How to SEO Your Site in Less Than 60 Minutes

Filed in MY BEST POSTS, SEO by Matt McGee on June 19, 2007

I’ve been a bad blogger. I’m swamped at work and have been distracted outside of work, and I’ve been trying to get by here on SBS with list links and even some of my best Flickr photos. I can’t remember the last time I posted something helpful / educational. My bad….

Let me take a stab at making things better.

I often get asked to review a web site and give quick feedback on the site’s SEO. The issue: Is the site doing well, or in desperate need of SEO help? To answer those questions, I’ve developed a speedy system to go through a site and take a quick SEO snapshot. I’m going to give that system away here. On a smaller site, this should take about 20 minutes. Even on the biggest sites, it’s never taken me more than an hour.

SEO Your Site in Less Than an Hour

A. Visit the home page, www.domain.com.

  1. Does it redirect to some other URL? If so, that’s bad.

  2. Review the Page Title. Does it use relevant, primary keywords? Is it formatted correctly?
  3. Review site navigation:
    • Format — text or image? image map? javascript? drop-downs? Text is best.

    • Page URLs — look at URL structure, path names, file names. How long are URLs? How far away from the root are they? Are they separated by dashes or underscores?
    • Are keywords used appropriately in text links or image alt tags?
  4. Review home page content:
    • Adequate and appropriate amount of text?

    • Appropriate keyword usage?
    • Is there a sitemap?
    • Do a “command-A” to find any hidden text.
    • Check PageRank via SearchStatus plugin for Firefox
  5. View source code:
    • Check meta description (length, keyword usage, relevance).

    • Check meta keywords (relevance, stuffing).
    • Look for anything unusual/spammy (keywords in noscript, H1s in javascript, etc.).
    • If javascript or drop-down navigation, make sure it’s crawlable.
    • Sometimes cut-and-paste code into Dreamweaver to get better look at code-to-page relationship.

B. Analyze robots.txt file. See what’s being blocked and what’s not. Make sure it’s written correctly.

C. Check for www and non-www domains — i.e., canonicalization issues. Only one should resolve; the other should redirect.

D. Look at the sitemap (if one exists).

  1. Check keyword usage in anchor text.

  2. How many links?
  3. Are all important (category, sub-category, etc.) pages listed?

E. Visit two category/1st-level pages.

Repeat A1, A2, A3, A4, and A5 – this will be quicker since many objects (header, footer, menus) will be the same. In particular, look for unique page text, unique meta tags, correct use of H1s, H2s to structure content.

Check for appropriate PageRank flow. Also look at how they link back to home page. Is index.html or default.php appended on link? Shouldn’t be.

F. Visit two product/2nd-level pages.

Same steps as E.

Also, if the site sells common products, find 2-3 other sites selling same exact items and compare product pages. Are all sites using the same product descriptions? Unique content is best.

G. Do a site:domain.com search in all 3 main engines.

Compare pages indexed between the three. Is pages indexed unusually high or low based on what you saw in the site map and site navigation? This may help identify crawlability issues. Is one engine showing substantially more or less pages than the others? Double-check robots.txt file if needed.

H. Do site:domain.com *** -jdkhfdj search in Google to see supplemental pages.

All sites will have some pages in the supplemental index. Compare this number with overall number of pages indexed. A very high percentage of pages in the supplemental index = not good.

(Note: The above is no longer a way to view supplemental results in Google, and Google has said it no longer distinguishes between a main set of results and a supplemental set.)

I. Use Aaron’s SEO for Firefox extension to look at link counts in Yahoo and MSN. If not in a rush, do the actual link count searches manually on Yahoo Site Explorer and MSN to confirm.

…..END…..

That’s what I do when making a quick SEO site analysis. Important: This is for identifying problems, not fixing them. And it doesn’t replace a real and complete SEO analysis. (There are several shortcomings, for example. Here’s one: Steps E and F assume that all category pages across the site will be the same, and that all product pages will be the same. This is not always the case, so you may miss problems/issues that a real, deeper analysis would reveal.)

Questions for you:

- What other flaws do you find with this?
- What other steps do you take when doing a quick SEO analysis?

