Just last weekend, I spent the entirety of a Saturday rebuilding my website. I get these moments of inspiration where I feel like I could improve my site, then I tear it down and build it from the ground up. That's great, but then I also have to go in and do a full SEO checkup to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up.
So, over the course of the last week, I've been plugging away at addressing all of the SEO errors my neuroticism caused when I wiped my old site. It got me thinking, "how many web companies ever take the time to do this for the sites they build?" My website looks good and it works, so why go further? Well, for me, it's about making sure the site actually does something beyond looking good.
So let's put it to the test. How many web design companies, specifically that also sell SEO services, actually know what they're doing? How many of them make sure their site is performing well, demonstrating some basic knowledge and standards? Here's how I'm testing this for designers in another city that isn't near my market (I don't want accusations of bias):
Criteria for Determining the Quality of SEO of Web Design Firms
- For one, I will not judge web design firms that don't tout SEO as a main service of theirs. I'm not going to judge McDonald's by the quality of their pizza. Only web design firms that have SEO as a main-level service will be looked at.
- I'll judge each site on the basics - on-page guidelines like proper header tags, image alts tags, above-the-fold content, and meta titles and descriptions. I'll look at the source code for these, as they're easily readable that way.
- I'll give points to sites that have proper schema markup, security certificates, decent site speed scores, and pass the mobile friendly test.
- I'll use Google's tools for these items and use a pass/fail rating. Schema will be whether or not they use it to add local business markup. Site speed will be rated at a 60 or above (since the tool penalizes a lot of unavoidable things). Mobile friendly will be yes or no per the tool.
- Lastly, I am not going to judge sites based on backlinks, keyword usage, content recency or quantity, or other items that can be debated ad nauseam as to their relevancy or effect on rank. These things are SUPER important, but often with your clients' websites, you have little to no control over them. This is just about covering the basics. It's also not up to me if you want your home page to rank for your branded keyword, or something else.
1 Point for Each of the Following:
- Proper Header 1 Tags (use one, and no duplicate H1's)
- Header and some content above the fold
- Image Alt Tags (are a majority of images tagged?)
- Meta Titles and Descriptions Added
- Schema Markup Used
- Pass Speed Test (a 'Poor' grade fails)
- Mobile Friendly
- Security Certificate Used
The Results? Surprising in a Few Ways.
After rating the top 20 sites in the target market, I was surprised by a number of things. The absolute most surprising thing was that the site that ranked #1 for the keyword I used to search also had one of the lowest scores. So I dug into a few other things including site age and backlink portfolio. The site has been the same since 2009, and had over 400,000 backlinks from 36 domains. Nothing crazy impressive (and arguably bad since most were site-wide footer links). However, it then hit me - the domain name was the exact same as my keyword search. It just goes to show - exact match may still matter quite a bit despite contrary messaging from Google.
In addition, I didn't dig into the quality of the content, the choice of keywords, the design of the site, and more. Those are too subjective - but MAN most of the sites were pretty ugly and stuffed full of keywords. Come on, web design companies - step up your game. Use the ranks you have to convert customers - it's not enough to just get them to your site!
It's pretty clear that the companies doing well in this market are still 'gaming the system' - doing SEO for SEO's sake.
Anyway, to the results!
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Average Scores for Each Category
Out of the 20 sites that ranked the best, here are the percentages of each that passed. Keep in mind that my standards were meeting the bare basics - not determining the quality of each feature.
Sites That Properly Used Header Tags0%
Sites with Above-the-Fold Content0%
Sites That Passed Google's Mobile-Friendly Test0%
Sites that Used Security Certificates0%
Sites that Had a Majority of Images with Alt Tags0%
Sites that Used Meta Titles and Descriptions0%
Sites That Used Identifying Schema0%
Sites that Passed Google's Speed Test0%
Only one site scored a perfect 8 - and it was also the 8th results in the SERPs. Also, one site scored a 0, despite my best efforts to try to squeeze a point (I re-ran the speed and mobile tests a couple times since the crawlers were having a tough time with the site).
I tested my own two sites on the same criteria (without cheating and making changes before or after) and luckily this site scored an 8. Unfortunately, my other company site was not as lucky - I discovered a hidden duplicate H1 tag, and it has some speed issues.
If you want a copy of my spreadsheet so you know I didn't make up the data, you can see it here.
What Does it Mean?
I firmly believe that if you claim to offer a service, no matter what it is, you owe it to yourself and your customers to strive to be the best at what you do. Often web design firms add SEO as a service because it's an easy add-on to sell after building a website, but they don't have an in-depth understanding of how it actually works. If you don't take the time to learn the basics of SEO, how can you be trusted to work in the best interest of your customers?
Also, don't give your competitors any ammo. I can easily perform and publish this study using my local competition as examples, and use it in my sales calls to disqualify them (I don't and won't - it's not my style). If you want to preempt it, make sure the most obvious example of your work is the best possible.
So if you fall in same boat as these companies that are below-average, take some time to study, rehash the basics, and work hard to serve your customers with a quality foundation of technical skills.
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