There are many SEO audit methods out there. It doesn’t matter if you are a small business looking to optimize your website for organic search or a large agency working for a client. It can be confusing to figure out where to start, how deep you should analyze, and what SEO tools you need to get the best information.
We’ve identified 10 key elements that will make your SEO audit a success. These 10 steps will ensure your website is on the right path to organic search success, no matter if you are a professional SEO or just a novice.
Let’s get started.
A Note about SEO Software and SEO Tools
Every SEO software, including Ahrefs, Moz Pro and SEMrush, will include a site audit or crawl tool. This allows you to crawl your site and identify inefficiencies that could be affecting your site’s search performance. You’ll also find other tools such as backlink profiling tools and keyword research tools. These tools are essential for performing the 10 steps below. Before you attempt a full SEO audit of your website, I recommend that you at least get a free trial version.
A Note about Google Search Console
To perform an SEO audit, you will need to add your site as a Google Search Console or Google Analytics property. Once you have verified that the site is yours, you can use one of these methods to verify ownership.
If you are auditing a site that you do not own and would like to access Analytics and Search Console, please ask permission from the site owner. They will be able to add you to their site manually.
Let’s move on to the audit.
Step 1: Identify internal and external link building opportunities
Link building is an essential part of website authority. SEO audits should include recommendations for building site-specific external and internal links.
Building internal links
Internal links can help you build link equity on your pages and are essential to building authoritative hierarchies within your website. An easy way to create internal links is to search for older content with some equity. Then, find anchor text in the old content to link the new content. If you have created a new resource via Facebook ads:
These are the pages that you will want to link to.
This view can be obtained with a chrome extension such as MozBar. The page with the highest page authority (PA) will be your target page. Page Authority and Domain Authority are not official metrics. Google does not use them to index pages. SEO software companies developed these to give estimates of the authority of a site or domain. They are still quite accurate and can be used to determine which pages or sites to link to.
When creating internal links, you should also consider user experience and information architecture. Not all links should be from reliable pages. What would be the most useful location to send site visitors from a particular page? What would get them closer to buying your product? This will be discussed in Step 2, but these questions are important when creating internal links.
Building external links
Domain Authority is all about building links from authoritative domains. Searching for resources lists that feature your content is a great way to get external links. If you are running an SEO audit of a Massachusetts private school and want to make recommendations on external link building,
The “Best Preparatory Schools in Massachusetts” search will produce some great resource lists, which may or not include your client. These are good opportunities to get external links.
Searching for unlinked mentions is a simpler way to create external links and a better way to get a higher return on your investment. A good SEO tool will include a content explorer tool, which allows you to search the internet for places where your brand is mentioned.
After contacting Domain Authority to verify that your target hasn’t already linked to you (or you have not), you can reach out via Twitter, email or condor to content managers. Ask for links back on your homepage and offer to share the article on your social media accounts in return.
Step 2: Identify potential information architecture improvements
Information architecture (or IA) is a broad term that means “How information is organized/structured.”
Standard website IA.
An SEO audit will require you to re-distribute internal linking structures within your website to transfer equity to most in need pages. This involves working closely with designers and developers to create user-friendly solutions that improve page authority without compromising the UX (User Experience).
Your blog index may only list ten pages at once, which can cause older posts to be pushed 20-30 clicks away from your homepage (where most equity lies). You can bring older posts closer to your homepage by increasing the number of pages per post.
Perhaps your “related posts” or “popular posts” sections have overlapping links. Or your header and footer may contain overlapping hyperlinks. You can maximize the link space by replacing duplicate links with links that lead to pages you wish to share equity.
If you are not auditing your site, IA-based recommendations should be based on the goals and objectives of all project stakeholders. What pages/parts are they trying to push users to? Do they want the site to be intuitive or immersive? The way you organize and define content will depend on your target audience and business goals.
Step 3: Identify thin content
Regarding content, pages with thin content won’t be given any attention in the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages). Panda, an update to Google’s algorithm in 2011, targeted sites with low-quality content.
