You want to get a clean view of how your website displays to most people searching online, and because Google personalizes (based on things like your browsing history) and blends search results, you want to strip out those customizations. Most browsers today have an â€œincognitoâ€ (Chrome) or â€œprivate browsingâ€ (Firefox) setting. Use these options and make sure youâ€™re not logged into Google. You can also further remove personal results by using this URL : https://www.google.com/search?pws=0q=brand+name. Simply change the keywords to your brand name and separate with + signs.
Take note of the results. Is your website ranking in the first position? Do your social media profiles outrank your site? This is a common struggle for many small businesses â€“ the balance between content marketing and social media marketing is something many companies struggle to manage, and if your homepage isnâ€™t ranking in the first position, you likely have some SEO issues.
You might have a structural issue like a â€œsplashâ€ page that welcomes visitors to your site, or you may be using too much flash to display content. Donâ€™t worry, these are both easily fixed and can provide major SEO gains for your site.
Next, letâ€™s take a look at what Google knows about your site.
Google provides a few great search features that allow website owners to view exactly how Google sees and perceives your content.
Using the same search you performed to check your company name, take a look at the preview Google provides for your website. You should see a good representation of your homepage. If there are any errors or missing content in the image, you want to take a deep dive into why Google isnâ€™t displaying your content correctly. Clicking on the â€œcachedâ€ view of your site and then choosing â€œtext onlyâ€will show you the exact content Google has indexed on your homepage. Is this the content you want search engines and Web users to associate with your company?
One of the other go-to SEO audit tools is the â€œsite:â€ search. Type â€œsite:mydomain.comâ€ into Google and you will see a large sample of the pages Google has indexed of your site. There are a few things you can do with this information. For example, if you know that you have 12 pages on your website and Google only displays two results from this search prompt, then you might have an index issue and itâ€™s time to seek out a full SEO site audit. Keep in mind that this tool wonâ€™t always display all the pages in the index â€“ it could be just a sample.
Now, with those same results, take a look at the blue click-able text. This is your page Title and itâ€™s one of the clearest signals you can provide search engines to let them know what your page or site is about. Each page title should be unique and include the keywords for which youâ€™re trying to optimize. If your site sells blue slinkies (I chose this example because I have one on my desk ), your page title should include these keywords. Something like â€œBlue Slinkies â€“ Website Nameâ€ is a quick example.
Thereâ€™s tons of information out there about crafting perfect page titles, so I wonâ€™t go into details here. A great resource is the SEOMoz Beginnerâ€™s Checklist for learning SEO. Youâ€™ll find everything you need to know there about page titles. Page titles are also a really easy fix that provide great results. Cleaning up duplicate page titles is a must when getting started at optimizing your site for search.
Thatâ€™s the quick list that any small business owner can perform to learn more about how and why Google ranks their website as it does. If you have access to edit your page titles and site content, then you can probably take the next step in monitoring the health of your website: registering your site with Google Webmaster Tools. Once you register and prove you own the site, you will have access to a wealth of additional information, like all the crawl errors (dead pages) that Google picks up on from your website.
Cleaning those up can further boost your SEO efforts, but weâ€™ll save that for a future post.
Scott Benson is the SEO Manager for Beltsville,Md.-based Vocus, a provider of cloud marketing software.