Search engine optimization is difficult for many online businesses both big and small to get done right. While there are simple tactics that can yield great SEO results like creating great content, there are many more technical aspects to SEO that businesses need to take note of in order to make sure their website is consistently attracting new organic traffic. This can be a difficult ask at times, but if you’re lost on where to start taking a look at what other businesses are doing and identifying what they are doing right and wrong can pay huge dividends when applied to your own website.
This month’s audit will revolve around the No. 2 company on Fortune Magazine’s “25 Best Medium-Size Companies to Work For” list, Return Path. Based in New York City, Return Path is a global data solutions provider that helps the world’s leading companies promote and protect their brands. Their unique proprietary data platform, SaaS products, and professional services allow their customers to generate more revenue and engagement from marketing campaigns, all while protecting their brands and their consumers from fraud.
Just as we’ve been doing thus far with the rest of the posts in our “1 Hour SEO Audit” series, we’ve based our grades on the following things:
- Site Speed
- Meta Tag Issues
- Title Tag Issues
In order to keep the ongoing 1 Hour SEO Audit Challenge series consistent, I’ve used the same tools we’ve been using for all of our audits to give Shake Shack a fair grade:
- Screaming Frog
- Majestic SEO
- Open Site Explorer
- Microsoft IIS
Having tons of great content on a website is one of (if not the) best way to engage users and build brand loyalty among them while also helping to boost SEO rankings for keywords. It’s also a great way to amass relevant and authoritative natural links that can help flush out a website’s overall backlink profile.
ReturnPath does a great job with their content – not only is it extensive (in general more than 500 words), it is consistently updated. This is particularly true on their blog, which posts content approximately once a week about relevant industry topics that educate users by answering common questions and providing actionable insights and tips. They also provide infographics like the one they have above, and do a good job interlinking their blog posts between each other and their service offering pages as well.
Their content doesn’t stop at their blog though – they have content that spans across to other sections of their website and manifests itself as webinars, whitepapers, fact sheets, research reports, testimonials, and events. They do a good job using their resources to capture emails when appropriate as well, and while their sign up process has a lot of different options that users have to navigate, it’s clear that ReturnPath values capturing users at the top of the conversion funnel and nurturing leads all the way to the final conversion. The only real negative here is that the blog is ascetically pretty lacking – particularly with author profiles that look awkward in the sidebar and detract from the reading experience of users.
As we mentioned in last month’s SEO audit, one of the biggest themes we’ve seen across a wide variety of websites is missing schema. As we’ve previously mentioned, it’s seen as more of a luxury than a necessity by most businesses, and particularly for B2Bs this can be understood so a certain extent. There’s a decent amount of manual work that needs to be put into schema – and while the payoff is that Google can better understand your content when schema markup is included and occasionally add extra information to certain page’s SERPs, by and large there isn’t a clear payoff. That being said, businesses should be doing everything they can to get as much real estate as possible in the SERP – and should be taking steps to do everything they can to make this happen.
For a lot of businesses the easiest first step to get extra real estate on the SERP is to make sure they have a Google Business page. Having one included means that there is a map of where offices are located as well as some general information about the business and what it is that you do. ReturnPath does have this included, and they actually do have a bit of basic url schema on their homepage that is being provided by their Yoast SEO plug in. While this doesn’t seem like much, it is a step in the right direction – and certainly more than any other website we’ve looked at recently has had.
Many online businesses that are savvy in the world of SEO now know that in order to succeed on search engines, their websites need to feature a robust backlink profile. As we’ve discussed a number of times in this series, the ideal backlink profile should be filled with natural links that are both equity-passing followed links and nofollowed links. These links should come from a variety of different pages and domains that are relevant to the business in question. The anchor text of each link is also important to pay attention to, and should vary on a link by link basis so that businesses don’t have limited anchor text phrases that don’t include keywords that you are trying to actively rank.
ReturnPath has an extremely solid backlink profile. With a domain authority of 74 and 20,607 links from 1,590 root domains, they have lots of different links coming from different places. The only real concern is the amount of links they are getting from each root domain – compared to last month’s Shake Shack audit for example, ReturnPath is significantly higher at almost 13 links per domain when compared to Shack Shake’s 4. While this isn’t a cause for serious concern, it’s worth noting that this leaves ReturnPath more open to losing links in bulk if a domain were to shut down.
