The Most Common SEO Issues Hurting Chicago Businesses

Search engine optimization (SEO), the process of improving your website with the aim of getting it to rank more highly in the organic search results.

It is something which should be a top priority for any business that aims to promote themselves online and grow their business via online marketing. However, it is by no means simple or a quick process and inevitably every website runs into SEO issues at some point.

With this in mind, the SEO team at Internet Marketing Hub spent more than 35 hours manually auditing the websites of a random sample of 100 Chicago based businesses to uncover the most common SEO issues hurting them.

Methodology

In order to discover what SEO issues Chicago businesses struggle with the most, we first needed a random sample of Chicago based businesses who maintain an active website.

The Sample

Chicago Tribune screenshot.
Screenshot from the Chicago Tribune business directory.

For this study we selected a total of 100 websites at random from the Chicago Tribune business directory.

In order to get the most representative sample possible with the hours and resources we had available, we selected 10 websites from a business category before moving on to the next one until we had our 100 websites sample.

The sample included websites operating in the following industries:

  • Accountants
  • Advertising
  • Beauty Salons
  • Carpet Cleaning
  • Day Care Centers
  • Electricians
  • Fencing
  • Gardening
  • Handyman
  • Heating Contractor
  • Internet Advertising
  • Jewellers

We ran through the various industries alphabetically until we had reached our 100 websites sample.

The Audits

Screenshot of our Chicago SEO audits.
Screenshot of our SEO audits.

Next we had to systematically audit all 100 websites to the same level of precision, accuracy and depth.

It is important to note that the most in-depth SEO audits can not be fully systematised. A full audit can take anywhere between 2 hours and 3 days (in some circumstances even longer!) to carry out depending on the size of the website being investigated.

However, you can follow a set process to identify the most common and potentially damaging SEO issues. We just need to keep in mind that, without further investigation, the particular nuances and context of each issue discovered will be missing.

For this study the above consideration is not an issue, as we would not be providing any unique or individual recommendations to any website in particular.

Given the size of the sample, we knew that we had to identify a selection of key potential issues to look at which experience tells us can have a serious negative effect on a website’s SEO performance.

Below you will find a breakdown of the various checks we carried out in each and every audit, alongside details on why such checks are important (we have also included some advice on fixing any related issues).

Audit Checks

Page Speed
Google Page Speed Insights screenshot.
The Google Page Speed Insights tool offers metrics on how your website is performing.

Using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool, we tested the speed and performance of each site in our sample.

Improving the speed and performance of a website is a sure fire way to improve the user experience. It is also something which applies to every page on your website and can, over time, lead to better SEO/organic results.

User Experience (UX)

Next we wanted to find out how easy and enjoyable the websites in our sample were to use.

We navigated around the websites and tested any interactive elements to see how they functioned, whilst also trying to imagine how a real potential customer would find the experience using the site.

We rated each websites user experience as either good, average or poor depending on our own personal experience navigating the site.

Title Tag Optimization
Title tag optimization - screenshot of the source code for this page with the title tag highlighted.
Screenshot of the title tag for this page.

The title tag assigned to a page is perhaps the most important piece of text found on it. It provides a clear signal to both users and search engines as to what the page is about and what keywords it should rank for.

In order to write an effective title tag, the author needs to know what keywords related to their products/services/content potential customers would search for. Once they know this, they can make sure to include them in their title tags and rank higher in the search results for them.

Again we rated each websites title tags good, average or poor depending on how relevant and optimized they were for relevant target keywords.

Keyword Optimization
Screenshot on how on-site optimization can look.
Screenshot of how on-site optimization can look.

Similar to the point above on title tags, we also made sure we looked at how well optimized the websites were for their target keywords.

A well optimized website will have mentions of relevant keywords in prominent positions, like the H1 and in the first paragraph, and variations of it will naturally arise in a well written piece of content.

The optimization of the websites audited were labelled as either good, average or poor depending on how effectively optimized they were.

