Search Audits – Finding Out Where You Stand

by Alan Eggleston

Photo: Alan Eggleston screen capture

Photo: Alan Eggleston screen capture

One of the first actions I take for a client – whether I’m providing SEO services or simply writing or editing copy for them – is to perform a search audit. In addition to doing the thing they ask me to do, I want to know, where do they stand today in a search, and how can I build on that (and certainly not make it worse)?

When you decide to make changes to your website, you should know where you stand in a search, too. And you should take actions that will do it no harm. The best way to know where you stand is to do a search audit.

What is a search audit?

Like any kind of audit, a search audit is an analysis. In this case, it looks at the basics of your website and attempts to see what results a basic search returns and how your website contributes to it. Here is what I do in a basic search audit.

My basic search audit

First, I set my search tools to “any time” and “all results.” I also clean out my browser cache, history, and cookies; these, plus location, can affect results. (See Google’s Search Settings for more details.)

Next, I do a basic organic search using the relevant keywords and phrases for my site and see where my site shows up and how my site compares with my competition. This isn’t an exhaustive search, more of a cursory search to see if my site shows up in the very important first three pages of returns, how I’m competing with others whom my potential customers may also find, and for my most critical keywords and phrases.

Afterwards, I look “under the hood” of the site – in the “source code” to see what optimizes the site or what acts as roadblocks to search. I’ve talked about these before, but to summarize:

  • Meta tags: Does every page have a unique page title, description, and list of keywords? Does every image and graphic have an alt tag?
  • Positioning of elements: Is the top of the page code heavy, or are indexable heads and text at the top?
  • Head tags: Do headlines and subheads use the H1, H2, H3 (etc.) head tags to add weight?
  • Strong tags: Are keywords bolded or italicized with “strong” and “emphasis” tags on first use to add weight?
  • Links and anchor text:  Are keywords given authoritative links using a variety of external URLs and anchor text that tell search engines they are meaningful and highly relevant to your page?

To look at source code in a Windows browser, right click on the page and in Chrome scroll to “view page source”; in Internet Explorer scroll to “view source.”

I also verify that there isn’t anything “black hat” in the source code that could earn penalties, including hidden text, keyword stuffing, link stuffing, and so on.

More robust audits

If I’m doing SEO work for the client, I do a more exhaustive audit including more keywords and phrases, identifying and searching for specific competitors (a competitive site analysis), and searching through greater results depth. For very competitive industries or for clients where local results are particularly important, I focus more on local results.

I also look at inbound and outbound links more thoroughly. Search engines penalize for linking to spam and sites that aren’t relevant to your topic, so it’s important to ensure you don’t accept link exchanges or links with no real connection to you or your organization, including links further down the link matrix. One way to review links is through the links reporting in your analytics program (Google Analytics includes this feature, which also allows you to disavow negative links).

This is also a good time to consider how you approach social media interaction. Facebook, LinkedIn, blog, and other social networking likes, retweets, shares, forwards, and other interactions that indicate an acceptance of your content add value to your site, and if what gets passed on includes a link to your site, all the better. So be sure to add links to interior pages to your site and a way to pass them on.

Also good to check is whether your site is registered with certain professional and industry directories, which provide opportunities for links, and listings like Yellow Pages, Maps (Google, Yahoo, and Bing), Google Place, and Local First.

After the NSA PRISM surveillance revelations, some people looking for additional privacy have started using less prominent search engines, such as StartPage and Ixquick. Google and Bing remain the dominant search engines, but for the immediate future, don’t forget to account for this shift in source of traffic.

It’s all about building traffic

All these elements and more can affect how search engines view your site and, thus, your search ranking. Your whole purpose should be to optimize your site for searches so people who want your product or services can find them. Performing an audit will help you find where you come up short and improve your site. That is your goal, right – bringing in more traffic?

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9 thoughts on “Search Audits – Finding Out Where You Stand

  1. Pingback: Optimization and the Competitive Analysis Audit | Web Editors

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  4. I believe what you published made a lot of sense.
    But, what about this? what if you were to ccreate a awesome headline?
    I ain’t suggesting your information is not good,
    however suppose you added a post titl that makes people desire more?
    I mean Search Audits – Finding Out Where You Stand | Web Editors is kinda
    boring. You ought to glance at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create post titles to
    grab people to click. You mignt add a related video or a pic or two too gra peiple interested
    about what you’ve written. Just mmy opinion, it wouod make your website a little bit more interesting.

    • Grabber headlines are OK for news-like websites with big followers. People will be going there anyway and the grabber headlines will catch their attention. It is less likely, however, that someone found the page by organic search. They may have found it through social media promotional headlines.

      You aren’t really addressing the main points of my article, however. For more typical websites, fighting for attention in crowded space, finding out where you are in a search is critical and making sure you have covered the basics in optimization practices, following search engine guidelines will do you far more good than writing a catching title. That title had better cover the keywords that people are search for, not schmoozy marketing language. One of the benefits of Google Hummingbird is that the website can now use more general keyword language to create more meaning behind the page to bring in more searchers. Videos and pics are helpful but without the right meta tags and keywords, they’re useless in helping someone actually FIND the page. They work better when someone as finally found the page.

      Good questions to post, however. Thanks!

  5. I really like your blog.. very nice colors &
    theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone
    to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to create my own blog
    and would like to find out where u got this from.

    thanks a lot

    • Hi Trudy. Glad you like our blog. We used the WordPress template called Twenty Eleven, so it was pretty simple to set up ourselves. I like to use an image on my articles, which I research using Google Image (I make sure the image is creative commons licensed for commercial use), and the template provides the ability to add images while you’re inputting copy. The main images for the website come with the template and rotate through differently each time a page is visited. Hope that helps. WordPress is fairly easy to use and offers lots of options. Enjoy!
      Alan

  6. With hаvin so much written content do you еver
    run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement?
    My site һas a lot of uniquе content I’ve еither authored myself or outsourced but it looҝs
    like a lot of it is poрping it up all over the internet without my ⲣermission. Do yоu know any sօⅼᥙtions to help protect against
    content from ƅeing ripped off? I’d definitely appreciate it.

    • Hi Sell Healthcare Company. Thank you for your question. I personally haven’t noticed much plagiarism or copyright infringement of my content, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in the vastness of the internet. When I do see it, I address it immediately, requesting that the offender remove it, citing my copyright but also telling why it not only hurts me but also why it hurts them. When they duplicate my content I can be penalized by Google and other search engines, and so can they. And if they duplicate a lot of my content I could threaten to sue them, costing them a lot in legal fees to defend themselves. There are also ways to report offenders to the search engines, especially continual offenders. Your best defense against penalties from search engines is to use the canonical tag in your content URLs (search for it in Google) and if you find someone who is outright lifting your content, suggest ways they can cite a small portion of your content (say a few lines or a paragraph maximum) and then link to your original page. Being positive rather than punitive at the outset is often the most productive remedy. Another positive approach is to provide ways to link to your work like social media icons that automate the process, using icons. Some sites provide a linking mechanism coded into the page that allows sharing content.

      Some content thieves just aren’t responsible posters and want to get good content for nothing. Then we have to decide how much it damages us and our reputations to have them stealing our hard work and ingenuity and whether it’s worth the cost and effort to make them take it down. And that’s partly what keeps them going, because often it isn’t worth it. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way the world is. Best way in this situation is to consult an intellectual property attorney to see what your rights are.

      Hope this is helpful.

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