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  1. pratt says:

    Great post, Matt. I also try and figure out if they own more then one domain and are displaying the same content on it. One of the ways I usually stumble across this is by looking through the links Yahoo Site Explorer shows. Oddly enough, they always seem to link to one another.

    I don’t spend a lot of time doing that, but when I see 15+ links coming from one site it always makes me take a look.

  2. Matt McGee says:

    Very good point, Taylor. That’s one of the things you need to know for sure. In fact, it’s one of many off-page factors that are important that my system above doesn’t take into account. :)

    When we get beyond this point and start discussing a relationship and project with a prospect, we do ask what other domains they own and how they use them.

  3. Paul says:

    Very nice presentation. I do recommend four more things:
    1) constant check of the links: domain.com to see what links rank higher than others so that you can assess which site is better for promotion purposes
    2) using the good Page Strength from http://www.seomoz.org/page-strength
    3) having both the sitemap you mention and an XML sitemap and
    4) getting (in 1-2 minutes) the Google and Yahoo Keycodes.

  4. dedmond29 says:

    I like the checklist – excellent steps! I also like to look at the code and url syntax as well – meaning, are they using CSS and external javascript files and what they may be doing with their web addresses (assuming that they have complete control of these things).

  5. jondale says:

    Excellent stuff. But how important do you think this* really is?
    *”Check for www and non-www domains — i.e., canonicalization issues. Only one should resolve; the other should redirect”.
    I’ve checked 20 sites that I’ve worked on and only one resolves ‘correctly’, but all 20 sites are performing very well in search engine results.
    Also, I searched Google using terms in some highly competitive markets and looked at the site in top place for each search. I tried ten searches and checked the ten No1 sites. Not one of them resolved correctly. I can’t see any evidence that sites which fail to redirect are disadvantaged in any way. Can you? Can anybody?

  6. Matt McGee says:

    Thx for your thoughts & questions, jondale. If you’re expecting or suggesting that sites which don’t have the canonical issue resolved correctly are somehow penalized or unable to rank — that’s not the case.

    The problem … or, the reason it’s important is that you end up spreading your “link juice” over different URLs. My main hobby site, for example, worked both with the www and without it for YEARS! And about 30-40% of the inbound links went to the non-www version, while the rest went to the www version. What would’ve happened if I’d caught and fixed that early on? I’d love to know. I recently put the 301 in place, so now I’m waiting to see the benefits.

    Also, keep in mind that in Google’s Webmaster Central you can tell Google which one is the canonical URL, so even though you saw it handled incorrectly on the public side, Google may have it correct internally.

  7. rafael says:

    Your checklist is very helpfull.

    It is a very quick check to deside to take the Website or not.

  8. robwatts says:

    Nice Matt, I’m sure this’ll help lots of people looking to get things started.

    Keep the longer version under wraps mind ;)

  9. I think it will still take less than 60 minutes. I am going to try this out on a new site. Thanks a lot.

    ~Sahil Gupta

  10. Donace says:

    I’ve commentated about this before; but again a brilliant checklist here.

    Looking through my site i find that I fulfil most criterion, though some gaps are present.

    H ave you considered putting all your best posts in an ebook format to allow better readability?

  11. OMP says:

    Hey, that’s a nice list. Very helpful for smaller companies. Some sites tend to stuff relevant/irrelevant keywords into the page. Google penalises such sites by ranking them very low or not ranking them at all.

  12. Gianni says:

    Nice post. It has been a great checklist to use on my website, great to see I had done already quite well! Thanks for sharing

  13. dheren says:

    thanks for providing me this lovely information on SEO basics and i think its useful atleast for the beginners

  14. Justin says:

    Excellent points. I have yet to address the canolical (how you say it) issues with www’s. I wonder how much difference this will make when I do. Does it really hurt the site that much?

  15. Matt McGee says:

    Justin – the engines are getting better at handling that issue, but it’s such a simple fix … so, why hope and trust that they get it right? Better to solve it yourself and avoid any potential problems.

  16. George says:

    Great, Great post. This is a very informative checklist and very helpful to newbies. I would also suggest the Firefox extension Firebug. I find it a great tool for SEO.

