SEO Site Analysis: Knowing the Score, Part 2

One logical way to initiate a natural SEO (define) campaign is to prepare a report card for your current Web site. In the first part of this series, we reviewed how to set up a report card for your Web site. We also established some simple guidelines for measuring your SEO project’s results.

Setting up baseline measurements for your Web site’s search engine referrals should improve your understanding of what keywords and keyword phrases are associated with the majority of your search engine referrals. This information is particularly relevant to the report card when we review the site’s content.

We’ll continue our site-o-analysis process to get a handle on any structural issues that could affect your site’s overall search engine visibility. After reviewing your site’s URL structures, you’re ready to examine the site’s linking structure and navigation.

Connect the Dots

Once again, we’ll assess your Web site’s score for linking and navigation on a scale of 0-10. Set up rows in a spreadsheet for top navigation, left and/or right navigation, breadcrumbs, footers, and other linking elements in your site, such as banner ads, tags, and related informational links.

Keep in mind most sites are constructed from a series of templates for different content types within the site. Most sales-oriented and information-based Web sites have different templates for the home page and informational pages, as well as category, subcategory, and, for e-commerce sites, product pages.

Understand different templates used throughout a site impact not only the way spiders crawl it but also the keyword relevancy of each and every page. The code used to produce the site and the URLs that link the site together combine to affect a site’s overall spider-ability and visibility.

Measure different templates used to produce your Web site. It’s important to understand one change to a template can result in sweeping changes throughout the entire site.

CSS (define) are often used as a simple mechanism for adding or changing a Web document’s appearance. CSS can also be leveraged to replace uncrawlable image-based navigation with keyword-rich, text-based navigation.

Remember, search engine spiders can’t see the text used in an image. Yes, they can crawl the alternative text associated with the image, as well as the file name for the image, but these important usability embellishments are suboptimal compared to providing users and spiders with keyword-rich text-based links as a way to navigate and crawl the site.

Understand the opportunities for heightening your site’s search engine visibility by adjusting the templates used to construct the site and how CSS plays a critical role in the presentation of your site’s content.

It Adds Up

Give your site points for top navigation, left and/or right navigation, breadcrumbs, and footers, if all elements are text-based. You can use a spider simulator or link viewer to review exactly what search engine spiders see when they crawl your site.

Several of my favorite tools for this particular type of site analysis include Google Text-Only Cache, which you can view from search results or by way of the Google Toolbar, along with Chris Pederick’s Web Developer for Firefox and Yellowpipe’s Lynx View.

Don’t award your site points if the navigation is invisible to search engine spiders. JavaScript- and Flash-based navigation are problematic for successful crawling and indexation. Use the tools to review what’s visible and invisible to search engine spiders.

Remember, invisibility can sometimes work in your favor. Consider a Web site that sells T-shirts. There could be six colors and four different sizes that combine to present spiders with 24 similar pages of information. In this case, JavaScript and Flash can enhance the user experience without creating a multitude of duplicate content search engines must sort through to select the authoritative page to index in results.

Don’t award points if URLs that link the site together are dynamic, contain session IDs, or are appended with tracking parameters. Each of these types of linking structures is suboptimal. They tend to create duplicate content and split link-building opportunities. There are workarounds available for each type of SEO barrier, but at this stage in the site analysis process, we’re investigating problems, not exploring potential solutions.

Right and left navigation have the propensity to change as users drill down through different site categories. When reviewing navigation, consider what contributes to anchoring each page’s theme and what elements detract from the topic at hand.

On a Web site selling pet supplies, for example, dog beds might be an important category emphasized in primary navigation. but it might not be supported by secondary navigation if it changes to include superfluous keywords. It’s the difference between optimizing a category page for “dog beds” and a subcategory page for “large dog beds” rather than “plaid dog beds.”

Breadcrumbs and footers are often underutilized site design elements. Breadcrumbs not only provide a way for users to navigate their way back through a site but also pave an optimal path for search engine spiders to crawl. Footers provide an equally simple navigational path to important site landing pages, such as the privacy policy, store location page, and site map.

What’s the difference between breadcrumbs and footer links? Breadcrumbs change with the page. Footers remain the same. Placement and proximity also play a role in your site’s search engine visibility. Breadcrumbs should be located at the top of the page. They should be keyword-rich and contain static links that contribute to the page’s unique content. Footers should be at the bottom of the page and contain static, unappended links to core categories and pertinent content within the site.

Award your site points accordingly.

By now, you should have all the points tallied for your overall site structure, including URLs, navigation, and linking. Doing so will help prioritize key elements of the SEO project.

Next, we’ll broadly look at how to review your site’s overall keyword visibility and the role headings, body text, and meta tags play in contributing to good keyword themes.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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