Being new to SEO is tricky. As a niche market within a niche market there many tools and resources unfamiliar to most new professionals. And with so much to learn it is nearly impossible to start real client work without first dedicating six months exclusively to industry training. Well...that’s how it may seem at first.
While it may be intimidating, investigating real-world problems is the best way to learn SEO. It exposes you to industry terminology, introduces you to valuable resources and gets you asking the right questions.
As a fairly new Analyst at Distilled, I know from experience how difficult it can be to get started. So here’s a list of common SEO analyses and supporting tools that may help you get off on the right foot.
Reviewing on-page elements
Page elements are essential building blocks of any web page. And pages with missing or incorrect elements risk not being eligible for search traffic. So checking these is necessary for identifying optimization opportunities and tracking changes. You can always go to the HTML source code and manually identify these problems yourself, but if you’re interested in saving a bit of time and hassle, Ayima’s Google Chrome extension Page Insights is a great resource.
This neat little tool identifies on-page problems by analyzing 24 common on-page issues for the current URL and comparing them against a set of rules and parameters. It then provides a list of all issues found, grouped into four priority levels: Errors, Warnings, Notices and Page Info. Descending from most to least severe, the first 3 categories (Errors, Warnings & Notices) identify all issues that could impact organic traffic for the page in question. The last category (Page Info) provides exact information about certain elements of the page.
For every page you visit Page Insights will give a warning next to its icon, indicating how many vulnerabilities were found on the page.
Clicking on the icon gives you a drop-down listing the vulnerabilities and page information found.
What makes this tool so useful is that it also provides details about each issue, like how it can cause harm to the page and correction opportunities. In this example, we can see that this web page is missing an H1 tag, but in this case, could be corrected by adding anH1 tag around the page’s current heading (which is not coded as an H1).
In a practical setting, Page Insights is great for quickly identify common on-page issues that should be fixed to ensure best SEO practice.
Additional tools for reviewing on-page elements:
Analyzing page performance
Measuring the load functionality and speed of a page is an important and common practice since both metrics are correlated with user experience and are highly valued by search engines. There are a handful of tools that are applicable to this task but because of its large quantity of included metrics, I recommend using WebPagetest.org.
Emulating various browsers, this site allows users to measure the performance of a web page from different locations. After sending a real-time page request, WebPagetest provides a sample of three tests containing request details, such as the complete load time, the load time breakdown of all page content, and a final image of the rendered page. There are various configuration settings and report types within this tool, but for most analyses, I have found that running a simple test and focusing on the metrics presented in the Performance Results supply ample information.
There are several metrics presented in this report, but data provided in Load Time and First Byte work great for most checks. Factoring in Google’s suggestion to have desktop load time no greater than 2 seconds and a time to first byte of 200ms or less, we can gauge whether or not a page’s speed is properly optimized.
Prioritizing page speed performance areas
Knowing if a page needs to improve its performance speed is important, but without knowing what areas need improving you can’t begin to make proper corrections. Using WebPagetest in tandem with Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a great solution for filling in this gap.
Free for use, this tool measures a page’s desktop and mobile performance to evaluate whether it has applied common performance best practices. Scored on a scale of 0-100 a page’s performance can fall into one of three categories: Good, Needs Work or Poor. However, the key feature of this tool, which makes it so useful for page speed performance analysis, is its optimization list.
Located below the review score, this list highlights details related to possible optimization areas and good optimization practices currently in place on the page. By clicking the “Show how to fix” drop down for each suggestion you will see information related to the type of optimization found, why to implement changes and specific elements to correct.
In the image above, for example, compressing two images to reduce the amount bytes that need to be loaded can improve this web page’s speed. By making this change the page could expect a reduction in image byte size by 28%.
Using WebPagetest and PageSpeed Insights together can give you a comprehensive view of a page’s speed performance and assist in identifying and executing on good optimization strategies.
Additional tools for analyzing page performance:
Investigating rendering issues
How Googlebot (or Bingbot or MSNbot) crawls and renders a page can be completely different from what is intended, and typically occurs as a result of the crawler being blocked by a robots.txt file. If Google sees an incomplete or blank page it assumes the user is having the same experience and could affect how that page performs in the SERPs. In these instances, the Webmaster tool Fetch as Google is ideal for identifying how Google renders a page.
Located in Google Search Console, Fetch as Google allows you to test if Googlebot can access pages of a site, identify how it renders the page and determines if any resources are blocked from the crawler.
When you look up a specific URL (or domain) Fetch as Google gives you two tabs of information: fetching, which displays the HTTP response of the specified URL; and rendering, which runs all resources on the page, provides a visual comparison of what Googlebot sees against what (Google estimates) the user sees and lists all resources Googlebot was not able to acquire.
For an analysis application, the rendering tab is where you need to look. Begin by checking the rendering images to ensure both Google and the user are seeing the same thing. Next, look at the list to see what resources were unreachable by Googlebot and why. If the visual elements are not displaying a complete page and/or important page elements are being blocked from Googlebot, there is an indication that the page is experiencing some rendering issues and may perform poorly in the search engine.
Additional tools for investigating rendering issues:
Checking backlink trends
Quality backlinks are extremely important for making a strong web page, as they indicate to search engines a page’s reliability and trustworthiness. Changes to a backlink profile could easily affect how it is ranked in the SERPs, so checking this is important for any webpage/website analysis. A testament to its importance, there are several tools dedicated to backlinks analytics. However, I have a preference for the site Ahrefs due to its comprehensive yet simple layout, which makes it great for on-the-spot research.
An SEO tool well known for its backlink reporting capabilities, Ahrefs measures several backlink performance factors and displays them in a series of dashboards and graphs. While there is plenty to review, for most analysis purposes I find the “Backlinks” metric and “New & lost backlinks” graph to be the best places to focus.
Located under the Site Explorer tab, “Backlinks” identifies the total number of backlinks pointing to a target website or URL. It also shows the quantitative changes in these links over the past 7 days with the difference represented by either a red (negative growth) or green (positive growth) subscript. In a practical setting, this information is ideal for providing quick insight into current backlink trend changes.
Under the same tab, the “New & lost backlinks” graph provides details about the total number of backlinks gained and lost by the target URL over a period of time.
The combination of these particular features works very well for common backlink analytics, such as tracking backlinks profile changes and identifying specific periods of link growth or decline.
Additional tools for checking backlink trends:
Creating your toolbox
This is only a sample of tools you can use for your SEO analyses and there are plenty more, with their own unique strengths and capabilities, available to you. So make sure to do your research and play around to find what works.
And if you are to take away only one thing from this post, just remember that as you work to build your own personal toolbox what you choose to include should best work for your needs and the needs of your clients.