Common Symptoms Found at a Site Clinic

Since 2013, I have been performing live SEO site clinics in Asia with many world-class search marketers at the SES and now the ClickZ Live events, such as Bill Hunt in Singapore and Crispin Sheridan in Hong Kong. Audiences love site clinics because a live website audit is both challenging and entertaining. If you don’t know what a site clinic is, it is basically a 45-minute live presentation without a PowerPoint. We, the “clinicians,” will randomly pick a couple of websites from the audience’ business cards to perform SEO a diagnosis on live on the screen. The session is very spontaneous and actionable.

To me, doing a site clinic allows me to not only get closer to the market, but also to engage in fun yet constructive interactions with the audience. In this article, I would like to summarize a few common “symptoms” that I found from my previous sessions. If your site doesn’t have one of these, keep up with the good work. But if these sound familiar, it may need to have a “check-up.”

Symptom Number One: Dominated by Ego

Many websites are still dominated by ego. I can easily tell by reading their short meta titles: they are written with only the brand name! Using the brand name as the keyword is not a problem per se. However, what if a brand name is only an acronym? It can be totally irrelevant to the actual product. In some cases, I’ve even seen all the pages of a website use the same brand keyword as the meta title. I must emphasize that every Web page having the same meta title is obviously a mistake. That’s why I always suggest using functional keywords or product attribution keywords to write the meta titles and of course to expand relevant contents.

Symptom Number Two: Filled With Pictures

The website layout is filled with pictures only. What’s wrong with pictures? First, let me show you Google’s official explanation for how the engine works:

“Google essentially gathers the pages during the crawl process and then creates an index….Much like the index in the back of a book, the Google index includes information about words and their locations. When you search, at the most basic level, our algorithms look up your search terms in the index to find the appropriate pages.”

The search engine algorithm analyzes and retrieves information based on the contextual relevancy. Although search engines nowadays support image search, the majority of search queries are still text-based. So, instead of filling the search engines with beautiful and emotional pictures, why not leave some reasonable spaces for text content? Remember, describe your website to the search engines, including who you are and what you do. Search engines are robots – they don’t have the human artistic sense yet.

Symptom Number Three: A Complicated Menu Navigation

A complicated menu navigation not only confuses the human, but also creates difficulties for the search engine crawlers. Google offers this explanation:

“We use software known as ‘Web crawlers’ to discover publicly available webpages….Crawlers look at webpages and follow links on those pages, much like you would if you were browsing content on the Web.”

To understand how a search engine crawls is not hard. Google has given a hint that the crawlers actually follow links on the Web pages. Now think about what the starting point of the links in a website is. It is likely the menu navigation. In fact, 99 out of 100 websites have the menu navigation placed above the fold where we want to draw the visitors’ attention when they first arrive at the website. Nonetheless, thanks to the evolution of Web design, fancier website navigations such as the one-page design with more complicated scripting style and format keep emerging. This makes it difficult for the search engines to follow and index the links on those pages. Unless your technical colleagues know exactly what they are doing, for example, using the hashbang URL and the pushstate correctly, I still suggest making your navigation as clean and simple as possible.

Lastly, I will end this article with the same question that I always like to ask my audience at a site clinic: “Which pages are the most important pages in your website besides the homepage?” You can do a self-diagnosis by asking this question. The purpose is to identify if you have unique content for each page of your website. Look closer. See whether you have spotted the discrepancy between the page title and the content. Does the contact-us page become the about-us? If you cannot distinguish the content objectives between these pages, the search engines will also be as confused as you are.

By the way, my next site clinic will be held in December this year in Singapore at ClickZ Live. Hope to see you there.

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