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The 20-Point SEO Account Takeover Checklist
What should you do if you are stepping into a role as the new “SEO Manager” of a website?
This is a question you could ask yourself either as an in-house employee at a company, an agency taking over an account from another agency, or moving into the role from one account to another within your agency.
Truth be told, I imagine that if you are at an agency, and simply taking over an account from someone else, much of the account transition will go smoothly, so you may not need to do as complete a discovery as I am suggesting below.
Think of this checklist as a way to get up to speed as quickly as possible if your predecessor did not leave a very clear audit trail/documentation. Or, perhaps you are the first person to take on the SEO Manager role at your company?
The SEO Account Takeover Checklist
This checklist is NOT in order of priority, but is numbered for usability.
Yes, some tasks will be more time-sensitive than others, and I will attempt to make a note of these as I go along. It is worthwhile to say right here that you should immediately look at how links are being created to your site, and halt any link building efforts that appear to be poor-quality, abusive, against search engine stated guidelines, etc. At least for the time being, until you get a handle on the situation.
- Pull Together Your Organic Keyword Targets. Get the list of the keywords that have been targeted for SEO. While “rankings are dead“, and I am not a fan of “rank chasing”, bite the bullet and check the keyword rankings for your target keywords. You do need to know where you are starting.
- Access Website Analytics. Get your hands on the data!! This is an absolute must, and perhaps one of the first steps you should take. Examine where your traffic is coming from (all sources, not just search), which keywords are converting, review the most-visited pages, look at 18-month trends (to look for seasonality and cyclicality), and generally dig into the data.
- Re-Do Keyword Research. Don’t blindly trust what you’ve been told are the target keywords for organic SEO! You absolutely must have a deep understanding of the keyword space that your business lives in. There is no substitute for doing your own keyword research. Period.
- PPC Data. Get access to as much Pay Per Click (PPC) data as you can from existing advertising programs that are being run for your site. Get a feel for the keywords that are being bid on, the impressions being generated, the clicks to the site, and which keywords are converting best.
- Webmaster Tools. Get access to, and log into your Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools accounts. Look to see if the XML sitemaps are uploaded, fresh, and not showing any page crawl errors. If you find that a Webmaster account has not already been established, get on it!
- Check Robots.txt File. Take a look at your robots.txt file and see if any rules have been created for disallowing site crawls of specific pages and/or sections of the site. If the robots file has specific instructions, make sure you understand why.
- Page Indexing Inventory. Check your page indexing at Google, Bing and Yahoo! with a site: lookup (e.g. site: http://www.searchengineland.com). While you will not get the true picture of exactly how many pages are indexed by each of the engines, you can use this lookup to a) get a rough feel for how many pages have been crawled, found & indexed, and you can compare this to the knowledge you have of your own website, and b) take a quick skim through the page titles to see if any opportunities exist for bulk re-tagging/changing of titles.
- Backlink Quality Check. Check your backlink profiles at the major engines with a link: lookup (e.g. link: http://www.searchengineland.com). Keep in mind that Google will almost never show you the full backlink picture, so you are looking for a general sense of whether or not Google feels you have link strength. While it’s still available, use Yahoo! Site Explorer to check your backlink profile, and screen out links from your own domain, and choose the filter for links pointing to the entire site (not just to the homepage). Even better, subscribe to SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer (formerly Linkscape) and use that tool in addition to (or instead of?) the basic link lookups in the engines. You might end up finding the SEOmoz data far more useful anyway. With checking backlinks, you are not looking for quantity as much as you are looking for quality. Look for link diversity, and hope to see that the majority of the links pointing to your site appear to have been garnered through people freely linking to your site because the content is of interest. If you find links from many irrelevant sites and/or see anchor text patterns that look too tightly-correlated, you may need to figure out how to undo some potential damage.
- Link Building Review. Ask people at the company about any link building efforts that have been conducted, or that are being conducted. If you feel that any of the efforts are producing poor-quality, manufactured links, stop those efforts immediately to assess the program in more depth.
- Crawl Your Site. Spider your site with a crawling simulator such as Screaming Frog, Webconfs Spider Simulator, Smart IT, or others. Take a look at what data is being returned, and how search engines may view your site.
