The Gigantic SEO Client Technical Checklist

Posted in Web Development

Though most application configurations are somewhat “standard,” nearly every website’s technical architecture includes (at least some) idiosyncratic features.

Over time we’ve learned the importance of gaining proper understanding and access credentials, before evaluating sites and/or taking on new clients.

There are many different content management systems (CMS), server models, database programs, maintenance utilities, analytics packages, scheduled reports, programming languages and other variables.

This questionnaire includes an explanation of the technical integration checklist aimClear uses when welcoming new clients to our system.  While we don’t always need all the access credentials listed below, this guide is intended to explain the various types of services-access a company like ours might need, and for what purpose.

FTP

__________________ FTP Username

__________________ FTP Password

__________________ FTP Directory, if applicable

FTP is the “original” content management system (CMS). Dating back to the Web’s foundation, it stands for “File Transfer Protocol,” which means modifying files and synchronizing them between developer/designers’ computers and a web host. This level of access is usually needed to tag sites for analytics, make content modifications, hack CMS back ends, change graphic themes and other.

__________________ Server Model
(Common answers are Linux/Apache/MYSQL, Windows/Apache/MYSQL, Windows, IIS, MSSQL, etc…) This is important information for an your PPC, SEO, social media, company to understand. In addition to a range of available (free and pay) content management systems, plug ins, tools, etc …available for individual server models, the type programmer working on the project is usually defined by the languages, operating systems, databases software, etc… in play.

Many Open Source CMS programs, like WordPress, just don’t play well with IIS–though they can be successfully hacked. On the other hand, there is nobody @ Linux Inc or WordPress.org to take your support call when it all goes to crap. Windows rocks and Windows sucks, depending on the day, and the application. It sure costs a boatload. (Ask me about Google App’s’ in person :) ).

__________________ Programming Languages
What languages, frameworks or other codes are employed in addition to HTML & Javascript (common answers are .php, .asp, server side Javascript, .jsp,, Flash/Action Script, CGI). Like the server model, this is a crucial branch on the integration tree. Understanding how various server and client-side languages are utilized, entwined and hacked from the BEGINNING, can save hours of heartache and teeth gnashing grind.

Pages That Employ Scripts Hosted On Third Party Domains

__________________ __________________ __________________
__________________ __________________ __________________
__________________ __________________ __________________

One way a programmer can work on a site which uses 1 or more foreign coding languages is to use third party/domain scripts to process forms, write to a database, serve up dynamic content or other usages. We’ve come across sites that were absolute mazes of intertwined host pages and processing domains. In addition to taking time to unravel, we’ve seen effectual (and unintentional) link farms created, that seemed to have caused Google smackdowns.

Any Databases?
Of course, databases rule as one of the methods web applications use to achieve, what programmers call, “persistent state.” Whether tables are configured by programs like Drupal, built by your IT department, or set up by default we need to know about them and what they’re used for. Common types are MYSQL, MSSQL, Oracle and MS Access.

Type Location UserName Password For What?
_______________ _______________ _______________ ________________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________

MYPHP ADMIN If Applicable

__________________ Location

__________________ UserName

__________________ Password

MYPHP Admin is a common tool for the Lamp Stack. If you’re running MYSQL, we’d like to have MYPHP admin access if we need it. Often times, DB software is the core of WYSIWYG CMS tools, so having access to the CMS on the DB level often makes it easier to diagnose and solve problems. Also, MYPHP Admin is an appropriate access level for moving sites, setting permissions, etc

Windows Remote Access Server Login

__________________ Location

__________________ UserName

__________________ Password

This type of access allows developers to log into a Windows server to perform administrative functions on the server itself. It’s particularly useful to have in the .asp/VbScript/.aspx/MSSQL environment. It’s great to have access at this level to, any Windows OS Server box.

Content Management Systems OTHER than FTP (Common answers are Drupal, Customer-Built Proprietary CMS (MUCH too common :) , If you can change content on your website from a web browser, you’ve got a CMS. Common types include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Pligg, and a multitude of other rock ass (free or inexpensive) CMS app’s’. There’s also ridiculously expensive CMSs, specifically created to serve various niches. Sometimes sites have multiple/hybrid CMSs, such as WordPress hacked on top of traditional FTP.

If you think about it, social communities are actually souped up content management systems as are blogs, auction sites, ecommerce and just about anything else we can think of. Choosing a CMS in the first place is a HUGE decision, often undertaken much too lightly–or imposed on clients by previous SEM vendors without transparency. I could go on and on, ranting about nightmarish CMS systems we’ve run into.

__________________ CMS Login Location

__________________ CMS UserName

__________________ CMS Password

Existing Analytics Packages
These days it’s common to have multiple analytics accounts installed for various purposes. We need to know what baseline data, from activity previous to our involvement, is available for us to turn to for insight. Sometimes we can do forensic analysis on “log files.”

