15 Feb 2012

A Love Letter to the Site: Command

We have a lot of tools here at Internet Marketing Ninjas. I mean A LOT. We have tools that crawl sites, compare competitors and create charts and tables full of useful data. I’m such an isolated geek – I actually called someone a “tool” the other day, forgetting that, in some circles, that’s actually an insult. But honestly, the tools our reporting team gets to work with are so awesome and comprehensive that occasionally it makes me a little nostalgic. It’s kind of the way I imagine some people still fondly remember rotary phones when looking at an iPhone. No, the old technology wasn’t better. But we didn’t know of better technology at the time and the old tools remind us of when progress was younger and we made the best of what we had.

That’s how I feel about a site: command.

Whenever I’m taking an initial look at a site, I run a few tools, absolutely, but either by habit or by instinct, one of the first things I still do is run a site: command in Google. It’s a simple string:

site:yoursite.com

And maybe I’m a relic, but when I started doing this work, I built links using Internet Explorer and Notepad. I used the linkfromdomain: command in MSN to find out where a site was linking out to (remember that?!). I looked at backlinks manually (which I still like to do) and I used the site: command every day. So maybe I have issues letting go, but I still get a lot of insight from that old trick.


Pages Indexed in Google

Obviously, a site: command tells me how many pages of a site Google has indexed. Most of the time this is background information that isn’t exactly earth shattering. But sometimes you’ll find Google has indexed more pages than a client thinks they have on their site. That’s a bad sign. That could mean duplicate URLS or indexed search results. Of course the opposite can also happen when, of 10,000 pages, Google has only indexed 3,000. That means something, too. The pages indexed figure doesn’t mean much when it’s right, but if it’s not what you anticipated, then it instantaneously reveals when something is probably wrong.

Title Tags

Next up for scrutiny are title tags. How are they laid out? Are they the same on every page? Do they balance keywords and branding? A site: command tells you all of that, which also tells you if someone who knows SEO has worked on these before. Title tags are your most powerful on-page tool, so using those well is one of the most important SEO decisions a webmaster makes. By looking at them, laid out in a site: command, we can tell if those are locked and loaded, of if they are a starting point for better optimization.

Meta Descriptions

Right below the title tags are the snippets which are often derived from meta descriptions.  Even though meta descriptions aren’t exactly a ranking factor in terms of keywords, they are important when they convert SERP impression into clicks. But sometimes they get mistreated. They may be keyword stuffed for no good reason or boiler-plated across a whole site. Sometimes they’re missing altogether. Depending on what else we find during an analysis, we may find that rewriting meta descriptions falls low on the SEO priority list. However, for the purposes of usability or conversions, we may want to get some revisions going ASAP.

URL Structures

You can also tell a lot about structure from a site: command. I look for things like subdomains, dynamic URLs and secure pages. You can also see tiny little things like underscores instead of hyphens or mixed case URLs. In some instances you can’t see the entire URLs because you see bread crumb links instead, which also helps you get a sense of what a site is doing with their architecture.

Google+ and Author

If a site is socially active, particularly in Google+, you can see that in a site: command now, too. This is a bit more of a recent development as is seeing an author’s picture show up next to URLs. Ok, so this may not be strategy-altering information. But it’s pretty cool. If someone has a thriving Google+ presence and a trusted author set up, we’re already off to a REALLY good start.


The Unexpected

I think this last category in a way encompasses every other one as well — I’m looking for the unexpected. Something that makes me go “Huh.” Maybe it’s the top pages that come up, or assets we can use in link building. Maybe it’s just a URL with no title or meta description. It could be anything. Ultimately the question you want to resolve is whether or not there is anything wildly out of the ordinary. Most of the time, nothing is going to jump out and slap you in the face with its incongruity. But when it does, it’s like wham, bam, thank you, site: command!

OK, so this may be a day late and a dozen roses short of a valentine, but it’s never too late for sentiment. And I know there are a lot of far superior tools for gaining insights, don’t worry, I use those too. A lot of them are based on recommendations from Ninjas Ann Smarty and Bonnie Stefanick, who are both tool gurus. Yet there’s still merit in the classics. A lot of the bigger, better, bad asser tools actually include site: commands in their complex series of functions. But whether your research methods are tried and true or new and shiny, if you don’t know what to make of the data in front of you, you may as well be empty-handed. It’s not so much how you gather your information, it’s how you interpret it and act on it that matters.

So what’s your favorite “old school” SEO method that you proudly (or with a little shame) still use today?