Is Your Website SEO-Ready ?

Recently I've run into situations where business owners seem surprised by my statement that the SEO campaign is going to be delayed by at least 2-3 months as their website is not SEO-ready. "What do you mean my site is not SEO-ready?"often replies the business owner, "I've just paid good money to have my site built". And so begins one of my heart-to-heart conversations with the business owner that the adage of "if you build, they will come" does not really apply to Internet and search engine marketing. more

Site Architecture Issues

An SEO-ready website refers to a website that is ready to start an SEO campaign. The website will not require considerable re-programming, development or removal of barriers. Today most websites we encounter are dynamically generated websites in contrast to static websites. As late as 2005, it is true that search engines like Google had a challenge indexing dynamically generated websites, but no more. Search engines can easily index both static and dynamic websites provided best practices are followed. Where dynamically generated sites can create problems for SEO campaigns is in their database or content management system (CMS). Sometimes these databases produce multiple query string parameters that are so long that the search engine spiders are inhibited or worse yet they just cannot crawl the site.

In other situations the content management system is the culprit. We've seen situations where the content management system forces the website to have duplicate Title and Meta tags for every page in the site. In this situation the search engine often drops the pages from their index as this is perceived as duplicate content. Other CMS systems require the page name to duplicate the Title Tag, adds underscores, and other unfriendly SEO deficiencies or problems.

Page Construction

An SEO-ready website should have full support for standard on-page elements such as: Titles, Meta Tags, Headings, Image Alt Tags, etc. In at least 65% of the SEO audits we perform, the sites are missing Meta Tags or Headings. While it is true that these variables are not as important as they were in past, without them the site is clearly deficient compared to the top ranked sites and makes it that much more difficult to get well ranked. While they have improved significantly, ecommerce sites usually have the most defiencies in terms of page construction problems.




Content and link popularity continue to be major ranking factors in terms of keyword relevancy. An SEO-ready website should have enough content and link popularity compared to its peers to be considered "relevant".

Recently we performed an SEO audit and found the client's site had 200 pages of content. As expected the content was heavily product centric and did not have non-product oriented content. We also discovered the client content was duplicated elsewhere. It turns out the client enabled their affiliates to repurpose the product for their own use. While this helped the affiliates, it hurt the client as they lack unique content in order to differentiate their site from 1,200 affiliates.

A competitive analysis of the top ranked sites on Google, Yahoo and MSN found that the top 10 averaged 2,800 pages of content or 14 times more content. Most of the content from these sites were non-product centric. In fact 70% of the sites had blogs or forums, and a few had both.

Link Popularity

In terms of link popularity the same client site had 5,000 inbound links and a PageRank of 3 which on the surface sounds impressive. A link analysis found that of the 500 links, 69% of the links had anchor text that employed different versions of the company name and another 12% were image links. Less than 5% of the anchor text from the inbound links contained any keywords from the SEO campaign.

In contrast competitive analysis found the top ranked sites averaged 254,000 inbound links and a PageRank of 6. Yes, 254 thousand. These companies have been in business for years and as a result have built an amazing amount of links from product reviews, public relations, and trial promotions.

Web Server Configuration

An SEO-ready website does not require major time or resources to fix the web server. "What do you mean fix the web server?" questions a business owner. Whether you use Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari - the browsers mask a lot of errors that originate from the web server. For example, we recently performed an SEO audit have found the site had implemented a URL rewrite but it was implemented incorrectly. As a result all the pages performed 302 redirects and will likely be interpreted by the search engines as a potentially fraudulent website. A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect - usually referencing that a page has moved temporarily. While this can occur from time to time, it is not a best practice that every single page in a site is temporarily redirected. Today we are monitoring over 20 issues that originate from webserver configuration.

If your website is not SEO-ready, our first goal is to make the site ready for a successful SEO campaign. It is not uncommon for a website to have problems in all the above areas: Site Architecture, Page Construction, Content, Link Popularity and Web Server Configuration.

Making site architecture and page construction changes within static sites is often much easier than dynamically. Nonetheless, site architecture issues often take one to two months to implement. Page construction changes range from as little as a few hours to several weeks depending on the size of the site.

Webserver issues may take as little as 5 minutes or as long as 5 months. Yes, 5 months. We worked with a major company and it took 5 months to get a web server problem addressed. It took no less than 4 weeks for the client to confirm the problem internally, 6 weeks to determine if the problem could be resolved, and the balance to get the problem resolved and then in the queue for a site release.

For most clients, content and link deficiencies are the critical path to success. Usually developing content and links becomes an ongoing process.

For the average small to medium sized business, addressing Site Architecture, Page Construction, and Web Server Configuration issues take about 1-2 months. Content and links typically add another 2-4 months. Ideally these items would be implemented in parallel but often clients cannot dedicate enough internal staffing resources.

So make sure your site is SEO-ready. If you are not sure, invest in an SEO Audit. It often proves to be an excellent investment before starting an SEO campaign.

John McCarthy is the director of search engine optimization at WebMetro and works with clients to improve their ranking in the major search engines. WebMetro is an online marketing agency specializing in pay per click advertising services , and search engine optimization services


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