1 Hour SEO Audit Challenge: Sarabeth’s
The New Year has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean that the time for celebration is over. Particularly if you’re lucky enough to be in New York City until February 5th, you can indulge in one of the great perks of the city – “NYC Restaurant Week”. Meals at great restaurants are greatly reduced, and for most restaurants it’s a particularly busy time of year.
With this added business comes an increase in website traffic for most restaurants, so its more important than ever that they make sure their websites are optimized to attract and capture the traffic of hungry patrons across the web. In honor of this great event, this month’s “1 Hour SEO Audit” will take a look at one of the most recognizable restaurants in the city – Sarabeth’s.
With more than 5 locations in New York alone, Sarabeth’s serves thousands of hungry customers each day – and their website needs to work overtime to make sure they’re top of mind for as many local and national eaters as possible so that they can consistently fill their many locations to capacity. Will their site be able to do this through effective SEO? Our audit explores this question by using our standard tools and ranking factors:
- Schema and SERP Friendliness
- Site Speed
- Meta Tag Issues
- Title Tag Issues
- Screaming Frog
- Open Site Explorer
- Microsoft IIS
Although 2016 is now in full swing, some things that were important to SEO in 2015 haven’t changed all that much. One of those fundamental things is content. Particularly on the heels of Google’s announcement that their content-oriented Panda update is now part of their constantly running core algorithm, good content will play an even larger role in generating organic traffic for businesses. There is no doubt that content remains the best way for businesses to rank for long tail keywords by providing an avenue for brands to create high-quality content that keeps visitors engaged with their brand while building long-term customer loyalty.
Sarabeth’s goes all out when it comes to content marketing initiatives. On a general level, the site features phenomenal photography that helps sell products and keep customers hungry as they learn about the restaurants and the fantastic foods they prepare. From their “books” section that features offline cookbooks for sale directly from the website, to their extensive recipes, news, and blog content, there is a monstrous amount of content for users who are interested in learning more about Sarabeth’s and the recipes and food they provide to their customers.
The only negative onsite when it comes to content is that the “blog” and “restaurants” sections are on their own domains off of the main “sarabeth.com” website. This is a massive shame from an SEO perspective. All of the fantastic content that is on the blog doesn’t translate into much SEO value for the rest of the website and the same can be said for the restaurant site. With domain authorities of 41 and 30 on the restaurant and blog respectively, and with the main site only at a domain authority of 47 – it’s a shame that everything is so spread out across multiple domains. Combined into one powerhouse of a website, the overall authority would be much higher and would be likely to close more sales and attract much more traffic overall.
Schema and SERP Friendliness
A lot of sites fall flat when it comes to schema, but recently we’ve started to see a number of sites implementing at least one form of schema somewhere on their site. This is great to see, because schema can be a massive asset for any business and is still one of the most severely lacking elements on sites in terms of SEO. Particularly for our previous two audits, Dollar Shave Club and Veuve Cliquot, there was at least a bit of information in their branded search engine result page or on the site itself for things like navigation elements.
More than any other single business that has been looked at it in this series, Sarabeth’s knocks schema out of the park. Not only do they have some branded search results for each of their locations, they also have included a variety of schema on their pages. This includes simple product schema as well as availability and offer schema as well. It’s great that they’ve taken the time to add all of these elements and they are the new threshold for businesses to live up to when they are featured on this series from here on out.
It’s harder than ever before to organically amass great inbound links, and as a result there has been no better time to consider how important an overall backlink profile is for business owners and digital marketers. They play a pivotal role in how well individual pages and overall domains rank for target keywords, and it is extremely important that business owners are able to identify where their backlink profiles are strong and what aspects might need a bit more work in order to take them to the next level.
At face value Sarabeth’s does a decent enough job with their backlink profile. They have a domain authority of 47 with 2,083 links from 451 root domains, which comes out to roughly 5 links per domain, which isn’t bad at all. However, as we’ve already mentioned, if you dig a little deeper there’s a pretty big issue with the site – there are 3 separate domains. This means that the main domain is missing out on adding another 1400 links, from sources like ABC, CBS, Timeout NY and Mashable. This is a huge loss for the domain authority and possible keyword rankings for the main domain and I strongly believe that unless there is a branding reason to have 3 separate sites that all sites should be formed into one quickly and efficiently without loss of functionality to get the most SEO value possible out of all three.
