If your company has a website with a contact form, then you’ve likely received some version of the following message:
Your website's design is absolutely brilliant. The visuals really enhance your message and the content compels action.
When I was looking at your website, though, I noticed a slight issue re: your SEO that I thought you might not be aware of. It is a relatively simple fix. Would you like me to send you an SEO proposal with a price so that you can share it with your web team?
Freelancers who work in the SEO space scour the web for companies that might be open to their services and send thousands of these messages a day. Some may actually have helpful suggestions, but most have not actually evaluated the website in question. How can you tell if you’ve got an actual SEO issue or are simply being spammed?
One way is to know what experts are actually looking for when they analyze a website, because SEO is just one piece of the puzzle. Once you speak the lingo, it’s actually pretty easy to evaluate your own website’s performance, and there are plenty of free tools to help you do so.
We’ve been building websites from scratch for over 25 years, and we’ve optimized quite a few existing sites as well. Here’s what we look for when we evaluate and grade a website.
How does the website code perform?
Think of it this way: the backend code of a website can be heavy, or it can be light. Websites that are trying to do a lot — lots of images, large videos, interactivity, etc. — can lead to a pretty heavy backend, and that can majorly slow a site down. Good technical developers will always try to accomplish a design or UX objective in the most streamlined way possible so that the site can both look awesome and perform.
To gauge performance, we look at the following:
- How many seconds does it take for a page to become fully interactive? How long does it take for the components to load so that a visitor can begin using the site?
- How many times is a page being redirected? Redirects are sometimes necessary, but if your page is being redirected more than once, you can likely set up new redirect paths that will shorten the load time.
- Are the images correctly sized? Giant images slow down websites. You’d be amazed how often website performance issues come down to an easy fix of reducing image size across the board. We like to use a next-generation image format like WebP, to set images to the size they’ll need to be viewed at, and then to run them through tinypng or another image compressor.
- What’s the size of the network payload? In order to load, a site has to request the necessary resources (e.g. image files) from a server. Your network payload is the size of all the resources requested by a page. It’s called a payload because it costs users real money — more resource requests use more cellular data.
One way to reduce your network payload is to defer requests until the resources are actually needed. For instance, you can set images below the fold to load as the user scrolls down the page — this is called “lazy loading” — and set embedded videos to load only if the visitor presses play.
Is the website mobile-friendly or, better yet, mobile-first?
Mobile-friendly means that a site functions on mobile. You might assume that all sites these days are mobile-friendly, as responsive design has been around for over a decade now, but when one data analytics company analyzed the top 1 million sites on the Internet using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, they found that almost a quarter were not optimized for mobile.
We recommend going beyond just ensuring your site works on mobile. Today, over half of the world’s web traffic is mobile. And as of July 1, 2019, Google began defaulting to mobile-first indexing for all new websites. This means that when crawling a site and indexing it for search, Google will look not at the desktop version of the site but at the mobile version. This is why we recommend a mobile-first strategy when designing a new site; how a site performs on a mobile device is more important than ever.
Is the website optimized for search?
Here’s where SEO comes into play. In essence, a search-optimized site is one that is easy for search engines to crawl and index so that they can serve up the most useful results to searchers — it’s designed and built in a way that both humans and robots can read.
Writing content that is optimized for search is important if you are trying to target specific keywords, but be sure to also think about things like meta descriptions and image alt text. These little bits of content on the backend of your site are key to helping Google interpret a page in its entirety. (They’re also crucial when it comes to website accessibility!)
How secure is the website?
Does the page load over HTTP or HTTPS? HTTPS is a transfer protocol that uses encryption, making it more secure. We like secure websites for obvious reasons, and so we score them higher when we’re evaluating.
How to evaluate your own site for free
Google offers a bunch of free tools to help developers create websites that perform. There are also some free tools available from services like Semrush.
If you’d like us to take a look at your site, we’re happy to! Try our free website grader, and we’ll score your website on a scale of 0-100. We’ll even send you a breakdown of your score via email so that you know which of the areas above needs work.
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