Speaking to a room full of college students who are quickly becoming digital marketers scares the crap out of me. Not because I have to stand up in front of people and drop SEO knowledge bombs but because I know they’re gunning for my job. Despite this plausible fear, I jumped at the chance to speak to Matt Capala’s students who are a part of his Inbound Marketing Clinic and M.S. in Integrated Marketing Program at NYU. Most SEO’s I know don’t have a formal degree but that is about to change.
My assignment was to speak about technical SEO website audits which is a task I love. The SEO team at DragonSearch once delivered an audit where the client reported back that they decided to drink a glass of wine to calm their nerves in anticipation of what we found. Apparently they finished the bottle by the end of the audit because they felt so good about everything.
I was excited to show the students the nuts and bolts of performing technical audits but in the end, we covered much more.
The Two Minute Drill of Website Audits
We started by reviewing the differences between performing an audit for a prospective client or link target. Much like Tom Brady runs an efficient and precise two-minute drill, the prospect audit needs to identify weaknesses and issues quickly. I explained that we look for the following elements:
- Usability: What is the site about? Is it clearly displayed? What is the navigation structure?
- Structure: What does the URL structure look like?
- Tracking: Is Analytics in the Source code? Is it in the correct spot? What other tracking or testing code can be found?
- Blog: Does the site have a blog? What does the category structure look like? How often do they post? What topics do they cover? Are they utilizing authorship?
- Robots.txt: Is there a robots.txt file? What does it contain? Does it link to an XML sitemap?
We took a few moments to discuss what a robots.txt file is used for, how it’s used and its importance. Adam Audette wrote an excellent piece recently (holy cow, almost two years ago!) regarding robots.txt and the best practices for SEO. We ended the session by discussing Annie Cushing’s Website Audit Checklist (a benchmark document for website audits) and how that can shape what issues to look for and how to discover them.
Keyword Research Evolution
Professor Capala then asked me to discuss how we perform keyword research, a process that has evolved greatly since I’ve gotten into the SEO game. What was once a ridged procedure is now very free form, factoring in many different data sources to make informed decisions. We did some live action keyword research showing the different ways you can bend the Keyword Planner to your will while you analyze the searcher’s intent behind a phrase, the competitive nature and volume behind terms. We also discussed how you can research additional ideas using Google’s Auto Suggest, Related Searches and Trends and the differences between long tail and head phrases.
— Matthew Capala (@SearchDecoder) April 22, 2014
Hey User, This Title Tag was Crafted for You; DragonSearch
With finals approaching and my time playing teacher running out, I fielded some questions to see how I could help the students prep. This led to a discussion surrounding Title Tags and Meta Descriptions. With so much changing in the Google SERPs, we mostly kept to the classic approach since counting pixels can be challenging to wrap your head around. We chatted about how:
- Title tags and Meta Descriptions are your first line of offense to convince the searcher that your result is the best answer for their query.
- Title Tags should be about 64 characters, use the primary keyword phrase and end with the brand name (although this is changing).
- Meta Descriptions should be about 165 characters (again, this is changing too) and should focus on writing compelling ad copy to earn the click.
I can’t remember if I mentioned it during the lecture but I should have – chapter six of David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man should be required reading. It can shape how you write compelling copy. Are books TL;DR? Checkout Benjamin Spiegel’s blog post: Writing for Search: Where Meta Tags Meet David Ogilvy
By the end of class, my fear was validated – a new crop of digital marketers are coming and they know their stuff! It was a rewarding experience and judging by the list of marketers who have spoken at the class, these students are getting some top rate knowledge!
Thanks to Matt Capala for graciously inviting me and to his awesome class for hosting!