Posted by Stephanie Chang
One of the biggest challenges many of my clients face is building the right SEO processes in place, so that any problems are quickly accounted for before they lead to bigger issues. Below are three things you should consider when trying to create a more streamlined process for making sure the technical foundation of the site is solid. Though none are considered "quick" or necessarily easy wins and can initially take a significant amount of time, ultimately in the long-run, they will help make monitoring the SEO on your site more efficient. This means less time spent identifying and fixing site issues and more time focusing on other aspects of SEO, like linkbuilding, developing a content strategy, etc… Overtime, the impact this will have on your site can result in high rewards.
1) Technical Annotations in Google Analytics
Currently, many of my clients with Google Analytics accounts either don't include any annotations in Google Analytics, annotate only their email, PPC, social campaigns or use it to keep track of search engine algorithm changes (like Panda updates). However, the value of annotating any technical changes made to the site in Google Analytics creates a more efficient internal process.
Scenario 1: Let's say that you have set up Google Alerts to alert you of any spikes and drops in traffic. Then, having technical changes annotated in Google Analytics makes it quicker and easier for you to specifically determine the cause of this spike or drop, instead of investing hours later on trying to determine the cause of these changes in traffic. In addition, any major technical issue runs the risk of being implemented improperly (in terms of SEO considerations), simply because there are so many issues to take into account.
Here is more information on how to setup a Google Alert.
Scenario 2: Often times SEO is not a technical priority for the development team, mostly because it is difficult to measure the ROI of what is often times, a significant amount of invested time and effort. Creating annotations in Google Analytics could help with this process- for example, if a spike in traffic were to occur and the team was somehow able to attribute this to a technical implementation on the site, the technical team could be properly recognized as being the cause of this change.
2) Sitemaps- Google/Bing Webmaster Tools
SEOs should create an internal process where Google Webmaster Tools is checked at least once a month to ensure there are no major issues with the sitemaps or with bots crawling the site. Sitemaps are only useful if they are kept up to date and well-maintained.
Why is this important? Duane Forrester of Bing has stated that "Your Sitemap must be clean. We have a 1% allowance for dirt in a sitemap." His definition of dirt includes 404 or 500 status code errors and redirects. He continues by saying "If we see more than a 1% level of dirt, we begin losing trust in the Sitemap."
Best practices include submitting a new Sitemap regularly, depending on how often new content is generated on the site. A publishing site might need to update every few hours, an e-commerce site every week, and a relatively static site every month.
Sitemaps should be checked at least on a monthly basis in Webmaster Tools to ensure there are no issues with the Sitemap.
- Checking for error messages
- Checking number of pages submitted versus indexed
- Checking for malware (and address these immediately!)
- Checking for crawl errors (like 4xx and 5xx issues)
Using Screaming Frog
If you do have a Screaming Frog account, you can also use it to verify Google Webmaster Tools errors, especially because Google Webmaster Tools do not always update their errors. Thus, you don't want to be looking for 404s that have already been fixed. You can also use it to check your sitemap for errors. To do so, simply upload the XML sitemap into Screaming Frog and crawl it. Craig Bradford of Distliled work a fantastic blog post on how to use Screaming Frog to accomplish these tasks and more.
If Google Webmaster Tools is not periodically checked, the number of errors can seem overwhelming. Joe Robison wrote a fantastic SEOmoz post on fixing an overwhelming number of errors in Google Webmaster Tools.
3) Creating Automated Scripts
404 Pages Returning Status 200 Codes:
Barry Schwartz wrote a blog post on how 404 pages should not return status 200 codes. The reasoning being that it could be confusing to spiders as they see a page that exists technically have no content. This can affect rankings over time because it is creates massive duplicate content as bots are crawling through the same content over and over again across several URLs.
He also suggests creating automated scripts to check for this type of issue.
However, to initially help you determine the extent of this problem on your site and provide an estimation of the number of 404 pages that return status 200 codes, plug a site search query into Google. See example below:
site:example.com/ "page not found"
If the query returns results, you know your site is returning status 200 codes for 404 pages and that this issue needs to be fixed.
SEO Score Card:
I've talked about creating an SEO score card before. I've also recently recommended another version of this to another client who had hundreds of thousands of URLs. In this specific instance, they had difficulty making sure that only high-quality, non-duplicate content would be indexed. Being an e-commerce client, the site also had tons of products that were very similar (resulting in identical product descriptions and content on the site).
I suggested creating an internal score sheet that would automatically be re-run every month to make sure that all currently indexed pages are still considered high-quality, while also offer an opportunity for pages that were once deemed low-quality to reviewed regularly. Once those low-quality pages became high-quality, they will become automatically indexed.
This process could be used to generate the sitemaps – but the goal is to future-proof the site against future search engine algorithmic changes while improving the overall domain authority of the site.
There are caveats that need to be addressed when creating an SEO score sheet- we want to be careful about noindexing pages, especially as overtime, this could result in less and less of the site being indexed. Once the initial script is written, check the results and see if these are actually pages that you want noindexed. If not, the script might have to be rewritten.
The ultimate goal is to make sure that only quality pages are indexed, while also keeping tabs on how many more pages on the site need unique content. This type of knowledge can prove useful when creating the site's linkbuilding/content strategy.
The overall goal is to build a streamlined process for technically auditing a site that can be described and thus, communicated internally. Creating a more efficient process means more time invested in other important elements- compiling quality content, building an online community, and social media to name a few.
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