Synopsis — Having an extensive search-engine-optimized-relation audit of your website done can be both inspirational and mind-boggling. Unless your site was originally designed with SEO top of mind, it’s likely that the audit will reveal a lot of areas that need change or enhancement to reap all the benefits that SEO can bring. It can be a daunting task to face, but an essential one. In his article, “Don’t Be Afraid Of A Brighter SEO Tomorrow,” Ben Leftwich approaches this problem with a 10-step process that will guide you through the implementation of the results of an audit in such a way that it will minimize stress and optimize (no pun intended) results. Even if all you have is a basic list of tasks to take on to optimize your website rather than an “official” audit, Ben’s article will help you prioritize the individual items needing action and keep you motivated to power through to completion.
The complete article follows …
Don’t Be Afraid Of A Brighter SEO Tomorrow
Conducting a thorough search engine optimization (SEO) audit of your site can be an eye-opening experience, but let’s be honest, it’s also terrible. Yesterday, before you got the results of the audit (either done internally or by an outside agency), you probably thought your site was in pretty good shape. Today, your website to-do list just grew by ten-fold, and trying to figure out where to start is giving you a headache. You stuff the audit in a drawer, and go home for the evening, hoping somehow the list will be smaller tomorrow.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve had this experience. SEO has many facets, and to make it more complicated, what you knew last year was tried-and-true probably has changed. So where do you start now that you have a mile-long SEO checklist to get through? What do you do tomorrow?
Step 1: Take A Breath
Seriously, I’m not joking. Take a breath and remind yourself that not every SEO task has to get done in one day. Probably only 0.01% of sites can fix all of their SEO issues in 8-12 hours, and that might be overestimating. Those who think they can are probably missing something. Take a step back, breathe, and really think through everything and everyone needed to make these fixes a reality. Take this time to determine the feasibility of getting all of these tasks done, and what buy-in you might need to get from upper management, if that is a concern.
Step 2: Set Up Your Tracking
You may be the most kick-ass SEO ninja in the world — able to optimize title tags and meta descriptions all day long — but if you’re not tracking your results, it doesn’t mean anything. Your boss or client won’t care, and instead of being seen as a hero, you are unlikely to get any credit for all the hard work you’re about to do. That’s why it’s crucial to double-check all your web analytics tracking, and make sure whatever platform you use (Google Analytics, Omniture, Urchin, etc.), that it’s set up properly. Only then will you truly be able to assess the before-and-after performance of your SEO efforts.
Step 3: Finalize Your Keywords
Any SEO audit worth its salt will start with keyword research. You may have the most optimized site in the world, but if your targeted keywords have zero search demand, it’s hard to be a viable business (or nonprofit for that matter). Above all else, make sure your keywords are relevant to your business and site content. Even if “Lady Gaga” has a huge amount of search demand, if you don’t have any content on your site about Lady Gaga, don’t try to optimize on that keyword. That’s an extreme example, but you’d be surprised how many companies try to optimize on a high volume keyword that has very little or nothing to do with their business.
Step 4: Specify Your URLs
Now that you’ve got your keywords chosen, which specific pages (URLs) do you want to show up highest in search results? Depending on the size of your site, you may have to specify 10 or 1,000 URLs. I’m not going to sugarcoat it — this part can take a long time, especially if you have a big site. But take your time figuring out these keyword and URL pairs (weeks, if necessary) because it will be worth it in the long run. Every other optimization technique you use going forward will be tied to these keyword and URL pairs — seriously, everything. Make sure you’re happy with these pairings, and the keywords are highly relevant to the content that is already on (or will be on) the specified pages.
Step 5: Determine Technological Limitations
Once keywords and URLs are finalized, and tracking is set up correctly, the last step before you actually start checking items off your list is to figure out any technological limitations you might have. These are almost always limitations with content management systems (CMS). Examples may be not being able to customize the meta data on a page or being forced to put your blog in an iFrame. If you run into these issues, and no option exists to change content management systems, be sure to let your boss or client know, cross off the SEO item(s) from your list that can’t get done for the time being, and keep notes on it for the future when the eventual site refresh or redesign happens. If the company has already been thinking about switching over to a new CMS, pile these technological limitations on, and help push them over the edge to make a change.
Step 6: Prioritize Copywriter Tasks
If you are a copywriter, that makes this step easier, but if not, make sure you become good friends with the one on staff. How much they are going to have to do depends on where your site is at the moment. That being said, focus on fixing at least the following items (in this order):
1. URL structure
2. Title tags
3. Meta description tags
4. Headers and sub-headers
5. Internal anchor text
6. Body copy
It’s easy to rattle off “body copy” as the last item here, but it’s much harder to actually make that extensive of a change across the site. Here’s the bottom line — don’t write your body copy for search engines, write it for people who are going to find the content helpful. Your site will be more valuable, making it more likely to rank high in search engine results for your targeted keywords.
Step 7: Prioritize Developer Tasks
Now it’s time to become close friends with your web developer. Again, depending on how much your web developer knows about SEO, or how much has been done already, you might not have a lot for them to do. Most developers are probably more accustomed to making sure a website is functional instead of worrying about search engines, so understand this might be a shift in thinking for them. But how should they prioritize their time? Here’s a few things to take on right away:
1. Website speed
3. XML sitemaps
4. Robots.txt files
5. Paginated URLs
6. Broken links
Usually, a lot of developer fixes can be made pretty quickly, but it depends again on if there are any technological limitations with your content management system.
Step 8: Optimize Media Files
Making sure your HTML content is optimized is a great first step, but if you really want to be an SEO champion of the world, you need to take it one step further and optimize all your media files. These files are likely to drive in traffic from sources you never imagined, and include:
Usually media files are optimized to sit alongside other content on a page (a chunk of body text, for example), but occasionally they will be powerful enough (content-wise) to stand on their own with unique keywords driving traffic to them. How you decide to optimize them (on copy-heavy pages or on their own) is ultimately a strategy question and needs to be considered carefully.
Step 9: Track Your Progress
Remember that sweet tracking system you put in place before you started optimizing title tags and PDFs? Now it starts to pay off. Set up custom reports in your analytics platform to track the keywords you have targeted and see how the traffic they are driving has changed over the last few months (with SEO, it makes more sense to think about changes in months instead of days or weeks).
Rankings are important too, but only so far as they drive more visits and additional revenue. Don’t get caught up in thinking you have to rank number 1 for every keyword you’re targeting. That’s a useless ego trip not worth the consternation, especially if your revenue numbers are strong in position 3 or below.
Step 10: Make Adjustments
The final step (although this is significantly later on) is to take a step back and evaluate all your work. Really start to ask yourself:
- Am I targeting the right keywords?
- Is this content as relevant and as useful as possible?
- Am I missing content that I need to drive more traffic?
It can be hard to admit you’ve been targeting the wrong keyword for the past six months, but it happens to everyone. Be smart enough to recognize how the landscape has changed or if you made a mistake, and make adjustments.
Tackling a large SEO project can be a daunting experience for anyone, but taking the time at the beginning to take a breath, finalize your keyword and URL pairs, and prioritize tasks for you or your team will make the whole process go significantly smoother. Just don’t forget that SEO success isn’t measured in days or weeks, it’s measured in months of consistent progress, so don’t be afraid to take that SEO audit out of the drawer tomorrow and get started.