45 Actionable Checks

Mathematically Ideal Navigation

Address Dozens of Code Issues

Sculpt Internal PageRank

Gain Perfect Taxonomies

Stay Safe From Penalties


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Header/Footer Considerations

The following checks pertain to the site's overall navigation: the header, footer, and sidebar.

In calculating the # of issues that exist for these checks, multiply all issues by the # of pages on the site.

Does the Logo Link to Homepage? Does the Logo Link to Homepage?

Does the logo link to the homepage from all pages?

This should include stand-alone sub-sections of the site such as a blog, forum, etc., although many will merit their own "local home" link.

This makes for a good site architecture by constructing a logical pyramid-style resource (Google's expectation) instead of an obscure, wandering web. It's also the expected user experience, so if you're a part of the SEO community that believes in Chrome and Google Toolbar data mattering, or search task completion times mattering, this can be indirectly correlated.

Does the site have any sitewide, external links in the header, footer, or sidebar? Does the site have any sitewide, external links in the header, footer, or sidebar?

Does the site have any sitewide, external links in the header, footer, or sidebar?

As a simple function of the PageRank algorithm, PageRank that flows out through external links does not return to the domain. Sitewide external links seem to vastly accelerate this issue since it multiplies an otherwise fairly minor consideration by the # of pages on the site. In some cases, it may also look like a common pattern associated with paid link schemes.

Does the Site Have any Sponsored Links? Does the Site Have any Sponsored Links?

Worse than the above issue, are any sitewide links there as a result of payment?

Ads generated using JavaScript are acceptable. Links in HTML format in exchange for payment can invite major issues.

Does the Site Use Descriptive Navigation Links? Does the Site Use Descriptive Navigation Links?

Is the internal anchor text used in navigation links descriptive and aligned with keyword goals?

This is a significant opportunity to establish additional relevance for these pages.

A navigation link that says Services can be changed to something more specific and relevant to the business.

Are the Navigation Links Free of Keyword Stuffing? Are the Navigation Links Free of Keyword Stuffing?

Are more than a few words repeated in navigation links?

This has been a failing strategy since around 2005 and can draw serious keyword stuffing penalties. For example, if you have three links that look like this:

International SEO services
Local SEO services
Forensic SEO services

Instead, use a hierarchical SEO Services menu with:


Google will get the point and still relate the same value that exact match anchor texts would have; all while not putting the site at risk for keyword stuffing penalties.

Are There Enough Navigation Links for the Site Content? Are There Enough Navigation Links for the Site Content?

How many navigation links do you see on the main navigation?

At a minimum, any product pages you have should usually be included, unless you have hundreds or more. Without this, they will have a far harder time ranking.

Are the Navigation Links Efficiently Used? Are the Navigation Links Efficiently Used?

How many navigation links do you see on the main navigation?

There's no definitive number here, but every link is going to be diluting PageRank distribution further. Too many navigation links can draw a penalty, although that requires a lot. A drop-down with 50 navigation links is probably not an issue. A geographically-distributed site that lists every state in the footer will be.

Take the above considerations into account, and if it appears that the situation is on the cusp, begin a 60 day before and after experiment while annotating the start and finish in Google Analytics.

Are the Main Targeted Keywords Represented in the Site Navigation? Are the Main Targeted Keywords Represented in the Site Navigation?

Are all core keyword targets properly represented in the site navigation?

Normally, one site can have only a handful of very short, competitive keywords that has much chance of ranking. Each such phrase should be well-represented by a landing page, and every one of those pages should be represented in the site's navigation.

Does the Navigation Reflect the Sites Hierarchy of Content? Does the Navigation Reflect the Site's Hierarchy of Content?

If the site is a tree, are all starting branches properly modeled by the navigation?

If there are a lot of pages, it's likely that we won't link directly to every deep page from the navigation. If we don't, the next most important priority is that every silo of the site can be found through the main navigation. In this way, pages within these sections can at least benefit from a "second-tier" of sitewide PageRank distribution.

Page Tree Considerations

There are a number of considerations for when to and when not to create a unique URL, as well as how to structure this hierarchy.

The next severalĀ checks will pertain to how we organize this. A combination of eyeballing the site, and perusing the Behavior > Site Content menu in Google Analytics is recommended.

Subfolder System Design Subfolder System Design

Are subfolders laid out in such a way that they logically isolate site sections?

Exact implications of doing this are unclear, but Google has now pushed us in this direction for decades. If nothing else, it can be great for generating SERP breadcrumbs.

Nav - Subfolder Synergy Nav <-> Subfolder Synergy

If there is enough content to create a clear hierarchy of categories and subcategories? Is the URL architecture in harmony with the navigation architecture?

Google attempts to identify site sections using a variety of signals. One of the most important things we can do is to not send them mixed signals, like giving a section differing URL and site navigation names.

Subdomain Usage Issues Subdomain Usage Issues

Are subdomains used anywhere on the site? This could be good or bad.

Google has traditionally used subdomains to identify separate websites, although, with a small number of subdomains, that may not be the case. Considering the Hilltop algorithm's approach to identifying single experts, you're almost certainly not fooling Google into giving more link authority for links between subdomains.

GOOD USE: Hundreds of entirely unrelated sites exist (examples: hubpages.com, about.com)
BAD USE: In basically any other scenario, subdomains should be avoided.

URL Variables Impact Content URL Variables Impact Content

Do any URLs contain GET variables that impact the content, like ?sort=ascending

This should be 100% avoided.

For sorting or filtering, use JavaScript. For referencing content within a content management system, you should use mod_rewrite to create a RESTful URL architecture. Virtually all popular content management systems should already have a wealth of SEO plugins available to assist here.

URL Variables Dont Impact Content URL Variables Don't Impact Content

Do any URLs contain GET variables that DO NOT impact the content, like ?log=true

These should still be avoided if possible. If not feasible, you can push Google further in the right direction by registering these parameters in Google Webmaster Tools under Crawl > URL Parameters.

rel=canonical should also help here, but realize that these are band-aids that Googlebot treats only as a suggestion. We've frequently seen content appearing in the index despite of what rel=canonical reports to Google. So it's not a matter of which fix it use. Because the rewards are high, Google's organic search is incredibly competitive: use every tool at your disposal, and hope for the best.

Willow Tree Disease Willow Tree Disease

Is the site an oak tree or a willow tree?

Here, we're considering the risk of doorway page penalties. This is one tactical consideration that's changed a lot over time and will be very subjective, but here's one obvious example.

These terms deserve two pages:

search engine optimization services
social media marketing services

These terms don't:

search engine optimization services
affordable search engine optimization services

Another angle to think about: have we created enough genuine, unique substance to where these pages really deserve to exist? Google's patents relating to Novelty Scores suggest that they're basically asking the exact same question, and have been getting better at asking this particular question with every year.

Navigational Filtering Navigational Filtering

Does the site take advantage of filtering or faceted navigation?

If so, are different filters able to be indexed by way of generating unique URLs? If so, the different filtered views should almost certainly get a noindex,follow designation.

In 2015, any filtering should almost certainly be done using jQuery and without generating unique URLs at all.

Canonical Pagination Canonical Pagination

Does the site use pagination for displaying content/listings across multiple pages?

If so, one common issue can arise where a canonical tag implies that later, paginated pages are the same page as the first page. Don't do that.

Indexed Pagination Indexed Pagination

If the site has pagination, are the latter pages in the pagination (page 2, 3, etc. on) given noindex,follow?

They should be. Paginated results pages make for terrible search landing pages, and they have weak potential to rank for anything useful.

There are 25 more steps in this audit.


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