27 Jun 2011

The SEO Mirror Test – Is Your Website Really Breathing??

A while ago, while on a flight somewhere, I forget where now, I picked up a book titled The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing by Jeffery W. Hayzlett. You know those little airport micro bookstores where you try to kill part of your 3 hour layover, yeah, one of those.  This particular book was about measuring the health of your business. Basically,  it talked about how there are several basic indicators of if a business is in good health. The author makes a comparison to a mirror test. A mirror test is a method to tell if a victim of an accident or whatever is still breathing after a tragic incident. Whoever is at the scene can put a small mirror to their face and if it fogs, the person is alive and if not, they’re toast. The broader claim of the book, besides suggesting a mirror test for your business was that if your business is not growing, it is dying. I don’t remember too much about the book but the analogy stuck.

So I thought, what would a SEO mirror test be like?

I’ve talked to a lot of webmasters and I’ve been knee deep in a lot of analytics, where   traffic from Google dropped steadily over time.  This is very tragic to me when I see it.  Anyhow, Google is just one traffic source, but I take this kind of loss to be a symptom of something greater. In the medical sciences, there is a whole area of study in the space of diagnostics, how exactly we identify the cause of our afflictions. I feel like there is a similar art in what we  do SEO and in internet marketing broadly.

It’s really surprising how few tests you need to run to diagnose problems in a sick patient website and even how straight forward it is to find problems in a seemingly healthy website, if you have a keen eye for what you’re looking for. From there, you just drill down. In this sense, when SEO’s do an audit, they’re really giving your website a mirror test, “is the thing even breathing? “Allow me to elaborate….

The Patient Shows Badly Planned Design and Poor Usability

The Neurosis: I don’t know why this is the first thing I bring up but I can’t help myself! Although good site age is a lovely thing, having a design from 1998 and having your site in frames (I’ve seen it before!) is a sign that your site is not breathing. If your shopping cart is broken or if people have no idea where to click on your landing pages. This is terminal. You don’t need an audit, you need an intervention.

The Treatment: Go to your website, look at it. Does it look ancient? If so, seriously consider a redesign, even if you’re on a small budget, it’s worth your time. Just please unless you’re a blog, no wordpress! If sitonomy knows your site is in wordpress, so does Google. Usability is a somewhat complex thing, you can hire a specialist to help you identify areas of opportunity and create an action plan but there are several obvious things you can do on your own. For example, go through your order process. Simple right? You’d
be surprised how many webmasters do not do this. Go to your landing pages; is there a clear call to action as to what to do on that page? Check out your navigation, is it as initiative as it can be for visitors? Chances are that if you take a look at these three things really closely, you will find at least one thing that you can tweak and if you really want to dig in, look at your load time, look at your lowest performing pages visible in search, etc. etc. you will have plenty on your to do list for how to improve your site, I promise!

The Patient Shows A Really OBVIOUSLY Artificial Backlink Profile

The Neurosis: A really fake looking backlink profile is like a botched plastic surgery to me. It’s like you’re not even trying to be natural! I look at your top five anchor text and I see the top four are all keyword phrases. humph. I then compare your total number of links and then check how many domains they are coming from and find that your 10,450 backlinks are coming from 204 domains. ::wince:: Then  I go and look at some of your backlinks and find that there are a million other bought links for male enhancement pills on the same page as the link to your page. sigh. Finally, I’ll look at how many links you have from trusted places like .edu’s .gov’s etc.and I’ll find few or none. In so many words, it is easy enough to tell a poorly optimized backlink profile as it is to identify a poorly optimized facelift O_O If I just described your backlink profile, you’re taking a big risk as these are the kind of  silicone backlink profiles that  Google  loves to put  into  time out with some kind of penalty.

The Treatment: What is there is there. Now is the time to take action to diversify your backlink profile with broader linkbuilding tactics that are more in the realm of organic promotion rather than just focusing on anchor text. Get some more natural looking links, you know the kind…with the http://www.yoursite.com and the yoursite.com and the click here, just to water down the fact that all of the link text going into your site is with the same three keyword phrases. These are the kinds of links will look more natural if your site is reviewed. Also, build some trust into your backlink profile, I promise those .biz links are not doing it

The Patient Shows A High Percentage Of New Visitors In analytics AND a High Bounce Rate

The Neurosis: Let me explain a little bit better. Go into your Google analytics, the go to traffic sources, look at your scorecard up top (I’m referring to the big listing of  data right under the graph showing the traffic numbers), and look at your %  new visitors. Once again, this partly depends on the kind of site you have and what the typical visitor behavior for your site is like. However, overall do you think that this is a high number, again relative but bear with me. Next drill down into your bounce rate. FYI – I don’t like looking at the scorecard bounce rate for this because it is often not the real story. Find your landing pages (where landing page is defined as any page that that gets traffic from search engines). Now from what pages is the percentage of new visitors high AND the bounce rate is high from people coming in from Google? This is so tragic in terms of opportunity cost, that it should have its own tragic violin solo….I mean it, it makes me really sad when sites don’t make good on people coming in off of long tail searches. This is not terminal but it’s like someone trying to give you a whole stack of cash and you saying “no, no, I’ll pass on that monster stack of cash“. All jokes aside, opportunity cost is just a sad thing.

The Treatment: Out of all your gazillion pages, your landing pages are gold! These are the couple hundred pages that see the light of day in search engines. Give them all your love and attention; you will be paid back with more page views and better conversions. You did all of this wonderful beautiful SEO only to lose visitors before you’ve even said hello when they probably went through the trouble of typing a super complicated long tail search just to find you. It’s just so sad.

The cure for this particular ailment is particularly elusive. You need to dive into user intent. What are your visitors *really* looking for that they are not finding on these pages of your site. Sometimes the answer is content, sometimes its usability, sometimes it’s something else. Don’t leave money on the table, make good on the traffic you’re already getting!

So In Conclusion…..

How does your site fare on this very simple mirror test? … How does your site look? How well does it work for users? How natural does the backlink profile look? Are you making good on existing traffic? These are just some of my thoughts about how to give your site the mirror test, without looking at your click stream data, that is obviously the equivalent of checking a pulse.

What do you guys think are some other important things that can be included in an SEO mirror test?

By Marketing Ninja Bonnie