As a digital marketing strategist, it is always a good practice to enhance the visibility, rankings and traffic for a website you are working on. It should be your common practice and goal to make any site successful. There are many ways that exist to achieve this goal and I will discuss some of the more important things to watch for when working on your site and domain with regards to Google. The opportunities for improvements are almost infinite and suggestions come from high and low today online.
Probably the most important is having an online marketing strategy. Today, people are using search engines daily to input queries and answer questions, while also trying to compare products or purchase products online. As Google still controls over 65% of the search market share monthly, it is important for a web strategist to monitor closely the work that has been done on the client website he is working on. Health checks should be done as often as possible, ideally once per day to ensure reliability. I have compiled a list of several things that I look into and track every day.
I chose to write this article as a reference to help you monitor and track the website performance so it’s as optimal as possible. Keeping a close eye on these items will help you keep track of your website’s authority on the internet and alert you to problems readily.
Google Webmasters Tools
If you’re managing any kind of a website in relation to marketing, you probably already know about Google Webmasters Tools function and toolset. It’s a tool that gives you very good insight on your site’s health from Google’s perspective. On top of being a monitoring tool, it allows you to help Google index, crawl and categorize your website properly in the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages), while also giving you the flexibility and control over features to improve the sites performance and usability. We’ll go over various important sections of Webmaster Tools that should be verified daily, or as often as possible.
The Crawl Section
This section allows you to examine how Google examines your site and what it finds in your site. You can observe Google’s behavior towards your site. In the crawl section, you will find a sub-section called crawl errors. Google will list all errors that occurred during a crawl. It will give you a list of 4XX and 5XX errors as well as “not followed” and “access denied” pages. This data list is segmented in three tabs: Web, Smartphones and Feature Phones. You want this section to be always clean which signals to Google that you are a relevant and reliable site that produces quality content while as well sending signals that you are active on the site working to improve the usability and user experience. It will certainly help your domain’s authority on the web, both in the Google search index and with end.
Pro tip: when working on errors from your report and trying to solve it, you can always fetch the page’s URL that you’re trying to fix with Google’s “fetch as googlebot” tool. It will help define whether the error still exists on the desired page or if it has been corrected.
Another good thing to look into when monitoring a site’s health is its “incoming links” profile through Google’s eyes. It is well known in the search industry that your domain authority is directly related to your link profile. Plenty of tools already exist to list all links that point to your domain but it is good to have an idea of what Google is discovering about your link profile. You don’t want to be identified by Google as being part of a “bad linking neighbourhood” as you can be affected by these areas in a negative way, and be considered by Google as a “low quality site” in some extreme situations. I monitor and verify this report section daily. In verifying the link profile, it’s also good practice in that you might identify new links to your profile that could help you gain authority.
Pro Tip: It’s not always easy to contact a webmaster and have a link removed from a site, especially if you start to see many incoming links that could affect you negatively. Some websites, owners and manager don’t even have contact information to reach the owner or manager. Therefore, what Google recommends is to try to get in touch with the webmasters to submit a request for the link removal. You have to keep track of what you do to try and ask for the link to be removed for the faulty site. As a last resort, if you weren’t able to reach a point of contact, you can use Google’s “disavow tool” to request a removal. Make sure to keep a track of, including emails, form submissions, or even phone calls and messages. Each documented step taken on your part in order to contact the webmasters, to removal negatively impacting links from your profile. By having all this information (if you receive a site penalty for bad links) you could possibly reverse Google’s decision should they impose a by getting in touch with the appropriate team and presenting them your documentation and let them know the steps you took to improve your link profile through established contact. The advanced feature called disavow tools should only be used in last resort and with precaution. Here’s the support documentation about it the feature if you want to use the tool. I suggest you to read it to familiarize yourself with it and the policy in which it can be used.
This Index Status section of Webmaster Tools gives you advanced details of what has been crawled and indexed on your site and what’s where problems may lie. You can control the indexing of the domain by implementing both sitemap.xml and robots.txt files, but more important is that this tool gives you a deep insight into your site’s indexing status. It also lists pages (or URL’s) that are currently blocked by the robots.txt file, so you can manage the site with more ease.
Google’s Webmaster Tools Messaging System
This section should never be neglected and watched very carefully. Google will communicate directly with you through this feature should a problem arise, and in advise you in case of emergency and important information that you should know about regarding your site’s health and index status. Among others, you might receive messages if they think your site may have been hacked or had a spam injection OR, in worst case scenario, if Google detected unnatural links pointing to your site (penalty warning!!!). Google may also think that links pointing to your site are being built using techniques outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which will flag their system. Advise: you will want to look over and read this guidelines section very carefully in order to be fully responsive when a critical issue is detected.
