Did you know that SEO can stand for both the practice of Search Engine Optimization and the person who practices it, the Search Engine Optimizer? Neither did I when I first started learning SEO.
I fell ass-backward into SEO, and while I am slowly figuring everything out, I brought none of the prerequisites with me. I don’t speak the vernacular, I can’t tell the difference between HTML and CSS, and the fact that Google has a thing called Google Analytics blew my mind.
It’s like I’m at the Olympics, without knowing I’m at the Olympics. Ignore all the tweets and stories you’ve read, and imagine I booked a vacation to Sochi of my own accord. A ski vacation, in fact. And on the morning of the Men’s Downhill I wonder why the crowds are all on one trail, go over to investigate, and find myself halfway into the course skiing with Bode Miller, who tells me, “Just follow me kid, don’t worry about the ice!” I just look at him, happy to find someone speaking a language other than Russian.
That’s how prepared I was to become an SEO. But what I learned on the slopes with Bode…um, in Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and Moz.com, is that you can pick this stuff up without a lot of experience, because there is literally a tool for everything. Once you know how to use the tool, and can understand what the results mean, you’re most of the way there. (At least, it feels like I’m most of the way there, and this is where I am.) The only difficult part is getting someone to explain it to you in plain English.
So here are a few tools that I use, explained for my fellow uninitiated, pseudo-SEOs. Get ready for the plain English you’ve been looking for.
This is Google’s free web analytics tools, where you can track visitor behavior on your website. It can tell you what pages on your website people visit most often, what search terms are leading people to your pages, and the pages people view on your site before converting. (Converting in this case means buying/downloading/signing up) The information available in Google Analytics is endless, and invaluable if you are trying to optimize your website to increase traffic.
To get a complete copy of a website, you have to crawl it. A crawl, which is done by a ‘spider,’ is when a program like Moz.com runs on a domain name and gathers information on every page attached to that domain. Depending on the size of the site, this can take some time. (My first dumb crawl question: “Can you crawl Facebook?” Apparently no. Zuckerburg is crawl-proof.) When you have the data from your crawl, you can learn all sorts of things about the pages, like which ones are missing titles, or missing keywords, or what your inbound link network looks like. Again, the key here is understanding what to do with the data you have, which simply takes time and practice.
This is a clever little tool that can be used to tell you if there are any unsavory websites sharing your IP address. (Websites share IP addresses just like there can be more than one apartment at a street address.) An IP address’s reputation with Google (Google is highly judgmental, like high-school-girl judgmental) can be affected by every site attached to that address. So if your site shares an IP address with www.Gamble-Mortgage-Win-Viagra.com, its search engine authority may be affected.
BuiltWith is a Google Chrome Plug-in. In general, Google Chrome Plug-ins are awesome, download any one you think could be useful. BuiltWith tells you all the tools a website was built with, from the server its on to the Content Distribution Network it uses, from the advertising and tracking programs its running to the widgets it has. This is useful when performing an SEO audit because it tells you what type of information is available and where to find it.
There are websites and widgets and programs you can use all over the internet. Every real SEO you talk to has their preferred way of checking the site’s neighborhood, their go-to crawl tool, and their favorite link-checker. These tools are everywhere, and they are really easy to find. Why? Because these are SEOs we are talking about, and they want their tools to be easy to find. How do you find them?
If you said anything other than “Google it,” you need to switch desks with the intern and start over.