Three years ago Todd Malicoat published a blog post titled Balancing the Link Equation, which offered conditional tips about how to improve the link profile of a website. I think of that post nearly every time someone asks for SEO advice because the field has grown so complex that both yes and no are often mutually wrong answers. The correct answer to most SEO questions is “it depends” followed by a whole bunch of qualifications like brand size, site age, content quality, site size, and marketplace competition.
Websites are like patients. If someone tells a doctor “I feel sick,” but is unwilling to give any further information, they can end up wasting a lot of time. They can end up no closer to an answer to health than a person who chooses to lay in bed sick, even though they feel something might be seriously wrong.
A member who recently joined the SEO Book forums asked for someone to help him fix his site’s SEO problem, as his traffic dropped from around 1,000 visitors a day to about 200 visitors a day.
I started thinking about the conditional stuff, like the great tips Todd mentioned in his article, and typed up a bunch of background research questions, like did you recently change…
- your link building strategy
- your robots.txt file
- your CMS
- your site structure
And while thinking up a few other questions, like…
- are the ranking issues sitewide? or limited to a page? or limited to a phrase?
- were you selling links?
I thought to look at his CMS to see if he was using WordPress. One of my WordPress blogs was recently hacked and I saw that he was using an old version of WordPress. His source code showed that he was using WordPress 2.3.3, and I used a Google site search to search his site for a popular pharmaceutical. His site was hacked. Most likely there was nothing wrong with his site other than it getting hacked.
Many people have ranking problems, but they withhold information. In the past I was naive and tried to help many such people via email. Even some people who only purchased my ebook after their sites got penalized have chosen to withhold information for fear of creating competition. Without looking at the URL and getting a bit of background you can write 10 pages of useful questions and tips, but without fully knowing the context of a problem or the URL you usually can’t fix a site…you are stuck throwing darts in the dark.
Due to technological limitations, limitations in man power, and the need to balance SEO with other business objectives, nearly every site is sub-optimal from an SEO standpoint. Many issues are far more complex than a site getting hacked (automated filters, manual penalties, duplicate content issues, poor internal link structure, new competitors, etc.). Analyzing a small site can take hours, and fully analyzing an enterprise level site can take weeks or months – in some cases requiring issues be fixed before digging deeper into the site.
If you hire an SEO you should treat them like your doctor and give them as much information as possible. Some of the information may be irrelevant, but knowing a site’s background and history makes it far easier to fix strategic and tactical issues, while also setting up the site for a healthy future.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.