Type Location UserName Password For What?
_______________ _______________ _______________ ________________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________

Common answers include Google Analytics, Google AdWords Conversion Tracking, ClickTracks, Enquisite, ClickPath, Index Tools, WebTrends etc …Often times web hosts offer free log analysis “stats” pages. These are most often Web1.0 packages that provide some insight. It’s important to note the difference between log analysis tools and Javascript page tagging analytics. Read more about the difference between page tagging and log file analytics here.

__________________ Directory where Web Log Files are kept (We may ask your server administrator to enable cookie tracking, if we need to analyze log files. The most common reasons we need access to log files is to run a robots report or historic prior to our involvement in a project with no or limited existing historical data.

Adwords, AdCenter, Facebook, Panama, Other PPC Accounts

Type Location UserName Password
_______________ _______________ _______________ ________________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________ _______________

Feedburner Login
Feedburner
is a Google property that tens of millions of site owners use to track RSS feed subscriptions for free. While Feedburner provides a lot of valuable insight, it also gives Google yet another way to judge the importance of your website. If your company does not have an RSS feed and a plan to publish by feed, then strongly consider it. We want access to view your progress, diagnose trouble, view feed analytics, etc…

__________________ Feedburner Fees Address (feeds.feedburner.com/myFeed)

__________________ Password

__________________ User Name
Host Contact Information

Please contact your web host/server administrator and authorize aimClear to interact on behalf of your account. We may need this credential for any number of reasons. Trust me, you’ll be glad not to be called upon as an intermediary for routine stuff or when the shit hits the fan.

__________________ Host Company Name

__________________ Host Account Number

__________________ Host Phone Number

__________________ Host Website

__________________ Host Account Login URL

__________________ Host User Name

__________________ Host Password

__________________ Host Account Rep

__________________ Host Support Email

301 Redirects (Please provide as attached spreadsheet of any current 301s if applicable). 301 redirect are a method to let users and search engines know when/where pages change URLs within a website. It’s an essential function as it also “transfers” the authority of any inbound links.

In a mature site, it is common to have 301s (or even multiple layers) from previous CMS migrations or redirects of retired pages. We need to know about this.

Reports Your Receive Regularly
If you are used to receiving reports, set up yourself or emailed from previous/existing SEM vendors, please provide us copies of them . Much of the time they’re auto-generated from Google or other services. We need to know what you’re used to seeing so we can evaluate and provide seamless services. Please attach 1 example of each report.

In Conclusion
It’s true, we don’t need all of these access points for every account we deal with. That said, gathering the information ahead of time sure saves piles of time when bodies are flying. To our mind, organizing this information and having it at our fingertips as we move through exciting challenges associated with growing an SEM account, can be a serious time saver.

We need to understand how your site is wired, how things are measured and gain quick access as needed. We hope this list is useful to both SEM vendors and clients alike.

  • Scott Clark

    I recommend grabbing a copy of .htaccess and robots.txt files. Echos of previous SEO work is often lurking therein.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Scott Clark: First files we grab after connecting :) . Please would you explain what those two documents are about Scott? Greetings from SMX East.

  • Scott Clark

    @marty – rubbing it in, eh? Yes, I should be there. Bah!

    .htaccess is a per-directory configuration file used on the Linux Apache server. It has an extensive number of ways it can be used, but for SEO, it is often used for redirections or making search-friendly URL changes. The effects of an .htaccess change are applied before the user or search engine fetches the page, so everything you do there will affect the pages that the search engines see. This is the power for SEO. One important way .htaccess is used is to reduce the complexity of URLs that are being created run-time by a database. Another reason to use it is to forward folders or directories to a new site design if your file system structure has changed. SEOs can use the .htaccess file in such a way to sculpt page rank, by guiding Google in what parts of the site should be considered in relevancy algorithms versus less useful pages that can dilute the effect.

    Robots.txt is a file which is placed on a website to guide indexing algorithms (crawlers.) Its syntax is defined as a standard (Robots Exclusion Standard) and pretty much every search engine crawler obeys it. The file may be used to entirely certain crawlers from seeing all or part of the site, making it a useful tool for keeping certain parts of your site out of the search engines that could be considered duplicate content or low-value content.

    A third file to consider is the sitemaps file. This XML (Extended Markup Language) file complements the robots standard, but is not as well supported/standardized.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Scott Clark: Thanks for the explanation Scott. I’ve been busy here @ SMX.

  • Shane McCallum

    Nice post, I have been collecting most of that information but having it in a nice organized form really highlights the importance.

  • Mel66

    Great list, Marty – very thorough. Thanks for sharing. Wish I was at SMX – catch you at a future conference! Melissa

  • Paul

    Great post. Thanks for the comprehensive list. Nice to have it all in one place.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Mel66: It was a very interesting conference, and it would have been enjoyable to see you.

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