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June 18, 2008

Understanding The SEO Site Review Process

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In many instances, the search engine optimization process officially starts with the site review. It’s when your optimization vendor gets his or her first look at your Web site and really starts looking for holes and ways to improve it. Sometimes it’s simply one person who goes over your site and other times it’s a group of people, either way, however your vendor handles this process will impact life of your campaign.

At Bruce Clay, Inc. site reviews are a group process. When a new client comes on, a site review is held where every analyst with some free time congregates in one of our conference rooms and helps the lead on the project pick apart the site with a fine toothed comb. They tear apart your source code, make fun of your ’90s graphics and research what your site is about it. I’ve gotten to sit in on a few and they’re known to get pretty lively as our analysts debate what’s the best series of techniques for a particular site and how the lead analyst should proceed. Since I’m not a real SEO, I like to sit in a corner and watch the masterminds work. I’m usually given the job of guarding the Red Vines. And by “guarding” I mean “eating them”. This keeps me occupied and ensures I don’t cause any trouble.

Here’s a (very) condensed look at some of the factors our SEO analysts look at when conducting a site review:

The Initial Viewing: The lead analyst on the project is given the keys to the projector and throws your Web site up on the big screen. We spend a few minutes checking it out, clicking on links, and trying to get a feel for who you are, what you do and what your visitors are coming to you for. It’s a pretty quick “look and feel” test that we give ourselves to help the analysts who are new to the project catch up. We’ll also look at some of your competitor sites to see what you (and we’re) up against.

Server Information: Once we familiarize ourselves with your Web site, it’s time to look at your server information. This includes check out your IP address and making sure it hasn’t been left exposed so that it renders your domain, seeing if there are any internal redirects (302 or 301), and checking for duplicate versions of the home page through www. vs. non-www, trailing slash or index page, secure and non-secure, etc. We’ll also check to see if your site has a robots.txt file, how 404s are handled, as well as any dynamic pages or query strings. We like to start with this section to make sure that, above everything else, the site is technically performing the way it should. It makes the ongoing process much easier if the server is performing properly.

On Page Factors: Once we confirm that the site is stable, it’s time to take a look at all of the on page factors. We’ll conduct a Google site: search to see how many pages are in the primary index vs. how many have been filtered (if any). From here, we can see any duplicate or deficient Meta tags and/or content. We’ll also do spot-checks to check for duplicate content where we’ll take a paragraph of text and search for it in Google. You’d be surprised how useful this is for identifying potential duplicate content problems on a Web site.

We’ll also throw the domain in the FunnelWeb Profiler to catch anything overlooked from the site: command. This is especially useful for finding pages missing Meta tags. From here we can also see the linking structure of the site, the most prominent keyword phrases used, etc. Once we’ve completely gone through that, we’ll run the home page through our Keyword Density Analyzer to see more on-page information including use of Heading tags, links, keyword densities, W3C Compliance, etc. The KDA found in our SEOToolSet is one of our strongest tools available for checking the health of a Web site.

Check “Feel of the site” Factors: Once all of that is complete we’ll head back to the site to take a closer look. This time we’re focused on checking out your site map (if there is one), looking for any resources that could be used as Link Magnets, and analyzing the amount of content per page. This really helps us get a feel for the “flow” of the Web site. In this phase, we’ll start looking for potential silos (both physical and virtual) and pull out source code from pages to see how they are structured (table-based or div-based). This information is particularly handy when it’s time to do page edits. We’ll also look at anchor text links, whether or not the global navigation matches the directory structure, if image links contain appropriate ALT attributes, and any internal scripting that should be externalized. From there we’ll check out which external sites you’re linking to and whether the number of outbound external links is close to or exceeding the number of inbound links to the site.

Keyword Research: The last step in our initial site review is to start thinking about keyword research. We want to know what opportunities are out there for your site to rank. We’ll use Google to search for any potential keyword candidates to see what kinds of results are returned and how competitive the space is. From this, we can come up with a general game plan of terms to focus on and on which pages to optimize certain keywords for. It also gets us thinking abut the natural silos that are rest within your site and which ones will need to built out in order to get your site ranking for both your broad and specific keywords.

Recommendations Discussed: Once everyone has gotten a chance to explore the site, our analysts will start talking about recommendations that should be made to the site. It’s really neat to see how tactics are customized to fit individual clients’ goals and how our analysts brainstorm ideas together. At this point the analysts will typically break and I reluctantly walk the Red Vine container to Bruce’s office. But not before I’ve finished my gazillionth string of the Lord’s candy.

The search engine optimization process is delicious.

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2 responses to “Understanding The SEO Site Review Process”

  1. Henry Adaso writes:

    Damn you Bruce, all this talk about Lord’s candy and “delicious” SEO is making me hungry.

    Seriously, you make a very good point about keyword research. That’s such a key aspect of the process, but it’s best done after a thorough diagnosis of the site. Rich, informative article overrall.

  2. Bronson Harrington writes:

    Just seeing this post now, but it’s great to see that it’s still relevant.

    Sometimes when viewing a new site, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of things that need to be addressed and thus hard to define a starting point.

    Fortunately this approach breaks the whole process down into bit size chunks and allows one to focus on the aspects one at a time.



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