Solving complex SEO problems when standard fixes don’t apply

Seemingly every day, SEO continues to grow more complex. It’s increasingly common for technical audits to uncover problems, and sometimes previously reliable fixes simply don’t work any longer. What’s an SEO to do in this situation?

Hannah Thorpe, head of SEO strategy at Found, and Arsen Rabinovich, founder and managing partner at TopHatRank.com, deal with these types of thorny challenges on a daily basis. They’ll be discussing their approach to solving complex SEO problems at our SMX East conference in New York City next month.

I asked them both to describe some of the more difficult SEO problems that can’t be fixed using traditional approaches.

“The biggest SEO problems I see often are from businesses growing into new markets, without laying the proper foundations first,” said Thorpe. “From being a single market, single language facing site, it’s not as simple just tacking on extra folders or a new TLD and hoping for the best. Inherent structural differences or problems are one of the hardest SEO problems to fix.”

Website structure and architecture can also cause ranking and search result visibility problems, according to Rabinovich. “I would have to throw topic focus and organization related problems into the ‘no standard fix’ group. Since most sites are fairly unique when it comes to their content and its organization, it becomes difficult to standardize a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to fixing them.

“Topic organization and focus issues don’t easily present themselves during crawls and typical SEO ‘health’ checks, thus making them difficult to diagnose, and when untreated can lead to other issues as the website expands. Most of the time, these problems are a byproduct of other, typically technical SEO issues,” he said.

So if these types of problems are relatively difficult to detect, how do you even diagnose/discover them?

For both, diagnosis always begins with understanding what’s going on with the crawling and indexing of a site.

“These types of issues are diagnosed by working through the crawl data to see what can potentially be hinting at the presence of focus issues,” said Rabinovich. “Analyzing title tags, meta descriptions and headings for duplicates and near duplicates is also a good starting point. In my opinion, these are the strongest hints that will point you in the right direction.”

For more complex sites, such as those that have thousands or millions of pages or that operate in multiple countries or languages, it’s also important to have a comprehensive toolkit that can provide you with a detailed view of the site’s health. I asked Thorpe what sort of tools she uses to assist in her “repair” work.

“A huge range. I think one of the worst things SEOs do is align themselves to one tool and never check elsewhere. It depends on size and scope of the site.” While many advanced SEO tools can be quite pricey (though worth it for the results they provide), she also notes that there are many free tools that provide a ton of useful information. Both Thorpe and Rabinovich plan to discuss the tools they use to diagnose and repair complex SEO issues in their SMX East presentation.

Rabinovich also said he’s excited to share parts of his internal SEO triage process. This process was designed to help SEOs quickly make sense of symptoms, how and in which way they present themselves.

Thorpe says that it’s also sometimes necessary for SEOs to step back to take a look at the bigger picture and understand the overall marketing goals that aren’t being achieved. “As a technical SEO this is a bit like blasphemy, but I’m going to talk a little on when technical SEO isn’t enough. How some SEO problems now are bigger than indexing/crawling and keywords, and instead we need to expand our remit to guarantee results.”

If you’re interested in learning more from Thorpe and Rabinovich and other experts in the field, be sure to attend our SMX East conference in New York City October 23-25, 2018.