Every now and then, your site might behave very suspiciously…
Rankings are dropping, traffic is decreasing, so something must be wrong.
Slow site speed, duplicate content, errors in code markup, sitemaps that don’t take search engines where they want to go, links that lead to nowhere, missing or underperforming on-site SEO elements, or maybe a backlink profile that looks like a baby vomited all over the place…
Put Your Site In The Interrogation Room For A Minute…
There really seems to be no end to the possible mistakes and errors that can show up.
But you can nail down what is wrong. It’s a mystery, with plenty of culprits but only one suspect: your website.
Instead of performing a full-scale audit (hey, you might need to, but not just yet), you could simply ask your site some tough questions.
Whom exactly have you been hanging out with to get such bad reviews and ratings?
Have you been buying illicit, illegal links on street corners again?
Why are you being so dodgy with your 301 redirects?
Is content piracy really such a great idea, even if you try to spoof a rel=canonical tag here and there?
I know a hit was ordered on those keywords, just confess you were involved!
Stop blaming Negative SEO, he’s been locked up for a while now…
Does Your Site Plead Guilty Or Not Guilty?
The jig is up, your site isn’t performing as well as it could or used to.
Now begins the process of shining a light into its face and getting to the bottom of it.
Like I said, you could perform an audit, but chances are you can identify the culprits and crime by asking some pointed questions about specific elements of your website.
Be careful, though, you might find that you did a crappy job of teaching your site how to behave.
You Can’t Plead The 5th On This One
It’s time to play Good Cop vs. Bad Cop.
We’re going to ask some questions that may get your website to kick and scream but we’ll get some answers.
These are the questions to ask of various areas of SEO that may have an impact on your rankings and traffic.
Site Index And Crawl
You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl through your site.
- Are all pages indexed that should be indexed?
- How many pages are indexed?
- Have you checked Google Webmaster tools for any reported crawl issues?
- Are you handling redirects properly (301 vs. 302)?
- Are there any broken links (images, incoming, outgoing)?
- Meta tags: are they duplicate, too short, too long, or do they even exist?
- Title tags: are they over-optimized, do they exist, are they too short or too long?
- Are you using 70 characters for the title tag and 160 for a meta description?
- Are you using main keyword terms and phrases?
- Is the alt attribute used correctly?
- Are you using Schema data where appropriate and in the correct format?
- Are you using rel=author and is all information correct?
- Have you submitted your sitemaps to all search engines?
- Do they accurately list all indexable pages or are any missing?
- Are they properly formatted according to XML encoding?
- Are you only using canonicals, including rel=Prev/Next for pagination?
- Are they updated regularly?
- If you need to, do you have a separate sitemap for on-site videos?
- Are they clean of any soft or hard 404s?
- Clear of internally redirected pages?
- Do your error pages send the proper 404 code status?
- Are your 404s helpful to visitors, offering navigation help?
- Do your HTML sitemaps provide links to the most important pages?
- Are your HTML sitemaps using too many links or are they organized in a visitor friendly way?
Hosting And Domain Information
- How much site down time happens in a week and month? (you can use a 3rd party tool like uptimerobot for free)
- Are you using caching and compression tools?
- What about a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to speed up delivery of the website?
- Are you using Virtual Dedicated Hosting, if available?
- If you’re using shared hosting, are you sharing your server with “bad” or penalized websites?
- What other domains or subdomains are related?
- Have you set your www vs. non-www properly (stick with one)?
- What is the technical backend and platform? (http://builtwith.com)
- How fast is your website?
- What is your pagespeed score and what can be improved?
- Do you regularly update your target keyword list?
- Have you divided them up into head, mid, and long tail terms?
- Do you check to make sure you’re utilizing those keywords and synonyms on your website?
- How competitive are these terms and phrases?
- Who are your competitors for these keywords?
- Are you being found by the searches you want to be found with?
- Are you noticing a spike or drop-off in search volume for any keywords?
- Is your organic or non-organic searches outperforming the other?
- Are your branded visit volume changing?
- Which keywords show information intent and which show commercial intent?
- Are you using proper keyword placement in titles, meta descriptions, headlines, and content?
- Are your keywords and related search terms in your content?
- What are your top pages with authority and traffic?
- Is any of your content plagiarized by you?
- Is it being scraped and posted on other websites?
- Are you regularly developing content from a keyword basis?
- Is there any content blocked by your robots.txt?
- Are you using rel=prev/next or rel=canonical properly and on the right pages?
- How often do you perform an audit to ensure proper optimization of on-site elements?
- Are you creating original and relevant content on a regular basis?
- Do you update website content on other pages other than your blog?
- Are you using variation in media, such as images, video, graphics, and more?
- Are there any broken images on your site?
- Are your image captions in the same HTML element as the image itself?
- Is the alt text attribute being used on every image?
- Have you optimized your images for size and speed?
- What’s the average length of your content and should you make adjustments?
- Are you using hyphens as word separators for file names?
- Have you made sure you’re avoiding keyword stuffing of any kind?
- Have you used spell-check lately?
- What about content readability level?
- Are your titles descriptive of the page content?
- Does your site name appear at the end of the title or at the beginning (should be the end)?
- Are you formatting your content with bold, italics, ordered, and unordered lists?
- Are you emphasizing too much or too little, using the “strong” and “em” HTML elements?
- Is your content easy to scan, with clear headlines, good paragraph length, and sub-headlines?
- Is your site receiving any social shares?
- Is your content regularly shared on social media sites?
- Is your authorship set up and claimed on Google+?
- Are you integrating any social sharing buttons?
- Have you placed social sharing buttons where they’re easy to find and non-intrusive?
- Do you provide links to social profiles across your website?
- Do you provide a way for visitors to leave comments?
- Are there any other ways of leaving feedback, such as contact forms?
- If applicable, is user generated content on the site (like ratings, reviews) and are you using rich snippets?
Links And Backlink Profile
- What does your anchor text distribution look like?
- What about the quantity and quality of your inbound links?
- Who are you linking out to?
- What about links to individual pages, deeper into your site?
- Are you regularly checking for broken links?
- Do you remove or replace any found broken links?
- Do you use 301 redirects and can you replace them with direct links?
- How many 301 redirects are you using?
- How many links are nofollow?
- What about any dofollow links?
- Are there way too many sitewide links being used?
- Are you aware of the dangers of negative SEO and how it usually involves screwing up your backlink profile?
- Do you regularly run a link profile check on your website?
- Are you aware of what your percentage of bad to good links is?
- What’s the velocity of you acquiring links — too fast, too soon, or can you even tell?
Did Your Site Confess Yet?
So, what did you find out? Hopefully some good answers and a confession!
If you can identify one or more culprits, however small they may seem, you’re on your way to solving the mystery of what’s keeping you from that first page and scores of visitors.
In fact, you might even find that a full-scale audit is needed — especially if it’s been a few months since last time and your site has been busy cranking out content, new pages, edits of old pages, and such.
What other questions would you ask your website if you knew something was up but not quite sure what? Share in the comments!