Whether you mark it by Labor Day or the Autumnal (Fall) Equinox, summer is coming to an end — which makes this a great time to give your website an SEO cleanse and recharge the old batteries. Here are 8 things you can do to strengthen quality.
1. Fix Errors Listed In Webmaster Tools
Both Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools provide diagnostic reports listing errors on your website. Both search engines alert you to technical issues that they monitor which might diminish visibility.
Just an FYI: Bing takes this seriously. In my conversations with Bing engineers, they emphasize the importance of technical quality. Google tends to telegraph that as long as it can crawl your content, their algorithms will sort out what’s important and what should count. (As an example, Matt Cutts recently said not to worry about duplicate content unless it’s spammy.)
My advice is this: Don’t assume a bot is smarter than you. Do everything in your power to clean up all crawl and HTML errors, and be sure to fix content issues like duplicate pages either by removing pages or adding canonical tags.
2. Update Your CMS, Plugins/Modules & Templates
Is your content management system up to date? Are you using current search engine tags and structured data?
Begin by updating your content management system (CMS) and plugins. Review each update to determine if it adds SEO functionality and figure out whether or not you need to provide additional information. For example, if an update adds Google Author Tags, you will likely have to provide links to each writer’s Google+ profile.
Updating the CMS and plugins or modules is not solely beneficial for SEO. As people discover security vulnerabilities, the CMS publishers patch these and include them in their updates. Not updating your CMS may leave your website open to hacking.
If a plugin has not been updated in six months, visit its CMS listing or webpage to see if it is still under development. Plugin authors tend to be less fastidious than CMS publishers, so it’s important to keep tabs on them. If a plugin discontinues or appears abandoned, it may be time to find an alternative. Yes, this can be a pain. Then again, if no one updates your plugin, who is watching for and fixing security vulnerabilities?
Getting back to SEO: Look for plugins or modules that manage SEO data and inject optimization into your CMS generated content. For WordPress users, an excellent example is the Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin. What gets managed by the CMS and what requires a plugin or module varies from CMS to CMS, but SEO managed from plugins typically includes:
- 301 redirects
- Canonical URLs
- Caching and minifying
- Formatting title tags (ex. adding the company name to the end of all titles)
- Authorship markup
- Social media links and voting buttons
- Facebook Open Graph tags
- Twitter Cards
- Short codes to inject standardized content such as schema.org formatted addresses
Running a search for your CMS name plus “SEO plugins list” or “SEO modules list” should help you find what is available for your content management system. Hint: Limit your search to documents within the last year or you my get overwhelmed with outdated results.
If your site uses CMS templates, make sure they utilize the newest SEO features your CMS offers. While your CMS may include some of the newer tags automatically (provided they have the data to insert), other SEO tags or markup might require adding a CMS hook into one or more templates.
A hook is a snippet of code that the CMS recognizes and replaces with data. For example, [date:yyyy-mm-dd] might become 2013-09-01. Similarly, [authorship] might become <a href=”https://plus.google.com/109412257237874861202? rel=author”>Google</a>.
Alternatively, you may need to add some markup into your template, such as the new Schema.org markup for organization logos:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization"><a itemprop="url" href="http://www.example.com/">Home</a><img itemprop="logo" src="http://www.example.com/logo.png" /></div>
Because it is impossible to list all the updates for every CMS:
- Review the update documentation for your CMS to determine what SEO enhancements and updates were made and what you need to do to implement them.
- Review your SEO plugins’ or modules’ updates and documentation.
- Search for SEO plugins or modules specific to your CMS that you should be using. Run a query for your CMS name plus “SEO plugins list” or “SEO modules list” and limit your search to the last year.
Keep in mind that some markup must be done at the page- or content-level. Include Schema.org markup on your contact page and provide reusable HTML/machine readable markup templates to writers of applicable content (like job listings).
3. Social Media Links
Do your pages link to your important social media profiles? Are the links prominent? Are they embedded in your website and (if you have them) applications or tools?
Without implying a direct path, high rankings are partially attributed to social media.
An active social media audience is more likely to like, share and tweet your content, which in turn can lead to traditional offsite SEO signals like links. An active social media presence can also get noticed by the media and reporters. As a result, your business becomes more likely to get coverage (along with high authority links) when you have actual news, such as a product launch or major release.
My suggestion is to add important social media links where appropriate, including:
Link prominently where website visitors will see, at the top of your pages or sidebar. Use familiar icons to keep the necessary page space concise. There are lots of beautiful, free icon sets available on the web.
