The reasons for that are three-fold. First, every single website is different. Second, we have no idea what we’re dealing with just by glancing at a site. Lastly, and most importantly, we spend a large amount of time performing the analysis because it’s such an important part of putting together a plan for a site’s SEO project.
While this might appear at first to be not a particularly earth-shattering revelation, it surprises me how many so-called SEOs don’t actually do an initial site analysis. Another thing that gets me shaking my head is the standard single page of statistics that many SEO firms consider to be an analysis. In this article, I’m going to share with you a couple of secrets to finding out what may really be going on with your website that we always look at during the course of an SEO analysis. But first, I want to show you a few so-called SEO analyses that quite frankly have me hopping mad.
I am a firm believer in looking at the entire SEO picture. There is no magic formula to optimizing a website for search engines; no secret formula to that winning combination. There are, however, a few foundational aspects of good, basic SEO. One of those is the analysis.
Now I don’t want to sound like a suspicious, cynical individual who can find nothing better to do than to “spy” on my competition. I do, however, try to find out what other SEO firms are doing for my own benefit. So when a company offers a free analysis, I ask for one. I have several other websites that honestly have nothing to do with SEO. I have my own personal website with a blog, pictures of my kids, and my writing portfolio. I frankly don’t have time to optimize it well. But I’m not really looking to gain a bunch of visitors to my site from the search engines; it’s just my own outlet for personal stuff. So usually I ask for an analysis on this site. I also dabble in some web design, and occasionally, I’ll want an analysis on that site, too. I usually reserve asking for the analysis on the last one for when I run across a particularly obtuse company who may not notice the many blurbs or links I have to my SEO site.
In my own research and desire to streamline my own analysis efforts, I have compared my information over the span of a few months. These are just a few of my findings.
- Statistical Data – The biggest part of an SEO analysis is the research. Research results in statistical data. This is not just information you have in your web stats program, but other information you may not have access to, such as how many people do a search every day on your particular keyword, or what your competition is doing, and how they are doing it. There can be endless reports and data that an SEO could provide, so be aware you can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers provided. An SEO might consider creating the analysis as an overview, with the statistical data in addenda or reports to back up the information.
- Explanations of Terminology – You may end up with a huge analysis with lots of data, findings, and reports, but if you can’t make heads or tails of it, then it may not do you much good. Some SEO firms put the analysis on paper for you, and then offer a free consultation with it to go over anything you may not understand. This is a good idea if the SEO firm doesn’t explain the results in the analysis directly.
- Specific Keyword Research – I hate broad keywords. I hate SEOs that recommend broad keywords even more. Unless you are a site with thousands of backlinks because of branding or other link popularity reasons, you are just not going to rank highly for broad keywords. A good SEO analysis will gear its keyword research to keywords and key phrases that are appropriate for your site and its pages, and make recommendations for keywords or key phrases to consider optimizing for.
- Screenshots or Other Evidence – If you get an analysis with a bunch of recommendations or percentages, keyword densities or whatever statistics you are provided without any corroborating evidence, then the analysis provider could just be pulling numbers out of a hat as far as you’re concerned. A good analysis will have additional information that will back up the analysis findings.
- Detailed Findings – It is not enough just to show you what your meta tags say. You can find that information out yourself, so why would you need someone else to do that for you? You need specific research customized to your site that digs pretty deep. You will want to look for a search engine simulation (what a search engine would see if it were to crawl your site), a list of broken links, site structure, navigation crawlability, which pages and how many of them are being indexed, when the last search engine crawl was, and so on.
- Current Search Engine Rankings – I don’t just mean the top ten or even top 40 results, because chances are you can do all of this yourself. Look for a company or individual who can access 500 to 1000 or more results in more than just one search engine.
- Site Recommendations – If you pay for an analysis, you should be able to take that analysis and change some of your site elements yourself with that SEO’s recommendation. Now obviously an SEO wants your business, and wants to do the work for you, so they aren’t going to reveal all of the little secrets they have about your site, but there should still be a good portion of step by step instructions for you to work with. If there is a consultation included, it’s even better.
- Solicitation – An SEO obviously wants his or her analysis to lead to your purchasing their services. But if your analysis is littered with endorsements, sponsored links or even too much of the company’s own propaganda, then you may want to reconsider hiring that company. For example, a client showed me an analysis he received from another company. Even though the analysis was free, it was only about four pages; and of that, only a half a page was even any kind of analysis whatsoever, and it was so general that it honestly was just a waste of paper, and could have applied to just about any site on the Web. The rest was that company’s advertising and solicitation of its own services. Needless to say, this was a major turnoff for the client, who hired me instead.
