Most companies these days understand the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) — but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement. In our latest podcast, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing Lee Odden calls in to chat about the different steps to auditing your site for SEO, with details on the link between search and social media for today’s businesses.
For more insights and ideas from Lee, check out the TopRank blog site and follow him on Twitter @leeodden.
(Editor’s note: We apologize for some of the minor audio quality issues this week — but have no fear! You can check out the full transcript of our conversation with Lee below.)
Brendan Cournoyer: Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of Labcast. I’m Brendan Cournoyer and today we are joined by Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency specializing in strategic internet marketing consulting, training, and implementation. Lee, how are you doing?
Lee Odden: I’m doing great, Brendan. Thanks for having me.
Brendan: Thanks very much for taking the time. We really appreciate it. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about search engine optimization. Depending on who you talk to, SEO is either your favorite subject or just really your absolute least favorite subject. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the importance of doing an SEO audit for content marketers, for companies running a corporate site, blog, microsite, whatever it may be. But first I sort of thought a good way to start out and preface this was to touch upon a point that you picked out in your presentation at Content Marketing World this year. Basically one of your earlier slides stated pretty much SEO is not dead, it’s just evolved. I thought this would be a good point to start and talk a little bit about how SEO is changing and whether you like it or not, it’s just not something that you can ignore.
Lee: The inspiration for that is that people do like to stir up the bees nest, and whether it’s link bait effort on behalf of a PR person or someone else I don’t know, but I guess as long as people are searching, as long as consumers are performing that action, then there’s going to be an opportunity for companies to increase the performance of their sites in showing up where customers are looking.
In social it’s the sexy one, right? It gets a lot of attention. There’s an awful lot of media attention paid towards the shiny objects that are popping up in the social world, and that’s very interesting stuff. But when it comes to blocking and tackling in online marketing, you look at things like Google alone is handling over 11 billion queries per month all by itself. That’s still a lot of searching, and so improving website performance and its ability to connect with people who are looking to buy means SEO.
Brendan: My question as far as getting into the idea of actually doing an SEO audit of your site, which is something that you also touched upon at your presentation at Content Marketing World — I’ve been doing SEO for a while, but strictly on-page SEO. This is a deeper look at some of the things that you can clean up to really improve your overall performance, is that right?
Lee: Right. Depending on who you ask, when you say “SEO audit,” it can mean slightly different things. Fundamentally, it’s an evaluation of a website for its ability to perform in search engines as a marketing asset for the business. So the assumption is the better a website performs in terms of its search visibility for the relevant keywords that customers are using or might use to find the solutions the company offers, the more effective that website will be at achieving certain business goals like increased sales.
It’s usually marketing that’s funding the SEO effort. But a lot of companies are increasingly investing or paying attention to the variety of reasons why customers search. You look at the customer life cycle relationship with a business; once they become a customer, they’re still searching. There are other people besides customers that search, and there are other reasons why companies publish content online. So the great thing about SEO audits is that they can improve performance for that diversity of reasons why companies publish content and the diversity of reasons why people are searching.
Fundamentally, an SEO audit, at least in the case of TopRank Online Marketing, we do a keyword audit. So we assess the current keywords that are being used in terms of a guiding content plan if at all and what the performance of those keywords are, and develop a glossary and update the glossary so that there’s some guidance in terms of what are the popular, relevant phrases, how competitive they are, and that sort of thing. Another audit we do is what we call a content and on-page SEO audit. So now we’re looking at the presence of those keywords used in the right places, with very light HTML. Mostly it has to do with the way a site is organized, the site architecture, quantity and quality of pages, frequency of pages, new pages and new content being produced, that sort of thing.
A third category would be what we call a technical SEO audit. So now we are getting into the code. We’re looking at how search engine spiders are discovering and crawling the website. We’re looking at page speed and any barriers to search engines following links and making copies of your content and that sort of thing.
The fourth audit has to do with linking. We kind of cover the internal linking in the on-page SEO audit. But when it comes to other websites, whether they’re other web pages or blogs or even social media networking sites linking to our website of interest, we’re going to do an audit to identify what’s the quantity and quality of links coming in.
The fifth thing has to do with social. We want to have an understanding of the social presence of the website, the brand, how often it’s being mentioned in communities, comments that are positive or negative, creating and sharing content related to this brand out there on the social web to get some idea of what communities there are that we could leverage for link acquisition and content promotion and that sort of thing.
So those are the five things that we usually cover – keywords, on-page, technical, links, and social media – in the realm of an SEO audit.
Brendan: Now that’s a lot of steps. Those are a lot of things, and obviously it helps for some companies to prioritize the direction and the focus that they want to have when they are ironing out their site and making sure that they have all of the important things in place for SEO. Are there certain areas that you would recommend for companies looking at this themselves that are especially important or the things to really focus on first?
Lee: Sure. The first thing you should do is pay your SEO consultant. I think that’s the most important thing.
Brendan: (*laughs*) I like that one. That’s a very good one.
Lee: Diagnosing what’s wrong with a site is like diagnosing a patient or a mechanic working with a car or something like that, because it really depends on what the symptoms are. Meaning that what depends is how you approach it. So if the site has, for example, a major drop in conversions but the search traffic is pretty much the same, I’d probably look at that a lot differently or troubleshoot that differently than if the site had just had a big drop in major organic search traffic or maybe a site that hasn’t had any major problems, they just want to overcome the competition.
