Before diving into an SEO campaign, or even a proposal, it pays to take a detailed look at a prospective client’s current SEO state of health. This is important for two major reasons: First, you’ll be better able to craft a campaign proposal that devotes the proper amount of time to fixing the issues and capitalizing on strengths; second, you’ll avoid overpromising, which leads to abrupt cancellations, or underpromising, which can cause you to underbid and leave money you’ll earn on the table. Here’s a look at our SEO vetting process.
1. Exploratory Keyword Research — Conducting exploratory keyword research using Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool helps us understand:
- The potential size of the prospect’s market
- Estimated monthly search volume
- The most relevant keywords with the highest search volume
- Competitiveness of the keyword market
- Current Google Ranking — We use SEMrush to get a current snapshot of where prospects rank for keywords relevant to the services/products they offer
2. Competitive Landscape — Using Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool and Majestic’s Compare Summary tool, we are able to identify our prospect’s top competitors for a given keyword and compare its website metrics against our prospects. This gives us insight into how much work needs to be done for our prospects in order for them to rank higher than their competitors. It also gives us insights into what pages are ranking for the keyword term (home page, interior page, blog posts, etc.). Some of the metrics we look at are:
- URL that ranks
- Page Authority
- Number of linking root domains to page
- Domain Authority
- Number of linking root domains to root domain
- Trust Flow
- Citation Flow
- Referring IP Addresses
- Education referring Domains
- Governmental Referring Domains
3. Website Issues — Having a great website is important to SEO, as it is the foundation to your SEO campaign. We look at the following on-site factors: responsive website, service/product pages, supporting pages, title tags, meta description tags, header tags and body content.
- Responsive website — Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tells us if the prospect’s website is responsive or not. This is important as search engine algorithms take this into account when ranking websites in mobile search results.
- Service/product pages — Does the website have individual pages for each of its services/products? To rank for service/product keywords, you must have pages on your site to target keyword groups.
- Supporting pages — Does the website have pages to support targeted keyword groups? These are keyword groups that cannot be supported by your individual service/product pages. To rank for keywords related to your services/products, you must have pages on your site to target these additional keyword groups.
- Title tags — Does the website have any of the following title tag issues? E.g., missing, too long, duplicate or not written with target keywords. Title tags are an extremely important on-site factor that influences for which keywords your page will rank.
- Meta description tags — Does the website have any of the following meta description tag issues? E.g., missing, too long, duplicate, no call to action or were not written to include a root keyword. Meta description tags are very important for increasing organic click-through rates.
- Header tags — Does the website have any of the following header tag issues? E.g., missing, duplicate or not written with target keywords. Header tags are an important on-site factor that influences for which keywords your page will rank.
- Body content — Does the website have any of the following body content issues? E.g., thin, duplicate or not written using target keywords. Body content is also an extremely important on-site factor that influences for which keywords your page will rank.
4. Backlink Profile Issues — It is always important to review a prospect’s backlink profile, as this could be a source of big issues hindering the website from ranking in the search engine result pages. We look at three things: link quantity, risk assessment and anchor text distribution.
- Link quantity — To get an understanding of how many links your prospect has pointing to its website, we use Majestic’s Backlink History tool. We like to look at the cumulative view to see how many referring domains point to the prospect’s domain and to get a sense of how quickly those referring domains were established. If the prospect got a bunch of referring domains really fast or over a short period of time, it could look unnatural to the search engines, which in return could lead to penalization.
- Risk assessment — To see if there are any referring domains that might be hampering the prospect’s backlink profile, we use Majestic’s Referring Domain and cognitiveSEO’s Inbound Link Analysis tools. Majestic’s tool will show us what domains/pages have links to our prospect’s website and provides us with Trust Flow and Citation Flow metrics for each so we can see just how risky each link is for a prospect to have in its backlink profile. The easy-to-use cognitiveSEO tool detects unnatural links and gives you a breakdown of how many links and the percentage of your link profile are either unnatural, suspect or OK. A natural backlink profile is made up of different link types with various levels of quality — a good mix of types and qualities is needed for improved organic results. Unnatural backlink profiles are susceptible to Google manual and algorithmic penalties.
- Anchor text distribution — We use cognitiveSEO’s Inbound Link tool to see the anchor text distribution.
A natural backlink profile is made up of links in different categories of anchor text: brand, commercial and miscellaneous.
- Brand — Links with branded anchor text include variations of your company name or domain name
- Commercial — Links made up of keyword-rich text
- Miscellaneous — Links made up of all other anchor text
A good mix of each category of anchor text is needed for improved organic results. Unnatural anchor text distribution is susceptible to Google manual and algorithmic penalties.
Look Before You Leap Into SEO
In some cases (rare), our vetting determines that SEO is really not a good plan of attack for the prospect. Usually, this is because the prospect is a small player up against very large and successful competitors, or because there simply isn’t enough relevant keyword volume to support a campaign. In those cases, we are happy to tell the prospect to consider another option, rather than get bogged down in an SEO campaign that will inevitably fail.
More often than not, though, our extensive vetting enables us to craft highly customized and therefore highly effective campaigns that ramp up quickly and show results. Since patience isn’t always a given with clients in SEO campaigns, the improved focus and speed really helps keep the relationship strong in the early phases.