» Are You Competing With Yourself in Search Engines?

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Kathy DalPra, Bride AppealThis post was written by Kathy DalPra. Kathy is the owner of Bride Appeal. She takes the overwhelm out of SEO, sales and website conversion so wedding businesses can turn more curious visitors into high paying clients. Kathy’s strategies began to develop during her time as bridalpreneur when she took a struggling website to the top of Google; gaining targeted traffic, press mentions and celebrity customers along the way. Today Kathy shares her methods with other event professionals at brideappeal.com.

SEO is hard enough without us getting in our own way.

But when your expertise is creating a fabulous wedding experience, not implementing SEO, it’s common to overlook basic techniques that you’re simply unaware of.

We don’t know what we don’t know until we know it, right?

That’s why I want to break down one simple SEO mistake you might be making that could be causing you to compete with yourself in search engines; and how you can correct it today.

Here’s the simple SEO mistake I often see wedding pros making: Not choosing a preferred domain. I’ll explain…

Beginner’s Tip: Your website domain is the root web address visitors use to access your website, such as http://myweddingbusiness.com.

When browsing the web, have you ever noticed that some websites display their domain name as http://myweddingbusiness.com and others display it with a “www” in front, such as http://www.myweddingbusiness.com?

Establishing a preferred domain

Establishing a preferred domain

 

While both of these versions lead to the same website, search engines view them as two distinct web addresses, unless you specify otherwise.

So why is that less than ideal for SEO?

Well, search engines assess every individual website domain uniquely when determining whether that site is worthy of high rankings in its search results pages for a given search phrase.

Since there is only so much room at the top, each of these website addresses is competing against each other to secure a listing at the top. Search engines have to compare every single website domain (and page) with each other to determine which ones deserve the highest rankings.

So if you have not established a preferred domain, then search engines may be viewing your www website address and your non-www website address as two totally separate domains that are both fighting for a spot in the search results pages.

Which means, you might actually be competing with yourself!

“If you don’t specify a preferred domain, we may treat the www and non-www versions of the domain as separate references to separate pages.”  – Google 

In addition, when you are not deliberate about choosing a preferred domain, any marketing you do for your non-www domain version may not count toward your www domain version because, again, search engines perceive them as two distinct properties.

Therefore, you’re splitting your marketing progress in half; sometimes your www website address gets the credit and sometimes your non-www address gets the credit.

However, when you establish a preferred domain with the search engines, they will automatically reconcile the two.

“For instance, if you specify your preferred domain as http://www.example.com and we find a link to your site that is formatted as http://example.com, we follow that link as http://www.example.com instead. In addition, we’ll take your preference into account when displaying the URLs.” – Google

Here’s how to fix it:

1. Decide Which Domain You Want to Use (The WWW Version or the Non-WWW Version)

It really shouldn’t make a difference for SEO purposes which one you choose, just pick one and stick to it.

An easy way to decide is to consider which version you most often publish or share in your marketing activities (ex. business cards, real wedding submissions, directory listings) and use that one.

This will be your “preferred domain” or your “canonical domain.”

2. Establish Your Preferred Domain on Your Website

Go visit your website. Which version is showing in the browser address bar, the www version or the non-www version?

If your website is displaying the preferred domain version that you chose in Step 1, then no change need be made. Simply contact your website developer and ask them to confirm that the non-preferred version of your domain is permanently 301 redirected the preferred version of your domain, so there is no confusion by visitors, partners or search engines about which version is the correct one.

Beginners Tip: If you don’t have a website developer, get one. Your job is to plan weddings/take photos/arrange flowers, not tinker with your website.

If your website is displaying the domain version you did not choose in Step 1, ask your website developer to change it to the domain version you did chose. Then, have your developer 301 redirect your non-preferred domain to your preferred domain.

3. Set Your Preferred Domain with Google

To set you preferred, or canonical, domain with Google, follow these instructions.

How to set a preferred domain for your website

4. Update Your Sitemap

After your preferred domain is established with your website, confirm with your website developer that your Sitemap reflects the changes.

All the pages and content appearing in your Sitemap should display as the preferred version of your domain. Thus, if you chose the “www” version of your domain as your preferred domain, then all pages, posts and content listed in your Sitemap should display the “www” before the domain name.

Currently, Bing (and Yahoo, which is merged with Bing) don’t appear to offer a tool for specifying your preferred domain. In the SEO community, popular opinion seems to be that these search engines will automatically begin to recognize your preferred domain when your sitemap displays the correct preferred domain version and your non-preferred version is 301 redirected to your preferred domain.

5. Update Existing Links & Promote Your Preferred Domain Moving Forward

Although search engines should be able to reconcile which domain version is the correct, or preferred, version after you complete Steps 1-3, it’s not a bad idea to update any existing links on the web that you have quick access to.

These are links both on your website and off your website.

Links send a signal to search engines that your domain is important for a given topic and this can affect your rankings. Consequently, we really want as many of your links to point to your preferred domain version, rather than your non-preferred domain, so that your preferred domain gets all the SEO credit.

Start with your website first. Update any internal links on your website (links on your website that go to other pages within your own website) to the preferred version of your domain. This includes menu links, image links, text links, links in blog posts etc.

Then, expand to websites outside of your own. If any of your social media profiles, directory listings or industry peers are linking to your website using the non-preferred version of your domain, try to update those links to your preferred domain version.

Finally, for all future online and offline marketing activities, use your preferred domain version. 

When you give your website address to wedding blogs for a real wedding submission, submit your web address to wedding or business directories when listing your company, provide your domain in your social media profiles or display your website address on business cards and marketing collateral, use only the preferred version of your domain.

Take Action Today

That’s it! In 3 simple steps, you can set your preferred domain today and start consolidating your SEO power. Then, over time, by following Steps 4 & 5, you can continue to reinforce which domain deserves the “SEO credit” and improve your ranking potential in no time.