I'm going to explain how to conduct a Search Engine Optimization review (SEO) in today and tomorrow's posts.
To build a name for myself as an SEO specialist, I'll be reviewing the SEO strategy of James' Martin's blog on making money online, Work Boxers as part of a series of reviews of important business blogs. The five areas of search engine optimization I'll be covering in these basic reviews are Backlinks, Keywords, External Links and Link Structure, Content Analysis, and Current SEO Effectiveness. The following is a description of the methods used to evaluate the websites' search engine optimization strategies. After having read today's post, covering backlinks and keywords, and tomorrow's post, covering external links and link structure; content analysis; and current SEO effectiveness, you should understand how to conduct an SEO site review. The five factors being considered are the meat and potatoes of SEO, which explains their being selected for these basic reviews.
Backlink and Inbound Link Review
Backlink definition Strictly speaking, backlinks are one-way links to a website. Search engines figure that if one website links to another, inviting its visitors to go to that site, then the link can be considered as a voucher for the site receiving the link. That said, we're going to consider all inbound links. The only condition is that they aren't tagged as "nofollow" (this tells a search engine that in fact, the link is not a voucher and should not be counted as such), and are not preceded by words such as "sponsored links", which also tell search engines not to consider the link as a voucher for the site.
Backlink assessment There are several ways to evaluate backlinks when performing a website review. Of course, links are important to SEO only if the search engines take them into account, so to find that out, we'll be using the "Link:" query with Google. This allows you to search Google and find how many links there are to a specific page. Other search engines such as Yahoo offer this services, but the Google search results are most effective for this. Google doesn't display all the links to a website when a "link:" search is done. A "link:" query on Google shows the principal links that Google gives weight to, ignoring repetitive/similar links. On the other end of the spectrum, Yahoo shows all incoming links to a page (and sometimes more, as their tool doesn't appear to be as refined as Google's).
For James' Work Boxers website, a "link:" query would look like this: "link:workboxers.com" (without quotation marks).
Backlink Quantity Once the search has been performed, the next step in reviewing a site's SEO strategy is to determine just how many of the inbound links Google actually considers important. (That's my theory on it; I can't certify if this is accurate 100% of the time. It has been in my experience, however.) To figure this out, you would then keep clicking as deep into the results as possible until Google returned a page not completely filled by results. This would tell you how many of the inbound links Google considers worthwhile, and how many of them are similar and unworthy of consideration. Let me give an example to demonstrate how this part of the review works.
In reviewing James' WB case, I click on page 10 of the results and find that a full page of results is listed (i.e. there are 10 results on the page). I only need to click on page 19 of the results to go as deep as I can, which is to the 132nd link to WB. I now know that Google considers 132/456 links to WB to be important, and the remainder to be more of the same, and thus less important. Click the image below to see what I mean.
Backlink Quality This having been done, the review continues by assessing the quality of the first 2-3 results pages of inbound links to assess their quality. It doesn't help your SEO if your backlink and inbound link network is composed of poor quality links. To review link quality, three principle notions must be kept in mind: the PageRank (PR) of the site giving the link, the anchor text of the link (the text of the link), and the prominence of the link.
PageRank can be determined by looking at the PageRank meter in the Google toolbar that goes in your browser. The link can be found on the page using a browser's find/search feature, and then simply needs to be read.
Finally, the prominence of a link is considered in light of many factors. The very rude, spammy, and annoying people at Blog Explosion (I won't link to them as I'd prefer search engines don't think I'm vouching for them, nor will I use a nofollow tag and still send them traffic) are leaders in poor design given that they have so many links on a page it's quite impossible to find what you're looking for. As this example demonstrates, a link's prominence needs to be considered relative to how many other outbound links there are on a site.
Additionally, the position of the link itself above or below the "fold" (the line below which content is only viewable if one scrolls down the screen), is important. Further factors to consider are the link's size, differentiation from other links, and surrounding content (i.e. links to other website, paragraph of related text, ugly design that encourages eyes to avoid the link, etc.).
I'll be giving the data I compile in conducting the backlink and inbound link part of the SEO review to James in spreadsheet format.
The area of keywords in search engine optimization is so broad that there should be a separate post explaining how to conduct a review of the keyword aspect of a site's SEO. For the purposes of a basic review, I'll limit myself to considering keyword density, keyword position and placement, and the visual presentation of keywords.
Keyword Density To asses a site's keyword density, SEOChat offers SEOs everywhere a nifty little tool, aptly named the Keyword Density Tool. The tool reads ("parses" in technical terms) a website's code and text and finds keywords/phrases that have been repeated. You can modify what it will parse, choosing to drop meta tags for example. The tool is also flexible enough to offer you one, two or three keyword/phrase results.
For WB's site review, given that it's a midlevel site that isn't a Google powerhouse yet, I'm going to limit my research to two and three word phrases. It's extremely unlikely WB could top Google for any single keyword, so those aren't important (at least until James' SEO strategy improves). In addition, since Google doesn't consider meta tags in its ranking of websites (too easy to spam the tags and fill them with keywords), I'm going to exclude meta tags from the keyword density evaluation. To the best of my knowledge, MSN is the only search engine of the big three engines that still considers meta tags, and they're probably on the way out there too. Visual Presentation of Keywords Keyword presentation works much the same as backlink prominence. In conducting your site review, you should be looking for keywords above the fold. Ask yourself if the keywords are contrasting with the rest of the page (bold, italics, underlined)? Are they in both internal and external link text, in headers, and in the title? The rule of thumb here is that the greater the visibility of the keyword(s), the better is the search engine optimization. Keyword Placement A related topic to keyword presentation is keyword placement. Besides the tips mentioned above, introductory and concluding paragraphs are good places to position keywords too. Prominence is obviously the order of the day, as is human behaviour. Therefore, think of how an essayist is going to present his man ideas and where. For example, the use of topic sentences at the start of a paragraph is a common writing technique, so keywords are probably best placed in a topic sentence.
In evaluating keyword placement, priority is given to human-visible keywords before keywords embedded in code. The reason for this is simple: search engines are a mathematical approximation of human behaviour, and since humans are firstly going to read what's on your site before (if ever) looking at your code, it is only logical that search engines will weigh human-visible keyword text more heavily than keywords only present in the site's code.
However, as opposed to keyword presentation, keyword placement also includes tags and code. During your SEO site review, conduct a code review by right clicking anywhere on a page and select view source. Alternately, you can see the page's code by clicking View > Page Source. Look for keywords in a site's title tags, in its header tags, and in its alt tags (image description tags). Other important places are in the site's navigation links and in its urls.
Finally, as a precaution, try highlighting everything on the page, especially towards the bottom. This would reveal "hidden" text written in the same colour as the background of the website so that they would only be visible to search engines. People have used this trick to stuff keywords into their websites to improve keyword density, or have done this accidentally, as was recently the case with a Sierra Club of Canada webpage. Luckily, this is not an issue on Work Boxers.
The second part of my guide on how to conduct a review of a site's Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, will be posted tomorrow.