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SEO Cheat Sheet: 15 Common Oversights Found During Site Audits

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SEO. Inbound marketing. Content marketing. Whatever you call it, these are very simple terms for what has become a very complex job.

Just like the automobile, there once was a time when you thought nothing of doing your own oil changes, brake jobs, and (maybe if you were really handy) a little engine work. But times have changed. Just as cars have become more complicated and it isn't advisable in most situations for car owners to play car mechanic, so too has that time come in the world of online marketing.

No longer are you able to just grab a wrench and tinker inside, check what does or doesn't work, and think, "Meh, it will only break a little".

Today, not understanding how the numerous components of Google's algorithm work can break your website a lot. You might lose your homepage rankings and condemn your site to oblivion. Just ask the people who have yet to recover from Penguin 1.0, let alone 2.0.

Is it that complex, really? Yes. Some days it feels like what worked at breakfast has changed by lunch.

Should You Do Your Own SEO Anymore?

But I know this message is going to take some time to get through, to settle in – after all, you have a subscription to Moz and 10 newsletters, you surely know enough right? Well, some of you do.

But let's be honest. Some people really don't have the necessary know-how and skills to do their own SEO. Otherwise, right now lots of people wouldn't be desperately trying to recover from Panda, Penguin, Google penalties, shifts in the algorithm, or from using techniques or tactics they didn't know/care/understand would later come back to haunt them.

15 Things You Should be Doing on Your Site (That You Probably Aren't)

Is it time for you to call a professional? What follows is a list of the most common oversights seen or discovered during site audits every week. Check the list and see how you're doing.

1. Hosting/Server

hosting-server-issues

  • Does Google think you are the only site on that server or are there N to the N more on it with you? 
  • Does your site have down time? How much down time? 
  • Does your site use caching and/or compression tools to serve the site quickly?

Hosting

You should have some version of dedicated, virtual dedicated hosting or your own server. These types of hosting mean that when the search engine spider hits your site it thinks your site is all alone.

Tip: You want to keep your site alone in its room. Google has been known to devalue sites based on the company they keep on a server. Don't let hanging out with the bad kids hurt your site.

Servers

Caching/Compression make sure your site is loading in quickly and only downloading what is needed. Also make sure your uptime is as close to 100 percent as possible.

Tip: If your site is down less than 24 hours, you are OK.

2. Domain Name Resolution

301-redirectCheck your domain name. Does it resolve to one domain or many? Do you use the www or non-www?

Does your site's www, non-www and homepagename resolve to the same name? For example, a site uses the non-www version of its site domainname.com, but has not created 301 redirects for its www and pagename versions. Google now thinks it has three sites.

Make sure you choose a domain version and redirect the other homepages to it.

Tip: There is no general use case in which you would choose the pagename version.

3. Sitemaps

Ask yourself the following:

  • Does your site have a sitemap.xml that lists all indexable site pages
  • Do you update it regularly? When you have new content? Ever? Never?
  • Does your sitemap get uploaded to the server after creation?
  • Do you let the search engines know you have a new sitemap?
  • While we are talking sitemaps, if needed do you have separate ones for your images and on-site videos?

Sitemaps are important to help the search engines locate content on your site that it might miss on a simple crawl.

sitemaps-code

Tip: If you don't have a sitemap, your site will still get indexed, but this is the guide that tells the spider where all indexable pages are located, so make one (or two).

4. Robots.txt File

Do you use your robots.txt correctly? Do you get odd messages in the SERPs that show the page you thought was hidden from the spider, but shows in the description that it was not?

What you might not know: robots.txt files don't block your pages from being found. Robots.txt files are meant to prevent crawling and indexing of the site content, not indexing of page information.

Google Tip:

google-tip-robots-txt

The issue lies in the fact that if the page is in the robots.txt and you wanted it blocked from the search results the no-index tag cannot be read on the page, so the page URL is indexed with the description that explains the robots.txt blocked it.

Tip: You can fix this by blocking folder level sections in the robots.txt and using the no-index page code on the page level.

Google Tip:

google-tip-noindex

5. Page Speed

Are you checking your site's page speed? Do you know what rating you are given with Google's page speed tool? Have you checked your analytics values?

You may have heard that page speed is only helpful to 1 percent of site queries, but we've yet to meet a site that doesn't do better almost immediately by improving their page score to above a 90. Just do it!

Users who don't get their page downloaded in a second or less (3 to 4 is the max), are likely to abandon your site, so it helps you either way.

page-speed-overall-performance-summary

Tip: You want a 90 and above if you can get it. Make sure you don't go below 85. There is no hard and fast rules on this, just personal experience.

