How Auditing Your Websites SEO Can Increase Your Rankings

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Too often we, as SEOs, get our hands on a website after it has been built. Designers focus on making sites “pretty” and “usable.” Unfortunately, they either lack the knowledge or simply don’t care about the search value a website offers. This is where the ever growing feud between SEO and designer begins.

Fortunately, there are a lot of compromises that can be made without sacrificing website aesthetics or search value. It all starts with identifying elements on the website and making subtle changes that could make a website continue to look great, but also have a fair shot at generating better search visibility.

15 SEO Elements You Have Complete Control Of

Google has said in the past that it incorporates hundreds of parameters into its ranking algorithm (Ann Smarty even wrote a post trying to identify as many as she could here on SEJ). Many of these rankings parameters we either have no idea about (they don’t tell us), or it’s very hard to build upon (links and social signals, for instance). We do, however, know 15 on-page SEO elements that are being used (to different degrees & effects, of course) and that we have 100 percent control of.

1) Website Content

Content is the key to any successful SEO campaign. Long gone are the days when you can slap up a single page or even a three- to five-page website and rank well. It’s all about creating quality content that generates natural links.

2) Canonicalization

Too often we see link equity split up among multiple pages that have the exact same content. This is one SEO element that we have complete control of and should always be keeping an eye on. I have seen website 301 redirect their non-www version of their homepage to the www version and see dramatic increases in their sites rankings practically overnight!

3) Title Tags

The simple answer here is to write title tags within 70 characters. Darren Slatten has a very interesting case study proving that Google may actually utilize pixel size instead of character limits. What’s most important here is that you write unique, quality title tags that support the content on the page. The days of stuffing keywords into the title tags with a “|” should remain in the past.

4) URL Structure

When was the last time you told your buddy about an article you read on Probably never. Google might not have as difficult time indexing dynamic URLs as in the past, but it’s never a good idea to make Google work harder than they have to. Use static URLs.

5) Internal Linking

If you have read my blog before, you probably noticed I have always been a proponent of two often misused on-page elements: Internal Linking and Site Architecture. If both are done correctly, you can see some major increases in your sites rankings. If done poorly or never fixed, you might be overworking in other areas of SEO, such as link building which arguably is exponentially more difficult.

6) Site Architecture/Navigation

As mentioned in the internal linking, I have a soft spot for site architecture. Siloing content on a website can add a lot of value. Not only can you internally link appropriately, but every inbound link acquired helps the entire silo out, not just that particular page.

7) Recurring Content

Recurring content is something that has become ever so important in modern say SEO campaigns. Not only does recurring content help you rank for long-tail keywords, but it also gives you opportunities to be found socially (through sharing) and acquisition of “natural” links.

8) Site Speed Optimization

Google has said in the past that it will give preference to websites that have fast loading time in search results. It’s not to say that you can jump from page five to one by simply having a fast website, but if it’s beneficial to your site visitors, you can bet Google values it as well.

9) Social Integration

Going off the hints and queues that Google gives us, it’s important to incorporate social signals into our websites. This doesn’t mean you have to have floating buttons on every one of your pages, but even a “Like” count button or a “Plus One” button could do the trick. Plus, who doesn’t want the potential referral traffic that Facebook, Pinterest, or even Google+ can potentially send?

10) Image Alt Attribute

Alt attributes were originally incorporated into websites so that people with visual disabilities could still understand what the images were displaying. Since Google spiders don’t see images as we do, it’s important to include these alt attributes for this reason, as well. If you’re capable of incorporating a relevant keyword within the image, you might get some ranking benefits from it, too, both in Web search and image search.

11) Custom 404 Error Pages

Custom 404 error pages are very important for two reasons: It keeps visitors on your website AND it keeps search spiders on your website. In both instances, if a person (or bot) clicks on a broken link or attempts to manually type in a URL on your domain and gets it wrong, they will be shown a custom 404 error page.

