What if you only had 10 minutes to make an assessment of an site’s SEO efforts?
That’s often the case when people will ask me to “take a quick look” at a site for them from an SEO perspective. I usually look at the big on-page items, a couple of internal linking cases and finally their inbound links. Here’s how you can do it too.
Step 1. Pull up the site’s homepage. In this case, let’s use a real site – http://www.designbox.us/. This is the site for Design Box in downtown Raleigh where my friend Erin Conigliaro has her awesome graphic design team developing kick-ass logos, websites and other marketing coolness.
Step 2. Check your head. Check the title tag, the meta description and the meta robots tags. The title tag is the most important on-page SEO ranking factor. You want it to contain a keyword or two, your brand and really whatever you feel is most important. The title is what will appear at the tab for that page. Designbox has a simple title tag: Designbox.
Title: Simple but could be better. I would recommend that they add a tag line to the title. Maybe something like: Designbox | Raleigh’s best artists all under one roof. The idea being, a couple extra keywords, raleigh and artists are now highlighted.
The meta description is an often overlooked tag. Not only does it have some weight in where a page ranks in the search engine results, it is also often used as the blurb under the link to your page. Below is the Google search results for designbox raleigh:
Because there is no meta description for the homepage, the search engines have to make their best guess at a description for the site. They do that by pulling what they believe to important. In this case, the results are probably not as awesome as they could be.
Meta Description: Letting someone else tell the world what your page is about is a missed opportunity. You’re also missing a chance to craft a great call-to-action that will encourage click throughs to your site.
Finally, I always take a peak to make sure that the page is crawlable and indexable. The default is to allow any and all robots to come and index your site, so what I’m really looking for is that I don’t see:
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW">
Step 3. Validation. Check to see if the page validates via W3C’s validation service. In this case the Designbox homepage doesn’t validate, but none of the errors are terrible and could fixed quickly and easily.
Step 4. Internal Linking. See if the internal linking structure makes sense and is done with some thought. Are you linking to what is most important? Are you not linking to anything that ends with a “Coming Soon” page? The internal linking is average. It mostly comes down to missing an opportunity to feed the search engines better data.
Instead of a link saying “gallery”, why not at least use the title attribute in the anchor to say “Gallery of Designbox’s best work”?
Step 5. Inbound Links. Still the big daddy of getting to the top of the search engine results is incoming links to your site. There are 2 import factors to check. First, is the just the pure number of links pointing at your site. Second is the diversity of where those links are coming from. It’s better to have 100 links from 100 different domains that 10,000 links from 3 domains. What domains they originate from is also a very heavy weight that needs to be looked at. A link from an article in the News & Observer has more meaning than a link from a forum that is filled with spammy links.
You can check out your site, or even your competitors site using Yahoo’s Site Explorer. In Designbox’s case it looks like they have about 890 links pointing at them, but actually, many are repetitive, which usually means it’s a link in someone’s sidebar and thus getting counted on multiple pages. It turns out that there is about 42 domains linking to the designbox.us domain.
In all things links, more is generally better. More links from more people is the goal. Another goal is to have a variety of different anchor text pointing at you. Anchor text are the words that are actually hyperlinked. For Designbox.us the anchor text distribution could be better:
- 91 links (from 18 domains) link back with the text designbox
- 14 links (from 6 domains) us the term design box
- 20 links (from 5 domains) link the url www.designbox.us
Fixing anchor text requires work. You generally either have to tell people how you would like the link before they link to you, or you’ve missed out. If you know the person, try asking them to change a link that is just the url to something that you would like your site associated with.
For example, one of the most powerful pages linking to Designbox is the Core 77 Southern Conference page from 2005. The link back comes from the following:
If you had a design box what would it look like? DesignBox is democratic, creative outlet, and above all a collective of friends started by Ali Khalifa. (You may recognize Ali from Gamil Design.)
The above is super common linking, but what if the writer linked that so the entire sentence was the link? Many more keywords and ideas that are core to the Designbox mission. Search engines will take context from around the link, but the phrase that is the actual link is always valued higher.
Go look at your site. How did it do?
Photo by: Steve Grosbois
Dan London says
1 minute SEO audit.
1.Look at page of website and determine main topic of page
2. Google topic
3. See where site ranks for topic
4. If it isn’t in top 3, work harder.
The Meta Description is a huge opportunity to brand you business, not only does the search term in the Meta Description get highlighted in the SERPs but a good sentence will get you a higher CTR.
Phil Buckley says
@Dan – I hate to say this, but your #1 is the subject of my next post. Sometimes asking the question, what is the purpose of this piece of content can elicit a blank stare.
Jess Commins says
Great post, Phil… Thanks 🙂
Phil Buckley says
Thanks Jess, sometimes taking the first step is the hardest part of the journey.
Aly Khalifa says
Thanks for the tips!
Thanks for the great post, Phil. I have a question, though — including a title attribute in the anchor doesn’t have any bearing on SEO, right? Or do you just suggest it for usability?
Phil Buckley says
@Rachel – The benefit will be infantesimal at best. Given that the title is somewhat hidden, it’s far more easily manipulated and is thus not as trustworthy a metric. It’s worthwhile using to help the user, but I’ve never seen any proof that it makes any difference to rankings withing the SERPs.
Preston Racette says
Thanks for sharing these tips! Nice post!