Optimizing a site for search involves many tasks and it is easy to lose sight of what you are doing. Having a checklist saves a ton of time. Lawyers can find really great off-site and on-site audit check lists all over the web. This one is based on the elements we optimize for on a daily basis and that have gotten our clients first page rankings.
What is A Technical SEO Audit?
(Disclaimer: Feel free to move on if you already know what a technical audit is).
Basically a technical audit is a fancy way of describing how SEOs crawl through a website and identify all the on-site and off-site elements confirming their existence or condition.
The technical audit checklist helps expedite and organize that process. This checklist is broken into two main sections; on-site and off-site.
Accessibility: Lawyers should ensure that search engine spiders can access their site. If there are any pages that should not be accessed, they can be blocked using a robots file.
Content Umbrella: The website should have all of its content organized under a main umbrella. In other words the site should be well organized in terms of types of content. All of the sub-themes should be organized underneath main themes with a page for each one.
This can be achieved through linking or through the organization of a file structure on the server. It’s recommended that files be organized on the server in a logical manner however if that is not practical, organization through linking will work.
An example might be a personal injury attorney with the main umbrella of personal injury and then categories of car accidents, medical malpractice, slip and fall, negligent drowning and others as pages underneath that umbrella.
Directives: Directives refer to behind-the-scenes instructions for browsers. There are many different kinds of directives and their configuration can affect a site’s performance in search. In general here are some common ones:
• Redirects (Should be configured as 301 permanent redirects)
• Any 404 or 500 directives (server error or not found) should be redirected to working pages
Title Tags: Title tags are important for search engine results pages and the overall relevance of a web page. Note that it is not crucial for all pages of a website to have a title tag but those important to an attorney’s practice should have them.
They should be well-written and compelling for users to click on. Titles should be between 60 and 70 characters in length and contain the target keyword phrase for the page.
Meta Descriptions: Just like titles, not all pages need to have a meta description. Important pages should and they should be written as compelling marketing pieces so that people want to click on the result in an SERP. They should be about 140 to 160 characters in length and contain the target keyword phrase for the page.
URLs: The URLs of a website should be easy to read and free of abstract characters. At one time search engines had issues with crawling URLs that had underscores or other odd characters but that is no longer the case. Users however still need to read URLs and if they are long and ugly, they are hard to read. Where possible, it is also beneficial to have target keywords in the URL.
Alt Attributes: These are pieces of HTML found in image elements. They are meant to describe the images they are associated with because search engines cannot see pictures.
All images should have an alt attribute and where possible they should contain a target keyword. Be careful not to stuff irrelevant keywords into the alt attributes on a website.
The File Names of Images: Search engines cannot see images but they can read the file names. These can contribute to the overall relevance of a page for a specific keyword term. Where possible lawyers should name images after a target keyword phrase for a particular page.
Sitemap: An attorney’s website should have a sitemap. Sitemaps help search engines find all pages that are a part of the site. The site map should also be submitted to Google and Bing Webmaster tools.
Substantial Content: Pages that are designed to rank for specific keyword phrases should have substantial amounts of content on them. It is ok if there are pages that do not as long as they are not meant to rank for a keyword phrase.
Those pages that are supposed to rank for a keyword should have in excess of 500 words on them. That value is not a hard and fast rule but more of a starting point. Websites with thinner content have been known to be penalized algorithmically by Google.
Duplicate Content: There should be no deliberate duplicate content on a lawyer’s website. There are some kinds of duplicate content that are inadvertent but that should still be dealt with.
For example printer friendly versions of pages, mobile versions, or (in the case of WordPress) category and tag pages; are all examples of non-malicious duplicate content. These can be remedied with canonicalization.
Structured Data: The website should have structured data on information that is important for search such as phone numbers, addresses, biographies and/or reviews (among others). There are many different ways to add schema to HTML and Google has some good resources on the topic.
Note that adding structured data does not help a site rank higher in search, it merely helps search engines understand the relationships among different pieces of information (therefore enabling them to display that information with ease in SERPs).
Load Times: Pages of an attorney website should load quickly. Load times can have an impact on whether or not a search engine chooses to show pages to user. Google has a good tool for gauging the speed of pages and it even provides tips on what things to fix to make the page faster.
Even though Google’s tool is pretty useful, lawyers should look at other tools as well to measure page speed. Information on page speed from various sources is helpful in determining how fast or slow pages really are.
Flash: Lawyers should check for the presence of Flash on their site. It is not inherently bad to have Flash on a site however it should not be used to display important content and its use should be avoided entirely if possible. The reason is that it is proprietary technology, it must be updated to work properly, and not all devices can display it (namely all mobile Apple devices).
Security: Google has an over-arching goal of providing a great user experience online and part of that means keeping users safe. It believed in this concept so much that it openly announced that security would be a ranking factor in its algorithm.
Attorneys should purchase and install a security certificate on their website. They should also make the proper configurations to make sure existing links to their site still work after moving to secure URLs.
Index status: Check that all pages of the site that need to be indexed in search are. This can be done using Google’s site: operator. Lawyers can also set up a Google Webmaster Tools account and submit a sitemap to ensure all of their site’s URLs get indexed.
Links: Check for the existence, quantity and quality of any inbound links leading to the site. Determining what needs to happen in terms of link building can be complicated however lawyers should have an idea of what is already out there.
Tools like Ahrefs, Google Webmaster Tools, or Moz’s Open Site Explorer can be very useful. They will show a good number of the links that may be pointing at a website along with other information. They can be used on a limited basis for free.
Citations: Does the firm have a consistent presence across the web in the form of mentions of the firm name, address and phone number? This is extremely important for local search. Services like Yext can tell very quickly if an attorney’s web presence is as consistent and robust as it should be.