Content that does not meet the user’s needs is called “thin”. A blog post of 300 words explaining complex concepts would be considered thin. It’s impossible to write 1000-2000 words per page on your website. Pages close to your homepage will be dominated by design–hero images and icons, call-to-action buttons, product-centric copy, and call-to-action buttons. What content should you be looking for?
- Copy deck. You have been given a deck with all pages that your client would like to be audited. You can inspect each page individually, and you can make page-level recommendations regarding the other elements on the page and how they fit into the overall site.
- Top Pages. Depending on the site size, export your top 25, 50 or 100 pages. Make sure that each page is adequately boosted.
- It all. Many site audit tools in the SEO software mentioned above will offer a comprehensive report after crawling your site.
The export page can be used to provide recommendations for how to fix any pages lacking content. Or, you can list them as pages that need to be looked at.
Two major benefits to enhancing on-page content are 1. There are more opportunities to create internal links. 2. You have more opportunities to include ancillary and target keywords to help the page be found (see Step 5).
Step 4: Identify duplicate content
The good news is that when scanning for duplicate content, you will be scanning the same subsets as when you were scanning thin content. Some SEOs are concerned about duplicate content and possible site penalties. Here’s how I see it.
Google is smart enough not to assume that you intentionally or maliciously duplicate content from your site to clog the SERP. Most likely, you are not. If you have duplicate content, it is more likely that it is unintentionally occurring. Your CMS (Content Management System) may dynamically create pages similar in appearance that Search Console hasn’t manually canonicalized. WordPress also does this with archive pages.
This Google post should calm your fears about unintentional duplicate content penalties.
Step 5: Perform a Keyword Optimization Scan
It’s impossible to optimize your website for all keywords. Imagine that you’re an employee scheduling software company. You have “employee schedule software” on your homepage in several places. You’ve put “employee schedule software” in multiple places on your homepage. It’s the most popular and least competitive keyword. This keyword is best left for a blog post.
You should still ensure that your pages are optimized for keywords to help them appear in organic searches. Conducting keyword research is the first step.
How to do Keyword Research
Use one of the SEO products or a free keyword tool to search for keywords related to your topic.
For example, “How to do a seo audit” might be an ancillary keyword I might want to include in this post–either in H2 or body copy. Perhaps I already know that my post will include a section about keyword research.
Because it has more volume, “How to Do Keyword Research” is a better-optimized H3 than “How to Conduct Keyword Research”. You might be able to generate blog topics by doing vertical-specific keyword searches.
Target keywords should appear in the URL, title, title, H1 (the headline for your post), H2 (a subhead within the post), meta title (see Step 6), and littered (in moderation) throughout the body copy. If possible, ancillary keywords should be included in H2s as well as in the body copy. It will be easier to optimize every element of a new piece. You can update pages that you already have, but you need to do your best. For example, changing a URL to be optimized for a new keyword wouldn’t make sense.
Step 6: Ensure that Meta Tags are Optimized
A meta title and meta description are the two main components of meta tags. These two factors help Google determine the content on the page it is crawling, and they are one of the most important Google considers when ranking pages. They are also used to promote your content by helping users who search for it in search results.
Use your vertical-specific keyword research to write or rewrite meta tags. Make sure they are optimized for keywords that will make them appear in search.
Meta tags are especially important, but this is also important for site copy. You want to avoid keyword stuffing (also known as keyword stuffing). This title isn’t good: “10 Great Instagram Captions and Good Instagram Captions” is too long.
These are the best meta tag practices:
- Titles. Google displays the first 50-60 characters in your title. Google then shortens the title with an ellipsis. This can cause important keywords to be missed, and it also looks terrible in the SERP. Your titles should not exceed 60 characters to avoid being shortened. Moz offers a free tool that can be used to help you create titles. Your title should contain your target keyword in its entirety. You can also piggyback on its authority by including the brand name in your title. Brand Name. Nike.”
- Descriptions. The optimal description length has fluctuated over the years. It currently stands at 155-160. Here’s the formula for content: Target keyword + ancillary keywords (if they are natural) + descriptors = in the money. SEO Audits can be difficult. WordStream makes it easy. We have 10 key steps that will make any SEO audit a success. Come check out our quick, simple 10-step SEO audit.”
