Basic SEO: 10 Questions to Ask Yourself
Have you ever found yourself logged in to the back-end of your website and just staring, overwhelmed, at your computer monitor? Maybe your site is brand new and you know you need more visits and higher search results – but where do you start? Or maybe you’ve had past success on your site, but sales are starting to flat line.
Whether you’re new or a seasoned webmaster, it’s a good idea to refresh yourself on the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and make sure everything is in its place. SEO is usually about monitoring your site and making small adjustments. These adjustments can really add up and eventually have a large influence on your site’s organic rankings.
There are many tools and strategies available to web marketers, some you are probably using right now. So here is a list of questions to ask yourself about your site. Use the answers as either a refresher or an introduction to basic SEO practices.
1. Am I using Website Monitoring Tools?
Want to improve your website’s performance? Well, first you must monitor its statistics. Google and Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics are free to use and can provide a crucial insight into your website.
Google and Bing Webmaster Tools let you check numerous stats about your site’s performance, search results and overall health in regards to each search engine. They also allow you to submit a sitemap which is integral to building up the search ranking of your site.
You can create custom reports using Google Analytics to help you create a more effective website and analyze your ROI. Use it to see all of your site’s traffic stats along with information on sales and conversions. You can also connect Google Analytics to your AdWords and Webmaster account for increased data sharing.
Did I mention these web-hosted tools are all free?
2. Is my site loading quickly?
Search engines want to offer the best user experience possible. Therefore site speed is a ranking factor. If a website’s load time is considerably slow, user engagement is low. Bounce rate goes up and page views go down. Slow pages can lose significant traffic and can drive your rankings down.
Use this page load analyzer tool to view the load speed of your site and help you know how to make it faster: Pingdom Tools. You can also try Google Developer’s PageSpeed Insights for more suggestions.
3. What are my users searching for?
Keyword Research should be the starting point for all content on your site. Keywords are simply the words one would use to find your site. Think about what one might type into a Search Engine. Then, do a little research to see which of those words and phrases are the most popular. Picking the most popular terms is not always helpful. If competition is high on the first page of a SERP, you might not be able to find your site anywhere near the top 10 results. Find a happy medium of searchable terms with moderate competition.
Unfortunately, the Google AdWord’s Keyword Tool will no longer be available. Google is changing gears and going with the Keyword Planner Tool which you must have an AdWords account to use.
However, because you’ve signed up for Bing’s Webmaster Tools, you can access their keyword tool. Once you’ve logged in to your site’s profile you will find Keyword Research under the Diagnostics and Tools tab.
4. What do my URLs look like?
This is a biggie. Often, I see clients with large product inventories that use URLs consisting of obscure letter combinations. These page names are one of the ranking factors search engines use to determine keyword relevance. Additionally, URLs are displayed in search results. If the URL doesn’t make sense to a reader, it can seem unfriendly and the chances of them clicking on it go down. It should describe what that person will find on the page.
For example, if your site is about gourmet popcorn and it sells a special sea salt and caramel popcorn, it would make sense if one of your product pages had the following URL:
Notice there are hyphens breaking up the words sea, salt and caramel. That’s ok because it is helping to define an inner page. However, it is best to avoid using a hyphen in your domain name. Using hyphens in the main name of your site may not directly affect your search results, but it can make it harder for people to remember your URL.
5. Are my title tags optimized?
This tag is one of the most important on-page SEO ranking factors. Sometimes it gets overlooked, so here is a reminder on the basics of your title tags.
Titles are the text which appear in the tab at the top of your browser. They are also the information which is displayed on the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Page) above the description and provide a link to your site. Each page of your site should have an optimized title tag, not only for keywords, but also to encourage people to click on it. The recommended length is 66 characters or less, so choose your words wisely.
6. Are my meta-descriptions readable?
Meta-Descriptions don’t actually appear on your page, but they are what users read when they see your result on a SERP. Write in understandable and complete sentences. Any keywords that the user searched for will appear in bold if they are in your Meta-Description. Also, avoid duplicate descriptions throughout your site and to make sure your descriptions aren’t cut off, and keep them under 155 characters.
7. Am I using my keywords in the body content?
Make sure you put all that keyword research to use. Search engines use the text on your pages to understand what your website is about and what keywords it is associated with.
Use your preassigned keywords and phrases in thoughtful and useful written content on each page of your site. They really should be everywhere! But, of course, avoid keyword stuffing- you don’t want your site to be confused with a spam site. Place your keywords only where they make sense and sound natural. And don’t forget about putting them in your headers.
8. Are there too many links on my homepage?
Too many links on your homepage can be very distracting and can lead to a bad user experience. And your search rankings could take a hit because of it. This problem is especially bad if your link-to-content-ratio is top-heavy. That means you have too few sentences describing the site and then a long list of links. Remember, your category headings and footer links are included in this number.
Because the search engines can’t read images, another problem is including all your text in images. It’s best to beef up your homepage with unique copy and well placed, helpful links. After all, you want the reader to keep their attention on all that wonderful optimized content you’ve worked so hard on, right?
9. Do I have relevant internal links in each page?
Internal links are links that lead to another page on the same site. They help users navigate around your website and can increase your site’s ranking power. It tells both the search engine and user which pages of your site are related and helpful to each other.
Look at your page and find 2 or 3 places that could easily link to other pages on your site. They should be related to the content on the current page. Then create links to those pages with descriptive anchor text using the keywords for them.
10. Am I taking advantage of link building?
Be careful when you’re link building. We are looking for quality links over quantity. The last thing you want to do is spend a bunch of money for a bunch of worthless or harmful links. The goal of link building is to get a link back to your site from an authoritative website which can also help build your referral traffic.
You can do a small amount of directory submissions, but you should focus on higher quality directories. You can also search for other websites where people in your niche may be posting questions and discussions about topics related to your business. Search for your keywords, post an answer and add your website as a source.
Another option is guest blogging. Basically you reach out to another blogger related to your industry and write an article for that person. This helps the other person by providing them quality content to their blog and helps you by bringing another link back to your site.
Make sure you review some outdated link building strategies to check if your existing links could be holding your site back.
If I haven’t helped, then you probably already have these strategies in place and are tracking your results! If you’re just starting out, asking yourself these questions and making sure you have the Basic SEO practices down is the place to start. Share any comments or questions you have by leaving a comment below.