Category Archives for "SEO"

Nov 16

Don’t Hire an SEO! (Unless You Do This Other Stuff Too)

By Rob Woods | SEO

seo hiring

While it may seem like it’s not in my best interest to convince people not to hire an SEO—or to at least to wait to hire one—I too often find potential clients who believe that hiring an SEO is the cure for all of their businesses woes. The truth is that while a good SEO can certainly help your business, SEO alone, no matter how good, can no longer take an unsuccessful business and make it successful.

It’s true that back in the day, those SEOs who knew all the tricks and loopholes, where to “acquire” links that worked to make a site rank, and all the on-page manipulations could usually make a site rank with SEO alone (especially given enough budget and resources). Those days are over. Even if you had a site that successfully used those relatively easy tactics to be successful, it’s very likely that in recent years, you’ve seen a sharp decline in traffic unless you have something else going for you.

The owners and managers of sites that are either just starting out, or have seen their traffic decline, too often believe that simply fixing the SEO or “doing” SEO is going to save their business. With the changes Google has made over the past few years, this simply is not the case anymore. Google has actually become much much better (though not perfect, certainly) at ranking sites that actually “deserve” to rank because of things they’ve done beyond SEO. Now don’t get me wrong—except in rare cases, you still need good SEO to rank well. It’s just no longer all you need to rank well.

I look for a few certain things in my potential client’s sites, and ask them certain question to see whether SEO is right for them, and whether working with them is going to be successful for both of us.

Be Remarkable (and Be Able To Communicate Why You Are)

This is first and foremost the most important thing you need to do before becoming successful at SEO. The search engines, and Google in particular, have become much better in recent years at ranking those sites which truly “deserve” to rank. These are sites that usually have something remarkable about them. This could be a new service no one else has offered before, great user engagement and entertaining content, or something else that makes them special.

This doesn’t mean these sites have to be the absolute best at something—and neither does yours—in order to drive organic traffic. But you need something that makes you special. One of the hardest things to do is to take a very hard, impartial look at your site and your business as though you were an outsider, and ask yourself, “What makes us special? What makes us stand out from the crowd? Are we truly better at something than all or most of our competitors?”

If you can’t resoundingly answer “yes,” then an SEO isn’t going to be able to do the things necessary to get you to rank well. If you can’t answer “yes,” then you need to change your business so that you cananswer yes before you worry about getting more traffic to your site.

One of the most difficult conversations I’ve had to have with clients or potential clients is one where I have to ask these questions and point out to them that from an outsider’s perspective, I see nothing that shows me they truly deserve to outrank all of their competition. How would you answer the questions, “What makes your site special?” or, “Why do you truly deserve to rank #1?”


The Internet offers myriad ways to compare prices. If you don’t have an exclusive product and you aren’t the least expensive for what you sell, you had better have something else that adds a lot of value for the consumer. Before you start looking for ways to drive more traffic to your site, have you done a thorough price comparison of your products versus the competition?

And yes, your competition includes Amazon if they sell the same products. If they can offer it cheaper and faster, you had sure better have something that gives you an advantage over them like customer service or fantastic product information.

Product Selection and Merchandising

As with pricing, you need to make sure you have the right products, the right product mix, the right merchandising, etc. Again, the biggest part of SEO is getting people to recognize that your site is uniquely valuable and useful.

If people come to your site and don’t fall in love with the products, can’t buy what they really need, or can’t find the right products with the right product information, they aren’t going to see you as a valuable enough resource to link to or share with their friends.

If you don’t have the resources internally to do an audit of your product mix and merchandising there are lots of good resources out there. If you’re not an expert at online merchandising (and you really should be if you’re running an e-commerce store), hire a great merchandising consultant or get yourself some training.

High Quality, Engaging Content

This may seem like a no-brainer. Now, if providing content is the primary focus of your business, this is really the publisher version of having the right product and price for an e-commerce store. Do you offer information available nowhere else? Is it truly of higher quality, more in-depth, more entertaining, more actionable, more controversial, more something than your competition? Do you truly believe an outsider would think it’s remarkable? Again, if you can’t answer “yes,” you’d better fix that first.

On a related note, I also far too often see “content strategy” being used as a crutch for otherwise unremarkable businesses. Yes, you need to get links and social shares and attention for pages on your site. Far too often, I see sites dumping a ton of cash into creating content and content strategies without fixing all the other issues. If your site, or business, or business model isn’t remarkable in some other way, just creating great content isn’t going to save you.

