So you want to do your own SEO audit and optimize your website for search engines. You want to tell your friends and colleagues that you’re an SEO pro; a bona fide Search Engine Optimizer. Most importantly, you want to rank on the first page of Google for all kinds of keywords that are relevant to your field and tap into that sweet organic search engine traffic that’s always on the lookout for a website/service/product like yours. This comprehensive series of posts is here to help you get started.
So let’s begin with a checklist. Whenever you do a proper SEO audit, you’re going to analyze the following:
A list of relevant and potent keywords is the core of any SEO campaign.
Substantial amounts of unique and relevant content spread out across several pages, something every website should have.
Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools Integration
Essential for any website owner.
Robots.txt and Sitemaps
Does your website have a sitemap.xml? Does it have a sitemap.html? Has that XML Sitemap been submitted to Google Webmaster Tools? The answer to each should be “yes.”
Are there relevant keywords in the meta fields that matter?
Are there images on the pages that you want to drive traffic to? Are they optimized for keywords?
Links (Backlinks and Internal Links)
Were there previous link building efforts for the site? Are there optimized links in the site’s content? Is this helping or hurting the site?
In today’s post, we will start by covering the first two items on the checklist: keywords and content.
First on the SEO audit list is keyword research. To make the most out of a website’s SEO potential, you’re going to want to come up with a variety of keywords that are relevant to each page that you’d want to bring traffic to, such as product pages or articles. The Google Keywords Tool is the free go-to place to conduct keyword research. There are other tools out there, some may even be better, but everyone should at least cut their teeth with this tool.
When coming up with keyword ideas, you can make assumptions about worthwhile keywords to target, but until you look up their search volumes, you really don’t know what you’ll be dealing with. As a general rule of thumb, the broader the keyword (e.g. “shoes” or “buy shoes”), the more search volumes they’ll pack. Get more detailed with your keywords, and you’ll see those search volumes drop (e.g. “used tennis shoes sheboygan wi”). That being said, if you’re a small business owner selling used shoes in Sheboygan, Wisconsin you’d be wasting your time trying to rank on the first page for “shoes.” Unless you’re equipped to ship those used shoes all over the world, you should stick with terms that are relevant to your specific clientele.
Those “long-tail” keywords might not have a lot of searches, but when someone does enter “used tennis shoes sheboygan wi” you’re exactly the website they’re looking for. SEO is all about making sure you’re easily found by those who want precisely what you provide. Even national or multi-national companies can get in on some long-tail keyword action. Building out location-based landing pages that target relevant regions and keywords is a common and effective SEO strategy.
So how do you get started with keyword research? Two things: brainstorm and list out some terms that you’d expect your clients to search for when looking in Google for your type of product.
Next, review the pages of the website for keyword ideas.
To explain what I mean by this, let’s continue our previous example. If we are dealing with a small business’ website specializing in used shoes in Sheboygan, we should look for keywords that pertain to different kinds of used shoes to vary our keyword targeting beyond “used shoes” and “shoe store” (terms that would be suitable for the homepage’s targeting in this particular example).
You want a varied list of keyword ideas, because it’s important to target a variety of terms. For starters, you can only optimize a specific page for so many keywords before you get diminishing returns (more on this in a future post). You also want to target a variety of terms if you’re going for long-tail terms with low search volumes. One long-tail keyword may not pack a punch, but get your website on the first page for dozens like these, and you’ll notice a difference in your site’s traffic.
So, returning to the concept of reviewing a website for keyword ideas, let’s say we’re doing an SEO audit for Sheboyganusedshoes.com. Let’s also pretend there are various category pages for the different kinds of shoes sold on Sheboyganusedshoes.com. You already have fertile ground for SEO. Jot those different shoe types down on your keyword ideas list. If the website is overly-simplistic and only features a page or two, recommend to the web owner (or to yourself if you happen to be the owner) that more pages should be created. SEO and usability(!) is all about content, content, content.