  17. Justin says:

    If you wanted to add another 20 mins to the 60 mins you could give some suggestions on some fast high power links to get such as yahoo directory or best of the web directory placements! :)

  18. Tom Duong says:

    Very good tips on SEO. Most of which I already have completed.

  19. D. Watts says:

    I don’t see any flaws with the content. These are your steps in SEO. Nothing out of the ordinary.

  20. Murphy Lee says:

    Hello Matt,
    it is really very useful for me, i have good list by google, but still not listed by Yahoo, would you please give me some advice!

  21. leon says:

    i usually also add htaccess file

    ErrorDocument 404 /index.htm

  22. John says:

    Just to let you know… keyword meta tags are useless on Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

  23. Keith says:

    What is a good way to get links to ones site? Isn’t that the main SEO? Should the links be relevant to the subject site? Such as real estate sites linked to real estate sites, or does it matter?

    Thanks,
    Keith

  24. Aaron says:

    @Keith – Of course related sites to your niche will give your site more trust, at least I think so.

  25. Lisa Bishop says:

    Hi Matt,

    Two other areas I look at are a 404 error page and bottom text navigation. Do they have a 404 error page and is it optimized. And I look at navigation – especially bottom navigation. Is it text? Is it logical? Is it properly created?

    Lisa

  26. Nabil says:

    Great walk-through.

    One thing I like pointing out is that SEO isn’t all about link building and such.

    In my opinion, you should put 80 percent of your focus on the content. And the rest (20!) on other things such as link building.

    It’s about content – not links.

  27. Stuart says:

    @Nobil… I agree 100%, the one major thing that most websites I review that have been SEO’d generally seem to be missing out on is internal linking optimisation and content theming, between these two a site can compete at very competative levels and this is even before were talking about building a great backlink profile to compliment the on-site optimisation!

  28. joey says:

    Good list.

    - are you suggesting dash and underscores are good or bad?

    - What do the crwalers think stuffing is?

    - How important is clean code? I ask because I have a wordpress plugin installed that just loads my with tons of css.

    Thanks again.

  29. Steve says:

    Pretty good tips…I still think that with even the latest Google update (Panda) backlinks are the most important factor for ranking. But good on page stuff will put you above alot of your competition that doesn’t know any better.

  30. Simon says:

    That is a reasonably thorough scope of on page and domain optimization,.. im sure newbies around the world are taking notes.. or at least should be..

    Very important, and often missed is the use of tags as well as and

    Addon / tips.
    Make sure you try (at least) to make your primary keywords bold and italic’d at least once in the content.. also have a link going out to a ranked authority (rel=”nofollow of course) on the topic that your trying to associate with.. [it moves you along in the association line a little quicker if your linking to solid reference]

    Great Blog BTW!
    Cheers from Whistler

  31. crazygunz says:

    An excellent resource Matt. It has everything that a new guy needs to start blogging and also has information for experts who may still miss out on certain things. Thanks for putting together this material.

  32. Halo Matt,

    This is a great SEO post. Short and precise.

    I would personally go with two main things when it comes to seo -

    1. Create optimized content
    2. Powerful link building

    They are the key to a the best search engine friendly blog .

  33. Rick Noel says:

    Great list Matt and equally relevant today. Talk about evergreen content, and in the SEO space no less. Just goes to show that some core SEO principles have stood the test of time. The canonical issues are easy to fix with a simple .htaccess file (for most web server configurations) which is one of the first pieces of low hanging SEO fruit that I go after when a site can be accessed through multiple URLs. Also, referencing the path sitemap.xml within the robots.txt file is a best practice we follow. Page load time is also a key thing that is easy to check. The last comment is to check # of outbound links and meta tag lengths and relevancy to content. SEO Centro has a great tool which can be located by Google-ing “SEO Centro Meta Tag analyzer.” Its a free tool where you enter the page URL and it analyzes checks many key aspects mentioned here and provides a great report. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Tom Corn says:

    Great post Matt. In these days after the recent Panda updates over at Google these on page SEO steps are more important than ever. Google is starting to pay much more attention to on page content and much less value is being attributed to old school link building techniques.