When I was working on my recent post about a duplicate description meta tags bug that were showing up in my WordPress theme, I ran across this site. SEOJeff.com is a good site to visit if you ever want to try to understand what an SEO consultant actually does, and Jeff supplies some great tutorials on his blog so that you can take on more advanced analytics yourself. He compiled a list of essential tools you can you to improve your SEO and it’s pretty good. There’s a plenty of information there if you’re interesting in going a little deeper into SEO.
Now that I’ve launched the Digital Designer blog, I’ve been looking for guidance on what my intrepid visitors are up to when they get here. In addition, I wanted to make sure I was keyword optimizing my pages to attract the right type of visitors from Google and other search engines. There I was, with a lot of questions and in need of serious feedback on my SEO – hoping my visitors are getting good use out of my content. Off I went, venturing out on the Interwebs to find some free tools to help me answer my questions and improve my search engine rankings.
If you’re in a similar situation, hopefully you were smart enough to use a SEO optimized theme for your CMS or blog. If you didn’t, you should switch to one. WordPress theme developers might want to check out the Ashford Framework or the Hybrid Theme Framework. The other option is to research plug-ins or modules that address search engine optimization gaps in your current Website’s functionality.
This post is not a SEO guide (I’ll save that for another post,) it’s more a nudge in the right direction. What I cover here will help you start conversation about why you’re not being found online, or optimize your current strategy to get your message out to more people.
A short review of SEO basics
Here is a really short and sweet snapshot of SEO basics and another Google SEO Basics for Beginners post you can explore for the uninitiated. Also if the dynamics of internet search are new concepts to you I recommend you read Web Dragons: Inside the Myths of Search Engine Technology (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Multimedia Information and Systems), it gives a great foundation to this discussion.
SEO is critical as the Web grows exponentially
SEO is critical to any Website, and is really a never-ending balance of context and usefulness for your users. Your site needs to embody what search engine users are searching for or you’re toast, because search engines need to serve their users great content (that addresses their needs) or the search engines lose market share.
With the overall growth of the Internet booming and the Web being accessed from more diverse devices – it’s easy for your site to get lost in the shuffle. Some are even saying the Internet is running at full capacity as you read this. To paraphrase Fredrick Marckini in the foreword of Rebecca Lieb's book “The Truth About Search Engine Optimization“- “either users find you or they find your competitors.”
Search engines index text, text, and more text. (I might have stole that line from somebody, but it’s a good one and is the key to getting good search engine ranking.) All the other bells and whistles are nice, but what happens to your page when you turn off the images, flash, and video? Does your message hold up? Now that I’ve your attention, and before you panic, here’s what not to do try to improve your SEO. Don’t forget to check your code after you implement changes, and avoid doubling up on the same type of meta tags.
Alright, since the stage is set and we know some of the issues involved. Let's see how our site is doing…
Build your SEO toolset
Ok, first there is the obvious stuff like Google Webmaster tools and Google Analytics. Google Webmaster tools helps guide you though improving your site in ways that help optimize your search engine ranking in Google. With features such as a keyword analysis tools, and interfaces that assist in setting up a sitemap and robots.txt file it’s a no-brainer to use it. I also recently found that Yahoo has their own version of this called Yahoo! Site Explorer (Update: Yahoo and Bing have merged their Webmaster tools.) Google Analytics is a little more advanced, and helps slice and dice your traffic stats, track online campaigns, view and analyze details about your users through the lens of Google’s servers.
I’ve compiled a list of more tools that are useful on their own, but in combination are a powerful suite of SEO software.
You will find these Websites incredibly useful for fine tuning your SEO to produce great results:
(Descriptions compiled from content on each respective site.)
Free Online SEO Tools
This is a free tool to help analyze the SEO performance of your domain for a given keyphrase. Reports include a variety of useful information and structured recommendations to improve overall effectiveness. Generate a few reports that aim to encourage the use of standards compliant, user-friendly and accessible code while at the same time helping website-owners to attract more visitors to their websites. Since launch in 2005, it’s provided tens of thousands of free SEO reports.
SEOCentro is a site that offers a myriad of tools and articles for the internet community. I link to the metatag analyzer but they also offer a keyword analyzer, among other useful tools. This tool stands out because it’s free and helps you test against a specific keyword phrase and gets really granular about how a search engine bots would view your content.
