What SEOs Want From a Web Grader

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Many in the SEO industry mourn the passing of the “simpler” days of SEO. It was never an easy job, but when Google got serious about penalizing spam and everything else that is covered by Penguin, Panda, and various other updates, SEO became a far more complicated process.

Most free Web grader tools that are available today were developed in the years before Penguin, Panda and “Mobilegeddon,” the mobile-friendly algorithm update that is just now making its mark — they don’t give SEOs the insight that they so desperately need.

An SEO Focus Group on Web Graders

In April of 2015, several SEO professionals participated in a virtual Focus Group on what SEOs want from a modern Web grader. They had plenty of advice and feedback on what a Web grader should look like in 2015, which is quite different from what was needed in 2012. Not surprisingly, every respondent mentioned the desire for full-scale insight into how they’re doing with inbound links.

Every interviewee expressed a desire for a Web grader that delivers actionable intelligence on inbound links. Jordan Schneider of TechnologyAdvice envisions a “Backlink Balance Grader,” i.e., a tool that holistically grades the strength of a website’s backlink profile. Schneider said, “I know Moz and ahrefs offer authority scores, but what I’m talking about it a little more granular than that. Obviously for people who are using link-building tactics, maintaining authenticity with their links is important, but it’s not very easy to measure that level of authenticity. A score that gave you an idea of how your profile (relative to competitors’) looked in terms of overall diversity. It could calculate nofollow vs. follow, targeted vs. non-targeted anchor text, branded anchor text, how evenly spread those links are across pages on your domain, and tell you how authentic or artificial your backlink profile may appear to a search engine.”

While some Web graders do provide information about inbound links, to deliver the level of detail that Schneider is after, the current crop of free Web grader tools are due for an overhaul.

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Mobilegeddon Fallout

A common theme in focus group responses: The need for Web graders to help SEOs understand exactly what to do now that Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update known as “Mobilegeddon” is upon us. Zak Becker of Inbound Marketing Agents said, “Any website grader should include strong attention to some of most common mobile optimization mistakes companies of all sizes make. Speedy load times and responsive design for mobile devices are crucial, but many organizations make a few other common mistakes. These can include blocked JavaScript and images and mobile-only 404s. Many marketers have no idea that some of their site pages display effectively on desktop devices but load an error message for phones and tablets. Cross-platform testing and website grading is critical.”

One-hundred percent of respondents want a Web grader that helps SEOs optimize for mobile. How the mobile-friendly update will play out remains to be seen, but Web graders of 2015 and beyond must give SEOs information on how they’re doing in terms of mobile optimization.

Contextual Relevance

It’s all about semantics, according to Kristina Maglova of Hop Online: “Search engines are gradually going beyond sorting documents purely based on matching exact keywords in content. Now, they can better calculate the relative connectivity between words, phrases, and topics depending on their co-occurrence in Web documents. In 2015 semantic connectivity and topic modelling will be increasingly important. Existing SEO graders do not provide any information about how close a website or a page is to a certain topic or set of topics. SEO professionals will definitely need a semantic connectivity to grader in 2015 and beyond.” And from Kent Lewis of Anvil Media Inc.: “Measure context over content. One of Google’s latest pushes is to understand the contextual relevance and themes of pages, vs. keyword density. This includes multiple forms of media (audio, video, images, and text). Graders that can understand the contextual elements and consistency of website content will provide tremendous insights into the likelihood of a website ranking well in search results.”

Beyond a website’s context, reportedly, Google wants to understand the accuracy of content. Web grader developers will need to keep an eye on the progress of “Knowledge Based-Trust” as a rankings factor.

How’s My Call to Action?

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Marketers can find thousands of blogs and articles with advice about best practices for a call to action — what works best, what message drives people to take action, and so on. SEOs want a Web grader that analyzes how well the call to action they’ve selected is working in combination with all other elements of the website. Kent Lewis of Anvil Media Inc. would love to see a Web grader that can automate that process: “At the end of the day, a website should be designed to create a lead or sale. Graders that evaluate the efficacy of calls-to-action will be successful in the long run. Currently, we have to manually assess the position, design, and messaging around a given call-to-action on a website. Automating this process would be magical.” Mike Juba of EZSolution also wants a Web grader that gives insight as to whether the website is making “good use of calls to action.”

Evaluating the performance of a call to action is critical and can be done with A/B testing. A Web grader with the capability to do a comprehensive report on the success, or failure, of a call to action and all the factors that work together to drive leads and sales, would be magical!

Lose the Window Dressing

Conventional Web graders, those developed pre-2012 or thereabouts, report details that, according to Takeshi Young of Optimizely are “useless.” Young would like to see Web graders that “report on the presence on rel=publisher and whether it is implemented properly, Schema.org semantic markup for thing such as reviews, phone numbers, and social profiles, grade the page load speed, ensure that the site is mobile-friendly, but NOT report on useless things such as meta tags, h2s, keyword density, and text-to-code ratio and other rubbish which don’t impact SEO rankings.” And from Jeremy Meindl of Meindl Consulting Inc.: “The fundamental problem with the current website graders is that they only report on the most basic of info; pages with duplicate or missing title tags, text ratio, etc.” Meindl also thinks that “more of a comparison approach should be taken; comparing a site to the other sites out there on every conceivable metric (onsite: internal linking structure, logical page flow, meta tags offsite: links and DA and PA of those links).”

SEO professionals know what really matters and want to get right to the data that will help them improve rankings.

Conclusion

As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This Web grader focus group demonstrated that Web grader designers/developers need to stop and look around more often than every three or four years and update the Web grader’s capabilities.

With the fast pace of digital marketing, the shelf life of a Web grader is much shorter than it used to be, and the demands so much greater.

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