6. Site Crawl

Use a tool, such as Screaming Frog, to run a crawler through your site and complete a site-wide check for the following:

  • Is your anchor text written properly?
  • Are your redirects handling properly?
  • Do you have site crawl issues?
  • Do you have broken links (coming into your site, going out, or in images)?
  • Are your meta tags too long, too short, duplicate or non-existent?
  • Are your title tags too long, too short, duplicate, over-optimized, or non-existent?
  • Are you using the alt text in your alt attribute correctly?

screaming-frog-site-wide-check

Tip: Using a large-scale site crawler like Screaming Frog helps you see site-wide issues quickly with one-click shareable reporting.

7. Duplicate Content

When is the last time you checked your site's content for duplicate content in the SERPs?

Your content may be 100 percent original, but that doesn't mean your content hasn't been duplicated somewhere or that someone hasn't scraped your site. You should do regular checks on your site content.

Tip: Use sites like Copyscape to check for scraped content, though you should also do a hand review. Some copy is scraped into Flash and can be read by Google, but not Copyscape.

8. Canonicalization

decision-matrix-duplicate-content

Image Credit: Web PieRat

Speaking of content, have you checked your site to make sure you have properly implemented your canonical tags? Do you have canonical tags?

Canonical tags can tell Google:

  • That the content you spent all that time writing is yours.
  • That these N duplicate pages on our site are really copies of an original page.

Tip: Canonicalization is the only way, at this time, to tell Google you own said content. Don't let your site or anything for that matter, leave your site without it (includes syndication).

9. Content

Content is one of the most important parts of your site health and authority. Without great content you might find it difficult to position your site well within its term set and even more difficult to find quality users who want to spent time with your pages – and no one likes to be left alone on a Saturday night.

  • Is your content informative? 
  • Do you create original, unique, relevant content on a regular schedule? 
  • Do you update content other than just the blog page?

You need fresh, unique, original, relevant content added to your site on a regular basis. While the blog is a great place to do this on a site, you need to add to the site in more places than just the blog.

Tip: Make sure your content is longer than 600-700 words (or at least most content) on your site. "Thin Content" will likely get you penalized and since that just makes for a bad day, don't skimp here, it will just make you sad.

10. Usability

Have you tested your site for usability? Is it easy to use? Can users find their way around simply? Do they know what your site is about in a "blink"?

  • You have less than 3 milliseconds to establish trust with users.
  • Your site design should pass the "blink" text. Close your eyes. Open them. You should be able to tell what your site does and where to go in that one second after you open them, if you can't re-examine your homepage and site pages for proper site pathing.
  • Make sure your site highlights the most important site paths.

new-website-design-cartoon

Tip: Before you add/change anything on your site pages or design ask yourself:

  • Does this make my site functionally better for users?
  • Does this make my site better for search engines?
  • Does this help me make money?
  • Does this inform users?

If the answer to these questions is no, re-examine why you are adding to and/or changing the site. It isn't likely that the add/change will be beneficial to you or the users.

11. Your Analytics

Your analytics can tell you a lot about your site health in terms of the search engines and users long before other data sources.

  • How often do you check your site analytics? 
  • Are you using Google? 
  • If not, do your analytics give you granular data? 
  • Are you comparatively checking your site metrics?

Aside from just your standard visit/page view graph some of the things you can review in your analytics are:

  • Keyword Queries: Are you being found on the searches you think you should? Now for many this will be hidden in the "not provided", but it can at least give you an idea how you are being found and if that has changed dramatically since the last comparison period. Large changes here can indicate site changes elsewhere. Red flags are often found here.
  • Organic vs. Non-Organic Searches: How are your organic searches and one what engines? Always check your organics, even when your numbers look OK. Other metrics such as direct, or referral sources could be sending in traffic large enough to hide a downturn in site visits.
  • Branded vs. Non-Branded Searches: Are your site branded visits down? You might need to see if you have had a change in your offsite marketing or check your SERPs for ads trading off your brand listing. One client was losing 10% of their traffic from a site buying main keyword and branded terms, then displaying the ads for short periods of time over months. Their loss of traffic was due to AdWords, not a change in the algorithm as they had suspected.
  • Conversion Pages (if you have them): Have your conversions gone up or down? Did you make a change to your site or marketing plan that would account for this variation? Check your conversion metrics. This is the canary in a coal mine, if your conversions are down significantly and it isn't just because it is 4th of July, this is a red flag indicating more review needs to be done.

Tip: There is a wealth of data in your analytics that can inform everything from market strategy to how go glean 100,000+ users off the Google logo on a holiday (true story). Don't just check site visits, they can be misleading and you might be missing out on information that will keep your site away from rocky shores and steaming nicely along.

12. Webmaster Tools

google-webmaster-toolsAre you using Google Webmaster Tools? And Bing's? If you are, do you know what the data is telling you? Are you paying attention to your messages?

