Ask Yoast Case study: SEO for architects

In our Ask Yoast case studies we give SEO advice for websites in a specific market or industry. This time: the website of Slemish Design Studio Architects, the business site of an architect duo. The architects told us that they get great responses from their clients, but is their website optimized for search engines as well? We’ll dive into this architectural website to see what improvements can be made to enhance their site’s SEO.

First impression

The first page we land on is the homepage. We see lots of full screen images of the great work these architects deliver on top of the homepage. Though impressive, the images are shown in a slider. Loyal readers of our blog know that we’re not a big fan of sliders. Many experiments show why you shouldn’t use a slider on your website. Only 1% of your visitors will actually click on a slider, they slow down your website and lots of visitors ignore sliders because of banner blindness. Just to name a few.

Looking at this specific website, the slider images are very big as well. The textual content of the homepage is pushed down. We recommend showing some smaller images on top of the site, instead of the slider, and adding some clear introductory content just below these images. Try adding your USPs to the introductory content: Why should visitors choose you as their architect?

Lastly, by adding a clear call-to-action just below the introductory content you’ll make sure visitors can easily navigate to your most important pages. For example, you could think of a button which says ‘Get inspired by our projects’ or ‘Our services’: decide what the main goal of your homepage is. Just to show you the difference, we’ve created a mock-up of how the homepage could look like after following our advice:

Homepage example of Slemish Design Studio Architects

Beautiful images, too little text

On the ‘The Studio’ page, we notice a tab ‘What we do’. This tabbed content tells visitors what kind of work you do and what type of services you offer. Because of the relevancy of this content, we think these services deserve their own menu item. Visitors who want to know more about your team and your company may click on ‘The Studio’. However, they might not expect to find the services you offer there.

In addition to that, your services are great subjects to write about. Writing nice informational copy about your services will increase your chance of ranking for keywords related to these services. When you add sufficient relevant content, Google will understand that your website has content for people looking for services like yours. This means those people will easily find you. The more your content seems to fit to the needs of people who search for these keywords, the higher you’ll rank in the future.

Make sure you optimize one specific page or post for one subject/keyword. When you optimize one page for more keywords that are too different, it’s unclear for Google what the main subject of the page is. Pages that contain a lot of information about the keywords you really want to rank for, should become your cornerstone content pages. This blog post about cornerstone content explains in detail what cornerstone content means and this blogpost shows you how to incorporate cornerstone content into your website.

Lastly, we think you can improve your content as well by adding more copy to your project pages. Consider writing a nice text about the planning stage of the project, the building stage and the delivery stage of the project, for instance. In this copy you can add relevant keywords for your business. In addition to that, this allows you to internally link to your cornerstone content pages from your project pages. 

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Structure your text

When you decide to write more copy for your website in the future, make sure the pages and posts have a great heading structure. On your current pages and posts, we noticed that your logo is an H1 heading. However, the H1 heading should describe the main subject of a particular page on your site to help Google understand what the subject of that specific page or post is.

For example, checking ‘The studio’ page, we see the following headings on top of the page:

Headings Slemish Design Studio Architects

Your company name/logo has an H1 tag now, which means that your company name would be the main subject of this page. While in fact, ‘The studio’ is the main subject of the page. So you should change the H2 heading of ‘The studio’ into an H1 heading. Just remove the H1 heading from the logo on every page of the website. We’d advise to check all of your pages and posts and only add one H1 heading, that describes what can be found on there, on each page.

Read more: ‘SEO basics: how to use headings on your site’ »

The right metadata

You’ll need to add relevant keywords to your page titles to help Google understand what your pages are about. Since page titles are still one of the most important ranking factors it’s important to optimize those to the fullest.

Looking at the page title of your homepage, we think you’ve added too many different keywords to show what your website is about:

Adding all different locations to your page title makes it unclear what your website is about. Moreover, the snippet doesn’t look very enticing to click on in the search results. This might cause a low CTR, or click-through rate. If you want to rank for all the different locations, adding separate pages with unique page titles and content for every location would be a better idea.

We’d advise to create appealing page titles and make sure they describe what can be found on that specific URL. For the homepage, use your USP and add a call-to-action such as ‘See our projects here’ to make people click on your page in the search results. Don’t you think a snippet like this will be more appealing to potential visitors?

On top of that, it’s important to be consistent in your branding. Add your company name to every page title. If you do that, people will recognize your page in the search results more easily, because of the brand name in every page title.

Add more relevant content to your blog

Having a blog can be very beneficial for SEO. Adding posts regularly makes it easy to add content about relevant keywords to your website. It helps you to start ranking for new keywords and to keep ranking for the keywords you already rank for.

Slemish Design Studio Architects have a blog and they add new posts regularly, which is great. However, it seems that lots of posts have little textual content. For example, this post only has two sentences:

Blog post of Slemish Design Studio Architects

Google could consider this post as a thin content page, which could hurt your website’s rankings. Since pages like these don’t add much value to your website, you’d better add more content or remove them from your website.

Keep reading: ‘Blogging: the ultimate guide’ »

Create strong cornerstone content

Besides the benefits of adding more content about relevant keywords to a blog, a blog also gives you an opportunity to add more internal links to your most important pages and posts. For example, when you’ve created a separate page for the service ‘Sun Rooms’ you could write a blog post about new innovations for sun rooms. From that post you can add an internal link to the page about the ‘Sun Rooms’ service. Doing this consistently, that service page – which could be a great cornerstone content page if you add sufficient content – will become a better search result, according to Google.

In addition to internal links within a text, you can add a popular, recent or related posts section to the blog. The sidebar is often used to add sections like these. These links in the sidebar will give the posts they link to some extra link value.

Lastly, adding your blog’s categories to the sidebar will give your category pages some more link value too. Consider doing this if you want to rank with your category pages.

A fast loading website

The longer visitors have to wait for your website to load completely, the more likely it gets that some of them will ‘bounce’ back to the search results. A long loading time frustrates visitors, so they might leave your website before seeing any relevant content. Google uses bounce rate, among other things, to determine if a website provides visitors with a good result. When lots of visitors bounce back to Google’s search results quickly, that isn’t a good sign. You might understand that this can harm your rankings.

On top of that, page speed is an actual ranking factor. Google understands that a website with bad loading times probably isn’t the best result. Similar websites that load faster are likely to end up higher in the search results.

We’ve tested the website of Slemish Design Studio Architects and we found a score of 24/100. The score is in red and this means that there’s work to do! Just follow the advice Google gives in the page speed tool as this leads to both a better user experience, as well as better rankings. 

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To sum it up

It was a pleasure analyzing the website of this architect duo. You show some amazing work in the images on the website! Adding a cleaner homepage with a clear call-to-action could result in more conversions, so more actual clients. Also, specific pages for all your services could be valuable for both Google and visitors.

Basically, our most important SEO advice is: make sure Google understands what your website is about. This means you’ll need to write relevant content about keywords you’d like to rank for. Furthermore, optimizing your site’s metadata – like titles and meta descriptions – and headings would be beneficial. With internal links you can connect your content and give your most important pages extra value.

And last, but definitely not least, making your website load faster will really improve your site’s SEO and user experience!

Read on: ‘How to optimize your real estate site’ »

Homepage optimization

Homepage OptimizationHomepage SEO does not exist. That was the statement in the post I did last week. However, a lot of the people that commented on our site, and on Twitter and Facebook, still feel that a homepage should be optimized for a keyword. Perhaps optimizing your homepage for search engines works for some of you, but ranking in Google should definitely not be the only purpose of your homepage! In this post I want to explore the main purpose of your homepage and give tips on how to optimize your homepage to make it totally awesome!

What is your website about?

The first homepage optimization tip is of course to check what your website is about. This seems obvious, but your mission, the uniqueness of your website, should be reflected on your homepage.