Putting domain issues to the side, it must be said that Sarabeth’s has very nicely varied and natural anchor text. There are a lot of branded terms, as well as some nice keyword rich text like “bakery”, “kitchen”, and “preserves”. Clearly the links they have gotten have been naturally acquired and they should be able to grow their backlink profile without any fear of penalization from search engines like Google.
Site speed it an important part of SEO and should be a focus for any business owner that is looking to take their website to the next level when it comes to attracting organic traffic. Good site speed paves the way for better user experience, brand credibility and on-site conversion rate, while simultaneously playing a slight role in keyword rankings. A website that loads quickly can be the difference between your business getting a new customer and not, and this fact alone should give a business owner enough of a reason to ensure that site speed is optimized appropriately.
Sarabeth’s fundamentally fails when it comes to site speed and generally has a lot of room for improvement. While their GTMetrix score wasn’t particularly bad, they received the first “F” we’ve seen from PageSpeed in a very long time and definitely need to fix pretty fundamental issues like serving scaled images, specifying image dimensions, and avoiding bad requests. These are all very simple fixes and there is no reason they shouldn’t be relatively straightforward to make in order to get extra SEO and usability value.
Meta Tag Issues
While there have been some outliers in past 1 Hour SEO audits that have done meta descriptions quite well, like Odoo and Casper, most businesses fall short when it comes to creating self-defined meta descriptions for their website. For whatever reason, businesses seem to think it is acceptable to allow Google to define meta descriptions for their business, even though the process for doing that doesn’t make the page attractive to searchers and fails to facilitate higher click-through rates for the pages in question. As user behavior is an SEO factor, having more people click through to a page from a search result is a positive signal for a website. As a result taking the time to do this process properly when defining a meta description is a key part of taking a website to the next level.
Sarabeth’s has a little more than 16% of their meta descriptions marked as duplicative by Screaming Frog, but perhaps more importantly, they’re missing almost 42% of their meta descriptions entirely, which is a shame. Particularly for the homepage, and the about us, recipes, and restaurants pages, this is a real shame because the text used by search engines likely has very little to do with describing the content on the page. All of these pages could be generating good inbound traffic on their own, but without an interesting meta description it is very unlikely that people that are even searching for these pages specifically feel any sort of desire to click to these pages based on the meta description they are given in the search results.
Title Tag Issues
Until Google can figure out a better solution, which seems unlikely, title tags will remain the first and most important part of a page when it comes to SEO value. Having a title tag that is optimized correctly for a keyword that will drive qualified traffic to your website can often be the difference between a website that gets lost in the anonymity of the internet and one that succeeds at generating new sales for a business.
Sarabeth’s does a fantastic job with their page titles. They aren’t missing a single one, and while a few are above and below the required character length very few are over by a noticeable amount – minimizing the chances of a search engine rewriting their page titles for them.
While Screaming Frog shows them with 16 duplicate page titles, the problem is actually symptomatic of a larger issue that has more to do with URI structure than page titles. For some reason a few pages (such as The Bakery, chocolate chip cookies, and preserves pages) have two URI configurations – one in lowercase and one with a first letter in uppercase. This means there are two duplicated pages on the site with the same title tag. This is certainly a massive issue, but one I don’t think Sarabeth’s is aware of – obviously one of the page versions should be removed, 301’d or at the very least canonicalized as quickly as possible to solve this problem.
While there are a lot of things done right on the Sarabeth’s site, one thing stands out more than anything else. There are three different domains, one for the blog, one for locations and reservations, and one site to sell products. I suppose from a branding/usability standpoint this made sense at the time as presumably each site has separate functionality or content management systems that made it difficult to combine them all, but the reality is that all three of these different domains really should all live on one domain. Having three relatively strong sites that could easily just be on one domain is a massive waste from an SEO standpoint. If all the inbound links were added together, the Sarabeth’s site would likely ranking for many more keywords in higher positions and all three sites would enjoy increased traffic and conversions.