Of course, if your raison d’être is to create content, then content is your product, and this doesn’t apply. Now, I’m not saying don’t create great content. Creating content that is useful, entertaining, or otherwise valuable for your potential customers or users is still massively important. But as with SEO, it’s not going to save an otherwise-mediocre company. Create great content; just don’t rely on great content alone to fix your SEO issues.


Is your baby ugly? Does the design of your site support your brand identity? Can people find what they’re looking for? Does the design and user interface indicate that you are trustworthy? Again, one could write volumes on user interface, design, etc.

If your site looks like it was built in 2001, or just built by your nephew after reading HTML for Dummies, that’s also something that needs to be fixed before you embark on trying to drive a ton of new people to your site, or trying to get people to link to you after viewing your site.

If you’re brand-new to thinking about UI and design, a great place to start is with the book Don’t Make Me Think.

Conversion Optimization

Do you track your conversions? Have you done conversion optimization testing? Do you know whatconversion rates are? Do you know the average conversion rates for your industry?

If you can’t answer these questions, you’d better figure this stuff out before you invest a ton in a strategy like long-term SEO. It’s frequently a lot easier to get a 50% bump in sales by optimizing your site to convert than it is to try and drive 50% more traffic. Some of my favorite conversion optimization resources are:

Wider Funnel



The Definitive How-To Guide For Conversion Rate Optimization

Know Who Your Customers Are and What They Want

This is just as important as being able to communicate why you believe your company is remarkable. To be successful at SEO, you need detailed, in-depth knowledge of who your customers truly are, what’s important to them, and what they want from your site. Without this knowledge, an SEO doesn’t know what keywords to help you target with your site, what content to help you create, or where you should be promoting and publicizing your site in order to build relationships with the right people who are going to drive links and social shares to your site.

When I ask this question of a potential client and they can’t answer, it makes me wonder how much they truly know about their business and how invested they are. Again, there are lots of resources that can teach you how to find out more about your customers. There are some great simple solutions for surveying customers like:

Survey Monkey


Google Consumer Surveys

If you have the resources, I would also encourage you to go through the process of building personas for your customers. Some good resources for learning about personas are:


This can be another tough one. Frequently, when someone goes looking for SEO help, it’s because they are suffering some crisis in sales and revenue on their site. If you’ve been hit by a sudden drop in traffic such as that caused by a penalty or algorithm update, then yes, acute SEO intervention may help you in the short term.

However if you’re turning to SEO to fix a long, slow decline in revenue, or to try to make your brand-new company or site skyrocket in sales, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. SEOs who promise you results overnight with very little effort are usually akin to just about every other offer that promises you overnight success.

SEO is usually a process that takes a long-term commitment to:

  • get the technical aspects of your site just right.
  • help you build content and information on your site that makes you an expert or authority.
  • slowly build the visibility and relationships with the trusted, knowledgeable people in your field who might promote your site or link to you, provided you’ve shown them that you deserve it.

The entire process can take weeks or months, or even longer. If you’re hoping for an SEO to swoop in and save the day, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. Which kind of leads me into my next and final recommendation…

Have Other Sources of Revenue

Do not rely on organic search traffic alone for the success of your business. Ever. Google has shown too often that they can make a simple tweak to their algorithm, which can drop sites that haven’t done everything exactly right (and sometimes even then) out of the search engine results.

Even as someone who makes their living doing SEO, I would tell any client they are absolutely foolish to put all or even most of their eggs in the organic traffic basket. This means you need to cultivate all your other possible revenue streams whether they be PPC advertising, email, social, offline advertising, or word of mouth, as well as making sure you’re doing everything right for SEO.

I frequently recommend to potential customers who need a sales and revenue bump in the very near term that they engage a really good PPC consultant or firm, spend their money on that for a while, then come back and talk to me later. Not only does PPC advertising generally show much faster return, I also know that if a good PPC company can’t make a positive ROI for a site, that site generally has a lot of other problems that just SEO isn’t going to fix.

While a part of SEO is making sure your site is built correctly. by far the biggest part is getting attention for your site. This attention can come in the form of links, traffic, press mentions, and/or social shares.

Quite honestly, given a really good technical SEO audit and enough development resources, the SEO done on your site is really the easiest part. Creating a site or product that is truly special, and then promoting that to the people who are going to share that information and talk about you are the hard parts. A good SEO or online marketing company should be able to help you do the promotion part, but first you have to create something that is truly valuable and worth talking about.

Unless you’ve been hit with a Google penalty or algorithm update (which you might be able to be recover from quickly), SEO is a long and sometimes expensive process. An SEO who tells you differently is probably just trying to make a quick buck off you.

