The first question I always try to answer whenever a problem is at hand is simply, ‘what do I have to work with?’ This is exactly how you should approach search engine optimization. Not answering this question before you start or before you hire a company to do work for you could lead to very unappealing consequences or projects that end up running you a much higher bill than needed and cause a project relationship to strain.
Work on search engine optimization is a nice coded and process-laded way of saying, “make a website or content on web pages easier to find”. This means easier for people to find but also for search engines and search robots (applications that crawl the web in order to index it and find content) to find and analyze the content as they need to. As I mentioned in my article entitled “SEO – Search Engine Optimization: What Is It?“, there are really two angles to go at this from: You are well positioned and easily reachable through search engines or you are not well positioned and people are equally if not more likely to find your competition or other sites to direct their attention towards. So which of those angles are you coming from?
If you are well positioned and receiving lots of traffic to your site (and those are you goals), the last thing you want to do is risk upsetting something that is working for you. On the other hand if you are not showing up very often or are showing up on pages that few web browsers will ever venture (e.g. page 27 of a search for “Dewalt Drill“) then you have less to risk and potentially a lot more to gain by making some changes to the way you make your site available to potential readers or customers. Naturally, this begs the question, “How do I know how my site and all of my content is performing?” The answer: just ask Google.
Google has several invaluable tools that you can use for FREE which will show you the traffic you are getting to your site, where that traffic is coming from, where things stand for your pages and content and even the position during recent search results where your content was returned as relevant. The two most important tools that you should utilize ASAP (if you’re not already doing so) are Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. To use either, you’ll need to either already have or open a Google account.
Using Google Webmaster Tools allows you to view reports about the visibility of your site on Google and, as I already discussed, Google Is King – focusing on what Google is reporting back about your site is equal to focusing on the right target during your SEO hunt. Google Webmaster Tools also allows you to see the web pages that contain links pointing to your site – another very important item to keep track of during this endeavor. Setup is pretty easy but you will need to verify ownership of the site(s) you want to add to to your account and that will require having access to either your server or your site template code as you will need to place a unique code or file into your site for Google to look for. You will also want to submit a sitemap that Google can use to crawl and index your site and also use to show you where you might have issues with robots or people not being able to access pages you think are readily reachable. Over time, this data changes and will show you if you have been improving or faltering in your search engine optimization efforts.
Using Google Analytics allows you to view the traffic that is hitting your site – all of it. Google Analytics does not just show you who has reached your site from Google search results it shows you the data that represents all of the traffic that has hit your content – where it comes from, what pages it viewed on your site, how long they were on your site, where they exited your site, etc. It is a robust piece of software that allows for customization while still being incredibly easy to install and get started with. You’ll again need to have access to either your server or your site template code as you will need to copy and paste a snip of code into all of your pages that you want tracked after you have signed up for Google Analytics. If you have a footer that appears on every page of your site you will be able to install this code with only one copy & paste effort. If you do not have this you will need to copy and paste the code into every page that you want tracked – and that really should be EVERY page.
Businesses who use commercial web analytic services, such as Omniture, OneStat, WebTrends and others, will not likely need to employ Google Analytics but should still employ Google Webmaster Tools. The data identified within is too valuable to hope you are getting somewhere else and serves as the measuring stick for performing well on Google.
Using Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics will allow you to identify what you have to work with. You will see how well your content is ranking or that it fails to do so. You will see how much traffic is hitting your site, what content within is being viewed the most and you will see how browsers are getting to those assets. Of course you’ll also be able to see if content is not being viewed or if browsers and robots are not able to reach your content. Knowing this information is the starting point you need to achieve in order to begin to formulate a plan for your SEO project.