As my co-workers James Constable, and Jason Hendricks prepare for this month’s Vertical Measures webinar scheduled “Onsite SEO: Building a Solid Foundation for Your Website,” scheduled to take place on Thursday, August 12 at 11:30 a.m. EST (8:30 a.m. PST, 10:30 a.m. CST) there has been a good amount of discussion on performing site audits. Luckily, I knew just the guy to ask! If you aren’t familiar with Alan Bleiwess,of Search Marketing Wisdom you should check him out. He is well known in the industry for his search engine optimization audits, consulting, blogging and speaks regularly on the topic.
Elise Redlin-Cook: What areas do you think are currently the most important in organically ranking a site?
Alan Bleiweiss: Okay – I’ll play that game. Because I always appreciate the opportunity to slap down all those “it’s all links” people out there… Here’s the low-down dirty little secret that apparently only some of us in the industry know.
Create a healthy organizational structure to contain your site. Pick the best keyword phrases. Properly seed the site accordingly. Strategically embed links throughout the site to pages you want to drive more authority to, and from those pages, out to high quality related content. Obtain high quality links into those pages. But here’s where it gets complicated.
When you do all that, always, ALWAYS be sure that every single step you take, every single action, is based on your first having put yourself into the minds of site visitors AND site owners AND site marketers AND site developers AND site designers, AND site database/content managers… You absolutely, without fail, must remember and factor in every single one of these if you truly want a site that will not only be highly optimized today, but that will stand the test of time. Regardless of whether Google remains dominant or not. Regardless of what other signals you’ll have to get from social media or tomorrow’s next great medium.
Why? Because that’s the web. It’s the heart and soul of the web. No matter how it changes and evolves, the core premise will always be the foundation from which all else operates and connects. At least that’s the way it will be for the next 10 years. Because that’s how long it would take for something new to come along that has the chops to replace the web as it’s existed for 15 years.
Elise: So, what are the main tools that you use in your SEO Site Audits?
Alan: Until this year, I only ever used Excel and performed all my work manually. The theory was, I’m getting $125 an hour or $150 an hour to do this work, (or half to 3/4 that rate for agencies) so why not take the time? As I’ve shifted my business so that I’m spending less time on client work and more time blogging, ranting and attending conferences, and as I’ve shifted to more and more enterprise scale clients, I’ve both raised my rates and begun testing a number of tools for all aspects of my work. So far, I’ve found that the SEOBook Rank Checker plug-in for Firefox and the SEOMoz Open Site Explorer are both excellent tools and now use them religiously. And of course, I still use Excel. #Duh
Elise: What are the biggest obstacles that you face in getting clients and/or developers to execute your action plan?
Alan: Now that 80% of my audit work is for sites involving thousands of pages or tens of thousands of pages, the single biggest obstacle I face is where clients have limited budgets or staff, and when they get one of my audits and find out that there’s going to be 50, 100, or 250 hours of work required, they feel overwhelmed, because they had been hoping for quick fix solutions.
Another common obstacle I see comes from the fact that most of my clients are large corporations, such as financial institutions and my contact has to get internal buy-in from other departments or divisions. So for example, if my contact is in marketing, they have to deal with political issues inside the company because perhaps the IT staff have a “protect our jobs” or a “we can’t do that” strangle-hold on anything to do with code-level site changes.
Elise: What advice would you give to those that are new to SEO and lack the 15 years of knowledge, experience, and hindsight that you possess?
Alan: Hire me as your go-to resource. no – seriously – the first couple projects I tried to optimize ended up completely lost organically because I took on extremely competitive markets and I had no clue what was involved.
So I’d say start with a scale you can truly master and move up from there. Someone that doesn’t have the depth and breadth of knowledge I happen to have might very well need to focus initially on low hanging fruit- the mom & pop sites, sites that have a purely local geo-targeted focus. And for goodness sake, please spend every free waking moment of your existence teaching yourself more and more. Build on what you know. Don’t stop learning. Test, test, test!
Elise: Could you recommend some relevant reading materials to newcomers in the field?