The key to SEO success in 2014 and beyond is to create something truly remarkable and valuable, make sure your site is built right, and then make sure enough of the right people know about how remarkable and valuable you are. If you can’t honestly look yourself in the mirror and know without a shadow of a doubt that your company is one of those remarkable companies, you need to fix that first or you won’t be able to build truly sustainable SEO success.

Reprinted by permission from

Mar 16

Content Audits: What to do With Valueless Content

By Rob Woods | SEO

If your site (or your client’s site) has been around for a while, or you’ve gone to great lengths to build a lot of content for it, there’s a chance some of that content isn’t really providing any value to the site. Maybe it’s buried deep in the site, is low-quality, has too few inbound links, or possibly just outdated. Having valueless content puts a site at risk for a Panda hit. What can you do about it?
The solution is a content audit, which will answer two important questions:

  • What content does the site have?
  • What content is providing value?

Once you’ve identified valueless content, you and your client may have to make some tough decisions about what to do with it. I recommend following these steps to identify and classify content, and then help your client make those decisions.

1. Create a List of All Content Pages

First, it’s important to note that this applies to non-ecommerce pages. I’m only referring to blog posts, resource pages, and any other page that’s not selling anything. This can be a pretty time-consuming task if you do it manually. Instead, consider using a tool like Screaming Frog to automatically generate a list of all the URLs on your site. Remember that Screaming Frog has a couple of limitations, so you’ll still want to check for orphan pages to make sure you get everything.
Place that list into a spreadsheet. Then you can sort and isolate your content pages. You’re also going to be creating several more columns.

2. Document Inbound Links

Once you have your list of URLs, create a column for Inbound Links, and mark the URLs that have more than zero (0) inbound links. I like to do this with Moz’s Open Explorer with the Top Pages report. Export the report, which should include all of your linked to pages. Sort by ascending Number of Linking Domains (note that you’ll usually treat 1 linking domain as 0 as that domain is likely your own).

top linked to pages report - MOZ


3. Document Social Shares

Same process as above, creating a column for Social Shares, and marking the pages that have zero (0) social shares. You may find some overlap between external links and social shares. That’s OK. As you continue the labeling and narrowing down, it will become easier to see which pages are providing value, and which ones aren’t.

4. Document Traffic

Now create a column for Page Visits, and identify which pages have had less than five visits per month for a specified number of months, say the last three. Again, you may see some overlap. The next step will address that.

low trafic

5. Cross-Reference Your Lists

Now you can create a new list of all the page that have:

  • NO inbound links AND
  • NO social shares AND
  • FEW visits

You now have a list of content on the site that is providing little to no value. Now the question is, what do you do with it? You have a few options.

Rewrite It

Maybe a page isn’t getting a lot of social shares or visits because the information is outdated. Depending on what it is, updating can be pretty easy. It could also be that the writing is poor. You can recommend that the client rewrite it, or if they don’t have the time or resources, it may be time to bring in a professional copywriter.

Move the Content to a Better Location

Do you have a really good page that’s just buried and difficult to find? Move it to a higher level, or to a popular, high-traffic area of the site to get the page noticed and visited.

Delete It

This is counter-intuitive when the name of the game, especially for SEO, used to be that more is better. Not only is that no longer the case, but too much content that people don’t care about can actually hurt you, thanks to Panda.

This should still be your last resort, though. Never throw away good content. If it just needs updating, or if moving it can help, try that first. If deleting is the best option, provide your client with a list of pages to be deleted, as well as a list of URLs to redirect each deleted page to.

Meet Me!

I’ll be doing a Site Clinic at Pubcon Vegas in October and I’ll have a handful of SEO tools queued up and ready to quickly diagnose site issues. Please feel free to come say hello and ask any questions about performing a content audit.


Reprinted by permission from

Mar 16

SEO Audit Tools I Love

By Rob Woods | SEO


There are several tools I use when diagnosing SEO issues that go beyond the obvious Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, and the lesser used, but still pretty darn good Bing Webmaster Tools. Don’t get me wrong, those are all amazing, in depth, and crucial tools for SEO but each could take more than a full post and they a covered pretty fully in other places. The tools below are the ones I’ll usually use when starting a new SEO audit or doing a reasonably quick diagnosis on a site.

Screaming Frog


This is a great tool for diagnosing a whole range of issues on your site. It’s a fast, pretty darn comprehensive crawler that will index pretty much every page on your site that can be found though links on page on your site. It’s also free if your site is less than 500 pages so if all you have is a smaller blog you can use this one at no cost.

