Things to Fix Before Letting a Search Engineer Review Your Website at a Webmaster Conference

In several sessions at this year’s Pubcon, the same issues kept coming up when people asked the panelists to review their site. Some of the issues were so common that the live bloggers could have saved time typing by making macros for the mistakes. Fix these issues before you ask for a review, and you will receive more targeted feedback from the panelists — and fewer belly laughs from the audience.

Source Code
View your source code. Is there anything here that you do not want shown on a projector for 2000 people to see? This would include hidden text, text with a tiny font size, meta keywords with hundreds of words, and alt tags with dozens of keywords. Are there areas with thousands of keywords that are for search engines and not the visitor? Sites have been hand removed from Google for just this reason.

Title Tags
Include unique, descriptive title tags for each page. These are part of advertising for your site, and are the first impression visitors will see when your site displays in a search engine. Which title would you click — “Intro Screen” or “Adam Smith — San Francisco Art Institute”? When looking through your bookmarks, which page title is likely to be more meaningful?
Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox
Search Engine Guide — Search Engine Optimization Basics
High Rankings — All About Title Tags

Content
Do you have unique content? An innocent case of this is copying and pasting the manufacturer’s description for an item on your page. Unfortunately, the 200 other websites that sell that product have done the same thing, and there is no reason for your site to get good rankings for this duplicate content. Other reasons include URL issues (canonicalization), sites copying your content without your permission, using widely available free content, and having too many domains with nearly identical content. Bill Slawski of SEO by the SEA has a good article regarding the many causes of duplicate content.

URLs
Look at your URLs. Are they dynamic and have something like threadid=12345&sort=date in them, or do they look more like the-challenges-of-dynamic-urls.htm? Search engines can choke on the dynamic URLs and not index all of your pages. Making your URLs static can help the search engine to see all of your pages, and can include keywords in your URL for the search engine to find.

Images, Text, and Navigation
You can read your site — but can the search engines? Are your links hidden in javascript code? Are your item descriptions included as part of the image, or is the text separate? Paying attention to this on your site gives you returns in two ways — not only do search engines find your information more easily, but so does anyone who uses a text reader, screen reader, or any type of accessibility device.

Links
Are your links to other sites meaningful? Do not create links for the sake of having links. A beauty salon in San Francisco does not need a link to a carpet cleaning service in Denver, even if that service has a high page rank. Entire blogs can be devoted linking and paid versus organic linking, but for the purpose of a review at a conference, be sure that you don’t say “none of my links are paid” when a simple examination of your backlinks shows links coming from paid link sites and that your links are relevant.

Site Text
Is your text natural and written for the user, or is it stilted with keywords and written for search engines? On the flip side, do you use relevant keywords in text of your site? If you have a site for a band that does covers of country songs, do you mention the phrase country music?

Guidelines from the Search Engines
The panelists at the webmaster conventions are often from the major search engines, so it also pays to review their guidelines regarding what they do and do not want included in their results.
Google Webmaster Guidelines
Live Search Guidelines for Successful Indexing
Yahoo Search Content Quality Guidelines

Session Examples
Matt Cutts from Google describes being a panelist for the site reviews.
The following two blog entries are from a keynote session that included representatives from Google, Yahoo, WebGuerrilla, Range Online, and SearchEngineWatch.com.

The panelists are trying to get as many sites reviewed in the time that they have, so they are going to look for the first thing that jumps out at them. Fix these top seven issues, and make the panelists work harder to find something wrong with your site. There is nothing as golden as the silence before a reviewer (Rae Hoffman in regards to Property Showrooms) states I’m not saying much because I’m having a hard time finding stuff obviously wrong.”

Edit 22 Nov: Thanks to Bill Slawski of SEO by the SEA for his feedback regarding this article, and providing the title. URLs and a typo also fixed on this edit.

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