Do you ever wonder why your Web site doesn’t show up where you want it to in a search? Many of my clients are surprised when they learn what actually determines their site’s ranking. If you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, the problem may be right under your nose.
The first thing I do when consulting with a client on search-related questions is an audit of their current Web site. Although the calculations used by Google and Yahoo are numerous, there are a few obvious indicators that could be hindering your site’s ranking among search results. The following list can help you evaluate your own site and point you toward more traffic and better ranking.
1. Title tag
The title tag is displayed on the top border of your Web browser as a user views your site. It is also text used in the click-able link on the search engine results pages (SERPs). This title tag is one of many on-page features that help the search engine determine the relevance of your site. So, for purposes of an audit, look for a few key inclusions, such as your company name and relevant keywords. The text should vary from page to page depending on the page content and be kept to fewer than 70 characters.
2. Meta tags
Hidden in the top of your Web page should be your Meta tags. Meta Tags, are meta information supplied to the search engine to understand your page content. The two most notable tags are the Meta Keywords, and Meta Description Tags.
The inclusion of Meta Keywords in Google’s search engine has been publicly denied by Google. So, the presence of these tags are not critical but best practices would still include these in your site.
The Meta description is just that; a short description of the overall page content. This tag is also used by the search engine as that small bit of text under the title of your site on the SERP. Using this tag allows you to influence the description of your page on the SERP, which could influence those users. Without this tag, The SERP will draw from the body content itself, which may not give you the desired result or be keyword rich.
3. Markup Condition
The quality of the HTML used in your site can affect the way that Google reads your site. Invalid markup or improperly used tags could result in a crawl error, in which the program will stop reading your page, possibly missing some valuable content.
Markup conditions that I tend to look for include: proper use of heading tags, Alt attributes on images, title attributes on links, and overuse of markup. Heading tags are typically used to define headlines for the viewers and search engines. They are also indicators of the site content. You see these as H1 through H6 with the H1 tag being used to indicate the most important text, which may include key words and links. Alt attributes, which make the page accessible to the visually impaired, are attached to images and gives the search engine an idea of what content it might be. Alt attributes should be present on all images and include keywords to describe the image. The same is true with the Title attribute, which contains text that is displayed when the mouse rolls over a text link or image. They provide valuable information to the user by giving a short description of the link and also may increase keyword relevancy. Proper use of Alt and title attributes on links and images will help you with search, as well as some accessibility problems.
4. URLs and Naming Conventions
URLs should be short, easy to type, easy to remember, and free of punctuation. The way your pages are named and site is organized can influence your rankings. Using keywords in your file names is recommended, but don’t go overboard. A long URL or file name containing unnecessary characters is less likely to be displayed by search engines or remembered by users. Keep it short and sweet, and most of all, relevant.
5. Relevant Content
The purpose of your site content is to inform your readers and potential clients, but, if it is well written, it can also boost your search engine rankings. This is probably the one element of all these listed that can have the biggest effect on your rankings. Always remember that you are writing to your targeted audience, not the search engines. If you use too many keywords and neglect to accurately represent the content of the page it could actually harm your rankings and alienate your readers.
A backlink is a link to your site from other Web sites. Backlinks bring potential customers and visitors to your site, and the number and quality of backlinks will affect how your site ranks on the SERP. The logic, simplified, is that the more sites linking to you, the more relevant your site is considered to be. You can do this check with Tools from Yahoo and Google, and see who is linking to you. You can also check your Web stats for referral sites. I recommend setting up a regular interval to check how many sites link to your site, see what page they link to, and define your most popular content.
7. SEO toolbox
Lastly, I recommend making yourself smarter about your site’s ranking by using a few online tools that can help your evaluate your site’s ranking. Here is a quick list of five tools you should bookmark today:
- SEMrush.com – great for keyword analysis.
- SEO Quake Toolbar – a toolbar for Firefox.
- Keywordspy.com – to see your competitor’s keywords, fun tool.
- W3C Validation – use this tool to check your HTML to make sure your site is valid.
Following these simple steps will give you a good idea of how prepared your site is for search and what actions need to be taken to enhance your listings. Without these items you will be fighting an uphill battle trying to enter the coveted first page of Google’s results for your keywords. And, after completing the audit, if you are looking for a more in-depth SEO analysis of your site, contact us to hear more about our services.