These pages typically include your navigation, in addition to a nice message that tells them what they are looking for doesn’t exist. The search spiders may even follow the navigation links to continue spidering the site versus dropping off your site all together.

12) Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions at one point were believed to play a role in Google’s ranking algorithm. Today, it is more commonly believed that it is an opportunity to increase your Click-Through Rate in the organic search results. Who doesn’t want to improve CTR? Continue to play around with your meta descriptions.

13) XML Sitemap

Do you have a large website with imperfect site architecture or navigation? An XML sitemap might help you get more pages indexed in Google. While some SEOs swear an XML sitemap offers no value, it certainly does not hurt you either. With a lot of tools to generate  XML sitemaps for you (especially on WordPress), you should take a little bit of time and generate one.

14) Header Tags

Here’s another SEO element that many argue the value of. Some say that your H1 tags should include your keywords, while others simply believe having your keywords in the sites header (with or without the <h> tags) is where the value derives. Regardless, since it certainly doesn’t hurt you to use <h> tags, it’s a good habit to use. This isn’t an SEO element I would necessarily redesign your entire website to incorporate, but it’s a best practice to consider when building fresh websites.

15) Robots.txt File

Who doesn’t like a file that dictates exactly what Google can look at on your website? Believe it or not, there are files on sites that nobody wants public. A robots.txt file (or even meta robots file on individual pages) can save a lot of agony in the future. I personally am a fan of including a path to my XML sitemap from the robots.txt file, since it is believed that Google searches the Robots file first before adventuring further into your website.

Ranking #1 Starts With A Properly Optimized Website

Need help auditing your website? I recently launched my eBook titled Do-It-Yourself SEO Audit, with the hopes that individuals who can’t afford my traditional $500 audit could gain the same value. In the eBook, you will receive three files, the 23-page PDF eBook, an SEO audit template that’s pre-populated with example content, and an Excel spreadsheet with my own custom SEO scorecard.

Nick Leroy

Nick Leroy

Nick LeRoy is an SEO Consultant at FindLaw a Thomson Reuters company. Nick offers SEO site audits to his clients in addition to his blog... Read Full Bio
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  • Jim Zamichieli

    A refreshing article showing the differences between web designer and the SEO. Yes most of the time someone else has had their hands on the site only for SEO to redesign and to bring site value to the website. Making sure you can understand what Google is doing next. and trying your best to do the best for your client. You are right it is not that the website is pretty but that you want responses from the website.

  • Digital Skratch

    Good article, I think web design and seo should be one in the same. seo should be considered as you are building the site. I consider my self a “designer” but as I design and build sites I think about the engines as much as I do the interface, usability and aesthetics. By doing all the basics correctly the site gets you 80% of the way there most of the time.

  • John Crockett

    Great initial checklist Nick. Working through these 15 things will set a good foundation for tackling harder things down the road.

  • Cherie Young

    Great article! We are shying away from so much design and encouraging clients to understand the power of a clean design that is seo friendly. You don’t have to kill the design with boredom, and can still have it all.

    In the past, clients have asked for sites, especially the homepage, to have so much design and literally no content. I refuse to do this type of work now, as it benefits are slim to none.

    Thank you for spelling this out, will be glad to repost.

    • NIck LeRoy

      Absolutely! I find that photographers tend to be the most guilty of this!

  • Shoshan

    Actually I don’t know about any source that says a custom 404 page keeps Googlebot on your site, please correct me if there is any such source.

  • Matt

    “Long gone are the days when you can slap up a single page or even a three- to five-page website and rank well”, I still rank well with single pages with good content 🙂

    • NIck LeRoy

      Congrats! Sounds like you have found some of the profitable and not very competitive (yet) niches!

  • Nenu Tech

    A very useful list Nick. The points you have mentioned above are in control of the webmaster, and these can be implemented fairly easily compared to the hard work of link building or increasing social media exposure.

  • anuskhaverma

    Out of these list s mentioned in the article, points 2,3,4,5,6 play major role in gaining better rankings for the website. Its obvious great info for people who are building new website and want to implement SEO strategies to drive traffic and getting better page rank.

