By Kerry Dean at Search Engine Land
We finally made it to April, folks! And I say this with more joy than usual, since March was acrazy month for SEO. If you made it through March without an email from Google or a penalty from Google or a drop in Google organic search traffic due to Panda updates or paidlink-related issues, you should give yourself a high five.
I mean, “Holy haberdashery, Batman!”. March 2012 was one for the history books! But now it’s all over. There’s nothing to be scared of any more. Pretty soon everything will be back to business as usual. Or will it? Dun..Dun.. Dunnnn!!!
All of the recent Google news leaves me wondering: Where the heck do we go from here? Panda 3.4 is out. Google has killed/is killing paid link networks.
Google also announced recently that they might rewrite your title tags if they choose to. Furthermore, Google is making it very clear that their priorities are all about Google+ and social media. I guess the only recourse we have now is to:
- Build an awesome website.
- Build brand recognition, authority and trust.
- Produce great content – all the time, every day.
- Implement SEO basics & advanced strategies (on-site).
- Build links, but avoid paid link networks.
- Track everything!
- Test to optimize conversion and implement changes as necessary.
Wait a minute. That list hasn’t changed in years!
Obviously, I’m leaving some important items out of that list, but that is basically the same SEO game plan that we have been talking about for a while now. To me, the most ironic thing about the latest-and-greatest SEO news is that there are still a lot of massive e-commerce websites struggling with these traditional, old school SEO strategies.
For example, many of you reading this are with me in having worked with “big brands.” These websites have a multitude of visitors and customers. They get a ton of traffic. They pump a lot of money into marketing their brand.
Big brands are active in SEM and social media, and they have great products/services and, hopefully, stellar customer service. And business is looking pretty good for them right now. While some of these big brands are going about their business, doing the best they can to optimize their complex sites, plenty of these giants haven’t even heard of rel-author, schema.org, or other new SEO-related terms.
Many of these sites have not been “hit by Panda’. They have not been penalized for link building because they never attempted to buy links. Many of these sites are too big and too bureaucratic to get the buy-in for advanced SEO strategies, so they have never really done anything risky or aggressive (in terms of SEO). Or their budgets are tight. Or their platform makes it “impossible to change anything.” Or the person who managed SEO just left. The list of “or” options goes on and on.
For whatever reason(s), some big brand websites are not succeeding at modern/advanced SEO strategies. And even if they are getting some of the modern-day SEO items implemented, they are failing at various aspects of traditional SEO as well. Of course, they all have an SEO agency of record…because ignoring SEO would obviously the dumbest thing ever, right?
Even if they are getting most of it right, I’m always surprised to find some SEO Easter eggs when I do some basic digging.
Big Brands Still Have Massive Opportunity In Search
Personally, I love working with big brand websites because there is a massive potential for growth. And here’s why:
- Big brands tend to score high in all the various domain metrics: PageRank, brand trust, website authority, domain history, etc…
- Google favors large brands. Implementing SEO basics on Fortune 1000 websites typically yields impressive results – and quickly!
- These websites get a lot of traffic, and that gives me a lot of data to work with for analyzing SEO changes, as well as any additional conversion-related tests I may want to run.
Now enough of the theoretical. Let’s take a look at what some real “big brand” retailers are missing the boat on SEO:
- SonyStyle (store.sony.com) does not have a robots.txt file.
- The UrbanOutfitters.com robots.txt file does not list a URL location for their sitemap file.
- LLBean.com’s category page for Men’s Footwear has over 50 H tags, and the page header Men’s Footwear is contained in an H2 rather than an H1.
- The Avon shop (shop.avon.com) does not have an H1 tags on the product names on product pages. Furthermore, it appears that the 3 big <head> section tags (title, description, keywords) have been duplicated on every page on the site. That can’t be good. It almost looks like someone has turned off their SEO tags. Is there a switch for that nowadays?
- HomeDepot.com begins its breadcrumb trail with ‘Home’. I guess I could listen to an argument as to why they don’t make their first breadcrumb link be ‘Home Depot’. I bet they probably want to rank #1 for the word ‘home’, so I won’t say they are doing it wrong. However, OfficeMax is doing it wrong by using ‘Home’ in their breadcrumbs.
You could spend an hour looking at the top 10 brands in any category, and find similar, and even more SEO-detrimental issues. Now, to be fair, most of these sites are doing quite a lot right in terms of SEO. But, there are always a handful of changes that never get made. Why not take the time to get these basics in order?
What Are Easy SEO Wins For Websites?
- Searchbot access to important pages via robots.txt
- Alt tags on category and product pages
- Open Graph tag implementation
- Rel-canonical tag implementation
- Possible duplication of title tags, meta description tags, and/or meta keywords tags
- Accidental use of noindex and/or nofollow directives on important pages
- Correct use of 301 redirects
- Updated XML sitemaps
To check these items on a regular basis, I use a variety of tools and even some manual checking. Here are a few of my go-to automated tools:
- Xenu Link Sleuth & Screaming Frog SEO Spider I recommend crawling your sites once a week and storing the information on your local hard drive, as well as a backup source. It’s a great way to analyze all of the SEO basics, from title tags to Alt attributes to rel-canonical tags. Having a weekly history of the entire site in a CSV file can also be very useful if you are trying to diagnose when any major site issues arose.
- SEOmoz Tools If you have a pro subscription to SEOmoz, make sure you are using the allotted number of campaigns for your account. SEOmoz will crawl your site on a weekly basis and report any potential SEO-related issues.
- In-house, proprietary tools I use a variety of automated tools to analyze XML files, HTTP header status codes, title tags, URLs submitted in XML sitemaps, detecting presence of robots.txt file, etc… Notifications are sent to me if anything major changes are noticed. These tools often alert me and my team to changes made to the site – changes that often affect the SEO campaign. And in most cases, our automated tools catch the changes before the clients do.
Get The Basics Right, Then Push Forward
The other day, I told someone that I’m an SEO. And their response was, “Oh. I get a lot of emails from people like you.” Pretty funny, right? But it’s true.
A lot of the SEO items I’ve mentioned in this post are easy to check for, and a lot of industrious, entrepreneurial SEOs out there have written programs to analyze sites and then shoot out automated emails with details specific to website owners. It’s not my preference for lead generation, but it clearly got this guy’s attention. And it works in part because a lot of the SEO basics are still un-optimized or under-optimized — even on the complex websites for major brands.
As we all struggle to keep up with the changes and shifts to our livelihoods. I know Google stole plenty of my time and patience during March. But, through the new opportunities and shifting tides, it is key to ensure your SEO basics are still implemented correctly. With a quick review to your sites, you may be surprised at the “little things” that need to be addressed. Often cleaning up a few of these basics will improve your rankings sitewide.
About The Author: Kerry Dean is Chief Traffic Officer at PMG, a full-service digital agency, where he directs all technical operations for the company, including the company’s SEO, social media, local search, reputation management, website architecture and usability, analytics and WordPress practices.