Search engine optimization can be a big mystery. When search engines keep their algorithms a secret, businesses are left guessing how best to optimize their websites to improve search rankings. It can be extremely troubling as a business owner when you see your site on page three, and your competitors ranking above you. Worse still is seeing spam sites ranking highly, actively providing a disservice to potential clients.
But you’ve got to focus on selling milk steaks, not on continuously tweaking your website content to try to get your rank higher. While we highly encourage hiring a quality SEO and internet marketing firm, that sounds a bit self-serving. Let’s say that you’re a small business, and you need to do the SEO work yourself. How do you know where to begin? Here’s a general guide to help you identify and address your biggest areas of weakness.
SEO Analysis Resource Recommendations
There are several free sites that you can plug your site into to get an idea of what’s going on. These sites are actually comparable to the tools that SEO professionals use to diagnose and track your website. Using the following tools can help you get a bird’s eye view as to what’s going on with your website.
Siteliner – This website is super handy in detecting issues with your content – primarily duplicate content and broken links. With Google’s Panda algorithm, there’s been a new focus on writing quality content, and not just copying the same thing over and over to try to “stuff” keywords onto your site. Siteliner will tell you what percent of your site is duplicate or similar content, and also if there are any outgoing or internal links that don’t work any more.
Ahrefs and/or Majestic – The backbone of your website’s authority is based on links. These tools use their own crawlers to travel across the internet and record how websites link to each other. When other websites, relevant to your product or service, link to your site, it sends a signal to search engines that your site has some “authority” on the subject. The free version of these tools doesn’t give you a full breakdown (you have to pay for the full set of data), but if your site returns no results, or worse, thousands that aren’t relevant, you have a backlink issue you need to work on.
Pingdom Speed Test – This is a useful tool that will tell you how long it takes for your site to load. If it’s more than 3 seconds, you need to address speed issues. It will also break down the various resources causing the slowdown, which will help you pinpoint which items need work. Speed is important to your users’ experience, making it a crucial search ranking factor.
WooRank, SEO CheckUp, Others – Using one of the many “check site SEO” tools is useful in identifying glaring errors, but take all of their recommendations with a grain of salt. They use standardized crawlers to check for common issues with your site, but they’re not always correct or thorough. For instance, if you use a plugin to manage your sitemap files (like Yoast’s SEO plugin), and it doesn’t use the most commonly used name, then it comes up as “missing” in these tools. If your sitemap is properly formatted and submitted, it’s fine, even if these tools say it’s not. They do help to identify issues like missing header tags, canonicalization of URLs, and other factors.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test – With more and more emphasis on websites being mobile friendly, Google introduced a simple tool to see if your site meets their quality guidelines. If it doesn’t, it will break down the exact issues causing your site to fail the test. The most common issue (especially if you use a content management system) is that your site blocks various resources that their crawlers need to be able to access. Here’s a guide on how to address it if that’s the case. If instead you’re having issues like font size, button spacing and text and images needing horizontal scrolls, then you need to consider a website redesign that will allow for a responsive adjustment according to which device it’s displayed on.
Addressing Content Issues
Search engines have a focus on content these days. They’ll crawl your site and determine what your site is about, and if your content is original and authoritative. Take some time to read the content of your website objectively, or have someone do it for you. If it’s clearly written to try to make robots happy, you’re doing it wrong. If it’s written poorly and full of spelling errors, this is a sign that the content isn’t high-quality.
Use Siteliner (listed above) to see if your content is repetitive. Then also take various snippets of your content and do a Google search using that snippet. If your site doesn’t come up first (or at all), or if it returns a large number of similar results, then you know that Google doesn’t put much value into your content. Or even worse, it’s copied. This is a clear sign that you need to immediately take the time to rewrite your website’s content.
Checking and Analyzing Your Links
Using backlink tools like Ahrefs and Majestic, as well as the link section in Google Webmaster Tools, you can get a good idea of how many and what kind of sites link to yours. If you have only a few links, you need to focus on building high quality, relevant links. DO NOT buy directory links or sign up for link-building services.
If you did link-building in the past, and a majority of the links to your site look fishy, are foreign, are exclusively blogs that don’t seem to have a particular topic, or are on unrelated sites, then you have a bad link issue. Also, if all the links pointing to your site have anchor text (the text you see in an article that links somewhere) that is clearly optimized for certain keywords, this requires a bit more work. You’ll have to go through, link by link, and try to get them removed from the sites they’re on, or disavow them directly through Google. If you don’t have any quality links mixed in, you’ll find yourself without a gain in rank as there’s nothing left to tell search engines that your site is authoritative.
There are myriad issues on your website that could be affecting your SEO. URL structure, inter-site linking, speed issues, canonical issues, and more. There’s no one good way to pinpoint exactly what to do, so we do recommend having a professional SEO firm give the site a look-over. If you have good links and content, it could be something simple causing an issue, or it could be a critical technical issue that needs to be addressed, so have someone take a look at it for you and give you advice as to what to do.
Your website is the lifeblood of your online business—and/or brick-and-mortar business!—these days. Take some time to look it over and see what you can do to improve not only the number of people visiting it, but also how they interact with it.