Over the last few years as an SEO guy, I have often performed on-the-spot analyses of a lot of sites. Let’s face it, sometimes it pays to be choosy about what kinds of accounts you take on. (For instance, if someone wanted to take on the keyword ‘buy movie tickets online,’ I would not want to compete with Fandango no matter how long-tailed it seems.)
I have become quite good at quickly evaluating sites, and would like to share my process:
1. Keyword Usage
First, inspect for keyword usage. Keyword usage is extremely telling about the amount of work that has gone into a site’s performance to find out if obvious keyword targeting has taken place. If it has, the particular keyword choice also tells a story.
Check the title tag, meta description, h1, and general content for usage of keywords.
Hit Ctrl + U to view the page source, and check the top <head> section for the title and meta description. The other elements can be checked with a simple look at the homepage.
Time required: 15 seconds
2. Link Value
You can learn much about the starting point of a site simply by checking a few metrics.
Check the PageRank of the homepage and other important pages. Now, I know you might be saying that PR is a flawed metric – and you are right. But despite its flaws, PR still provides a relative metric. For instance, if I were creating a new site and my nearest competitor has a PageRank of 8, I will likely leave the market. It doesn’t matter that it only updates every 3-6 months, or that you can hoard it by refusing to link externally, or that Google doesn’t use it in calculating your rankings. Here are the facts: each increase in numbers signals about 8 times more authority, so your competitor may have 2 higher PR but 64 times the authority. PageRank is also a good relative gauge to describe the kinds of links already voting for the homepage.
Check the Link Count – It’s really easy to hyperinflate your link count, but again, it’s a good relative guide. Existing sites with natural, regular, un-messed-with links share a lot with their link count. If the site looks spammy or like its links were built unnaturally, you can easily discount many of the links.
Both of these metrics are easily pulled from SEO Toolbar for Firefox, or a bevy of other tools out there.
Time Required: 4 seconds
Check the Age – How long has the site been around? If the site has been around for more time than other competitors, you have a great chance of making some fast improvements on Google. The longer a site has been around, the more trusted it becomes. After all, you wouldn’t keep a site up that was costing you money for many years. If it ceases to be of value, you take it down.
Again, this is a statistic easily pulled from SEO Toolbar for Firefox.
Check the History – Unfortunately, xray glasses don’t exist that let you look behind the Google curtain and see where you stand with them. That would be absolutely awesome, though. Really, there are 3 things worth asking the site owner or marketer in determining the history.
- Have they tried to trick the search engines in the past? If they have, they might be under additional scrutiny.
- Have they linked out to anyone who didn’t deserve it? Sometimes people fall for spammy link exchange email requests, and end up getting connected with sites that are under scrutiny themselves. This could be a signal that the site has some tainted history. This can be aided by going through the site and removing links that weren’t true editorial citations.
- Have they received unnatural links from any source, paid or unpaid? Although you can’t fix this by removing links yourself, you can still be aware what you are up against.
Time Required: 1 second
4. Coding & Architecture
Yeah, check to see if spiders are able to crawl the site. The pages may be incredibly relevant for their respective keywords, but if the authority isn’t being passed around the site, or if the search engines can’t find the pages, they won’t be showing up.
Check for Frames – Frames are an old, deprecated HTML element that search engines hate. They don’t see anything inside of them, so if you had anything in the frame that would be helpful for your page, don’t count on it helping.
Check for Flash – Flash elements are beautiful and can be excellent for conversion rates, but copious amounts of Flash should be avoided for crawlability.
Check for Redirects – You lose 10-20% of page authority through a 301 redirect, and you lose 100% through a 302 redirect. Make sure your redirects aren’t getting in the way of your content showing up in search engines. Avoid changing page names when possible. There are many tools which can check your types of redirects on the fly, but I prefer HTTP Header Check
All of these elements can be checked from the source code of the site. For Flash, there is a shortcut – if you see an element that looks like Flash on the page, you can right-click to check. If it’s Flash, one of the options will be ‘About Adobe Flash Player’.
Time Required: 25 seconds
The 55-Second Check
So there you have it – a fast site evaluation that will help you decide what you’re in for by taking on an account. It may take you a bit longer than 55 seconds at first, but do it a few times, and you’ll be looking at being done in under a minute. Of course, you’ll want to perform a more thorough analysis once you take the account on because there are lots of other things that can be wrong, but this should provide a strong base to catch 90% of the problems.