That being said, first and foremost I’d want to make sure that the site is actually in the index of the search engine, whether it’s Google or Bing. I want to make sure that the behavior of crawling the search engine box, finding, crawling and indexing and including the site in question is happening properly. So something very simple you could do to start that bit of troubleshooting is just do a query on the site’s domain name, like a site operator, site: and then the domain name, to see how many pages are returned by Google. How many pages does Google know about? How many pages is Google reporting back that they do know about from that domain name, and then compare that to how many pages do you know for a fact that are actually being published. So if Google returns that there are 455 pages when you do a site: domain name dot com, and you know for a fact that you’ve got 2,455 pages being published to the Web, that’s a pretty big red flag, a big discrepancy that you need to check into. Why is it that Google’s only finding and displaying a fraction of the pages that we’re actually publishing to the Web?
So clearly checking Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools to identify or see if there’s any reporting errors with crawling, any other issues that are being reported, that’s what’s really great about what Google and Bing have both done and in their investment in communicating with the webmaster community is that you can check those tools. You can also obviously check your web analytics to see if there are traffic changes or conversion drops or whatever, you can drill down into the specifics and see when did that change, what changed, what organic search keyword phrases actually dropped, and you can look at benchmark measurements that you’ve taken in the past and compare that to fluctuation. You can basically drill down and identify what was it that actually changed, and troubleshoot from there. So the big thing is make sure that the search engine can actually make a copy of your website, because if they can’t, then that’s like showing up for a baseball game with no players.
Brendan: Right. You mentioned the Google web tools, the Bing web tools, obviously Google Analytics is a big one that they’re constantly making improvements to, to track the performance of your site. Are there any other tools out there that you recommend or that you’ve had success with as far as measuring certain areas of improvement or analytics for SEO?
Lee: There are a lot of tools out there, and there are tools for evaluation, there are tools for keyword research, there are tools for managing your SEO projects. I think it would be really great if I could just say yes, always use one tool, but I can’t. There are a few that you can start with that are free that you can play around with. From a linking perspective, Majestic SEO and Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz and a whole host of SEOmoz tools are quite useful for identifying opportunities for optimization and improvement with a website. Microsoft publishes an SEO toolkit. So if you have, unlike myself, a PC computer, you can download this free SEO toolkit, and it does some pretty cool things in terms of crawling whatever website you want and it will report back errors, technically oriented issues with the website in question and can give you some interesting reporting that way.
HubSpot publishes website grader and a bunch of different grader tools that can be useful from the marketing end of things. That can be useful. I like from a competitive research standpoint SpyFu and SEMrush.com for getting some insight into what competitors are actually ranking for on Google, what they might be spending money on from a pay per click perspective, what type of traffic they’re getting.
Another tool of interest is Alexa. Alexa has started, maybe it was a year ago or so, offering a site audit. It costs money. It costs a couple of hundred bucks maybe, but it can be an interesting look at a website in terms of an SEO audit template. If you don’t want to pay somebody, if you don’t want to take the time yourself, this could be something you could use as a basis to learn. So that in combination with the Microsoft toolkit and some of the others of that nature can be useful for identifying areas of optimization opportunity.
Brendan: Very cool.
Lee: Literally, as you know, there are so many tools you could look at, but those are a couple from a linking perspective and on-page audit perspective. Keyword search, of course, WordStream, Wordtracker, Google’s free AdWords keyword research tool, can be useful as well.
Brendan: Certainly people can go to your site to learn more about not just SEO but a whole bunch of different marketing strategies and techniques. So I’d love to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about TopRank and what you guys do, the work you guys do over there, and some of the different places people can go to hear more from you.
Lee: Great. TopRank Online Marketing is, as you mentioned, an internet marketing agency. We are based in the Midwest and we do business with companies all over. We work with a lot of mid-market companies and companies like Strong Mail or PR Web. In that sense we’re a bit of a marketer’s marketer. We also work with several large companies. A good example would be McKesson, which is a $100 billion health care technology company. They do lots of different things besides that, but they’re in the health care category.
What we do for companies is to help them increase the ability for their online marketing efforts to attract and engage customers and very focused on SEO, social media, content marketing, content based marketing, social advertising, email marketing. We do take a bit of a holistic view, and we do try to engage multiple departments in the SEO effort in a company versus just marketing. Instead of just optimizing product and services information, we like to work with other folks in a company to improve the performance of their content to not just increase business outcomes like increased customer acquisition and sales, but maybe decrease costs like decrease recruiting costs, decrease customer service costs, decrease the money paid to PR firms, or at least increasing the effectiveness of the media relations by engaging in news optimization and that sort of thing.
Folks can find me on Twitter @leeodden. You can Google my name, Lee Odden, of course, and find all the places that I’m apparently not sleeping. I don’t sleep. I just spend all my time on the Web I guess.
TopRankBlog.com is the place where I do spend a lot of time. We publish thousands of articles there talking about what we do, and we’ve been recognized by a lot of different places like Junta42. We were Content Marketing World. TopRank Blog is the only blog that was rated number one, the number one content marketing blog before Joe shut that down. There you go. We walk the talk in terms of content marketing and we’re hiring. We’re looking for people to join our team here in Minneapolis as well. So I’ll stop there.
Brendan: That’s great. Thank you very much. We appreciate that. We’ll certainly provide links to all those pages that you mentioned so that people can find you straight from OpenViewLabs.com. Until next time, hopefully we’ll get to do this sometime soon and best of luck going forward.
Lee: Thanks a lot, Brendan. Appreciate the opportunity.
Brendan: You bet.