There’s a lot Screaming Frog can do, but for a quick check I use it to check:

  • 404 Errors, 301 redirects, 302 redirects, and other server level errors
  • URL Issues like odd characters or overly long, dynamic URLs. It can also be used to sort by URL and find issues with infinite or large numbers of parameters being appended to a URL
  • Duplicate Pages
  • Page Title – Is it missing? Too Long? You can sort by title to quickly check for duplicates
  • Meta Description – Same as for titles
  • H1 – Same as for titles
  • Meta Robots – Index, noindex, follow, nofollow, noarchive, nosnippet, noodp, noydir etc
  • Canonical links (I use this one a lot to see what the canonical link value is for a page. If it’s not the same as the URL, is there a good reason?


Another great option with Screaming Frog is that you can slice and dice the report any way you like to only show the data you want. You can also export the data to CSV which lets you use all the tools in Excel to sort and collate data and it’s a great way to share the data with others (managers, clients, etc).

One tip on Screaming Frog is that by default it will follow the directives in your robots.txt file. If you want it to crawl all your pages or crawl a development site that you have blocked from the search engines you’ll have to go to Configuration > Spider and check the “Ignore Robots.txt” file.

Xenu Link Sleuth


This one is pretty darn old school and the download site is a little odd. The site looks like it as built in about 1994 and includes a bunch of info debunking Scientology and a leading figure in it, Xenu. At any rate, this is another great tool for crawling your site.Xenu Link Sleuth is not as user friendly as Screaming Frog but it has the benefit of being totally free. It also tends to be faster than Screaming Frog in my experience.

You could get away with one or the other tool but I like to run both. One nice thing about Xenu Link Sleuth is that you can filter it too only show broken links. It’s a great way to check for internal and external links which do not lead to an active page.


URI Valet

logo-uri-valet-1xThis one is another free tool although I would hope that if you find it useful you’ll drop a donation to the creator as I did. I use this often as a great way to check several factors about a page but mostly I use it to check whether versions of a home page all redirect to the canonical version. It’s a great way to check 301 redirects as well. If you need to check whether your dev team correctly redirected that URL, URI Valet is a great tool.


Another great use for this tool is to diagnose page speed issues. This tool will crawl and list all the images, code, and scripts on a page, returning both estimated load times, and the size of each item. I recently found an issue where a logo on a blog was over 4mb :)


Moz Open Explorer

Open Explorer is a pretty well-known one but I always run it on a site when I’m doing a check or an audit on a site. In case you don’t know it’s a great tool for checking the backlinks for a site. While this is less about on site issues it’s still a check you want to do when you give a site a once-over. What I look for particularly with this tool when doing an audit is:

  • Inbound Links Report: This is one I usually give a cursory look at for the quality of your links. If you sort this report by domain authority and your best link is a crappy web directory or your mom’s blog about knitting tea cozies, you probably have a problem.
  • Top Pages Report: Your home page better be the page at or near the top of your list of pages for incoming links or there may be an issue. What I look at more here is how many pages have links coming in. If you have 10,000 pages and 5 have incoming external links, you may have a problem.
  • Anchor Text: On this one I usually look at the domain as a whole. If half of your incoming anchor text is your brand name, you’re probably good, if half of it is “red widgets” you’re probably not.

Custom Google Queries

This one is not a specific tool and it’s been around for ages but it’s still a great tool for diagnosing SEO issues on your site. Essentially it works by simply searching “” in Google. It will return a list of all the pages indexed by your site, or for someone else’s site, which is something you can’t do with Google Webmaster Tools. I like to go through and make sure the pages I think are indexed truly are indexed and that Google doesn’t have any pages indexed that I think should be blocked. It’s also a great way to see if there appear to be duplicate pages indexed.


Now one caveat with this query is that Google seems to limit your results too around 500 – 700 queries (it seems to vary by site). You can however break it down by subdirectory by searching, for instance “”. Another cool trick with this one is that you can actually exclude folders or URLs as well by using a query like “ –”.

The tools I mentioned above are great, fast tools which are either free or cost very little, and they require no special access or permissions from a site administrator to access. I hope that you find some of these tools helpful in diagnosing issues with your websites. There are a whole slew of other great specialty tools out there and if you have any recommendations for other tools I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Meet me!

I will be doing a Site Clinic at Pubcon later this year and I know I’ll have all of these queued up and ready to go to quickly diagnose site issues. Please feel free to come say hello and ask any questions about the tools I have mentioned.


Reprinted by permission from


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