Alan: Sure – my SEJ column and my blog! (Warning, my blog is NSFW!). Gosh – there’s so much good content out there. But it’s typically mixed in with a lot of nonsense. So I highly recommend going to Sphinn.com and scouring the articles in your particular area of focus – and read any article that’s gotten 35, 40 or more Sphinns. Join sites like SEOMoz or WebmasterWorld, the SEO Dojo, read SearchEngineJournal.com… Join Twitter and follow people like Kim Krause Berg, Rae Hoffman, Tony Verre, Judith Lewis, Gerald Weber, Ann Smarty, Steve Plunkett, Ann Handley, Angie Nikoleychuk , Lisa Barone (these are just a few of the 80 or so people I pay a lot of attention to – because when they say something industry related, or write about it, or recommend the writing of others, it’s a gold mine of value). But remember- sometimes even then, it’s not valid for your unique situation, or it’s outdated. Or it’s just not true. So test, test, test!
Elise: What inspired you to go into Search Engine Optimization? Did you follow a specific path into this field?
Alan: It was a natural progression for me. Long before the Internet, back in the day, as I was walking to and from work both ways up hill in the snow, (yea, on Long Island we really used to get 4′ deep snow) I considered myself a facilitator of the flow of information in business. Whether it was as a customer service rep, sales manager, office manager, a business operations manager…
I’ve been in the web consulting business since January of 95 because the 1st day I was introduced to the web, that month, in that moment, I knew the web was my future – it was like a lightning bolt of awareness that the web is the ultimate form of free flowing information.
Since then, it’s just been a matter of following my intuitive path, and always adapting to whichever newest aspect of web offerings I felt the most passionate about. At one point, I got fried – totally burnt out on the whole consulting thing. Went into deep depression, walked away from it all. Tried to switch careers, ended up on food stamps rather than working at Home Depot or in some 20th century office job. That month, it hit me – WTH was I doing? How could I walk away from the one path that in all my adult life, had always blessed me and came effortlessly to me? That was when I really dove back in with everything like never before. And it’s been a magical ride ever since.
Elise: Wow, good stuff! So, do you have any exciting projects that your involved in right now that you’d like to tell us about?
Alan: You mean besides avoiding lawsuits for my rants? Yes, I do! I’ve become pretty well known (in my mind) for my high end audits. Yet as much as they consistently blow customers minds, I recently recognized that if I want to take this offering even further (beyond the $250 an hour I get for my audit work now), that I’d need to change things around. – A sea-change, if you will. I’ve been bouncing ideas off a few very trusted friends – in the industry and in my personal life, and what keeps coming back is what I intuitively recognized on my own. So I’ve set out on a several-month plan to evolve how i conduct audits, how I rate the sites, client’s social footprint, and their competitive landscape, and ultimately, how I present my findings to them.
I don’t have any desire at this point to go into details, however I can say this much. I’ve devised a brand new, from scratch, 500 point scoring system for a clients web presence split out into five groups or sub-areas. The raw score from this is converted to a uniform weighted number for each sub-area, then gets cross-balanced against the difficulty factor of their particular market. (Did I mention how important Excel is?)
It’s still got a long way to go, however it’s already helping me to be that much more thorough in my work, and it’s already helping sort out what were previously perceived as “of equal value” recommendations. And that’s vital, because as I said earlier, client budgets are a bitch, and I always prioritize recommendations. The better I can be at doing that, the more success they’ll see, sooner.
Elise: I know that you do a great deal of business traveling in general. In all of the places you’ve been, where would you most like to live?
Alan: Well I’ve been to 39 States, Canada, and Europe. I’ve also lived in five States and Germany. So I’ve gotten to experience a lot of places in terms of what feels like home. At the moment, I’ve got the most beyond-phenomenal massage therapist / energy worker here in Marin County. So unless she and her family relocate to Santa Monica, I’m not going to be moving any time soon. At least not until I can afford to live within a couple blocks of the beach in Santa Monica and fly back to Marin 3 or 4 times a month, because the value I get from those sessions is that important to my well being.
Elise: Are you driven by any great passions outside of the business arena?
Alan: Absolutely. To always evolve. I have such a long way to go – so many flaws and short-comings. Yet having come from the inner sanctum of hell on earth, twice, I can’t express how much happiness and how much freedom I have achieved over the past several years with each growth step I’ve taken. And since I have had that success, why wouldn’t I want to continue that pattern? Life really is a blessing, if you know how to learn how to get out of your own way. So my goal is to eventually just be the co-pilot of my life spiritually, physically, emotionally… It’s a part-time thing now, and every precious moment that it is, well, let’s just say #WIN!
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