I am in favor of prominent visibility, rather than placing the links at the bottom of the page. My belief is that people looking for content on your site will stay on your site. The people who click on those links, and thereby leave your site, will already be fans or have interest in your brand. They’ll be back.
4. Page Speed
Run a page speed audit. A search for Page Speed Test Tools will reveal lots of ways to do this. (I especially like Google’s tool.) The Yahoo! Developer Network has an excellent list of best practices for speeding up your website.
One of the frequent culprits I run across is bloated image size. Going through your website, page by page, checking and then optimizing each image one by one is admittedly daunting. Kraken.io can do most of the work for you. They have terrific Chrome and Firefox extensions. Or, run a crawl of your site with Screaming Frog, export the image URLs, then paste them into Kraken.io. Download the results as a zip file then upload them into your website, replacing the old files. (I suggest doing this in small batches — and always preview the results before you replace published images.)
Also for WordPress users, Michael Gray just wrote a nice piece on speeding up your website.
5. Update & Accelerate Your Content Plan
There is a reason Content Marketing is all the rage. Google and Bing want to present searchers with high quality content that satisfies their queries.
Many of the business pages you want to rank are not particularly link worthy. Publishing a regular stream of link worthy content will grow your brand awareness, site traffic and links. Those links will increase your site’s domain authority and make it easier for less link worthy pages to rank.
Give visitors the information they’re looking for.
Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site.
When it comes to creating compelling content, the best piece of advice I can offer to most businesses is to write less about your products and services and write more about the things your customers want to accomplish. Focus on the upper levels of the marketing funnel: awareness and trust. This is where the opportunity to build search engine authority is greatest.
If you want to learn more about content marketing I suggest:
- The Advanced Guide to Content Mareting by Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragon
- Content Marketing – How to Build an Audience that Builds Your Business by Copy Blogger (free sign-up then check out the eBooks)
6. Organize Link & Social Partners
According to Moz’s study (see chart above), link building efforts are still perceived to be one of the strongest factors influencing search engine rankings.
One of the best ways to get links on blogs and social media is to form a link posse. A link posse is a group of content creators that seek genuine opportunities to use and link to each others’ content.
How do you organize a link posse? The easiest way is to begin with natural relationships. Do you belong to a local membership chapter like the Association of Fundraising Professionals, International Association of Business Communicators, or Public Relations Society of America? If your startup is funded, what companies share the same investment sources? What local companies or professionals are on Biznik? Who are your business customers or suppliers that blog? With a little brainstorming, I bet you can come up with a great list of candidates.
The rules are straightforward. Follow each other on social media sites. Create and monitor a Twitter list. When posse members post about new content, such as blog articles and resources, like, +1, share and retweet. It’s okay to be liberal on social media as long as it does not appear spammy to your own audience. If you are about to promote content that you would want an influencer to share, email the posse and ask them to tweet, like, +1 and share.
When it comes to cross linking, do not engage in blatant reciprocal linking. Do not link to each other’s home page and don’t link to every blog post created by every member of your posse. A smart link posse keeps track of each others’ content then references and links to other members’ articles or pages when it makes sense to do so, naturally, within context.
Finally, use each other’s content to inspire new content on your own sites that can intelligently reference and link to other posse members’ content. This is not about manipulating search engine rankings. It is about thoughtful content building and collaboration.
7. Review SEO Tools
- Make certain you’re getting the most of your SEO and analytics tools.
- Review your reports and tracking. Update or recreate as appropriate.
- Are you familiar with all the upgrades and changes on the SEO tools you use?
- Have you checked out the other SEO tools on the market?
Each year, SEO and analytics tools die, change and join the market. This is a good time to review what is out there and update your arsenal. For example, Majestic, Moz and Raven all released major upgrades during the last two quarters. Google replaced its keyword tool with Keyword Planner. (Check out Search Engine Land’s 2013 Guide to Enterprise SEO Tools for some ideas.)
Tools change. So should you. Do not fall into the trap of keeping the exact same reports for the sake of consistency. What is more important: comparing against the past, or planning for the future? Update reports in ways that make them more useful. Chances are that any commercially available tool has changed the way it collects and measures data many times over its lifetime, so those historical charts and graphs are inaccurate anyway. Be like the Internet — dynamic.
Double check the obvious. Are your goals and tracking set-up properly? Are they current? Did you exclude your company IP address?
8. Domain Registration
One last thing: check your domain registration and max it out. Every year some big brand surprises itself, and gets reported on throughout Internet marketing blogs, because it let its domain expire. Don’t be that company.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.