Brittney Sheffield / Digital Marketing / February 7th, 2014

10 Common Problems a Website Marketing Audit Can Reveal

Yesterday, Krissy posted about six things you should consider when performing a high-level user experience (UX) audit of a website. While UX is a crucial component of measuring a website’s success, it’s only part of the equation. Any time we audit a website at 352, we make sure to factor in an equally important factor: Marketing, which is making sure this thing created helps the business.

You can build an amazing website with an incredible user experience, but without a strong digital marketing framework your killer site might be dead on arrival. In this post we’ll cover a few aspects of the marketing audit, in which we evaluate the accessibility, indexability, on-page and off-page ranking factors and competitors of a particular website.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it will help you identify some of the critical trouble areas on your site and determine an action plan to get your site performing the way you need it to. It may not get down to the nuts and bolts, but we promise that it will keep you busy for a few hours.

You Need Google to Like You

You may not be able to please everyone with your website, but if you’re going to succeed you must make getting on Google’s good side a priority. There are several things you can do and look for in order to ensure your site is easy for search engines to index and doesn’t break any of their rules.

1 – Is your Robots.txt file set up properly?

  • What it means: The Robots.txt file is essentially an instruction manual for Google as to where it can go on your site. Make sure your XML sitemap is listed in the Robots.txt file and you are only disallowing pages that you really don’t want indexed. If you only check one thing about your Robots.txt file, make sure you do not see this: “Disallow: /”. Essentially this tells Google, “don’t look at any of my pages”, which could prevent you from appearing in search engine results.
  • How to check: Check your Robots.txt file by visiting your domain name with “/robots.txt” added to the end of the URL. For example: http://mashable.com/robots.txt

2 – Is your sitemap submitted to Google Webmaster Tools?

  • What it means: You should set up a Google Webmaster tools account if you don’t already have one for your website. GWT is a great resource for diagnosing issues with your site, or at least what Google says it is seeing, and submitting your sitemap is the fast-lane for telling Google what to crawl on your website.
  • How to submit your sitemap: Within GWT go to “Optimization” then “Sitemap” to submit your sitemap.

3 – Do your HTTP status codes check out?

  • What it means: HTTP status codes tell search engines whether a page is working as intended or if there is an error with the page, inhibiting the user experience. There are several status codes to look for, but start with 404 errors.
  • What to look for: Using tools like Screaming Frog Crawl Reports or Google Webmaster Tools, you can look for status codes containing 404 errors. If a page produces a 404 error, make sure that the page is no longer relevant to your site. Your site will not be penalized for returning some 404 errors if the pages aren’t supposed to be active any more. However, if important pages on your website are returning 404s you need to diagnose the problem.
352 404
Here is 352’s 404 page – complete with a “Go Home” button, the site navigation and an adorable dog.

Did someone link to you, but misspelled a word in the URL? Is there a website architecture issue occurring? In either case, make sure you have a user-friendly 404 page so people can easily figure out where they were trying to go. Spiders may not care what the 404 page looks like, but nothing tells users to take their business elsewhere like an unbranded, unhelpful page full of computer language.

4 – How is your site speed?

  • What it means: Simply put, how long does it take a page on your website to appear after you attempt to navigate to it? The truth is people are impatient and Google smiles upon websites that provide people with a good experience. You want your site optimized for speed. There’s no hard and fast rule on how fast is good enough. If your site’s too slow, and you’re lucky, you’ll hear about it from customers. If you’re unlucky, you’ll notice in analytics that people are pogo-sticking away after landing on your site, and then you’ll have to diagnose why they’re leaving you so quickly.
  • How to check it: Google Chrome has some nice extensions for checking page load times. Personally, I’m a fan of YSlow. If you find your pages are taking more than 4 seconds to load, consider finding a team to help you further diagnose the issues and next steps, which are usually website development-related solutions.

5 – Do you rank for your company brand?

  • What it means: When you search Google for your company name is your business highly ranked? It’s really important that you are ranking for your brand name, but sometimes site penalties or a company rebrand can make that a little bit difficult. We just went through this ourselves after we rebranded last year, so if you’re not ranking for your brand name yet, don’t fret.
  • How to check it: Open an incognito window in Chrome and type in the name of your business. There are other, more comprehensive ways, but going Incognito is the quick-and-dirty way to make sure that Google isn’t delivering you search results based on your previous search history.

Title and Meta Descriptions are Free Advertising

The descriptions of your website that are found in search engine results pages are no accident. You can control what appears in those results, and you should keep the following things in mind when you create or update your Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. For those unfamiliar with the terms, the Title is the first line of any Google result, while the Description is the longer paragraph below it that provides context to the search result.

You can think of it as a short blog post, where the Title is an attention-grabbing headline, and your Description lets you tell more of a story to hook a user.

6 – Are titles 70 characters or less and descriptions 155 characters or less?

Google search results have character limits for the titles and descriptions. Do your best to create Titles that are at most 70 characters and Meta Descriptions that are at most 155 characters. It’s OK for titles and descriptions to be more than 70 and 155 characters respectively (for instance, Facebook will show up to 200 characters of a description), but make sure you convey what the company or page is about clearly and succinctly.

352 inc   Google Search
See, we use more than 70 characters in the Title Tag, but it’s clear who we are.

7 – Are important keywords close to the front of your title or description?

Google pays attention to keyword phrases in order to determine what kind of content is living on that page and how relevant it is to what people are searching for, so include important keywords in your titles and descriptions. While old-school SEOs may cling to meta keyword data, Google has focused more on relevant keywords in titles, descriptions and on-page content. Remember you only have limited character space, so be sure to balance your keywords practically.

8 – Is your content compelling?

While keywords are important, it’s imperative that you write your site content and your title tags and descriptions for the people that you are directing to your site, and not search engines. Don’t keyword stuff your site content because search engines will recognize whether or not the keywords you use are relevant to what your site tells its users. Additionally, you should include your competitive advantage in title tags and descriptions to encourage users to click on your business versus other competitors that appear in search engine results.

Duplicate Content Will Get You, Duplicate Content Will Get You

If you haven’t heard, Google frowns upon duplicate content, and you’re likely to be rewarded with a search penalty if you’re duplicating content across your site.

9 – Do any of your pages contain identical content from another page on or off your site?

You may know off the top of your head whether or not you have copied and pasted content from one page to another on your site. If you aren’t sure you can use Copyscape to determine if you have any duplicate content pages. If you do have duplicate content, it’s time to purge. Determine what content you can get delete or repurpose, but don’t let the exact same content live on more than one page.

10 – Do you have any URL-based duplicate content issues?

Sometimes duplicate content issues happen by accident. This post about reducing duplicate content can help you determine whether or not you have URL based duplicate content issues and how to combat the problem if you do.

When it comes down to it, if your site is easily indexable by search engines your website’s success is going to be determined by whether or not your users do what you need them to do when they get there. Whether it’s filling out a contact form or purchasing a product, your site should make it as simple as possible for your user to accomplish that task. This might mean streamlining a check-out process or optimizing your site for mobile since more and more users are browsing the web on mobile and tablet devices.

The list above should help you dip your toes in the waters of a digital marketing site audit, but it will help you identify the most critical errors you may be making. Got questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Photo credit: Anne Helmond