2011 Search Engine Optimization Checkup

In the January, 2011 edition of Website Magazine, SEO Corner addressed the factors that influenced successful search engine optimization in 2010.

But before proceeding toward SEO domination in 2011, it is essential to review the current SEO state of affairs on your own website with a quick checkup. Sites both large and small will benefit greatly from removing barriers, ensuring relevance, determining rankings and setting strategic plans based on insights from the previous year.

Remove SEO Success Barriers
In a perfect world, all of your website's pages would be accessible by search engines and crawled with frequency. The issue most websites encounter, however, is that there are significant barriers in the form of diagnostic issues (e.g crawl errors). Removing these barriers or at least making an effort to reduce them will give search engines an easier time of crawling content and help refocus SEO efforts.

The first step is to identify the pages returning server errors - most notably anything in the 4xx or 5xx range of status codes - and start correcting the problems. Find pages with broken links using the free W3C Link Checker (https://wsm.co/fZsIGv), then either start building pages where none exist or implement a 301 redirect to send users to the appropriate destination. You will be pleasantly surprised at the impact this technique has on search engine rankings.

Another opportunity to remove barriers is to reduce the amount of duplicate content on your website. Those areas most susceptible to duplicate content are often title tags, dynamic URLs, meta descriptions and product descriptions. One particularly useful tool to aid in the fight against duplicate content is Xenu Link Sleuth. The tool provides information on broken links but the data can be exported for review of possible duplication issues. Another option is Yahoo Site Explorer.

Ensure Site Relevance in SEO
Websites can quickly suffer SEO irrelevance - particularly when those responsible for SEO rely on more edgy and freewheeling content development strategies. Perhaps the best tool available to ensure site relevance is provided by Google in its Webmaster Tools product. Google provides a glimpse into what it considers the most common keywords on your site. This information can be used to optimize content and ensure that it is focused around a central theme or topic. Perhaps more importantly, is that using the tool will reveal if the content is actually relevant (in the eyes of Google) to your website and its underlying objectives. Another quick and dirty option to the same end is to develop a tag cloud - even for individual pages - to determine relevance to the keyword target of the page. One of the best free tools is TagCrowd.com.

Determine Existing Rankings
One of the most egregious mistakes made by those new to the process of search engine optimization is the failure to realize that it is, in fact, a process - one that requires building upon incremental improvements over time to receive those elusive high rankings. Without knowing where a website ranks for a particular keyword at a given time makes it very difficult to know if the changes you are implementing are helping or hurting your overall efforts. Google Webmaster Tools provides insights into how a verified site is ranking for a variety of queries through its Search Queries report. This report will also reveal the number of impressions you are receiving versus the number of clicks - a good indication if it might be time to improve the quality of titles and descriptions. But there are alternatives to Google. Most, if not all search marketing software solutions offer some way to track rankings and dramatically cut the time necessary to do so.

Now that you better understand crawl errors, have a renewed focus on ensuring relevance to a central theme on your website, and are committed to determining your existing rankings, it is time to set a formal plan. Setting up regular (e.g. monthly) reviews of crawl errors, relevancy assessments and ranking reports will not only help cut down on the necessary SEO work of next year but improve your rankings in the short term, too.

About the Author: Dante A. Monteverde is a search strategist specializing in Search Engine Optimization. He founded SpiderBait.com in 1996 and has more than 12 years of SEO experience. Contact Dante at dante@spiderbait.com.