What makes or break an SEO campaign is knowing where to start, what is important and what is simply not worth the time.
Resources are never infinite. If you’re not careful you can spend them spinning wheels and tweaking things that will have no real effect on your search traffic. Plan effectively, and you’ll achieve true growth and a positive return on your investment.
The difference lies in understanding how search engines work – how they crawl the web and how they use that data to rank web pages – and how your website does or doesn’t meet these criteria.
The Technical Audit
The first order of action is the technical audit of your site. Tackle these issues first because this represents the foundation of your site. Some technical problems can render web pages invisible to search engines. Identifying and resolving these issues upfront is critical.
A technical audit should include:
Code cleanliness / content visibility
â€¢ Is the code bloated?
File size / page load time
that don’t support these technologies (like a search crawler)?
â€¢ Are there session ID’s in the page URLs?
â€¢ Are the URLs long and do they include multiple variables and parameters?
â€¢ Do the URLs contain keywords?
Title tag / headlines
â€¢ Does the site have unique titles and headlines on each page (sometimes content
management and eCommerce systems weren’t built with this feature)?
â€¢ Have search engines fully indexed the site? If not, why?
â€¢ Are there multiple URLs for the home page or other pages?
This technical audit can sometimes uncover serious problems.
If your site includes session IDs in all URLs, for example, you’ve got a major problem. Search engines do not index URLs that include session IDs. Some older content management and eCommerce systems were built this way, and, to put it frankly, there’s no point in launching an SEO campaign if this can’t be fixed.
Other problems are not quite as detrimental to SEO but still should get attention.
The Content Audit
Having content that is relevant to your site topic and attracts links is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
This is a bit simpler than the technical aspects, but simple doesn’t mean easy.
Your content can target keywords, but the user experience must always come first. When in doubt, sacrifice keyword use for better copy.
Some of the content aspects that are important:
â€¢ Do your title tags include relevant keywords?
â€¢ What about your heading tags and body copy?
â€¢ Does your site navigation use relevant keywords or more general language like “services?”
â€¢ Do you have link-worthy content? Has anybody linked to it yet?
â€¢ This gets more into usability issues than SEO, but it’s vastly important. Does your content
grab the reader? How well does it convert visitors into customers?
While targeting keywords is important, the general rule here is never to sacrifice your user’s experience for SEO. They don’t like it, and they’ll get cranky and leave. And forget about attracting links if users don’t enjoy your pages.
The Trust Audit
Why do search engines rank some pages over others? The simple answer: they trust that the content will satisfy the user.
Google’s algorithm has always been focused centrally on signals of trust. There is money in ranking well, and for this reason webmasters, bless our hearts, can’t be trusted to be honest or objective about how much trust we deserve.
This is why Larry and Sergey (Google founders) decided to focus on links as a signal of trust and authority. The basic idea is that the more links that point to a page, the more authoritative and trustworthy the page. The other major search engines followed suit.
Over time, since links were “out of the bag” and link building schemes erupted across the web, search engines have honed their algorithms to use other signals to determine trust.
Still, links are the single most important aspect of trust – and, in almost every case, SEO as a whole. Even tiny sites with just a few, poorly-optimized pages can rank well for competitive keywords if they simply have a powerful enough inbound link profile.
What to look at in evaluating website trust:
Inbound link profile
â€¢ How many links does the website have?
â€¢ Are any of these links on websites with a high PageRank or a large number
of inbound links?
â€¢ What anchor text is used in inbound links?
â€¢ What pages do these links point to?
â€¢ How long has the site been live?
â€¢ How long has the domain been registered? The older the better.
â€¢ How long is the domain registered for? The longer the better.
â€¢ Does the website link to other websites?
â€¢ Are any of the websites this website links to spam? Do they look to have been penalized by
Google? Are they in a “bad neighborhood?”
â€¢ Has the webmaster obviously engaged in link schemes, reciprocal or otherwise?
These questions aren’t always easy to answer, but they’re important. Many of them are crucial.
Before you start researching keywords, creating content, building links or otherwise optimizing your website (or hire a professional to do so), you need to know where you stand and what to expect moving forward.
The answers aren’t always pleasant, but if building the volume and relevance of your search engine traffic matters to you these answers matter too.
About The Author
Mike Tekula is the President of Unstuck Digital, a search engine marketing and creative web agency located in Long Island, New York.