In many ways, your homepage is the most important page on your site for SEO, yet it's also the most complex page to optimize. There has even been some discussion of whether you can SEO-optimize your homepage at all, triggered by this oft-referenced Yoast article.
Still, there are practices that are better and worse for homepage SEO, so of course you can optimize it to a degree—it's just a lot less clear-cut than it is with other pages.
Here are the 6 most common SEO homepage mistakes that sabotage your rankings, in spite of your best efforts:
1. Neglecting Other Site Pages
Yes, this is a homepage SEO mistake—because your homepage rankings are heavily influenced by the other pages on your website.
The ranking of any page on your site is influenced by the other pages on your site, but this seems to be especially true of your homepage. It occupies a unique position as the content at the root domain, and we do know that domain- and page-level search engine ranking factors are intimately related.
Essentially, your whole site is SEO for your homepage.
I'll talk a lot more about what you can do on your homepage, but the bulk of your SEO work should be focused elsewhere (and internal link structure is super-important).
One thing I want to note up front: regardless of your site design, the home page needs to have a minimum of about 300 words—crawlable words—to satisfy search engines.
2. Competing with Yourself
Say you're an ecommerce vendor specializing in kids' sports equipment and you have site pages targeting baseball, football, softball, and soccer. If you're really expanding your softball equipment offerings, you might be tempted to heavily optimize your homepage around a term like "kids softball equipment"—but if you do, your homepage will be competing directly against your category page, and both rankings will suffer.
In SEO, competing with yourself for a target term is known as keyword cannibalization.
This doesn't mean that you can't use those target keywords in your homepage content at all; it just means you shouldn't optimize the homepage around a single term that you would actually prefer another page to rank for. In the next section, I'll talk more about how you can you use keywords on your homepage.
3. Keyword-Stuffing Your Homepage
I know you wouldn't do it on purpose, but keyword stuffing can still happen unintentionally.
Lots of businesses want to make sure they've included everything they do on their homepages, in an attempt to catch any and every possible search. While "traditional" keyword stuffing would involve heavy use of the same keyword or keyword group, you can also make the mistake of packing in too many different target terms in a way that's awkward or unnatural.
Neither tactic is going to get you the traffic you're looking for, and packing in the same keywords too many times can even get you penalized by Google.
Remember how I said your homepage doesn't need to have a keyword on it in order to rank for that term? Mhmmm.
It's not only search engines that are unhappy when you overdo it with the keywords; visitors don't like it either. Unnatural copy dense with keywords is difficult to read, and it won't help you keep visitors on the page or convert them into leads and customers.
So how should you use keywords on the homepage? According to leading SEO authorities, your goal is to keep your homepage ranking for your brand name, and ideally for a few highly relevant terms surrounding your main services and/or unique value proposition. This is also the approach to use with the all-important homepage H1 tag: for example, ours is "VIEO Design | Knoxville Web Design & Inbound Marketing Experts."
Don't worry about whether you've squeezed every single product or service category onto the page—you can handle much of that with great navigation structure. Just trim the homepage down to the most important points, and focus on user experience. Speaking of which...
4. Undervaluing User Experience
A polished user experience (UX) is not only great for converting visitors into leads and customers; it also improves your SEO in lots of direct and indirect ways. When visitors can easily navigate the website and find the content they're looking for, bounce rates go down, pages per visit go up, and time on page goes up because people are reading your content.
If visitors can't find what they're looking for quickly, or if what they get when they click doesn't match their expectations (e.g. because of a misleading meta description), they will bounce. When you have a lot of people click and then leave, Google takes the hint and serves up other results to searchers instead.
Instead of "How can I fit all this information on this page?" be thinking "How can I give my ideal customer the best possible experience on this page?" Great UX encourages people not only to stay and read the content, but to navigate to other pages and find more information they're interested in. That's where calls to action come in handy—more on CTAs in #6.
5. Ignoring Your Persona
Those ideal customers I mentioned a moment ago? They're your buyer persona.
Just as some people are tempted to use every possible keyword to capture all the traffic, others feel like they need to talk to everyone, just in case that 45-year-old single urban jazz musician is interested in children's softball gear.
It's far more productive to target every element of your web presence to customers who are absolutely ideal. They're more likely to convert, and they have a higher ROI when they do. Understanding your buyer persona will help you answer questions like:
- Are potential customers familiar with your industry lingo?
- How much do they know (and how much do they want to know) about the details of how your products/services work?
- What is driving them to research your product/service?
- What words are they using to search for a solution to their need or want?
- When they reach the comparison stage, how do they choose one company over another?
Don't focus on yourself and what you have to offer (features); focus on them and what they need (benefits). By addressing their needs and wants and answering their questions, you begin the sales process even before they click.
Like we discussed in the last section, the homepage isn't about being comprehensive; but it is about staying on message. You can accomplish this with a good balance between the textual information you provide and visuals that add value and express your brand identity.
6. Skipping the CTA
Speaking of clicks (and also of the pages-per-visit metric that came up in #4), you need to ask your website visitors to take action. That action may be to subscribe, or visit another page, or get in touch, or even to buy—but if you don't ask them to do something, most of them will just wander away.
Choosing calls to action, or CTAs, is partly intuitive—as a business owner or marketing director, you know what actions you need people to take—and partly data-driven. Dig around in your Google Analytics (if you don't have it set up, here's how) and look at your where people currently go when they click off of your homepage, the top site pages, the topics of your most popular blog posts, and the user flow through your site. This should give you some insight into what people want most from you, so you can then put that information front and center.
If you'd like a more comprehensive look at site-wide SEO best practices, you may be interested in a new SEO resource we've just launched. It covers the most recent SEO developments, and even contains a pull-out sheet of back-end SEO changes you can share with your developers!