SES Chicago: SEO Diagnostics for the Skilled Search Engine Mechanic

In the last session of the day, Chris Boggs (@boggles) and Grant Simmons (@simmonsnet) presented a session on SEO diagnostics. Chris focused more on the process that you should go through when diagnosing a site, and Grant talked more specifically about how to use Google’s own search results pages (SERPs) to help determine your site’s current SEO health.

One of my favorite ideas from Chris Boggs’ presentation was the idea of comparing diagnostic SEO to triage at a hospital – figure out who to treat or fix first. In most hospitals, triage sorts patients out so that those with the worst injuries get treated first. However, Chris says that we should treat SEO diagnostics more like a military triage: treat the least injured people (or fix the less-broken areas of your site) first, so that they can get out there and start fighting again.

Also according to Chris, if you ever notice a sudden drastic drop in rankings or traffic, first check with IT to make sure they didn’t mess anything up. In his experience, sudden losses of rankings or traffic are usually due to IT messing up something like the robots.txt file or the redirect list. Then, once you’ve checked out all technical problems, you should look at on-site content issues, such as tags, titles and meta descriptions, and internal links. Finally, check your backlinks and off-site promoting efforts.

Grant Simmons gave a very interesting presentation about how to use Google itself as a tool to diagnose the SEO health of your website. The best thing about using Google as an SEO tool is that it’s completely free and available to anyone, and you can use it for all kinds of things, from checking site structure and internal linking problems, to indexing issues and other potential problems.

Grant’s list of SEO Uses for Google

  • Use Google Suggest to see what comes up when you search for your brand, or when you search for one of the primary keywords you’re going for.
  • Google Instant Preview: One of Google’s ranking signals is now page layout, with sites that have a lot of ads or not-useful information above the fold ranking lower than sites that don’t. Check out how Google sees your site with Preview.
  • Do a brand search and see what percentage of the SERP you show up for. You should see your website and your social media sites at least.
  • The “site:” operator is an SEO’s best friend.
    • You can search for “site:yourdomain.com” and “site:www.yourdomain.com” and compare the number of results Google finds. The number of results should be about the same, otherwise you might have some canonicalization problems.
    • Do a “site:” search of your domain, and go to the very last page. If it says “[x] number of results have been omitted because they are very similar to the results displayed,” you might have a duplicate content issue you need to look into.
    • You can check explicitly for duplicate content on your site by copying a sentence or two that you suspect is duplicate, put it in quotation marks, and search your site with “site:”.
    • Just do a “site:” search for your domain without any keywords and see what comes up. Your homepage should be first, followed by other important pages. If some obscure page like your privacy policy is high in the results, you may have an internal linking problem.
  • Check the titles and snippets that show up. If the snippet doesn’t really match the keyword very well, or isn’t interesting or descriptive enough for people to want to click through, see where the snippet is pulling from and change it. (Often, the snippet is the meta description.)

This presentation showed that you can really do a lot of SEO sleuthing with very minimal tools.