A full SEO audit can take weeks for a large website. But you can quickly and easily check some of the most important and actionable SEO factors. So there’s no excuse to put it off any longer!
- Your links, likes and tweets
- Your best competitors’ links, likes and tweets
- Your URLs or web page addresses
- Your titles and meta data
- Unique content
Checking your site against each of these five factors provides a useful SEO benchmark and could help improve your whole marketing strategy.
SEO campaigns should not be entered into lightly or casually. Bad SEO can seriously harm your business. Good SEO can generate huge growth in traffic and sales. But it not just about building links, as many self-proclaimed “experts” seem to think.
SEO is an ongoing strategic process that requires extensive research and analysis, as well as integration with on-site optimisation and broader marketing strategy. Real SEO involves a scientific methodology and creative talent – skills rarely found in a single individual. Serious SEO campaigns are best left to experienced professionals!
1. Your links, likes and tweets
Search engines primarily use links to evaluate your website. The quality, quantity and context of natural links pointing at your site from other independent websites are all important factors.
Use Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz to look at the main links search engines are likely to look at.
Think of a link from a website as a vote. If one site links to you 20 times it’s unlikely that Google would consider that 20 votes for your site. So the most important metric here is how many different sites link to you? This is the number of “Linking Root Domains”.
Increasingly, search engines use social media activity like Facebook shares, Facebook likes and Twitter tweets to help them identify good content.
A word of caution: Google keeps getting better at identifying manipulative linking practices. You need to build links in a natural way and spamming blogs and forums no longer works.
The most powerful, reliable SEO signals are genuine editorial links and social sharing by human beings who like your site and want to recommend it to people.
Real link-building and social media activity require good relationship-building and a whole lot of hard work. There are no safe and reliable short-cuts. If you can, I recommend you hire a good SEO agency to do SEO properly, with link building in the context of broader SEO and online marketing strategy.
Just building links to your site is not real SEO. You need to make sure you’re targeting the most achievable and profitable keywords, with on-site and off-site optimisation and organic activity that is properly integrated with paid search, social media strategy and broader marketing strategy.
Whatever you do, don’t hire a bad SEO agency – or you risk a Google penalty and serious long-term damage to your business! Your website may even be banned from search results.
Use Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz for an indication of how many sites link to you and how much social media activity there is around your site.
2. Your best competitors’ links, likes and tweets
In part one of our audit we identified how many links and social signals our website has. Now let’s get that into context: how do you compare with your competitors?
Comparing your SEO to your competitors provides a vital benchmark and helps define objectives for your SEO campaign.
First you need to do some keyword research. That’s a very important step in itself and should not be taken lightly. To do good SEO you cannot do too much research and analysis.
If you don’t have access to a real SEO expert to identify and evaluate achievable and profitable keywords, you can still do the most basic kind of competitor SEO research.
Basic competitor SEO research can just mean Googling some really obvious keywords relating to your products and services and seeing who ranks in the top 5.
You’re most interested in the tactics of the competitors who rank best for the keywords most customers use when they search for whatever you wish to sell them. Your SEO competitors may even be your suppliers or partners. A competitor within the context of SEO could mean any website ranking well for keywords relating to your products or services. Doing SEO competitor research is mainly about identifying good tactics that you can seek to use yourself.
If you sell pet food then you might try keywords like “pet food” and “pet supplies”. Don’t use individual words like “pet” and “food”. They are not specific enough. Don’t be too specific either: if a site ranks well for a very specific keyword like “low calorie rodent feed” that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing good SEO that you should seek to emulate. If you haven’t done your keyword research you may end up wasting your time targeting keywords that cannot drive sales.
Use Open Site Explorer again for an indication of how many sites link to your main competitors websites – and how much social media activity they have.
If your your competitors have more links and social media signals than you then you have clear goals: you need to build more links and be more social. Those goals can be broken down into objectives – with a sensible amount of activity planned over a realistic period of time.
Open Site Explorer will also help reveal exactly what these links are so you can begin to seek similar links yourself at a natural pace.
Another word of caution: your competitors’ links may not all be good links! Actively building links is something best left to serious SEO professionals who can avoid wasting effort. More importantly, a real professional will avoid bad links that could harm your reputation with Google!
Search engines increasingly use social media activity to evaluate websites. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Google’s own network, Google+ and other social networks may also have a role to play in a really comprehensive SEO strategy.
