SEO – Using a Heuristic Evaluation to Go From Zero to Hero!
Undeniably, selling products on the web is here to stay. One of the most difficult tasks a company has is educating potential customers on product offerings and the web is a wonderful and accessible platform in which to engage these customers.
Given the web’s importance, how can a manufacturer reach customers in the most cost-effective means possible?
The answer is in making sure products are prominently displayed when web users are entering search terms related to your products. To influence these search results, it’s essential your web team understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
This post will explore some mechanisms for increasing your company’s search rankings via SEO techniques.
The View From the Top
Google determines what to display first on a search results page using PageRank, “a complex link analysis algorithm, in order to assign weights/relative importance to each element of a hyperlinked set of documents, such as the World Wide Web.” In a nutshell, PageRank measures a page’s importance. The more notable links a page has leading to it, the more valued it is.
Why the emphasis on page importance and search results? Ask yourself – When is the last time you did a search on Google and navigated past the first or second page of results? If you keep your searches limited to these pages, you are not alone. A sample of over 8 million clicks shows that over 94 percent of users clicked on a first page result and less than 6 percent actually click to the second page and select a result displayed there (Jensen).”
In the end, people expect to find what they are looking for on the first page. So, if your company’s products aren’t on the featured high on the initial page, you’re probably getting overlooked and have SEO work to do, which has a direct impact on site traffic, and in turn, sales.
All of this leads to the question – How do I improve SEO to ensure a first-page search result? A few suggestions:
- Conduct a basic heuristic study of your current site, a technique that can help you quickly identify the current status of your site’s SEO without having to do a long exhaustive study. Details on how to conduct this study are highlighted below.
- Determine the relative priority and attention level needed for each of the factors identified by the study.
Keep in mind that when doing the heuristic evaluation you are not looking to:
- Redesign your overall SEO strategy
- Review every detail of the SEO efforts your company has done
- Determine the exact impact that modifications to your site in support of SEO will have
Therefore, the goal of the heuristic evaluation is to get a baseline which can be leveraged to support the above three items.
Conducting an SEO Heuristic Evaluation
To conduct a heuristic evaluation, consider the factors below. This list provides a cross-section of the various aspects of a website which should be analyzed to make your site as strong in SEO as possible.
While this study will help you get started, please note that SEO optimization never ends! The attributes Google’s PageRank algorithm looks at are constantly evolving. Your web site is likely constantly evolving. Therefore, SEO optimization needs to be frequently revisited.
To ensure an effective SEO strategy, make sure to have:
FACTOR 1: An HTML Sitemap and XML Sitemap – The XML Sitemap helps search engines find all the pages on your site, which is a very important feature to have, particularly for larger sites. The HTML Sitemap can help both search engines and your site visitors navigate throughout your site.
FACTOR 2: Unique and Accurate Page Titles – The title tag is designed to explain the topic of a particular page. The best option is to have a unique and concise title for each page. Note that the information contained in the title tag is typically displayed on the search results as the first line of text.
FACTOR 3: A Description Meta Tag – Unlike the short description in the title tag, the Description Meta Tag is longer, more verbose. The goal of this tag is to provide in-depth details about page content, which may also be displayed on the search results page.
FACTOR 4: Descriptive Images – This might not seem like it is related to SEO, but consider the increased popularity of Google Images. Images with a distinct file name and “alt” text are more easily indexed by the search engines and also easier for those using screen readers to view your site.
FACTOR 5: A Mobile-Friendly Site – It’s essential that your company website be assessable and user-friendly for those using mobile devices. As with full sites, it is important to make sure that your mobile site is indexed by search engines.
FACTOR 6: A Search-Friendly URL – The URL is the street address to your site’s pages. Obvious, keyword-specific URLs allow the search engines to crawl your site more easily and also allow users to find and link to your site.
FACTOR 7: Website Analytics and Webmaster Tools – Utilizing website analytics and webmaster tools in conjunction with one another can help your company get better insight to how your site is performing. Analyzing traffic patterns and changes can help your SEO strategy to be more targeted and efficient.
FACTOR 8: “Social SEO” – Search engines tend to give more credence to websites that have a strong presence through “social media links and interactions (Conner).” Start thinking about ways in which you can leverage your site’s content through social media channels, which will help to further increase engagement with your site.
When in doubt, look to what other credible companies are doing. How are they describing and promoting their services? How is the user experience on their site? How are they marketing with other content channels?
The end-result of the heuristic evaluation will be a score for each of the factors and a high-level understanding of where your website stands as it relates to SEO. Once you have the scores for the factors, determine the likely impact to your overall SEO by making various updates relating to the given factor. Additionally, you need to determine the level of effort that will be required in order to make those updates. Those two data points will help you determine an overall implementation order and prioritization as you get on your way to improving your site’s SEO.
After the SEO Heuristic evaluation is completed, you should be able to better chart where your company stands on the SEO Maturity Lifecycle.
One great element about SEO is that there are a number of different levers that a company can pull to impact their SEO. Everything should be done in a phased approached based on your company’s individual needs and should not be thought of, or treated like, a black box. Organizations should realize that by doing some basic evaluations and analysis, they can start to see improvements in site rankings.
Sarah Baker is a Consultant with the Centric Cleveland team and has more than 6 years of experience as a Business Analyst with a focus on e-commerce implementations and web optimization. She is involved in all phases of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) and specializes in requirements gathering, functional documentation and client support.
Conner, C. (n.d.). 10 1/2 Ways to Take Advantage of “Social SEO”. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2012/12/02/10-%C2%BD-ways-to-take-advantage-of-social-seo/
Google Algorithm Change History. (n.d.). Retrieved from SEOMOZ: https://www.seomoz.org/google-algorithm-change#2012
Jensen, T. (n.d.). 2nd Page Rankings: You’re The #1 Loser. Retrieved from Gravitate Online: https://www.gravitateonline.com/google-search/2nd-place-1st-place-loser-seriously
PageRank. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank