The internet keeps changing faster than any of us can keep track. Is your website up to the task of satisfying your online customers in 2019? Let's do a little guided New Year's inspection of the state of your website. Based on what you learn in this inspection, you will have a path to better rankings at Google, which will get you more customers and sales. Scoring As you go through the inspection, make notes about the number of points you earn on each question. At the end we'll add up all these points and come up with your score. Humor me; the resulting grade is likely to open your eyes. The highest score you could get is PLUS 350; the lowest is MINUS 350. Be advised, however; this test may provide something of an "ice water dip" if you aren't actively working on your website on a regular basis! Your Site and Google There are usually seven 'organic' listings (which are not paid advertisements) on the first page of Google's search results. You can personalize your Google settings to show up to 100 items, but for our purposes we're talking about those first 7 organic search results. That's what we mean by being 'on the first page' of search results at Google. Also for our purposes, you can ignore Bing — too few people use it and if you cater your website toward Google, Bing will like it too! Business Name Search Go to Google and search for your business name (no quotes around the words). Does your website show up on the first page of the search results for your business name? Is it at or near the top? Take 5 points if your business name is anywhere on the first page of results Take another 5 points if your business name is in the top 3 on the page, Zero points if your business name isn't on the first page of search results. Keyword Search Now search at Google for your top five main keyword phrases. Your keyword phrases are the search terms for which you would LIKE to show up in the results. If you make soap, search for "handmade soap near me", "handcrafted soap near me", etc. If you make cosmetics, search for your cosmetic (lotion, lip balm, hand cream, etc.) and "near me". Note: Currently, every search at Google is treated as a "local search". For all practical purposes, Google simply won't give you a generic, "covers the whole country" search result any more. If you only type in "handmade soap" and you do your search from, say, Keokuk, then Google will give you what it thinks are the most relevant local search results for "handmade soap in Keokuk", whether you asked for local results or not. Also note: Google always has a good idea of the physical location of your phone or computer! Look at the search result for each keyword phrase: Take 5 points for each keyword search result with your website anywhere on the first page Take another 5 points for each keyword search result where your website is in the top 3 on the page Zero points if your website isn't on the first page of search results Local 3-Pack Google's 'Local 3-pack' is the section that shows up just below the paid ads at the top of the search result page. It contains a local map with (currently) three listings under it, complete with photos and addresses and star ratings of the businesses. The Local 3-pack shows up for many (not all) 'local' searches in Google's search results. Sometimes they'll put more than 3 listings in there. For each of the five keyword phrase searches you checked in Step 2, see if your website shows up in Google's Local 3-pack. Take 30 points for each keyword where you site is showing in the Local 3-pack. (Total 150 possible points.) Zero points if there is no Local 3-pack result for the keywords If there are Local 3-pack results and your website is not among them, subtract 20 points from your total. Yes, that’s not fair! But local search is that important. (Total of 100 minus points is possibles.) Your Website Content & Display Page Load Speed Mobile users are very picky about how long a website takes to load. Open the browser on your phone and navigate to your website. Time a few different pages on your website to see how long it takes for them to load. Under 3 seconds is good, 3 - 6 seconds is average, over 6 seconds is a problem. Take 10 points if pages load under in under 3 seconds No points if your page loads in 3 - 6 seconds (average) Minus 10 points if pages load in more than 6 seconds Horizontal Scroll Bar On your phone, do any pages on your website have a horizontal scroll bar, requiring you to scroll sideways to see any images or text? If so, deduct 10 points from your total. Sideways scrolling is unacceptable. You get NO points for just being acceptable, sorry. No points if there's no scroll bar (that's the way it should be!) Minus 10 points for having horizontal scroll bar Phone Dialing On your phone, when you tap the phone number displayed on your website for your business, does that initiate a phone call? Mobile users want to be able to call you to ask questions, place orders, etc. Take 10 points if clicking the phone number starts a call Minus 20 points if you can't start a call by clicking the phone number Website “Look” On your phone, how dated does your website look? Does it look new, modern, fresh, pretty? Or does it look like it time-warped in from 1999? Is it (gasp!) ugly? Also review your website TEXT. Is the stuff that people will read on your website understandable? Is the text large enough to read easily? No typos? Are your products described well? Plenty of pretty pictures where needed? Yes, this point is somewhat subjective, but give it your best guess. Maximum 40 points for modern, fresh, pretty website Minus 20 points for old, ugly, or out-of-date website. Contact Information Looking at your website on your phone, can you find your full business name, address and phone number? Google and your customers want to know exactly how to get hold of you. For this purpose, a PO Box is fine as your address. Take 10 points if contact information is available and findable Minus 40 points for missing, incomplete, or hard-to-find contact information Easy Ordering The ease with which a customer can purchase products is one key to whether they will actually place an order. Can you easily place an order for your products using a phone browser? If you don't sell directly from your own website, but have a hosted store such as Amazon, eBay, Facebook, or Etsy (or some other system) that's okay. In that case, check to make sure that links from your website go directly to your product's page (not to some generic home page). If your customer ends up at Etsy.com or Amazon.com and then has to search for your products, you can easily lose them to the competition. Take 50 points if the customer can order easily Minus 50 points if it's hard to order from your website or hosted store Website Security Is your website secure? This means, does your website's web address start with httpS:? That “s” means it is secure. Does it only work using http:? http means it is NOT secure. This point of security has become drastically important to Google; they have been issuing warnings to developers that SOME security certificates are not good enough, and they will begin issuing warnings to visitors that those sites are not actually secure. You certainly don't want Google's Chrome browser to warn people away when they try to visit your website! Take 20 points for having a secure website Minus 100 points for having an insecure website Calculating Your Score Count up your points. The score can range from +350 to -350. The sad truth is, most websites will have a score of less than zero, so if you have a low score, don't feel too bad, you have a lot of company! The thing to remember; now that you know where you stand, you can do specific things to improve your site. What To Do Now Here are some things you can do: Figure out how to rank better in local search at Google. Check out this great article, Local SEO Ranking Factors, from legendary search specialist Bruce Clay, which lists out 43 factors that you can work on, one at a time, to rock your local search results.Some of the points he mentions are fairly technical, so get help on those steps. You can always call or email me (Jere Matlock) with a question. This is the kind of specialty work I've done for the last twenty years. Make sure your website is secure. You need to have your site's address begin with https:// and ensure your security certificate is up to snuff. See this article on Chrome Browser Trust Issues for details. If you have a Wordpress site, keep all plugins up to date, and make sure that your WordPress version is the most recent. WordPress issues a lot of updates—usually one a week—and those updates are made to protect you, their user. This is important to keep hackers from wrecking your WordPress installation. Which happens with alarming regularity to people who do not update their WordPress software or plugins. Improve the shopping experience for your customers. Make it as easy as possible for customers to find and pay for your products. If you have a clunky older shopping cart, consider switching over to using Paypal or another, better shopping cart. The User Experience (also called 'UX') needs to be smooth and helpful. Improve your page load speed. Google has a Search Console which is a great place to start. Register your website, get familiar with the many tools Google provides for free, and then start using them. One of those free tools is PageSpeed Insights which will tell you what Google says about speeding up your website. Do what you can. Find someone to help you do what you can't do yourself. If you have a WordPress site, look into free (or paid) plugins that help speed things up. Use one. Make your site mobile-friendly. Make sure your site works well when viewed on a phone or tablet. What changes to make? That depends on how your site was built. Typically, a mobile-friendly site will adjust its layout to fit the screen on which it is viewed. For a phone, it will be one column, stacked; for a laptop or desktop it may spread out to several columns. If you don't know how to make it mobile-friendly, contact your webmaster for assistance or look for someone (like me!) to help you. If you have a WordPress site, consider changing your 'theme' over to something more mobile-friendly. Optimize for the search engines There are many, many things that can be done to optimize your site for Google. Start with writing good content for your pages that contains valuable information (about your products, you or whatever), making sure that your page names and titles accurately reflect the page content, and ensuring that you have 'title tags for your links and 'alt' tags for your pictures. If you use WordPress, pick an SEO (search engine optimization) plugin and use it religiously on every page and post. Go through all existing pages and posts and make sure they are optimized using that plugin. We recommend Yoast SEO for WordPress. Just installing the plugin is not the end of your SEO - it's just the beginning of the work involved! You must fill in all the SEO fields on every page and every post to make it actually work for you. Keep statistics. Install Google Analytics or Clicky on your site. They will help you with keeping statistics; it also helps you analyze and understand what your statistics mean. It's usually very easy to install Google Analytics. In Summary Reviewing your website at the beginning of the year will give you a starting point for improvement through the rest of the year. It all focuses down the number of sales you get from your website. Every little bit you do to improve your website will help with your ranking at Google, and so result in sales. Hopefully by making some (or all) of the improvements your site needs over the course of the year, you will have more sales this year than last year, and on into the future! Jere Matlock is a commercial website developer with more than 20 years experience in making and marketing websites; making websites do well in search engines and sell more stuff. He's been doing this since before Google existed! His clients range from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop stores. His company is Words in a Row.