I use Google Analytics every day to deduct several observations. It is always good to stay close to your audience, know them better so you can provide a better website and user experience. It gives you a better idea of how to orient your site, and to satisfy their needs and delight them with information they are looking for. One example of an observation you could leverage from this would be a high bounce rate. If this specific value has increased a lot, you could pinpoint which change you did recently that caused the users to go away. The data in Google’s analytics platform is worth’s its weight in gold!
Another good example of what to look for in Analytics are the pages of your website that perform the most. Knowing which one has a better conversion rate or the higher average time on site (depending on your goals), you can know which one to push more. This advice also works the other way: knowing which pages perform the less in order to optimize them.
You can look at the pages that are slower than average. If you did a recent change, you can know what the impact on your site speed is and try to optimize it to improve the end user experience as well as the sites overall performance score. It is important to consider site speed and its part in the ranking factors of Google search index. Having a very slow site can lower your overall authority, thus resulting in a poor user experience and more often than not, search ranking and SERP index issues.
PageRank or Domain Authority (OpenSiteExplorer)
This check will take roughly 5 minutes of your time and will give you an insight of your site’s “value” overall from the eyes of the search giant. If your authority drops severely, you may want to look into what you’ve done in the past few weeks or months that might have affected your Domain Authority (Da) or your PageRank (Pr).
Pro Tip: Note that the Domain Authority is an approximation. If it drops, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong. Good advice would be to look at the authority of your competitor’s sites and see if they dropped as well. If it’s the case, it might be because of a ranking or an algorithm adjustment by Google, and it will be up to you or your strategy to modify to increase performance of the article.
You should check daily for algorithm updates as you might need to adjust your marketing strategy in some cases. Google rarely publishes alerts when algorithm shifts take place, but our industry watch these events very closely looking for signals. By using the Barracuda tool above, and connecting your analytics account, you can see where Google may have made improvements to its algorithm which will help you identify by correlation a problem with your data and traffic analysis.
Pro Tip: If we take the Google Hummingbird’s update as an example, you might want to enhance your site for long tail keywords and try to meet the searchers need by implementing an intention marker in your blog posts.
For this step, I look at and track unusual gains or losses of inbound links to a website. If my links drops, I will try to determine which links have been lost and research the issue to understand why it may have happened. On the other side of things, if my links increased a lot, I will want to check in and verify to see what is the cause of this increase is and make sure that the inbound links aren’t “spammy” and that they are legit (in order not to be hit with an unnatural link penalty), keeping in lines with Google Webmaster Guidelines mentioned above.
Monitor your Competitors
I look into competitor’s online marketing and content strategy often. It will give you a good idea of what they’re doing, working on and what you should do to get ahead of them. You want to know what they’re doing to distinguish yourself from them.
Pro Tip: I look often in their link profile and see which ones I could acquire. In order for the check to be faster, you can look into the fresh links in order not to look into the whole list.
You probably already know that keywords are becoming “not provided” on Google’s network. Bing is in fact researching and beginning to implement this SSL type search function as well which will lead to even more keyword “not provided” data. Even though it’s not as important in 2013, I strongly suggest that you take the time to look into your main keyword rankings as often as possible to identify whether what you’re doing is beneficial or not. It can also be an early signal if your ranking drops for more than 50 positions (unnatural link detection, duplicate content, alerts, etc.). You can use tools such as Search Engine Scout or Moz Keyword Ranking to automatically gather and monitor your keyword’s position. You can also do it manually by running a search on your respective Google’s domain (Google.ca in Canada and Google.com in USA ).
Pro Tip: Once the query is run, you will need to add the tag “&pws=0” to ignore your Google profile’s history and preferences. This will remove any customization in your keyword search based on your past search history. You may also need to add an “hl=fr” for French keywords and “hl=en” for English ones for the result to be as accurate as possible.
Having a Campaign Automation Monitor like Moz
Each steps stated before are vital for the health of your site. The checking process may take a little while though. If you want to invest in a tool and save some time, you might want to look into a domain/campaign monitoring tool like the pro version of Moz. For a fair price, you can save a lot of time and invest it in your marketing activities to get better result. The standard package is 99$/month and offers tracking on 5 individual website campaigns. Here’s what the tool looks like:
Those tips will help you monitor your websites carefully. It will help you in your daily task. It will allow you to be one step ahead and see which actions are good and which ones are not. If you’re able to correct something before Google sees or takes action on it, it will save you a lot of pain and headaches later! Per example, if you’re able to detect a mass of low quality links pointing to your site and take action, it might save you from a scary Google’s penalty which can be lengthy to recover from. Using all the techniques listed in this article will differentiate you from an average web strategist. I wish you great success and don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment if you have a Pro tip to share with us!
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