Step 7: Identify Page Update Opportunities
Google will crawl a page if it sees even a small update. Regular updates will keep your pages relevant and fresh in the eyes of Google.
Two types of content should be regularly updated: The first type is a top page. I have discussed this in Step 3. These pages drive the most traffic to your business. They will continue to drive traffic to your business if they are updated.
The second category is called an “opportunity” page. A page that moves up in the SERP would see a significant increase in traffic. You can see which keywords pages rank and if they have changed. This will also show you how much traffic each keyword is generating.
To give pages that rank below the top 10, it is important to update them regularly to rise to page 1. Pages that rank below the top 3 should follow a similar strategy. Traffic drops precipitously after the top 3 spots and almost immediately after the first page.
Procedure for Page Updates
Adding new information and research is one way to update pages. If you have a blog about Google algorithm updates and the latest algorithm update has just come out, this post should be updated. Your content should be kept current to ensure your visitors don’t click on another result and bounce back to the SERP. This can lead to a decrease in your rankings.
Another way to update content is to identify related keywords that have been proven to be traffic drivers and then add those keywords to your page.
Another way to update pages? Do some general house cleaning. Compress images and remove broken links. Slow load times can be caused by cumbersome images (more details in Step 8). Broken links can lead to poor user experiences (more in step 9). These on-page issues can be fixed to give your page the boost it requires to reach the desired rank.
The fourth type of content change is to remove content from your website. Although it may seem counterintuitive at first, if your website has pages that receive little or no organic traffic, they could be hurting your organic rankings. This will lower the average value of your site to Google. It would help to look for pages that have received 0 or very few organic visits over the past year. If you are unable to make improvements immediately to increase their value, deindex them.
Step 8: Run Page Speed Analytics
Page speed is crucial, especially after Google dropped the Speed Update in May. This is partly due in part to the rise of mobile search. A person using a smartphone to search the internet won’t wait for slow-loading sites. Google will reward sites that load quickly with strong organic rankings.
PageSpeed Insights will be your best-seller. It provides a detailed view of page speed and makes suggestions for improving it. It can be used to analyze page speed on a site-wide basis.
At a page level:
You can analyze your site on both desktop and mobile, as you can see.
Step 9: Check for site errors.
Broken links or images on your site can cause a 404 error. If a page links to content deleted from your site, everyone who clicks the link will see a 404 error.
Broken links are not grounds for site penalties, contrary to popular belief. Broken links are natural as content changes and the structure of your site changes over time. Broken links at the wrong places can disrupt your internal linking structure. Users can find them annoying when trying to navigate between pages.
Site audit tools can identify all 404s on your site. After identifying them, it is easy to fix them by determining the importance of each link in your linking structure and user experience. Are you looking for a page that no longer exists or is available at a different URL? It is a good idea for high-traffic pages that link to this page to 301 redirects to the new URL. Or, at minimum, redirect back to your home page.
This chrome extension can be used to identify broken links page-by-page.
Step 10: Convert HTTP to HTTPS.
Running on HTTPS is an absolute no-no in today’s digital marketing environment. HTTPS is more efficient, safer, and one of Google’s ranking signals.
Checking to make sure your site is running on HTTPS is as simple as manually entering the various non-HTTPS iterations of your site domain–www.site.com; site.com; http://www.site.com–and making sure they’ve all been 301 redirected to the HTTPS iteration.
The next step is to search the search index for non-HTTPS URLs. You can use Search Console’s Index Status report to see which version of your site’s URLs have been canonicalized. Manually canonicalize HTTPS versions if necessary.
SEO Audit: It’s not an exact science
There is no single way to do a successful SEO audit. This is why SEO “best practices” are often inconsistent. Google is a mysterious beast. Google changes its algorithm nearly daily and rarely tells us how or why. It is impossible to do a one-size-fits-all SEO audit.
These 10 steps have been proven to be key elements of a successful SEO audit. You’ll soon be able to achieve organic search supremacy if you fix the problems they reveal.