There are hundreds and thousands of agencies and consultants in the search marketing space, and all of them that are worth their salt will look into three primary things to improve your site:
- Checking to make sure your technical structure is well set up
- Setting up consistent on-site content production
- Creating a strategy to improve your off-site backlink profile
The methods might change, the tools might be different, but all search marketers will be touching on these three primary points to improve your search marketing.
I'm writing this to educate you on what to look for, but also so that you can start focusing on some of these things yourself before you're ready to make a full commitment to this beyond just your own input.
So, here's what they would specifically look into and how they would update your site:
1. Checking to make sure your technical structure is well set up
Think about the technical structure of your site as the foundation upon which you would build your castle.
You wouldn't want to be putting all this effort into something that's basically going to crumble from its roots over time, would you?
This is why the technical structure of your site being well optimized for search is so paramount.
There are a few primary things to make sure are set up properly that I would recommend you research that a search marketer would immediately check for:
- Navigational link structure - making sure you're sending equity to the right places
- On-page links - shouldn't have more than 100 at a time
- Canonicalized URLs - you could potentially be splitting the backlink equity of your domain in half if you don't have properly canonicalized URLs
- Sitemap.xml - a sitemap.xml is the primary source that bots should crawl to get a gauge on the prioritization of pages on your site, as well as get an entire crawl of your currently accessible URLs
- Nofollow tags - you could potentially be blocking pages of your site that are extremely important and not even know it using these tags
- Robots.txt - the very first spot web crawlers hit when they come to your site, you should be letting crawlers know where to go and where not to go here
- Schema Markup - Schema markup can help your site stand out better in the SERPs (search engine result pages) which will increase your click through rates dramatically
- Site load speed - if your site load speed is slower than 2 seconds Google will start discounting it in the rankings, Google wants to get people to the content they're searching for as soon as possible, so it's important to have a fast site
- Responsiveness - if your site isn't responsive and is split into multiple mobile subdomains it could be splitting the equity of your site and effecting its overall rankings, as well as sending bad usability signals to Google which could hurt your site
- Google Webmaster Tools & Bing Webmaster Tools - using both of these free tools can be invaluable to your search performance, because Google and Bing readily report issues directly to you through the interface if they notice anything out of the ordinary coming from your site. You can disavow bad links that could be hurting you, see where crawl errors are happening, and directly submit your sitemap.xml to Google to help their trust metrics improve the rankings of your site
There are plenty of other things that search marketers would look for, but those are some of the main ones that would have the fastest quick wins of any of the other items typically found in what is referred to as a "Technical Audit."
2. On-site content production
Second up a quality search marketer will always look at content performance and production on your site.
Whether you're running a web publication that publishes 30 blog posts per day, or a local mom and pop shop that hasn't written a blog post ever, there's always opportunities for improvement.
Search marketers looking into your content production would typically look for a few things that would immediately show if you're targeting your content properly:
- Frequency - how often have you been publishing? Is your publishing consistent? Some content is better than none, but ideally you should be putting content out at a consistent rate, whether that be 2 blog posts per month, 4 blog posts per month, or even 1 post per month
- Targeting - how are you targeting the content that you're producing? Are you targeting direct keyword queries that you have researched? Are you answering questions your customers might have about your products or industry? Are you using trends to guide your content calendar? If your industry is seasonal are you riding the seasonality curve with your content? All of these things are very important, whether you're posting 30 posts per month or one.
- Quality - how in depth is your content? If you were to Google the keywords you're trying to rank for, and you clicked on the pages ranking for #1-3 is your content at least 3x better, more researched, more informative, more entertaining than those 3 articles or resources? If not, you need to improve it drastically to be so. You shouldn't approach your content from a position of "500 words per article" ever, you should be approaching your content from what is needed to rank well for the target you're shooting for.
- Promotion - how well are you promoting your content? Are you sharing it on social media? Are you using paid promotion on social media to increase initial interest in it? Are you looping in influencers or people with large followings to increase the exposure of your articles? Are you creating a private network of writers or influencers that help give you feedback on articles? Are you tapping into social communities like LinkedIn Groups, Google+ Communities, Slack Teams and things of that nature to get your content proactively in front of more people? Explosive growth doesn't happen by itself, it has to be made.
- Following - how well are you cultivating your following? Do you have an email list you're nurturing? Or a web community on your site? A Slack Team you're inviting people to and engaging with? Are you focusing on any one specific social network to dominate it with your presence like Twitter or Instagram? This should be heavily considered when thinking about how to target and promote your content.
These are all incredibly important ways to improve your content performance. Each point rests on the others to be successful, so they should all be done in unison to be successful, if any of these 5 pillars is broken the whole structure falls.
A good search marketer would look into your content production to find the broken pillars and educate you to essentially prop them back up in what we'd refer to as a "Content Audit."
3. Off-site back link profile
A site simply can't rank well without a good backlink profile.
Links still make up the lion's share of Google's ranking algorithm, and it's like that for a reason. A link on the web is the ultimate "voucher" for the quality of another source. You need more people vouching for you.
A search marketer would immediately look into your backlink profile to see a few things about your site:
- Authority - how high authority are the links pointing to your site? Are you getting really high quality mentions or reviews from very large publications and websites? Or are you only getting mentioned by a lot of low quality sites? The higher authority a site is, the more influential its links will be to your rankings depending also on how relevant it is to your keywords.
- Quality - what's the quality of the backlinks pointing to your site? Are they from illegitimate sources? Do you have potential negative backlinks pointing to your site? If so they will need to be cleaned up through a disavow cleanup campaign. If you have low quality links pointing to your site they could be doing more harm than good.
- Relevance - how relevant are the links pointing to your site? Are they coming from sources that are in your industry or make sense? If you have a bunch of random links from random sources they won't help you rank for your keywords and could even potentially hurt you.
- Anchor text - how many links directly mention your keywords? How many are brand-related? How many are just miscellaneous "click here" links? Keyword-specific anchor text will always help you rank the best for those keywords, but you shouldn't have too many of these or they will start to look unnatural. This is why it's important to have a fair share of branded links and other types of links as well.
- Orientation - where are these links pointing to? If you're trying to get a certain landing page to rank above other pages it will help that page the most to have links pointing directly to its URL rather than to the root domain of your site.
These are the 5 things a search marketer would immediately look for in your backlink profile to assess if you have a good quality backlink profile or not.
Focusing on increasing links based on these 5 points will dramatically help your site rank better. Get high-authority links from relevant sites that have a quality reputation with good anchor text, pointing to the pages on your site that you want to rank.
If you can't get this naturally, try to work on the pages of your site to make them enticing to link to under these circumstances.
Giving away the farm
I'm basically giving away the farm with this post. These are the highest leverage items if you look at SEO and search marketing in general from an 80/20 analysis perspective.
You will have great effect by focusing on these items regardless of hiring a full-time search marketer or SEO consultant, but it does help to have someone go more in-depth on these items for you beyond what was outlined here.
So use this guidance until you're ready to hire someone to help you with this, whether it be a full-time employee or a consultant like one from my agency.
Onward and upwards! (In the rankings, that is!)