Links and Other Details: Completing Your SEO Checklist

Last week, I began discussing a list of items you should check when you are performing SEO on a web site. I don’t doubt that those of you new to the field (as well as some veterans!) welcomed the list as a way to avoid losing track of all the details that go into any good site optimization. Now I’m going to hit on the items that I didn’t have room to cover last time.

Just to review quickly from last time, I didn’t come up with this list. The credit goes to Gary Beal, aka SEO Chat poster and moderator GaryTheScubaGuy. Gary has been an SEO for ten years, specializing in search, pay per click, affiliate management and email marketing. He focuses on competitive industries such as online gaming, banking and finance, insurance, travel and investments, so he knows what he’s talking about. He is currently affiliated with Stickyeyes

If you want, you can check out the thread where this list was introduced. You’ll also find others commenting on what he covers, and his replies to those comments. Feel free to add your own comments to the thread. Where possible, I’ve tried to include Gary’s comments and observations in both of these articles.

Continuing the quick review, Gary divided his checklist into four separate areas: meta tags and on-page optimization; technical issues; linking; and other issues. The first area dealt mainly with where you should put your key words; I covered it in detail in the previous article. The second area, which I began to discuss last time, deals with certain items that are easy to check for and easy to fix. I’ll be covering linking and others issues this time around as well. So without further ado, let’s dive back into the details.

Picking up the thread from where I left off, we’re going to revisit the technical aspects of SEO. This time we’re going to focus on the technical aspects that relate to linking. For instance, how many links point to the full URL of the web site? How many point to the full URL of various pages on the web site? Remember too that internal links count; how many internal pages point to your home page?

How visible is your domain name? You can count the results at Google for a search for your domain. That shows your URL’s visibility, and it’s a completely different check than your incoming link count.

How popular is your website in social media? I’ll go into that a little more in the linking section. For now, note how many incoming links you have from Technorati and Del.icio.us.

Is your web site in the top web directories? The top three are DMOZ, Yahoo, and MSN. Those aren’t the only ones you need to be in, but they’re a good start. Some of these directories charge for you to get in (Yahoo is known for charging a fee). Other directories that have been noted by some as being worth getting into include JoeAnt, GoGuides, Best of the Web, Linkopedia, and Bigall.

Are there any redirects? If you’re using redirects, make sure you’re using them correctly. I’ll mention this again when I discuss linking.

What does a search engine spider see when it visits your page? Yes, you want your human visitors to appreciate your web site, but very often they’ll find your site through a search engine. If a search bot can’t make out your content, it can’t let a visitor know that you have something on your site that is of potential interest to them.

Search engines don’t see a web page the way that humans do. I covered the way search engines "see" web sites a little more than a year ago; I won’t have the room to go into great detail here, so you might want to read that article if you’re interested in more information. While search engine spiders have progressed a little since late 2005, they still can’t see images or video; use text for your links! Any content you have behind a “wall” that requires a sign-in and a subscription to see won’t be picked up by the spiders.

This is where making your content accessible to people with disabilities can help. Many of the design decisions you might make to allow a blind person to surf your web page with a text reader will also help a search engine spider. Then again, some things just look “ugly” to a spider. Take dynamic URLs. Search engines have supposedly gotten better at indexing them, but they’re still not a good idea. This is just one example of many.

Check the back links to your site in the three major search engines: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Google is known to not list all of them, so you really do need to check the other two as well. This is also a good time to double check that you have a DMOZ listing.

Check your RSS feeds. Do you have outward RSS feeds so your visitors can sign up for your content? Do you have inward RSS feeds to get fresh content on your page?

Don’t neglect your 404 page. Just because users will only see that page if they don’t find your other pages is no reason to leave it generic. Optimize it for the search engines, and make it a little less intimidating for your visitors.

While we’re on the subject of redirects, do you have any 302 redirects on your site? If you do, change them to 301 redirects. Google will penalize you for 302 redirects if you leave them up too long.

Gary also notes that you should have PDF optimized docs in your root file with a navigation page listing each document description and link. You should also have a separate XML sitemap for these.

While we’re on the subject of links, don’t leave out social bookmarking sites. You don’t want to spam these sites, but you do want to get them to link to you. Gary recommends getting listed in the following social sites: Digg, Technorati, Del.icio.us, NowPublic, StumbleUpon, BlinkList, Spurl, Furl, Slashdot, and Simply. Another SEO forum member added several more to that list: Reddit, Meneame (Spanish), SocialPorn (adult), Odeo (French), and Yigg (German). I’d add Searchles. But not every social bookmarking site is going to be appropriate for every web site.

Another forum member mentioned a variety of other kinds of back links to check into. Try to get back links from universities, government sites, blogs, forums, and press releases (there are a number of web sites that accept press releases). You’ll also want to get links from blogs, and you might want to look into link exchanges.

While you’re checking everything else, don’t lose track of the content. Do you have at least 250 words of content on every page? If you’re not sure how many words that is, it’s about as many as you see on one page of an average paperback novel. Check your key word density (again) while you’re at it; make sure it is between three and seven percent for each key word on each page.

Do you have any broken links? If so, fix them. This is something that you’ll have to check on an ongoing basis, because the Internet is always changing.

You’ll want to help your visitors and the search engines find their way around your site. To that end, you’ll want to have XML and HTML sitemaps. You’ll also want to have a robots.txt file. If you have flash or frames, you’ll want to offer alternative forms of navigation. Search engine spiders can’t handle flash or frames, and many human visitors have little or no patience for them.

Finally, let’s look at browser compatibility issues. There was a time just after Microsoft won the first set of browser wars that this wasn’t quite as important; many web designers simply made sure their pages looked good in Internet Explorer and left it at that. You can’t do that anymore, if you ever really could. Most browsers have at least a few quirks, with Internet Explorer still a little quirkier than the rest. If you want to be comprehensive, you need to make sure your pages are compatible with the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, FireFox, Mosaic and Safari. Your visitors will be much happier, even if your web designers aren’t. There are ways to tell what browsers your visitors use when they arrive at your site; that should help guide you. Here at the Shed, we check our articles in both Internet Explorer and FireFox before they go live.

Between this article and the previous one, you should now have a fairly comprehensive understanding of everything you need to check and work on to perform a complete search engine optimization of a web site. As with many things, the devil is in the details. But it’s a small price to pay for the rewards of increased traffic – and conversions – that you can hope to achieve from an organic climb to the top of the search engine results pages. Good luck!

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