- Irrelevant Statistics – While this one may on the surface seem like a no-brainer, let me explain what I mean. Obviously if you are looking for keyword analysis, and you have a site about breeding pug puppies, you don’t want statistics regarding celebrity car auctions. This is not what I mean here. What I mean is that many SEOs will fluff up your analysis with statistics regarding your competitors, or even its search engine findings. If these numbers don’t help you understand how to improve your search engine standing or improve your site, then you don’t need them in your analysis. While we always include reports with many of these findings as addenda for reference purposes, we don’t usually put them directly into the analysis.
- Reports that Cannot be Backed up with Evidence – You’ve heard about it and probably experienced it for yourself when an SEO firm shows you their results for other clients with top ten SERPs (search engine results pages). It is necessary for you to be able to have a link to view them yourself, or that the company can provide specific, preferably dated, evidence of their magic. Screenshots are great, but they don’t make a lot of sense when there is no corroboration of those events. Further, if you are being told that your site is falling in the SERPs due to this or that factor, the SEO firm should be able to provide evidence why this is the case.
- Possible Futuristic Events or Predictions – There is absolutely no one that can predict what a search engine may or may not do, and as a result there is not an SEO firm in the world that can make predictions about how your site will do in a search engine. This is a sticky subject because it gets into the area of guaranteed results. I’ve seen countless firms out there that offer Top Ten results guarantees, or number one results. I shake my head every single time.
I had a prospective client just recently for whom I did an analysis. They were a small company started by two programmers who had a travel industry website, which was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, the travel industry is the #2 most sought after industry in regards to keywords on the Internet, and while they were happy with the results of the analysis, we couldn’t seem to agree on the SEO work itself. The reason was that they were looking for guarantees for very broad keywords. I am very careful in this area, because while I can guarantee a certain percentage increase in traffic or SERPs positioning, recommend appropriate keywords for particular pages or suggest content choices, they wanted pay per performance based on which keywords hit the Top Ten in Google; the keywords were so broad that you could drive a truck through the hole they created.
Needless to say, I declined to submit the offer with a guarantee, and I’m sure that since I didn’t hear from them again, they chose the other guy. That’s okay, because there is no way I can predict a Top Ten result for that kind of broad keyword. No one can. I’d rather not set myself up for disaster, and not getting paid!
- General and Vague Findings – Stating the obvious is mercilessly painful in any industry, but it truly applies to SEO. You cannot properly do research for a website with broad parameters resulting in broad results. Each and every website out there is as unique as the individual or individuals that created it. Every SEO analysis, just like every SEO project, should be customized and geared toward that company’s specific needs at this very moment in time. Examples of vague findings would be “You’re not in the top ten results for this keyword.” Well, DUH! They wouldn’t be looking for an SEO analysis if they were. If an SEO company dumbs down a report because they think you can’t handle the findings, then run away twice, you silly person.
It’s difficult to imagine trying to do all of the above mentioned things manually, especially if you are a do-it-yourself type of person. In fact, it would be ridiculous to try to do some of them that way, like current search engine rankings. This is why SEOs use tools, and many of these tools are free. There are a bunch of recommended tools that we use that don’t cost you anything; in fact, many of them are here on SEO Chat. If you’ve never checked out our SEO Tools section, you may want to do it now. You’ll be able to use them to keep on top of your search engine optimization yourself, or even recommend these tools to your webmaster or designer if you don’t have time.
You will also need a great stats program for your website. Many web hosts include some kind of free statistics program with your hosting package, whether it be AWStats, Analog, or Webalizer. There are a few things you need to be able to see in your stats in order for them to be useful at all. You need to know more than just how many hits you are getting to a web page. You need to know the numbers of unique visitors, repeat visitors, exit and entry pages, and much more. For more information on you website statistics, read my series on web stats here on SEO Chat.
You’ll want to sign up for a Google API so that you can have access to many search engine results in one setting. You can get your free API key here. You’ll also want to find a web program or website tool that will help you see where you site is in Yahoo and MSN SERPs as well.
You’ll need to check for site navigation, crawlability, broken links, and dead ends in your website, just to name a few. If a search engine spider can’t crawl your site, you’ll want to know why. Just do a search for free or commercial programs that can do these things. We also offer a few of these things on our own site, FirstClass-SEO.com. (You will need to sign up as a member to access these tools.)
The very first step in great SEO work is the analysis; it is also useful continuously throughout the optimization process, and you cannot do well without it. If you want to perform the analysis yourself, then go for it. Self analysis is sometimes the best thing you can do for your own website, because no one knows your website like you do. If you can’t do it, then you may look for a free analysis, but there’s a very good chance that you may have to pay for one to get the results you can actually use.