One of my most important assignments at WeddingWire is working on ProjectWedding, a sister site that focuses on photo inspiration. We had recently re-launched the site with a new UX and modernized infrastructure, and now I was tasked with finding additional improvements to build site traffic. Teaming up with some folks on the Marketing Team, we looked through survey results, user testing videos, NPS scores, and a lot of analytics data. While we identified many areas to improve, we ultimately decided that the way we could make the biggest impact while utilizing minimal engineering time was with a full SEO review.
SEO Problems We Identified
- Fundamental structure issues with the site’s non-optimized URLs
- Indexing of outdated pages that would trigger Google penalties
- Duplicate content - tons and tons of duplicate content (over 20,000 pages!)
- Missing title tags
- Outdated metadata (title tags, descriptions, keywords you name it!)
ProjectWedding's recent re-launch included a full URL structure overhaul, so we knew restructuring URLs across the site was not a viable option. But, could we really make a big impact on ProjectWedding traffic by just addressing duplicate content, metadata, and adding canonical tags?? Spoiler alert...yes we could, and we did!
So, how did we do it? Below is a list of three areas where we focused the SEO improvements implemented between May and September 2014.
1. Minimizing Google Penalties
We identified a section of the site that included outdated user generated content. This content had been created using an old tool we no longer supported. As a result, the pages were not optimized and were triggering a Google page layout algorithm penalty.
Adding content=“noindex, nofollow” tags in this section of our site required minimal engineering time and prevented 37,000 useless pages from being indexed. While the thought of hiding this many pages from Google initially seemed daunting, we decided providing our users with quality over quantity content was most important.
2. Tackling Duplicate Content
Of all the issues we attempted to tackle, duplicate content had the biggest impact. Of the 15 SEO sub-tasks we completed, the goal of more than half of them was to address duplicate content. Having a lot of duplicate content really hurts a site’s relevancy and ranking from an SEO standpoint. If you are unfamiliar, MOZ does a good job explaining the perils of duplicate content here.
What sections of the site had duplicate content? Well, almost all of them including: Photos, Category Sub-Landing pages, User Profiles, Boards and the Vendor Catalogue. What did we do?
First, we looked at URLs and realized we were indexing the same pages multiple times. For example, the URL of a photo had different parameters depending on how a user found the photo. Each URL was indexed, thus we were indexing the same photo countless times! To fix this, we added a rel=”canonical” tag to point back to the main URL of each photo ensuring every photo was only indexed once.
Second, we looked at how we rendered different views of the same content. For example, the same vendors were displayed in Photo View and List View and the same dress could be found under Trending Photos and New Photos. We again added canonical tags to address this issue and tell Google the preferred URLs. Google’s instructions on how to use canonical tags can be found here.
Next, we eliminated a few others areas of duplicate content with “rel=nofollow”. The main place we implemented nofollow tags was our filtered search results. By using nofollow tags, this content can still be indexed if another site links to it, however Google is not crawling and indexing the content multiple times.
Finally, we pulled a report of title tags across the site and identified thousands of pages that had the same title tag. Title tags define the title of a document and act as a description of the page. Ideally, a title tag should focus on the unique content of the page, so we systemically began to update title tags across the site.
3. Keyword Analysis Metadata Updates
After addressing Google penalties and duplicate content, we did a full keyword analysis of the site. Keyword analysis and optimization is the most fundamental aspect of SEO. We identified which keywords were worth going after (based on how popular the term is and how competitive the market was for those terms). We looked at every page’s title, description, primary, secondary and supporting keywords, H1 and H2 tags. We found many pages did not optimize for any keywords or optimized for keywords we didn’t stand a chance of ranking well in. I won’t tell you what we decided to optimize for, but we began (and are still in the process of) a systematic update of metadata across the site.
Our results…an impressive 450% increase in SEO visibility. Major victory! Our first round of improvements went live in early May, and as you can see below improvement quickly followed.
Sure enough, as our SEO improved, organic traffic began to improve as well! As a newer member of the Product Team, this project was really a crash course for me in SEO. Seeing the results of our audit, taught me about the critical role SEO plays in the success of a product. We were able to have a big impact, without taking up a lot of engineering time.
Here are some things I learned should always be kept in mind when making big SEO changes:
- Do NOT wait until your product is about to launch to think about SEO (this can lead to terrible URL structure that is harder to change later).
- If you have thought about SEO before developing your URL structure, do not put a million parameters in your URL (see fix #2 above).
- When creating a nav - do not name the nav dropdown something inconsistent with the URLs of the link in that nav.
- Use 301 redirects to redirect traffic. A 301 redirect lets Google know that a page has been permanently moved to a new location and according to Moz.com, it passes 90-99% of the link juice to the redirected page.
- Even if your product is launched and well-baked, there is always room for SEO improvement.