If you’re thinking of doing your own SEO, or even if you’ve already started, here’s a 14-point checklist you can use to guide you to better rankings and more targetted traffic in Google.
1. Are you using Google Analytics tracking and Google Webmaster tools?
2. Does your site have broken links?
Google doesn’t like sites with broken links as they impact the user experience, so get rid of as many as you can. There are many ways of checking but my favourite is Xenu, which is free.
Another place to keep an eye on is Google Webmaster Tools because not only does it highlight links that are broken between your pages, but also links to your website to pages that cannot be found. Since these links have some value to you, you’d do well to redirect them (using 301 redirect in your htaccess file) to the correct page.
3. Is your website code clean/valid?
Google does suggest in its webmaster guidelines that you use valid code although I wouldn’t list it as the most important ranking factor. You can check your website code is valid here: http://validator.w3.org/.
4. Are you listed on Google Places for Business?
Google Places for Business means free local traffic so don’t miss out and make sure you make your listing as rich as possible. Try to get customers to leave reviews for you, for more exposure.
5. Are you listed in other free business directories?
Check Yell, Freeindex, etc. Make sure you take advantage of as many web links to your website as they will allow (for example, Free Index lets you link to individual product pages). Avoid spammy directories and paid directories as these won’t help you and sites that only have links from low value directories are likely to suffer in the near future with Google’s algorithm updates.
6. Are you ranking for some relevant keywords?
Make sure these are keywords that people are actually searching for. You can use Google’s keyword tool for this, looking at the local search volumes (these are quoted per month).
There are three match types that appear as check boxes on the left hand side – broad, exact and phrase.
- ‘Broad’ means “tell me how many people are searching for roughly what I’m checking”.
- ‘Exact’ means (obviously) “tell me how many people are searching for exactly what I’m checking”.
- ‘Phrase’ means “tell me how many people are searching for something that contains the phrase I’m checking” – e.g. if I’m checking ‘plumber Nottingham’ then ‘find a plumber Nottingham’ would be included.
I use ‘phrase’ and ‘exact’, and I uncheck ‘broad’.
If you’re a small website, look at the possibility of local results first. It’d be nice to rank for terms like ‘plumber’ of course, but these are really competitive terms that take a long time and a lot of work to achieve, because there’s so much competition. So it’s good to start with local terms like ‘Derby plumber’, and build up.
I would look at targeting a small number of terms to start off with. Think what makes you the most money (profit) and try to rank for that.
You really want a top 3 result in Google to be hitting any decent traffic. Past the top 3, you’re looking at only 5% of the search volume.
To check your rankings, you can use a free tool called Free Monitor for Google by CleverStat. I also double check that the position I’m seeing is correct by searching in a Google Chrome ‘Incognito’ window (for anonymous browsing).
If you’re not ranking very well for terms, make sure your site has high quality original content, good links (see below) and is well optimised.
7. Does your website have a good link profile?
Google recommends in its webmaster guidelines that you “Make sure all the sites that should know about your pages are aware your site is online”. That’s a nice way of saying build links to your site. Links are a bit like votes – if a site links to you, it’s like it’s voting for you, saying that you have something good to offer.
Unfortunately linking is heavily abused, with people trying to get rubbish sites ranked higher than they should be in the search results. So Google values some links over others. The best links are from sites that Google considers relevant, authoritative and trustworthy. But these really valuable links are hard to build, and it’s not a bad thing to have links of lower value as long as that’s not all you have.
To see your link profile, use Open Site Explorer. To gauge how well you’re doing, use your most important keyword that you want to rank for, type it into Google, find the top 3 results and check their link profiles, comparing against your own. You may also like:
8. Are you using video to promote your site?
If there’s any possibility of making some ‘how to’ videos, these are an awesome way of targeting really difficult search terms in the search engine. I discuss promoting videos in ‘12 ways for small businesses to get more traffic, fast‘.
9. Are you using social elements to help others share/promote your site?
If you don’t have any social elements to your site at all, people can’t easily recommend, share or bookmark it. Google really values recommendations through its +1 button and has said in so many words that it favours sites who use that. Many people believe that there’s also a positive correlation between sites with social activity and good rankings (e.g. if people tweet/talk about and share your site a lot, it’s likely you’ll rank better), and Google recently rolled out a change in its algorithms that said hot, on-topic content would be bumped up the search results some of the time. How would it know that content was hot/on-topic if it wasn’t looking to social sites like Twitter for guidance? Social media/networking sites are becoming increasingly important for rankings so make sure you give people ways to tell others about you and your content. Find out more about building your social media following.
10. Do you have awesome, original content on your site?
Google are great because they tell you exactly how to rank well in Google. Here’s their guide – http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769. It’s pretty common sense stuff if you bear in mind that Google is just trying to give its users good websites. Recently, there was a Google leak as to their quality guidelines (http://www.seomoz.org/blog/16-insights-into-googles-rating-guidelines). There’s nothing new in there, but one of the main things I take from this article is the bit that says:
“Raters are instructed to rate relevance along a continuum with 5 options: “Vital”, “Useful”, “Relevant”, “Slightly Relevant”, and “Off-topic”.
Make sure your site includes help guides or resources that would persuade me as a quality rater that the site is ‘vital’ or ‘useful’. Also make sure your pages each have enough content – aim for 250-400 words a page. You may like:
11. Is your meta information properly formatted?
Every page has information that search engines use to understand a bit more about what’s on the page, called meta information. Two really important bits of meta information are the title and the description.
When I’m optimising a site, I like to make sure that the title is no more than 60 characters with the most important keywords at the beginning or early on, and the description is no more than 120 characters with the same important keywords early on.
Don’t waste premium space on your company name – Google does a damn good job of realising you should rank for that anyway. So put it after the key phrase that you’re targetting in the Title. Avoid any duplicate page titles and descriptions.
Xenu, the link checker I mentioned earlier, produces a report which shows you all your page titles – Google’s webmaster tools also makes recommendations when you have duplicate page titles or other issues with your meta information. These are under Diagnostics — HTML suggestions. If you subscribe to SEO Moz’s tools, you’ll also see in your reports which pages have duplicate titles and descriptions, as well as those which have very long titles.
12. Do you have sitemaps in all the appropriate formats?
Sitemaps help search engines find all of your pages. You can generate them for free here: http://www.check-domains.com/sitemap/index.php then link them up from somewhere like your footer. Your XML sitemap should be submitted to Google through Google’s Webmaster Tools as well.
13. Does your site load fast?
Google is all for giving a good user experience so favours sites that load fast. You can often make improvements simply by reducing the size of some of the images.
There’s a free scanner that also gives recommendations here: http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/
14. Could you grab more info about your visitors?
Do you have a mailing list so as to send out special offers to your customers or prospects? Mail chimp is a great way of managing this, it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers and really easy to use. You can get people to subscribe by putting a box on the website – for example, you could say ‘put your email address in here for 10% off’ (or whatever your offer of the month is).
Need help with any of these things? Contact me.