Every SEO campaign has to start somewhere. Any good plan; whether you're building a home, preparing for a family vacation or looking to optimize your website for search rankings, starts with research. Before you are ready to optimize your first piece of code you need to understand the landscape around you, which means you need to know the condition of your site as it currently is, and the goals you wish to achieve over the course of your campaign.
Neither fully understanding the condition of your site, nor your long-term goals is easy. Performing a site-wide analysis can be time consuming and lead the untrained person around in circles, wondering what is important and what isn't. And while the analysis is tangible, putting together realistic goals to be accomplished is full of wild speculation mixed with some good luck and a whole lot of good business sense.
Lets first look at the site analysis. That will give you a pretty good picture of the site's condition and it's pitfalls, as well as helping you to better understand what may being going right about it. This information isn't meant to be an all inclusive site analysis, but just a pretty quick overview of various elements that should be considered to more fully understand where the site is at and what lies ahead in terms work that needs to be performed.
Unless you've already done extensive work, don't expect your content to be keyword optimized. But aside from that there are some things that you do need to look for. When doing a content analysis, read through several pages of the site and check for overall quality of the content. You want to make sure the content seems knowledgeable of the topic from the point of view of the average reader. If you are reviewing your own content then you'll want to ask someone else to read it and provide their feedback to you. Make sure the content speaks to the reader's needs and interests and on a level that is neither too advanced for, nor talks down to the target audience.
You also want to provide a quick scan of many other pages to see if the main gist of the content of each page is being communicated effectively, without having to read each word. Check also for quantity of text. You're not looking for any particular amount of text, just a general knowledge of how many pages might need text added, even in small chunks. Finally, you want to look at the overall message being presented and make sure it is unified from page to page.
At this point you can make an estimate of the amount of time that might be needed to revamp lackluster text and provide a general polish throughout the site, including any new content the needs to be written.
You'll also want to look at title and meta tags across multiple pages. This can give you an idea of how much keyword targeting has been done up to this point. You may find that very few changes are necessary or that virtually every page needs custom title and meta tags written from scratch.
You're now ready to estimate the amount of time you may need to recode and perform basic SEO tasks throughout the site.
If you already have a basic knowledge of what keywords are important to you then you can perform some simple searches to get a feel for how well your site ranks for them on Google. There is a good chance you already know this information, but it doesn't hurt to go a little bit deeper, trying various keyword combinations that perhaps you hadn't tried before. You want to get a feel for how your site is performing. A good tool for this is SEO Digger.
You'll also want to look at a number of pages to see if you can get any kind of sense of how well the pages might already be "optimized", despite any rankings. Again, if it's your site and your own content then get a third party to review for you and see if they can tell you what any given page is about. If they can give you any number of keywords by reading it then you might be in good shape. Just make sure that that the keywords are not so obvious due to any kind of keyword stuffing. Over stuffing can give you a false positive.
From this analysis you should be able to determine how much time and effort will be involved in the actual task of editing content for specific keyword focus. Until you know all your keywords you won't have a complete picture of time, but you can set monthly or weekly benchmarks to keep you moving through the process. You'll also want to consider time involved in going back and re-editing pages, if necessary, to get greater search engine ranking performance.
Your site's internal link structure can play a significant role in the overall effectiveness of your SEO campaign. You'll want to analyze not only your site's main navigation in order to understand how pages are interlinked, but also look at sub-navigations, footers, and links from the main content areas of your pages. Note any pages that are poorly linked and even pages that might be unnecessarily over-linked. In some cases there are pages that need to be sufficiently linked for your site visitors but not necessarily for search engine relevence. Make note of these pages and how and where they are linked.
From your knowledge gained here you should be able to estimate time needed to edit and adjust all site-wide navigation elements as well as contextual linking. You can also plan out usage of the nofollow attribute in some links to flow valuable link juice away from pages that don't need to be site entry points.
Take some time to look into your site's backlinks. The more thorough analysis here will provide you the greatest amount of information, but a quick scan can still give you enough information to work from. Check the number of backlinks coming to your site and, if possible, analyze the link text of all incoming links as well as getting a clear picture of which pages are being linked to. You'll want to also do a quick comparison of your findings against one or more of your competitors.
Your findings here will give you an idea of how much you'll need to engage in an active link building campaign. Depending on what you find you may need to do little more than reworking your existing incoming links (by contacting the linking sites) to be more in line with your SEO campaign. On the other hand you may find that you may to perform an active campaign for new links altogether. In some cases, both will be essential.
With this information you can then estimate how much time and energy will be necessary to bring in enough quality and quantity links that will help you compete against the more established sites.
Aside from the more traditional link research you want to get a feel for how many relevant directories there are out there and if your site has obtained a link from those. Start with the main directories (Yahoo, business.com, etc.) but be sure to look into any industry specific directories that might provide a valuable link to your site. If you are pretty sure you're not in any of the industry specific directories then simply doing some quick superficial research will help you get a feel for what's out there and if any will provide value back to you if you obtain a link.
With this information you can then estimate the time you'll need to submit your site to these directories. You might also want to put together a rough estimate of the budget that will be required as many quality directories require payment for the site review.
In each of the points above I've asked you to document your estimations of time required to fulfill each of these tasks. Keep this information as I'll explain the importance of it later in the series. In the next installment I'll be touching on six more areas in which to perform an analysis of your site and then after that we'll be going into analyzing your overall goals.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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