HomePostsNov 29, 2011

Improve Site SEO in 3 Steps: Analysis, Keywords & Monitoring

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I’ll just say it right up front: the target audience for this post is for business owners and entrepreneurs who are online and understand the importance of optimizing their site for search but aren’t sure where to start. If you’re unconcerned with search traffic, that conversation is for another day. If you’re looking for in-depth topics, start with one of my other SEO posts like Choosing Keyword Phrases for Site Content. You know you’ve got a problem but you don’t know how to correct it. Don’t worry, Josh Can Help.

Think of yourself at the bottom facing up...Once the SEO bug bites, it’s tough to shake the feeling that you’re not doing something – or anything – right. There are stated, universal things one can do to improve ranking but the black-box nature of search engine algorithms makes for a tense situation, especially if you’re already ranking well for a few key terms. Combine this mysterious environment with the stories everyone has about the almighty Google fist striking a site completely off the ranking pages and you have a recipe for abject paranoia.

Trust me, I totally understand the fear. I’ve seen the penalties first-hand and have learned from my own mistakes. I’ve also seen what a misinformed and out-0f-date SEO practitioner can do to a site and it’s not pretty. It’s no wonder why some business owners are paralyzed.

But there is, in fact, a way out. It’s not through weird tricks, paid links, or slight of hand; it’s through careful analysis, modest code fixes, intelligent keyword research, coherent content planning, and regular monitoring. The plan I outline below is the road to good SEO. Following these steps correctly are guaranteed not to break anything or hurt your ranking and, in the vast majority of cases, will lead to more traffic from search engines.

I should mention… I help business’s navigate these three steps on a regular basis. If you’re interested in getting help, click “Improve Findability” here.

Step 1: Current Site Analysis and Improvement

The very first thing we need to do is understand where we’re at now. We can’t, of course, fix anything if we don’t know what’s wrong. But we also need to know what’s right. Not only that, we need to know where we’re starting in order to see the improvements we’ve made.

Most of this analysis relates directly to SEO but some of it relates back to general good practices for websites. While a few of these changes might not move you up or down on the search engine results page (SERP), they will improve your interaction with users and help you get the most out of the search engine traffic you’re getting. What I’m saying is that you won’t regret making improvements in any of the categories below.

1) Site code review

You can choose keywords and write blog posts all day but if the code of your site is constructed poorly, then you’re wasting your time. A proper code review consists of:

2) Analytics review

If you don’t have some kind of analytics package installed on your site (and I’ve definitely been approached to improve sites without it), then you have no idea what’s going on with your site. Step one, here, is to install something (Google Analytics is an excellent, free option) and wait a few weeks to gather data. Once we have that, it’s time to see the good, bad, and ugly.

3) Other miscellaneous checks

There are several more things we’ll want to do to make sure we understand everything that’s going on with the site:

4) Compile problems, set priority, and fix

Depending on what platform you use for your site and how tech-savvy you are, these changes will have differing levels of importance. The optimum, of course, is to fix everything but not everything is worth your time. Put all the changes together in a list and figure out the ones that will have the greatest impact on your site’s performance. IMHO:

  1. Start by installing analytics and Google Webmaster Tools if you haven’t already
  2. Have a look in Google to make sure your site is appearing correctly
  3. Next, move to major code issues like missing DOCTYPEs, duplicate or missing page titles, and missing header elements
  4. Look for and fix broken links
  5. After that, the rest is just a matter of how big the problem if and how difficult it is to fix each one

Step 2: Research and Select Keywords

Now that your site is running the way it should, it’s time for the really in-depth SEO task: keyword choosing. I wrote a thorough post on choosing keyword phrases for your content which sums up everything you’ll need to know about the process. I have a few more general tips to add, though…

Again, this is where to start for choosing keywords. Step 4 at the end will tell you where to place those words once you find them. You should look to do the whole process for each one of your existing content pages … static pages and blog posts alike. Make sure to keep track of what page got what keyword so you know what to look for in Google and in your analytics.

Step 3: Monitoring, Experimenting, Modifying and Link Building

This last step is the ongoing part of this whole process. Step 1 is a one-time analysis, assuming you were able to permanently correct all of the problems you found. Step 2 speaks partly to the initial research but will be repeated with what you find out here.

Explaining this completely would take way more than just a blog post so I broke it out into a few components below. All of these work together to help you monitor keyword performance, find issues, and make subtle changes to improve ranking. I have them listed in order of priority for folks that don’t have all day every day to watch their pages bounce up and down in ranking. Start at the top, find efficiencies to make it faster, and keep on top of it.

1) Watch your analytics (properly)

This, really, is the one thing you have to do. Improving site SEO is really about one main thing: driving more people to your web pages. If the people aren’t coming then there is something wrong. Look for a few things to happen:

Watch the pages that start to perform well after a few weeks and try to move the strong keywords into prime locations (beginning of titles and headers). Changes should occur within, at most, a month so optimize, wait, check, rinse, repeat.

I should note here… as your traffic from search engines increases, you might notice your overall bounce rates increasing and pages per view decreasing. This is characteristic of most search traffic: they find what they need and leave quickly. This isn’t to say that this traffic is low quality, just that they’re looking for something specific and it you don’t provide it, they’re gone.

2) Monitor ranking, links, and errors

You can do some of this in Google Webmaster Tools but the easiest, most comprehensive way is with SEOmoz (or similar). The few things that I make sure to track on a regular basis are:

You also want to make sure to check in with Google Webmaster Tools on a regular basis as well as it can give you some great insight into incoming links and other attributes. Make sure you’re checking in regularly on:

3) Watch your incoming requests and engagements

More comments? More post likes? More incoming calls? This, of course, is the endgame. Keep track of the number of requests you’re getting and watch for a boost.

4) Build more links

How’s that for an afterthought? As a site owner you should always be looking for ways to increase the number of links pointing to your site. I wrote a nice post on incoming links and how to build better ones here. That’s a great primer if you don’t really understand the concept of links or you’re not sure what types of links you need.

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