Webmaster tools can provide some fairly immediate and valuable information about your site including:

  • Messages from Google telling you why it just dropped your site down in the index.
  • How many pages are being indexed.
  • How many pages are being crawled, have ever been crawled, been dropped by you and are removed.
  • What queries are used to find your site.
  • What links are being used internally.
  • What links are being pointed at your site (and even if they are redirected through another site).
  • How Google views your site.
  • What changes up/down there are to your page position on average.

Tip: Webmaster Tools should be checked every day and thoroughly once a week or more. The data in here can inform marketing strategy, prevent a negative site link attack, help you control how Google crawls your site, and much more. There is a wealth of information in these tools and proper use can be the difference between failure and success.

13. Social Media

Social media is less a direct ROI metric and more the assist to the basket. However, this doesn't make it less meaningful.

Studies show engaged customers make loyal customers and its effect on ROI is often much greater than thought. So make sure you have sat down and talked about your social media plan, how to implement it, what voice you will use and what your strategy will be.

Tip: Make sure you allow users easy methods for sharing your site content, not just follow or like you, across all social media channels. Then use this in your integrated media plan to promote all your channels throughout your marketing activities.

14. Tagging

Are you using schema tagging? Do you use rel=author? Do you know what schema tagging is? Do you know how rel author can affect your site metrics?

knowledge-graph-matt-cutts

Schema tags are tags that help the search engines pull data from your site and place it on their pages. In Google, you can see this in the "Knowledge Graph" display on the right side of the SERPs.

kristine-schachinger-sew-author-google-serp

Author tags allow Google to associate a real person with your content. Are you using author tagging on your blogs, your site? When you do Google adds an image to the left of published content associated with the author, this image helps to increase user click-throughs from the search results. This helps your site metrics and your SEO.

Tip: Schema tagging feeds a new type of search in Google's toolbox called entity search. Make sure to implement schema tagging on your site; you risk getting left behind if you don't. The site schema.org has full documentation on how to use schema tagging.

15. Backlinks

backlinks-reviewed-cumulative-view

When is the last time you ran a link profile check on your site? Do you know what your percentage of good links to bad is? Do you know how negative link SEO works on a site and what to do if it happens to you?

Links are the most scrutinized part of the Google algorithm today. How you acquire them, at what speed, from where and from whom can all affect your site health and yes a competitor can attack your site with negative links.

It only takes X percent (I know, but am not sharing) to cause your link profile to go from healthy to ill. Not keeping an eye on this part of your site is one of he fastest ways out of the engine at either the keyword, page or site level.

Tip: Many people have been writing that links are dead and just write good content to obtain links.

  • Links are not dead (and social is not the new link building it is the cranberry sauce to the turkey dinner, nice to have, just not the meat.) 
  • While you should never buy links, you will be waiting years to obtain the links a site needs to position in moderately to highly competitive markets, so you will have to find some method for acquiring them if your business model needs to have position along keyword terms.

The key to successful link acquisition: it must look natural. If you aren't sure how this works, don't attempt at home. Hire a professional.

So How Did You Do?

Are all the above points factored into your SEO/inbound marketing plan? If you do the work, you know, you see these all the time.

For those of you who dabble in SEO, did you do well? Did you feel you could answer these questions and implement the solutions?

Or, are you missing some vital information to correctly answer some/many/all of the questions? Feeling a bit lost or in over your head? If so, it's OK.

Actually, all 15 of the above items are only a portion of what a good SEO professional does to optimize a website's presence, health, authority, and position. Hopefully it gives you an idea of the depth and breadth of the job at hand – which is why SEO isn't cheap.

Today's headlines all talk about content marketing, social, and the latest new, shiny thing, but the SEO essentials remain the same.

All site owners should know how SEO works, and understand the services they receive. However, if you're tacking on SEO at the end of your budget process and if you don't start thinking about SEO (either doing it yourself or hiring a team, firm, or in-house person) until after you launch your site, you might be one algorithm change away from a severe penalty.

Your Website Needs a Skilled SEO Mechanic

Unless you really understand what you're doing, you wouldn't try to fix your own car – especially when a mechanic has the necessary skills and knowledge to do the job. It may hurt a bit to pay the bill, but your car will last longer and run more smoothly when you stop doing the job wrong.

An SEO professional is a mechanic for your website. Don't seek one out after you've already run your website into the ground. Do some preventive SEO maintenance.

By seeking out the assistance of a skilled SEO professional from the beginning, you'll save yourself the heartache of losing your positioning on Google, which can force companies to survive several uncomfortable months (or years) – or even make a perfectly healthy go belly-up in short order.

Admitting you need help is the first step and the best way to make sure your next brake repair doesn't require a complete engine overhaul.


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