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It’s time for an SEO health check

This article first appeared in the Summer issue (231) of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

If I say “Panda and Penguin,” do you shudder? For many websites, search engine ranking has been a rollercoaster as Google implements update after update in its drive to improve the quality of its search results.

My informal discussions with people at Google lead me to believe the rate of change in the ranking algorithm is only going to get faster and more dramatic. How can you keep up with the changes? Well, essentially the rules haven’t changed. It’s still about relevance (measured by site content and inbound links) and trust; mix in a bit of social media and you have a winner. So it’s worth returning to SEO basics and doing a health check.

First Google is considering content on your web pages, known as ‘on page factors’. The appearance of your key phrase in strategic locations plays an important role in indexing your site. For each page on your site, check Title tags, heads and subheads, bold text, ALT tags and filenames. They need to be keyword-rich and unique. Google Webmaster Tools has a free service that checks pages and reports any problems.

Consider whether your site has original content; duplication can include repeating manufacturers’ sites’ product descriptions. Review the ratio of ads to copy: too many might mean content is too thin. Finally, keeping topics fresh and focused on core business will be the kind of content Google rates.

Now let’s move onto link building. If you’ve got a history of fake or manipulated inbound linking, your health check should identify and work on purging links damaging your reputation. As a starting point, look for an artificially high ratio of inbound links with identical anchor text (see here): a sign your SEO campaign is not healthy.

Next, look for links from low quality sites such as blog networks, comment spam, and links from low-quality article marketing sites. Again, get rid of these links coming into your site, and work on getting more natural links in the future.

A range of social signals is also now joining the ranking algorithm. Benchmark your business and the competition as to followers on Google Plus, Plus One votes and engagement with Facebook and Twitter. Taking time to do your SEO health check will get your site into the strongest possible position to achieve high rankings, and prepare you for the ‘new normal’ of ongoing search engine changes.

Find out more about the update here.