3.Your URLs or web page addresses
SEO is not just about your homepage, it’s about every page on your site, and each page has its own unique website address – its “URL”.
Having the right keywords in your URL shows people your page is relevant when it appears in search results. It can also help make sure people link to your site using the right keywords – which is very good for SEO.
Anything that harms the experience of people using your website is also bad for SEO. Search engines are just trying to find the best possible experience for people.
Would you want to click on the URL above? Can you see that it’s about dog food? Would you want to share it with your friends on Facebook? I wouldn’t. It’s too long, messy, confusing and irrelevant.
Every URL on your site can be changed and improved. Ask your SEO agency or your technical people about using permanent (301) redirects to create friendly URLs.
It’s also useful to see which URLs from your site have made it into Google. Often you’ll find unwanted pages such as discontinued products or other content which is bad for users and therefore bad for SEO.
In Google use the site: search operator to see what’s in Google’s index:
Power-tip: go to the last page of site: search results and repeat the search with omitted results included. Google may not show content it regards as duplicated or poor quality – but that is exactly the type of content you need to identify!
If you find URLs you don’t need Google to see then it may be best to stop Google from including them. The best way to do this is using the meta robots tag.
If that’s too technical, the next best thing is disallowing the unwanted URL in your robots.txt file. If you don’t have one you can create one very easily. Upload it so it appears at the correct URL: www.yoursite.com/robots.txt
Google’s own robots.txt file is here and it’s a good example of a thorough robots.txt file.
Your site’s robots.txt file should usually begin with this line of text at the top:
Adding another simple line of text to your robots.txt file should usually block the URL from appearing in Google search results.
If you want to block this url:
Then you need to add this to your robots.txt file:
4. Your titles and meta data
Your website’s HTML code contains a <title> and meta description tag.
Having the right keywords in the title may help your page rank slightly better for those keywords.
Having the right keywords in the title and meta description may also encourage more people to click through to your pages from search results – because the title and description are often displayed there and relevant titles and descriptions help show users what your page is about.
Another sort of title – the visible page heading – is also important and every good page should have one. It doesn’t have to be a <h1> tag, it just needs to be above the main body of the text on your page and ideally it should be a little larger than the rest of the text. Think of your titles as ways to help users quickly see what your page is about – not as a way to entice search engines.
Always think human, not search engine.
5. Unique content
“Copy” is just marketing speak for written text and for good SEO you should always display writing as text. It can be more difficult for search engines to read text that is displayed using an image.
If your product details are exactly the same as your competitors – perhaps because you all use the same manufacturer or wholesaler – then you have no competitive edge in your copy and may appear dull and irrelevant to search engines (and people).
This represents an opportunity to beat your competitors!
If your copy is not unique then you should seek to:
Rewording is the absolute minimum approach to dealing with duplicate content effectively.
Ideally you should also seek to expand the content, adding more information: describe the product in more detail.
Then enhance your page by adding yet more and richer content that your competitors don’t have. Take some more photos yourself. Shoot a quick video demonstrating what’s in the box or how the product works.
Video content is the most compelling and shareable content of all. It doesn’t need to be professional or flashy, just informative and helpful. As always, think of the people who need to use your site.
It’s easy to see if a piece of copy is unique. Using a small number of products, but ideally more than one, take a sentence of two from the start of the description of each and search for it in Google – but with speech marks or inverted commas either side, like this:
“NIKKOR 18x wide-angle optical zoom lens (25-450mm equivalent) – easily”
Here are the google.com search results for that query:
The part of the product description you selected will appear bold in Google search results, so duplicates are easy to see. I just picked this product at random – but clearly lots of websites are using exactly the same product description. It’s a very common SEO problem but so easy to resolve.
If you have a lot of products, or you’re busy, don’t be put off by the size of the task. Start with your best-selling 20% of products. Why not just optimise one product every month? Make sure you do start somewhere, ASAP.
Going the extra mile
The best content is compelling content. It could be as entertaining or useful as possible. Search engines find text easiest to deal with. But users often prefer images, or better still video. Always aim to add more compelling, richer content – in the best possible ways to please users and search engines alike.
Good SEO starts with providing good content for people that meets their needs.
It ends with making sure people and search engines know about it.
These fundamental principles of SEO will never change.