As an avid SEO practitioner, search optimization is more to me than just a nine to five job; it’s also a hobby. In an effort to combine SEO with my other hobbies, dance and theater, I decided to take a look at a local Chicago theater’s website to see if their optimization skills were as on cue as their acting.
I was pleasantly surprised when I begun analyzing Steppenwolf’s site. Whether intentionally or not, they have a lot of the fundamental SEO necessities in place: the majority of the site is crawlable, they have a clean navigation and they have tried to include as much useful information as possible on their site. However, as is always the case with SEO, they have plenty of room for improvement as well.
Let’s take a look at Steppenwolf.org and see what they do well, where they can improve and how they can continue to leverage SEO best practices to drive targeted traffic and increase conversions.
What Steppenwolf.com does Well for SEO
As I mentioned previously there are several key components to a successful SEO campaign that Steppenwolf has mastered, including:
Images are among the most popular online content, and Steppenwolf has an abundance of wonderful images for users to view and share.
- Images employ strong Alt text
Even sites who are highly conscious of SEO often forgo adding Alt text to all their images onsite because of the additional effort required, but Steppenwolf has done a great job of attaching Alt text to every single one of their images. Not only is the Alt text present, but also it’s valuable to both the user and the search engines. The text is descriptive and includes important keywords, such as the names of plays and actors.
- Images are easily shareable
Steppenwolf also capitalizes on the inherent shareability of an image by placing social share buttons on every image page, close to the image itself. This close proximity increases the likelihood that users will share this image with their friends.
They have also syndicated the images on image sharing sites, such as Flickr, which allows for a link back to the site and exposes the images to audience which may have been previously unreachable.
Clean URL structure
Another thing Steppenwolf.org does well is name and organize its URLs. Steppenwolf stores most of their content in keyword-focused subfolders, such as “/watchlisten/photo_galleries/”, or “/work/internships”.
These keyword focused URLs help the search engines easily identify where certain types of content is stored on site, and increase the chances of performing well in vertical search by storing all media in subfolders titled images, video, news, etc.
Strong Linking Architecture
Google has stated that strong link architecture helps distribute keywords and link metrics throughout the site, as well as increase a site’s indexation rate, and the number of URLs that rank well in the search engines.
Oftentimes when obtaining unnatural, low quality links these links point mostly to the homepage; but a large distribution of high-quality links to a site’s interior pages indicates to Google that the content housed on a site is highly resourceful.
When looking at Steppenwolf.org’s external links almost 50 percent of all links point to interior pages, this is a pretty good indication that Steppenwolf’s site has valuable content beyond that which is offered on the homepage.
Overall Steppenwolf.org performs well across many onsite SEO factors. Yet, they still rank at the bottom of Page One for generic keywords, such as ‘Chicago theater’. So what does Steppenwolf need to improve on to better their rankings?
What Steppenwolf.org does Poorly for SEO
Poor Use of Metadata
Some uninformed SEO’s are claiming Metadata is no longer an important aspect of SEO methodology. While it is true that Google has stated they no longer use Meta descriptions or Meta keywords to directly impact rankings, ignoring Metadata altogether can severely impact user CTRs and could ultimately bar your pages from the SERPs.
- Duplicate Page Titles
Your page title is one of the first pieces of code Google sees on each page, and this title directly informs the search engines about the contents of your page. Much like the chapter title in a book, each page title should be informative and unique. Google does not like to display duplicate page titles or Meta descriptions in the SERPs, so each time you duplicate these elements you are competing with your own content for relevant keywords.
- No Meta descriptions
Unlike a page’s title, the Meta description is not a mandatory page element. However, even though it doesn’t directly influence rankings in Google, a Meta description should be included on every page you would like to show up in the search engines.
The search engines use Meta descriptions to better inform the user about a page’s content, since many times the page title itself can be vague. When a Meta description is missing, or duplicated, Google will try and generate its own description to provide the user with more information. We see this for Steppenwolf.org, they do not include Meta descriptions on any of their pages so Google pulls in information not included on their site to try and fill in the gaps.
In this case, the description has been pulled from their directory listing on Dmoz.org. While this may sometimes work out all right, this approach is not a preferable one. It takes all the control away from Steppenwolf and places it in Google’s hands.
And even though Meta descriptions don’t directly influence rankings they do influence users’ CTRs. When words from a search query appear in a page’s Meta description Google will bold them to make them stand out. Studies have shown that when a site’s listing in the SERPs includes these bolded search queries the CTR is exponentially higher.