  • Jonathon

    I wish everyone building a website would at least look into half of these. It would solve so many problems for many clients. The trouble is that most inexpensive web designers don’t have a clue what they’re doing in terms of SEO, but clients trust them because the designer has “SEO” somewhere on their website.

    • NIck LeRoy

      Jonathon – I think you are right. I too am a proponent of using “cheap” designers but give very specific instructions as to what I require in my designs. Design & Development is just as much the responsibility of the owner as it is the developer 🙂

  • Michail Dimitriou

    Very nice article. These basic steps can help webmasters and webdesigners.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I’ve worked with great web designers that “get it” and have no issues tweaking their design for SEO. On the other hand I’ve worked with plenty of designers that think I’m trying to tell them how to do their job and get incredibly defensive about every suggestion I make. We just have to remember that we are all on the same team–the client’s! We want their site and online business to do well.

    • NIck LeRoy

      I use to work at a web design firm where people didn’t appreciate a young 20 something coming out of college telling them how to do their job. I can tell you that most of the time there is a compromise. You just have to talk it out. 🙂

  • costa

    This auditing steps is just amazing. Thanks for sharing that with us. I will surely use all these on my own website to do quick SEO audit.

  • Namita Patel

    Thanks for a good checklist!

    Your book looks really good. Have you had good results with your clients with rankings, and more importantly, conversions? I’m wondering what else we can do to help our medical practice client rank better (site is only a month old) and is up and down thanks to Google’s whims.

    • NIck LeRoy

      Namita – All my personal clients go through everything included in my eBook. It’s absolutely essential if you want to hire me as your websites SEO. We do find that our sites do pretty well out of the gate. Of course link building is important too and with all the algoirthm updates its really important to do that part as well. BUT it’s easier to link build on a site thats been properly built than not 😉

  • Maria

    This is a great list for anyone who want to do their own SEO. Your point on URL structure is important. I have clients who setup their own wordpress sites and don’t change the permalinks. They are missing out on a valuable and easy keyword opportunity! Site speed is something I’m working to improve since Google will now give it some SEO weight.

    • NIck LeRoy

      Maria – WordPress is very SEO friendly so it’s really unfortunate when you see people utilizing the non “friendly” URLs. 🙁

  • dave scooter

    This is a great article. On your advice I redirected my non www to www and found a massive (20%+) increase overnight. Additionally, the custom 404 you suggest is something I am working on right now.

    Thank You

    • NIck LeRoy

      Dave – I’m so glad your seeing results. The eBook goes over all 15 “must have” elements in more detail if your interested in fixing up other elements your site might be lacking. Good luck on the 404 page too. Hopefully nobody ever has to see the ugly “standard” 404 on your domain ever again!

  • Norm

    I tend to agree with the statement that XML sitemaps don’t offer SEO value. I’m not sure if they can hurt or not. For example, if you frequently update your site with new pages and don’t keep your sitemap file updated, will it actually hinder Google from getting the new pages? Maybe not.

    The point I would like to make though, is if you are going to include XML sitemaps, you might as well include monitoring webmaster tools for errors. Like XML sitemaps, there should be little to no SEO benefit keeping your site clean of errors, at least according to Google.

    However we have had falling rankings on one of our sites, some of which coincides with a sharp increase in errors being reported in webmaster tools. We cleaned up the over 200 errors and within the following week, noted a slight increase in rankings.

  • Ricky Shah

    Well, I have had similar problem with one of my eCommerce client. The webdesigner was using years old technology. The URL were in capital and was not redirecting to small letter and vice versa. There were around 11k+ pages indexed in Google while the website had around 1500 products only. He made such a mess which was too difficult to clean up. And the eCommerce site client was asking my help to redesign the website.
    The real problem arose, when I had to redirect thousands of pages to new URL(301 redirect)…a total mess at the end.

  • Online Shopping

    i am new to this blogging Thanks for showing the 15 control elements of seo …..its helps me on my ecomerce website