This tool is similiar to SEO Centro (almost like a second opinion) You can analyze most common meta tags, analyze keyword density from the page content, page load time from the page, size from the page, analyze title meta tag relevancy to page content, plus a host of other cool things like peeking into the actual header response to the initial server request.
HubSpot has tools that integrate with your sales and marketing activities, you get end to end marketing analytics that help you make smart marketing decisions. Optimizing each website page for key search terms may seem daunting. HubSpot gives you easy-to-follow recommendations to improve each page, even helping you prioritize where to start so you can manage optimization with ease.
Just submit your URL you want analyzed, and SEO Site Checkup will provide easy to understand recommendations so that your site will load faster, rank higher for your search terms, and get more visitors.
There are 100s of sites competing every day. W3Optimizer provides in just a single click a crystal clear report on changes that must be done to your webpage (on-page analysis.) Your reputation on the internet & what your competitor pages are about (Off page analysis, Google Top 10 Competitor analysis, Google Keyword Competition analysis, Google Top 10 Competitors Keywords) and many more.
These Firefox developer plugins are key for anyone that publishes Web pages on a regular basis. They are great for many reasons beyond working with SEO, and it would be foolish not to mention them here.
The Web Developer extension adds a menu and a toolbar with various web developer tools. Among the information you can filter from a page is meta tags and other page header data.
YSlow analyzes web pages and why they’re slow based on Yahoo!’s rules for high performance web sites.
4. SEO plugins
I’m not big on SEO plugins, but here’s a decent list of SEO Firefox plugin options to review.
Your work is never done
Remember, SEO is a dance that is never really over. You must continually tweak your relevancy because Web pages change, your users taste change, and multiply that by a factor whatever number of your competitor sites are out there. Some businesses are known to tweak their meta tags and keywords for seasonal changes, holidays, and to target visitors from their respective metro area – your strategy will be your own. But, changes should be given a chance to take hold to judge their effectiveness. Like any other aspect of your Website, SEO is an organic process that will evolve over time.
More Resources – Books on SEO and Web Strategy
Read more on ChrisDigital's Digital Designer Blog:
I’m using a theme for my blog called “Journalist”. I wanted something no-nonsense, with a minimalist 2 column layout that I could remix to my taste. Once I read Matt Mullenweg (founder of Automattic) uses it, I was sold. I realized when making this choice, I was using an older theme (optimized for 2.7) and I was aware it didn’t have some of the bells and whistles of some of the more expansive WordPress theme frameworks. This made me mindful to continually review what I was doing, looking out for conflicts with the latest WordPress install, and researching features I needed to add myself. I’m glad I stayed on top of this, because a SEO problem was occurring in my header.php file I didn’t catch originally when I was tweaking the theme.
Turns out my meta description tags were running in place
The problem is an easy one to overlook the first time around. Thanks to Pillar Consulting’s Keywordfriendly SEO tool I caught it. After reviewing the report it generated, I discovered I had multiple meta description tags in the head of my blog pages that were competing against each other. The first one being the standard tagline for the blog, and the second is the content compiled from the fields in All-in-one SEO plugin I installed. As Jeffrey Nichols points out, Google IGNORES the second one, defaulting to the first one it sees. Which confirmed my previous worries that something was off, after examination of my Google Alerts results for the blog. So, I was completely missing out the fruits of my diligent SEO work.
A really smart fix
So after a quick Google search I ran across Nathan Rice’s great post on taking complete control of your meta description tags titled Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO – META Descriptions. This is a must read for any theme developer and I was able to apply his code as a quick fix to my problem.
I modified his code to alternate between the blog tagline and plugin generated meta description tags as needed, depending on whether you were on my homepage or not. Originally, his solution alternates between the tagline and your post excerpt (which is very cool). So the end result is now that the search engines have a better idea of what I’m writing about, and on my terms.
If you’re not using a SEO-optimized WordPress theme, you might want to look into what’s going on in your header.php file(s) as well. SEO is fickle business.
More SEO Resources
2. Learn more about All-in-one SEO plugin.
3. Dig in with some more SEO tips and tools with Jeffery Nichols SEO Toolbox.
4. Learn more about Nathan Rice and what he does with WordPress.
5. Here’s a great series of tips for tuning your WordPress install for better SEO results.