Very Little on Page Keyword Targeting
It appears as though Steppenwolf has not been overly thorough with their keyword research. While they do include lots of useful information related to generic keywords, such as ‘theater’ and ‘Chicago plays’, they do not target these keywords specifically, and ignore long-tail and local keywords with equally high search volume.
SEOmoz’s 2011 survey of Top SEO Ranking Factors revealed that there is a 90 percent correlation between high rankings and placing a targeted Keyword first in the title tag, as well as the number of times that keyword is repeated on a page.
An audit of the Steppenwolf homepage reveals that they fail to even loosely target generic search terms relevant to their industry, such ‘theater’, satisfying only 25 out of the 36 defined on-page keyword factors correlated with high-rankings.
Among the missing elements are:
Improper Use of Redirects
Upon completing a site-wide SEO analysis of Steppenwolf.org I’ve also found that the site uses a significant amount of 302 redirects. There are several negative SEO implications to using a 302 redirect as opposed to a 301 redirect. Any inbound links obtained on the pages with a 302 redirect are not carried over to the new pages, meaning an authoritative link, or targeted anchor text associated with these pages, is wasted.
The 302’d pages also continue to show up in the SERPs as a 302 signals to Google that the redirect is only temporary and all content will eventually be restored to the original page. This can be confusing for users who click on a result in the SERPs expecting to see certain content only to be redirected to another page. Now that Google is weighing user metrics in the algorithm, any experience that is less than optimal for the user should be corrected.
How Steppenwolf can Further Leverage SEO to Increase Site Traffic and Conversions
There are several actionable changes that Steppenwolf can make to their site to increase the value of their SEO efforts and in turn increase their rankings in the SERPs, such as:
More On-page Keyword Targeting
One of the most beneficial changes Steppenwolf could make to their site would be to conduct in-depth keyword research and more aggressively target their on-site content around these keywords. Once a desired keyword set has been defined there are several low-effort changes Steppenwolf can make to their site to capitalize on these key phrases and attract relevant traffic.
- Include vide transcripts
Steppenwolf does a great job of integrating video onto their site. Video is among the most highly consumed media online and their strong URL structure ensures both the search engines and users can easily find these great videos. However, once the search engines get to the content they have no way of discovering what content is housed within these videos.
Since the search engines can’t see content contained within a video, Steppenwolf should include transcripts for each one of these videos on the page, below the image. This will allow Google to see what information is contained within these videos, and if properly keyword targeted could great impact their rankings.
- Expand beyond branded terms
Both SEOmoz and Google Adwords offer tools that extract the most commonly used, or ‘most strongly targeted’ keywords from a page. Both tools found that the most commonly targeted keywords on Steppenwolf.org are focused around the branded term ‘Steppenwolf’. While it’s important to target branded terms it’s also important to expand your keyword set to attract interested visitors who are currently unaware of your brand.
Steppenwolf should focus more on local and long-tail key phrases to capture users further down the conversion funnel who are not familiar with the Steppenwolf brand.
Move their Blog onto the Root Domain
Steppenwolf produces a lot of resourceful, interesting content on their blog with posts dating back to 2006; however, since the blog is housed on its own subdomain in the eyes of Google the blog is its own separate site. This means that any valuable inbound links are only boosting the authority of the blog’s subdomain and provide no value to the Steppenwolf root domain as a whole.
In order to capture the full marketing value of their blog Steppenwolf needs to move the blog onto their root domain, and ideally into a clearly labeled subfolder ex. www.steppenwolf.org/blog. This will allow link metrics to flow through the pages on the blog and back into the main site.
Build Link Diversity
While Steppenwolf has a pretty strong link profile, they should begin diversifying the anchor text from inbound links, along with the number of linking root domains to give their site an extra boost.
As you can see, the majority of their inbound links focus on branded anchor text, or simply around the words ‘theater’ and ‘company’. Obtaining links with diversified anchor text, both exact match and partial match, around local terms and longer tail keywords will help indicate to Google that they are an authoritative site for many topics related to the Chicago theater industry; and an increase in the number and diversity of linking root domains will help boost their site’s authority.
Overall, Steppenwolf has a strong foundation to be a highly ranking site in the SERPs but still much work must be done if they want to reach that coveted number one position.