Internal Links
Example of an internal link on this site.
Example of an internal link on this site.

Internal links help users better navigate a website and find relevant information they might need more easily. They can also help search engines better understand a page, and its relationship to other pages on that website.

As internal links make up such an integral part of any successful on-site SEO strategy, we decided to analyse how our sample websites were internally linking between pages on their site and rate their internal link strategy as good, average or poor.

Duplicate Content
Duplicate content example in Google's search results.
Duplicate content example in Google’s search results.

Search engines need to rank unique content to keep searchers satisfied. After all, the last thing a searcher wants to find after clicking back to the search results from a website they landed on is another website displaying the exact same information.

Duplicate content is a great way to limit a websites search performance, so publishing only content unique to your website is vital.

For this reason, we ran tests on random sentences taken from each website to ensure that there was no duplication. We simply marked yes or no to if we found any instances of duplicate/copied content.

Thin Content

Search engines want to rank the most useful, valuable and comprehensive content possible. If your site is identified as one which publishes thin content that users are unlikely to find useful, your success in the organic search results is likely to be limited.

Penalties

Whilst search engine penalties are certainly rarer than they used to be, that doesn’t mean that they never occur. Spotting one can prove challenging and so in all but one case we only highlighted if we suspected a penalty was present. Confirmation would need significantly more investigation and being added to any Google properties associated with website suspected of having the penalty.

Indexed URLs

In line with the thin content checks mentioned above, we also wanted to check how much content the sample websites had published within their industry.

Developing an authority in the industry a website is targeting is hugely important for ranking their highest value landing pages. One of the best ways to proactively do this is by creating content about any thing potential customers might be interested in.

To identify if our sample websites were covering their topics and developing this topical authority, we ran site commands and noted down how many URLs were indexed.

Incorrect URLs Indexed

Leading on from the number of indexed URLs above, it is important to recognise that just because a URL is indexed does not mean that it should be. Often websites will have thin and irrelevant URLs indexed which could be hurting their websites. So, we ran checks on the types of URLs in the index for each site and noted down when incorrect ones were included.

Blog

Having a blog does not help a site rank, but regularly publishing high quality content on it can. So, we ran checks to see if the sample sites had an active blog on them.

SSL

Security on the web is a top concern for users and search engines, so it is important any site taking their SEO seriously has SSL enabled on their domain. We ran checks on every site audited to ensure each one had SSL enabled.

Social Media, About Us & Contact Information

Knowing who is behind a website you are using is a huge part of trusting that website. So, we wanted to include some checks which would highlight if customers (and search engine algorithms) could find out who was behind the sample websites.

We checked whether each site had links to their social media, a useful about us page and up-to-date contact information.

Backlink Profile

Any SEO audit would not be complete without taking a look at the websites link profile.

The websites linking to yours say a great deal about you and your business, so this is understandably an area search engines have been looking at for many years now.

We used the ahrefs backlink checker tool to analyse how many websites were linking to our sample websites and what domain rating each one had at the time of checking.

Results

We expected the audits to show some common SEO issues across the various business websites analysed, however the frequency of even some of the more serious issues surprised us greatly.

We have offered a rough breakdown below:

  • More than half (57) of the sites audited have a Page Speed Insights score below 50, suggesting they are suffering from speed and performance issues.
  • 33% of the sites audited had a poor user experience (UX), 39% had an average UX, and only 27% had a good UX.
  • 70% of the websites has poorly optimized title tags, 15% average and 15% good.
  • A shocking 77% of websites analysed had poorly optimized content. A further 16% could be considered average in their on-site optimization, and only 7% with well optimzed content.

About The Study Author

Kyle Garcia, the SEO analyst at Internet Marketing Hub who led the study, has spent over 8 years working in the SEO industry both in-house and agency side. He has consulted for multiple multi-million dollar companies and worked with clients in almost every industry to improve the SEO performance of their websites.

Sources

Bex Walton from London, England, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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