Some people have argued that SEO is dead. And buried. That it is so early-2000s.
Those people are wrong – and don’t just take our word for it.
Though we won’t tell you that SEO hasn’t changed, evolved, or become more sophisticated over time, we will continue to argue – as most of our peers do, too – that SEO is far from dead. Indeed, our experts at DOZ have applied their experience in SEO in the service of big brands and corporations worldwide with real, positive results time and again. An SEO audit is among the first steps we recommend for clients who are seeking to expand and improve their online marketing and reach, and the benefits of these audits are quickly realized and obvious, even to an online marketing beginner.
But perhaps you aren’t ready to ask for an entire audit via a platform like DOZ. Maybe you want to take a few steps to clear up the most obvious SEO missteps before turning to a professional for the more complex issues. Or maybe you have a personal site and want to improve your SEO without investing a lot of money just yet. If this is the case, then this post will help.
Below are five essential and simple SEO checks you can make on your site quickly, easily, and without a lot of messing around. In less than ten minutes you’ll have a good idea of how you are positioned for search engines, and where – if anywhere – you can make changes to optimize your search rankings.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider: The Tool You Need
To understand how your site appears to search engines, you need to crawl your site just as a search engine would. You don’t need to hack into Google to achieve this; instead, you just need to download a free program from Screaming Frog called SEO Spider.
The SEO Spider “is a small desktop program you can install locally on your PC, Mac or Linux machine which spiders websites’ links, images, CSS, script and apps from an SEO perspective. It fetches key onsite elements for SEO, presents them in tabs by type and allows you to filter for common SEO issues, or slice and dice the data how you see fit by exporting into Excel.”
You can crawl up to 500 URLs without paying for a license, or upgrade for unlimited use and additional features for £99 per year.
Once you’ve downloaded the SEO Spider and installed it – you may need to upgrade your Java install, too, along the way – it’s time to enter your URL and get the SEO process underway.
Crawling a Website
Start by entering the URL of the website you are going to crawl in the search box at the top of the screen.
(For the purposes of this post I am going to use my own website as the guinea pig, so to speak.)
Click ‘start’ and you’re off!
It took less than a minute to crawl the 160 pages on my personal website and when it was done I was looking at a screen like the one below:
There’s a whole lot of data there – and much more in the buttons and tabs waiting to be clicked – and Screaming Frog has a great user guide that will take you through every single one. For this post, though, we want to look at five things that are crucial for SEO but at the same time easy to understand, and easy to fix.
1. Page Titles
The titles of your pages are important and should be specific, clear, keyword relevant, and the right length. How long is the right length? Well current SEO standards suggest a page title should be at least 30 characters long but no more than 55 characters long.
Let’s start by looking for Page Titles that are too short. On the right hand side of the screen I can scroll down in the Overview column to Page Titles and select Below 30 Characters. The result is the list in the screenshot below:
As is clear, I have 14 pages on my personal site that have titles that are too short for SEO purposes. The obvious fix: make the titles longer. For five of those 14 pages I am only a character short of optimal while others are a third too short. Whatever the case, these titles need to get longer.
I can also check page titles for any that are too long. Again, in the Overview column I scroll down to Page Titles and click on Over 65.
Things are a little better here: only two titles with issues this time. The solution? Make them shorter.
2. Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions give search engines more information about what is on any single webpage you have published. If the keywords included in the meta description match the content, are in context, and if the meta description is well written, your rankings can rise. Optimizing your meta descriptions helps to optimize your sites SEO – and Screaming Frog can help you identify if there are problems in need of attention on this point.
Head to the Overview column again, scroll down to Meta Description, and click on Missing:
Yep: 38 pages that need a meta description and…38 missing meta-descriptions. This is a major SEO problem for my site and something I need to address by – you guessed it – adding meta descriptions to each page.
Clicking on any of the URLs in the main window highlights that URL in the bottom window – and doing so helps make the significance of meta descriptions apparent. The blue text with the link beneath it looks straight out of Google (it is) and shows that while my site is indexed, there is not much for a search engine to present to potential visitors than the title of my webpage. If I want visitors to find my site and give them more than just a page title to bank on clicking, I need to add meta descriptions.
The SEO Spider helps give you an idea of what that meta description will look like.
Typing into that meta description box at the bottom of the screen changes the view to this:
A big improvement and hopefully enough information to invite a few more clicks.
Now to repeat for another 37 pages…
3. 404 Errors
Broken and dead links to an internal page are terrible for SEO. However, the larger your site and the longer it is online, the more likely it is that you’ll find you are directing visitors to pages that no longer exist, have moved, or have changed URL.
Screaming Frog searches for these dead and broken links and the 404 errors that they return.
Go to the Overview column, scroll to Response Codes, and click on Client Error.
In this case I have two dead or broken links to investigate. To fix the error, I either need to delete the dead links, fix the broken links, or delete the links altogether. It’s easy to do but, again, it makes a visit to your site a better experience and improves your SEO.
4. Image Alt Tags
The ‘alt-text’ for an image on your site tells a search engine what the image is and the context of the picture in the page. To optimize your page for search engines every image should have a relevant text tag that should not only describe what the image is but also identify it with reference to the targeted keywords for that page.
Again, using Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider, go to the Overview column, scroll down to Images and click on Missing Alt Text.
My page is looking pretty good on this count, though the fact that the one image that doesn’t have an alt-text tag is my personal headshot. As one of the very first elements I added to the site, that’s a lapse I made early on. Thanks to SEO Spider, I can go back to that image, add the necessary tag – in this case my name would be a good tag, plus the word ‘about’ as this is where the image appears – and clean up this minor problem quickly and easily.
5. H Tags
H Tags – variously known as headings, headers, header tags or similar terms – are a means of providing a hierarchy on a page. Each page needs to have a <h1> tag (usually the page title or post title on a blog) and then content can then be structured with other headings of decreasing importance: <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5>, and <h6>.
H Tags that highlight relevant keywords are good for SEO and can help search engines understand what your content is about and what the key points on a page are. On the other hand, if you jump straight from a <h1> tag to a <h3> tag, you are going to be penalized by search engines.
On SEO Spider, head to the Overview column, scroll down to H2, then click on Missing:
I have 27 pages missing <h2> tags? Looks like I have some work to do here, too.
5 SEO Checks in 10 Minutes
Running the SEO Spider crawl of my site took less than a minute, and working through each of the five SEO factors above not much longer than a minute or two for each one. While not as detailed as a full SEO audit would be, this ten minute review allows me to find a couple of areas where I am doing mostly fine (404 errors and alt text tags), one where I can make pretty quick fixes (page titles), and a couple where I’ll have to spend a few hours fixing things up (meta descriptions and H tags). Without spending a cent I can improve my SEO significantly and make effective changes to my site’s structure so as earn a higher search ranking.
Have you tried Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider? How did your site fare?