ReturnPath does an okay job with their anchor text. They have branded anchor text as well as some interesting keywords like “study” and “blog post” that give credence to the idea that they are publishing interesting content that people are referencing. The one major cause for concern is the amount of links ReturnPath has that feature no anchor text at all. There’s definitely a missed opportunity there, and while no anchor text does make sense in certain situations, there shouldn’t be over 500 instances of this happening.
As I’ve mentioned before in a number of my 1 Hour SEO Audits, I’m a big fan of site speed. Particularly with Google’s new mobile algorithm updates, site speed is a very interesting factor in the grand scheme of SEO and is particularly important on mobile devices. While page speed plays a small role in overall SEO ranking factors, it’s increasingly important for businesses to make changes onsite to get the fastest load times possible and reap the user experience and SEO rewards of doing so.
Compared to last month’s Shake Shack audit, Returnpath just barely does better. Receiving a 76% grade from Page Speed and a 75% YSlow grade (Shake shack had a 73% and a 75% respectively). While this means that ReturnPath is doing a solid enough job, there is definitely room for improvement.
The most obvious issue is the amount of redirects that ReturnPath currently has. While it isn’t a huge issue and should definitely be included to maintain SEO value where appropriate, it does cause considerably higher load times for the site. Another element that we’ve seen consistently in these audits is a lack of specified image dimensions. Having this is a relatively simple tweak and allows slightly faster load times – this is a very simple fix that will help. YSlow was particularly tough on return path – giving them a failing grade in four different elements and nothing higher than a D. Perhaps the most needed changes they found were a need to add expires headers.
Meta Tag Issues
Optimizing meta descriptions is an important step for any online business that wants to make sure that search engines and users alike understand what their pages are talking about so that proper expectations are set for users navigate to their page from an organic search. In particular, businesses should make sure that any keywords a page is targeting are included in the meta description so those keywords are highlighted in the SERP result for a search that includes the keyword in questions.
More than any other single category, ReturnPath falls flat when it comes to meta descriptions. At the time of crawl, their site is missing descriptions on 99.37% of their website. The 5 pages that do have a meta description are over the 156 character limited as defined by screaming frog. While it looks like they have since updated their meta description to be within character count on their homepage there is still a lot of work to be done here – work that should ultimately yield them higher clickthrough rates on their results when done correctly.
Title Tag Issues
Over the last few years there have been a number of changes to best practices in SEO, however, a page’s title tag continues to be one of the most important factors behind good SEO. Making sure to include a title tag that is optimized appropriately for individual keywords is often the difference between a website generating very little organic traffic at all and getting tons of qualified organic traffic that can help a website generate a sizeable number of sales.
ReturnPath falls a bit short when it comes to title tags, but do have a solid platform to build from. They aren’t missing title tags on any pages and have title tags on every page, and compared to last month’s audit, ReturnPath does a pretty good job avoiding duplicative title tags – with only 32% of title tags being duplicative when you compare to Shake Shack’s 99.81%. The problem is that 32% of title tags being duplicates is still extremely high and should definitely be fixed. On a relatively small site this is not a huge undertaking and should be a pretty easy fix.
Perhaps the bigger issue with title tags on the site is that about 70% of title tags are either below or above the character limit threshold as defined by Screamingfrog (30 and 65 characters respectively). This means that much of what they’re including in their title tags is not showing up in search engine results pages – limiting potential keywords value. There are a lot of lost opportunities to generate more organic traffic for the website here, and steps should definitely be taken to do more.
ReturnPath is one of the more interesting audits we’ve done in this series so far. They do a lot of things right that we’ve seen a lot of other sites fall short of – they have schema, they take a lot of time and effort to do their content the right way, and they have a very robust backlink profile that puts a lot of much larger websites to shame. That being said, they fall short at the basics – title tags, and in particular, meta descriptions. Making sure that each page has a relevant, dedicated meta description is not too difficult an undertaking – and as we’ve mentioned, with a smaller website of this size it should be even less time consuming than it would be for a much larger website.
Outside of factors we’ve already mentioned, it’s worth noting that canonical tags are done correctly on about 97% of the website, which is pretty impressive, and only 12% of their images across the entire website are missing image alt text. These facts are pretty impressive and show that they are taking the time to stress the power of images in SEO, which is something a lot of bigger websites overlook entirely. Furthermore, only 10% of their pages are low on content (under 300 words), and this might be justified depending on what kind of content is actually on those pages (simple contact us forms, images, etc.). That such time is taken to sweat the details but they failed to do something so fundamental is very odd indeed.
Overall Grade: B