- Grade Your Site. While I am not a huge fan of using a “grader” to determine the SEO-readiness of your site, I do see the value in having a free tool like Hubspot’s Website Grader provide a report on key SEO health points. Don’t use the report as the “gospel” of your SEO status, but look at the individual data points/recommendations and see if anything glaring pops up. You could take one step further and pay a small fee to have someone run a “premium grader” report, and provide some brief consulting time on the phone. Jim Spencer’s Web Page Advisor is a great service, and a great value, from a trusted expert, and you will get some details that you might not find elsewhere (you can find Jim on Twitter and learn a bit more about him – he’s a friend of mine, and I trust him. I have no financial interest in Jim’s tools, services, etc.).
- Hunt Out Orphan Pages & Broken Links. Use a tool like Xenu’s Link Sleuth (or similar program) to do an extra check, beyond Google’s Webmaster Tools, for broken links and “orphaned pages“.
- Social Media Discovery. Take an inventory of all the social media assets being used to promote the company/organization. If you are not the person tasked with social media, make friends with the people who are running those efforts. Find out how you can collaborate. Create a list of all of the social media accounts that have been created.
- Make Friends. If your organization has people responsible for marketing and sales roles, and you are not that person, go and immediately make friends with the people responsible for Social Media, PR, Sales, Product Development, User Acquisition, Paid Search, Display Advertising, Website Analytics, Website Development & Design, and any other function you can think of that might touch the success of an organic SEO program. Hopefully, making friends is already part of your personal DNA, and this won’t seem like a chore. The point here, from a professional role perspective, is to make sure that each of these people know that you care about the overall mission of the company, that you play well with others, and that you want to collaborate with them. Start the creative juices flowing now, and get other people at your company excited about the power of SEO.
- Know Your Conversion Goals. No respectable SEO professional can operate effectively without understanding what the goals of the company are. Identify what each of the specific conversion points are (e.g. sales, quote requests, white paper downloads, webinar sign ups, newsletter subscriptions, etc.). Make sure you understand what the acceptable Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) is for as many of the actions as possible. If no one has answers, dig in and start to build your own economic model for the value of acquiring a customer. Your overall task is to see if you can put the SEO budget (including your salary) into perspective with all the other acquisition channels. Although you may find that SEO is not the “best” performing acquisition channel from a pure metrics perspective, you will at least have an idea of how your efforts fit into the marketing mix, and you can always look to prove SEO ROI in other ways.
- Domain Inventory. Get a list of all the domains owned by the company. Get a list of the domains that are registered, and identify which ones are parked, redirected, and which ones are live and used for other marketing efforts. Get an understanding of which domains may have hosted sites in the past, but are now not being used. I can’t possibly list all of the reasons that you need to get this done, but suffice it to say that you need to understand the interrelationships between all of the domains, and you need to understand the history of any past/current websites that are/have been hosted on the domains.
- Review PPC Landing Pages. Look at the landing pages being used for PPC. See if the landing pages are isolated from the organic structure of the site, or if they are part of the traditional site structure. If the landing pages are part of the site, then know that any changes you are looking to make to pages for SEO could affect PPC programs. Also, look to gain an understanding of what the landing pages are intended to accomplish, and see if you can either take some of the conversion success points to your organic pages, or see if you can offer any content suggestions to the PPC landing pages.
- Learn Your CMS Capabilities. Understand what can and cannot be edited on your website through an admin interface. Find out how easy it is to edit page content, browser titles, meta description tags, image alt. tags, etc. Find out if you can have access to the CMS, and what the process is for making changes. Make sure to operate within the content change processes that already exist at the company, or see if you can get the processes modified a bit to make your job easier. Don’t break anything!
- Review Your Agencies. If any external agencies are being used for SEO, PPC, Social Media, Content Creation, or PR, see how quickly you can get meetings with your account managers. Your goal is to understand what the current strategy is, and how you can all work together to improve the website’s ability to generate valuable traffic (via SEO and the other channels – see how you can help them too).
- Re-Assure & Empower Your Staff. If you are coming in at a Manager level, and have staff working for you, make sure to listen to what they have to say about the strategy, successes, and weaknesses of the SEO program. Assure the staff that you are all in it together, and that you want the whole team to be successful. Find ways to individually give each person room to be creative and entrepreneurial.
If you have other suggestions for what a new SEO manager should do at the outset to check the health of the program, please share them below! Let me know if you’ve added a suggestion by shouting out to me on Twitter @akomack.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.