If the website contains category pages, such as “used tennis shoes,” “used running shoes” and “used sandles,” you’ll want to find suitable and potent keywords to optimize these pages for. You’re not always going to find relevant keywords with significant search volumes. That’s okay. It may not be your biggest priority, but you should optimize a site’s less search engine traffic-conducive pages anyway, because you never know when someone might come out of left field searching for something that’s less popular.
When you’ve gathered a lengthy list of keyword ideas, input them into the Google Keywords Tool and check out the search volumes. Those with zero search volume may not be worth the effort it takes to optimize your site for them. Save the ones that seem like they have some potential and get started on analyzing the SEO potential of the website’s content.
During your SEO audit, when reviewing a site for SEO potential, you have to look at its content and page structure. Content is extremely important, because Google determine’s a websites relevancy by analyzing its text (along with a few other elements).
So, let’s take a look at that website. Does the website have text? Is it minimal or lengthy? Are there many pages with a substantial amount of content (perhaps 300 words or more) or just a few?
If your answers to the above questions happen to be Yes (there’s text), (it’s) lengthy, and yes, (there are many pages with content), then congratulations! You have a website with strong SEO potential — so long as that content is unique!
By unique, we mean that you or the person who built the website didn’t copy and paste content from a competitor’s site. If you did steal someone else’s content, now is your chance for redemption. Replace this stolen property with honest to goodness original content, and the weight of the world will be lifted off your shoulders. That and Google will start to take your website seriously.
If you’re just not sure about the originality of a site’s content (perhaps your guilty conscience has repressed these shameful memories), or you truly don’t know, there are ways to find out.
Checking for Duplicate Content Method 1: Copy and paste a sentence of content into Google. Place this sentence in quotation marks (e.g. “Our bacon is made fresh using the finest ingredients from mother nature and is lovingly inspected by world-renowned bacon connoisseur and actor, William Shatner.”) and run a search.
Ideally, only one result should appear (yours). If nothing appears, either that content was just recently implemented, or the website in question has a possible crawling/indexation issue (again, more on that in a future post). On the other hand, you might see something like this:
That’s what a duplicate content problem looks like. You can’t expect Google to value your website over those other results if it’s filled with the same exact content.
Checking for Duplicate Content Method 2: Another tool you can use is Copyscape. Simply enter a URL from your website into the field, and Copyscape will show you matching results.
When you have a duplicate content problem, you either replace your content with something fresh and original, or you send a DMCA takedown letter to the thieving websites’ hosting companies.
If the website already has a wealth of original content, then you’ve got it made. Simply insert relevant keywords into the copy. Don’t overdo it — you may want to use a keyword density tool to measure how optimized a page is for a specific term. The common rule is that you want to aim for a 3% – 3.5% keyword density, but this often leads to copy that doesn’t read naturally and looks downright ugly. Use your judgment. If you’re only comfortable inserting a specific keyword once or twice in your copy, then just go with that. If a month down the road, you’re still not positioned as highly as you’d like to be in Google, then add another instance of the keyword and repeat the process until you get the results you’re looking for.
You also want to take a glance at the contents’ heading structure. A well-optimized page has a single h1 header, containing the primary keyword that the page is targeting, and then multiple h2, h3, etc. headers that follow. Usually, you’ll only need to make use of the h1 and h2 tags. Not sure what this means? Let’s look under the hood of a recent blog post for an example:
See those headers? Online reputation management at the top; reputation management a bit further into the body of the article. Looking at the page’s source code, you will find <h1></h1> and <h2></h2> header tags (highlighted yellow below). The h1, in particular, is a primary element of on-page optimization. It is the page title, after all. The rest of the h2s and h3s that follow are for subheadings. Just don’t stuff these with keywords, and try to make sure that there is only a single h1 header on the page. Having a proper header structure is important.
4/26/13 Update: The genius minds behind Copyscape have now released a beta version of Siteliner. Using this browser-based tool, you can now easily detect internal duplicate content problems (i.e. websites that copy and paste the same sections of content on multiple pages). Update your bookmarks, because you’ll be using this one very often!
So that concludes part 1 of the SEO audit series. Next week we’ll be getting more into the nitty gritty — breaking down a website’s key SEO elements and how to best utilize them to rank well in Google. Until then, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or contact a BBEX project manager.