Is your homepage just a large list of products and services, or did you actually take the time to write a decent welcome for your visitors? Now one of the most annoying things a website owner can do, is actually write ‘welcome to our website’ of course. By welcoming your visitor, I mean telling him what can be found on your website. What is your main product or service? What can be found on your products and on your company itself on the website? And most important: what is the main benefit (USP; Unique Selling Point) for the visitor?

But isn’t this just common sense?

Make your USP specific

The second homepage optimization tip is to make your Unique Selling Point clear. A couple of years ago, Joost and some other SEO’s did a live site review during WordCamp Netherlands and one of the sites being reviewed had exactly that problem. It was absolutely unclear what that company was bringing the customer. I think it was a business coaching website that had a tagline like: “Helping you improve yourself!”. That isn’t a great intro / tagline, as it tells absolutely nothing about the purpose of the company. It might as well be selling great running shoes, helping you improve your running, right? Make sure your introductory content is about the key benefits for the visitor you offer. “Coaching consultants using self-reflection” would already tell a visitor a lot more.

Is this Homepage SEO? Pawedu.com

In the above homepage for PawEdu (yes, it’s a slider, I know – but I really like the b/w images), it is very clear what the purpose of the website is. Yes, the three larger words could apply to more websites, but the tagline below it and the image add nuance to these words.

In most cases, that could indeed mean getting back to a boring business tagline. I’m not a big fan of the vague descriptions half of today’s companies seem to use. That only works when you have the marketing budget to make it your own. We all know what company tells me that I’m Lovin’ It.

But clarity isn’t the only thing that matters on your homepage.

Guide your visitor

A third purpose of your homepage is guidance to your visitor. You should make sure your homepage guides your visitor to your main pages. Of course your homepage needs the introduction or tagline I described above. But that one would be useless if your homepage wouldn’t allow the visitor to click to your main or money pages. These would be the pages where the deal is closed, the product is sold or the contact form can be filled out.

Of course there are more, but these are the obvious ‘guides’ on most homepages:

  • Sliders, or better alternatives
    It’s pretty obvious that we at Yoast don’t like sliders. Still, a slider is used very often to promote these pages. The lack of attention these pages get, is one of the reasons why we don’t like sliders. But that slider area is a great spot for guidance. If you would add an image of your featured product, including a great call-to-action button, that would make sense. If you want to rotate that with every browser refresh, I’m the last one to stop you. It’s a great way to make your homepage appear different with every visit.
  • Menu
    The most obvious one is of course the menu. Have your thought about what is in your menu? Is it structured and focused? Let me give you an example: this is the menu of a financial consultant we reviewed a while ago:
    Be clear
    Start Here could be a call-to-action, of course. But Hard Choices is just too general. In the end, I would replace both with names that describe the content after the click.
  • Products
    If you have an online shop, the possibilities are endless. But don’t add the entire category list in your sidebar. Focus on your most visited categories and add these in a prominent spot on your homepage. Add your best selling product to the homepage, perhaps in that larger image we mentioned at ‘sliders’ above. Be creative. Your homepage seems the best spot on your site to announce a new product, for instance. If your shop has a sale, make sure that people notice it on the homepage.
  • Search as a call-to-action
    In around 80% of the sites we review, the search bar is located in the header or footer. If you are selling thousands of products, or if you have written over a hundred articles on your site, chances are that a search bar will come in handy for your visitor. Why not make that one your main call-to-action and list it as the main element (instead of that slider) on your website? Doing this is actually step two. Step one is making sure your search result pages look decent.
  • Contact
    You also have to realize that a (returning) visitor could just be looking for your contact details. List a link to your contact page where one would expect it. That could be in the last spot in your menu, but could also be an address in your footer, or a (short) contact form in the sidebar.

Do not clutter!

Do not go overboard in guidance on your website! One of my favorite words of the last decade is ‘clutter’. Don’t clutter your homepage with all kind of actionable guides, but pick two or three that make sense on a site like yours. And focus on these.

