Recently I tuned in to the Raven Tools webinar: ‘The Five Most Important Benchmarks for a New SEO Client’, run by Senior Digital Marketing Specialist Nicolette Beard.

Although probably more useful for SEO newbies than seasoned pros, this was a clear, succinct webinar, giving a useful overview of the areas that SEOers should assess first when a new client comes on board. It outlines the steps to take in order to get to the point where you can then create goals which ‘clients can understand and that you can reach’. Win-win.

So, in a back-to-basics blog post, what website issues should be assessed for a new client, and why?

Benchmark 1 – Crawlability

Search Engines need to be able to find and crawl website content quickly. Pages which are no longer in use, are redirected or are slow to load all hinder bots’ ability to crawl a site effectively.

Issues to look for and why:

  • Broken pages (404s) – having too many of these can hinder a site’s search visibility, and generally have a negative impact on user experience
  • Redirected pages – it is always wise to keep unnecessary redirects to a minimum, as they can slow down load time and complicate navigation. There are arguments both ways regarding the impact redirects have on link value, but it pays to err on the side of caution and avoid redirects where possible
  • Load time – page/site load time and speed: The speed at which a web page renders can have a significant impact on search rankings, but most importantly, it dramatically impacts on the user experience. According to Beard, if a page takes four or more seconds to load, then around 25% of visitors go elsewhere!

Benchmark 2 – On-Page Factors

The key here is making sure that pages have quality content both on- and off-page.

Issues to look for and why:

  • Low quality pages – Pages that are acting as placeholders, have very little content (fewer than 250 words), and are generally there for no other purpose than to improve SEO. These type of pages offer very little to visitors, or search engines.
  • Semantic and meta data issues e.g. the way the page is structured such as H1s, H2s etc being in the wrong order; it’s important that the structure of these is correct, and that meta data is optimised with relevant keywords
  • Duplicate content – if the same content appears in two or more locations, search engines don’t know which URL to present in SERPs, which could result in a duplicate content penalty. In such cases, canonical tags should be used.

Benchmark 3 – Link Value

Links from quality, reputable sites with high Domain Authority are what count here. The key is creating high quality content which people will want to link to and share.

Issues to look for and why:

  • Low quality, manufactured links, such as directory listings – these will bring down the quality of the link profile and might even be cause for penalty in some cases
  • Over-optimisation – having a high number of links which contain keyword anchor text

Beard also talks about social shares having an impact on rankings and acting as valuable links. However, I would argue that there’s no real evidence to suggest social signals impact SEO.

Benchmark 4 – Link Diversity

Ideally, you’d want a client’s link profile to show a large, diverse set of links from trustworthy sites, as this will help elevate the site and shows that ‘the destination website contains quality content, and enjoys successful outreach’. In order to help with this, ensure that the site has both evergreen and topical/interesting content, encourage linking and sharing, and look for unique ways to tap into your audience to encourage engagement.

Issues to look for and why:

  • Small number of domains linking to the site
  • Low quality of domains
  • Little diversity in anchor text

All of these signals indicate that the site has minimal quality content that is worth sharing. In particular, a lack of diversity in anchor text can seem like manipulation to search engines; ‘natural’ anchor text profiles will have a variety of terms.

The backlink profiler in Raven uses citation flow as an indicator of the quality of external links. Citation flow is an indication of the quality of links going to a site; in this case it refers to sites which are linking to your site. In link building, you want to target sites that have a decent citation flow – ideally 40 or above.

Benchmark 5 – Deep Links

When searching, visitors generally want to be taken directly to the most relevant page for their query. Links which point to the most relevant pages, for example a product page, are much more credible (and useful!) than taking a visitor to the homepage. Search engines love relevancy, and therefore deep linking will only help improve the link profile.

Issues to look out for:

  • Too many links to the homepage
  • Too few links to (relevant) deep pages

Working through these steps will enable you to build a good picture of how a client’s site is performing. Beard rightly says that every site is unique, and even though many do a lot of things right, inevitably there is something that can be done to help every site. These reports will alert you to any issues which need to be fixed as well as areas for improvement. This might all seem like a lot, but luckily the report in Raven lays out findings in a clear and structured way. Remember, however, that whilst it’s important to help clients’ sites work as best they can, it also goes a long way if you also point out where the site is performing well.