SEO Site Analysis Facts and Fantasies

  |  September 16, 2009   |  Comments

How to shop for and sell SEO/SEM site analyses.

While I work with one particular kind of site analysis, a myriad of offerings are symbolic of the industry at large. There are small but thorough examinations of niche portions of a site -- social media, organic, SEM (define), PHP-only (define), and so on; large, comprehensive diagnostics of a site, including competitive analysis; and everything in between.

Similarly, the price range is enormous. But the quality of the analysis and the price don't correlate as tightly as you might like. That's why whether you're a shopper or a vendor, you must prove you can ask and answer intelligent questions.

Complete Medical History

It's possible to perform a pretty good site analysis without ever talking to the client (an unsolicited partial site analysis can be an efficient sales tool if handled and delivered correctly). But a truly exceptional analysis can be done only after a thorough interview with people who know the site's history.

It's a little frustrating when a doctor can't make a proper diagnosis until after running a battery of tests, doing a full blood workup, and taking a monotonous medical history. But it would be far more frustrating to go to a doctor, get an instant diagnosis, pop some pills, and then find out the diagnosis was wrong.

Here are some questions that I always ask potential site analysis clients, along with some rationale behind asking them:

  • What is the SEO history of the site? What worked? What didn't? If you can get the client to discuss the SEO (define) history of the site, either knowledgably or honestly, you're already in good shape. Two potential problems: either your client contact hasn't been around long enough to know the history, or the client has and is embarrassed by it. But in a large site, getting an accurate background on specific techniques used is very helpful in understanding the state of the site.

  • Who are the top three to five competitors in your space? This allows SEO and SEM vendors to discuss the difference between the industry competition versus the SERP (define) competition. For example, Nike's "industry" competition includes Adidas and New Balance, but its "SERP competition" includes Wikipedia, Zappos, and "Runner's World." When clients realize that a coherent strategy incorporates tactics designed to dethrone both types of competition, they're usually eager to get started.

  • What do you want users to do once they arrive on your site? This question usually takes clients right to the moneymaker. Clients are very clear about what they want people to do on the site, and when they present those goals, it helps SEO/SEM firms plot a path directly to that destination and postpone extensive work on parts of the site that might be only tangentially related or completely unrelated to the goal path.

Same As It Ever Was?

If you're buying or selling a site audit, consider how it might have changed over the years. Shoppers, ask what elements the audit used to examine but no longer does. Vendors, don't give them time to ask, and instead, jump right into it.

Here you'll land squarely on the equator between the hemispheres of "best-practices SEO is timeless and unchanging" and "SEO is so dynamic that it's a constantly moving target." As you all know by now, it's both and neither.

Many years ago, for example, one of our diagnostics included taking a close look at the amount of internalized JavaScript (that is, actual JavaScript code lines) that a page contained. Back then, we bumped up against some pages that weren't entirely cached due to their immense file size, and externalizing the script files was a smart way to help reduce the file size.

Today, that's much less of a problem due to engines' abilities to index much larger pages. While we still evaluate that issue, it's now related more to page load time, and it's far lower on the priority scale than it used to be.

Now Try to Sell It

A paradox of SEO/SEM business development is the client who, on one hand, loathes the idea of "cookie-cutter" SEO, but on the other hand, wants to know (on the first call) exactly what you'll do with the site, how long it will take, and the expected results. This is the thorny path to the garden, and if you can diplomatically and deftly maneuver between the briars, you can educate the client about what you offer and why it might take longer than they expect.


Erik Dafforn

Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.

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