Is this Homepage SEO? Trendypeas.com

This is a great example of a focused homepage. TrendyPeas has even thought of making that call-to-action a distinctive color. One could argue about the three ‘extras’ on the right of the menu, but due to the use of faded tabs and the hard yellow call-to-action in the main image, I think it works. The extra focus on the Halloween menu item is subtle next to the large image below it and the blue tagline in the header above it.

Homepage Optimization: the conclusion

Your homepage should make clear what people can find on your website. It should focus on your unique selling point. And, it should guide your visitors to your most important pages. Perhaps you can focus on these things and still optimize your homepage for a certain keyword. What do you think about that?

Of course your website is more than just your homepage. If you want to optimize your entire site, be sure to check our site reviews. We will do a complete website review starting from $699!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Does Homepage SEO exist at all?

Does Homepage SEO exist at all?It’s clear that a homepage serves a number of different purposes. Among others, it is your welcoming page and your main user guide for your website. I promise to devote another post to that.

There is however one purpose that I feel a homepage does not have, and that is ranking for keywords other than your business name or brand. We have had a number of email questions about that, so it is something certain webmasters or website owners think about. The question is: should they?

Homepage SEO

The process of optimizing your homepage for Google, or any other search engines, could be called homepage SEO. Let me make a bold statement right after naming it: I don’t think that homepage SEO exists (as such). That might not be what a webmaster wants to hear, especially if he has been trying to rank his homepage for years.

If your website is set up right and you have a nice number of backlinks, your homepage will probably rank for your business name or brand anyway. However, there is an exception to that rule. These days, a lot of websites have keyword based names like ‘Christmas Cookies’, ‘Grow Trees’ or ‘Cute Socks’. If your ‘brand’ name is a keyword people could use in Google, it becomes somewhat different. There will be more websites targeting these keywords, so all of a sudden you are facing competition for your site name. This post about homepage SEO is actually triggered by a support question from a review customer that could not get his site to rank for such a site name. He did try to optimize his homepage’s SEO for that.

Briefly, I emailed him my thoughts on homepage SEO and explained the concept of cornerstone content (see aside).

As you probably won’t try to rank your contact page, neither should you try to rank your homepage. That also means you don’t need to bother setting a focus keyword for these pages, let alone spend hours trying to get that green bullet.

However, there is a huge side note to be made. At Yoast, we believe that SEO in general will only work when other things like speed, user experience and social media are taken into account as well. And you could optimize your homepage for that.

Optimizing your homepage, SEO style

Although you don’t have to optimize your homepage for a keyword, there is still work to be done. We have mentioned a few in this article, but there are more. These are the things you can do to optimize your homepage for SEO related things:

  • Make sure the page title focuses on your brand name or main product;
  • add a clear, recognizable logo in the upper left corner for branding;
  • there should be a clear call-to-action that draws attention;
  • don’t forget to structure your menu(!);
  • provide OpenGraph and Twitter Cards for better social sharing;
  • make sure the meta description is filled out, that it explains your USP and invites the visitor to your website;
  • product images are inviting, but the page needs textual information or a great tagline as well;
  • don’t clutter your homepage with a million links. Keep it focused and don’t flood your footer or menu with these links;
  • contact details should be available for most websites, including social buttons and perhaps a newsletter subscription;
  • if applicable, add a search bar (prominent or as an extra).

This is a small checklist every website owner could use to analyse his own homepage. Have you thought of all of these?

Your opinion about Homepage SEO is valued

I am very open to discussion about this. There must be SEO consultants or web masters that feel that homepage SEO is very much needed for any SEO campaign. I am looking forward to seeing examples of that, by the way.

Last year, there was a small hype about one-page websites (nobody seems to be talking about these anymore). That’s probably the hardest homepage to rank, or at least it seems to be. Just another thought.

Let me know what you think of this. I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments: Does Homepage SEO exist at all?

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!