a high value on alt-tags. They don’t simply indicate what this image is about, but also help Google determine what all surrounding text is about. For this reason, you may and should add target keywords into alt-text. However, don’t be spammy. In many cases, it may trigger Google filters.

How to troubleshoot?

First, it’s important to realize that each image should have the alt-tag. It’s not an optional thing. Even the images that have no specific meaning and were added only for a better design should have an  empty alt attribute.

And it’s not just for SEO. Alt-tags were created originally for blind or visually impaired people. Alt-tag is the only option for them to understand what’s this image about.  It’s a good idea to review all your images and make sure that each and every one has an alt-tag. If there are some images with missing alt-tag, add it using the SEO best practices.

Again, you can review images manually, but using a tool may save lots of time.


V. Content-related issues

content is king

From SEO’s point of view, the content is a king. However, a well-written content with a proper keyword and topic optimization isn’t enough to rank high.Sometimes it’s vital not to forget about the technical aspects of content optimization. These minor issues can trigger major SEO problems.

1. Spelling errors

In most cases, a high number of spelling errors will indicate a poor quality of the website. It may prevent you from getting more conversions. However, there’s also another side of the problem.

  1. In some cases, spelling errors may drop you in the rankings (if you make typos in target keywords, for example)
  2. As I’ve mentioned above, Google rarely rank high websites with a poor user experience.

How to troubleshoot?

If you don’t have a human proofreader within your company or don’t plan to hire one, use one of the various automated spelling checkers before posting your content. Most of them have free versions.

2. Empty or missing tag <h1>

<h1> tags are used for titles and headers on the page (e.g. <h1>Header/<h1>).

<h1> tag has been a significant ranking factor. Over the past time, its influence has diminished.

However, it still has a strong value and should be handled properly. The best SEO practices dictate some simple rules:

  1. Each page should have an <h1> tag;
  2. There should be only one <h1> tag on each page;
  3. <h1> tag should be relevant to the content of the page;
  4. It may include target keywords, but shouldn’t be overoptimized.

How to troubleshoot?

I highly recommend adding <h1> tags right away when you create content. If you missed it for some reason, you can always scan your webpages to reveal all missing <h1> tags. Make sure you apply SEO’s best practices when you add them.

Conclusion

Of course, the best way to avoid mistakes is not to make them. But we also know that he who makes no mistakes makes nothing. Scan and update your site on the regular basis. Use automated tools to speed up the process. Hire only experienced content managers. Don’t let a small snowslide of errors ruin your website’s health.

 

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