So you want to perform your first SEO audit—well, that’s just great because here you’ll find a comprehensive step by step guide for conducting your first technical audit.
An SEO audit is the absolute must-do, especially if you are starting a new project. However, you should evaluate the overall health of a website and its performance hitherto before you can plan a smart marketing strategy based on data.
An audit is a pretty wide topic, so let’s divide it into three parts. The primary areas to be examined include content, indexing, and finally, linking overview.
This technical audit is designed to X-ray a website’s robust and weak points. So once you finish it, the results will become a solid, data-driven foundation for the preparation of your to-do list for the few next months of your work.
It’s time to get ready—take a piece of paper and a pencil to make some notes on the way, and don’t worry, there is an SEO audit checklist below.
1. Content issues include:
- URL structure
- Title tags
- Meta description tags
- Meta keywords
- Heading tags
- Internal linking
- Anchor text
- Image names and alt tags
- Nofollow anchor tags
2. Indexing issues refer to:
- Page inclusions
- Page exclusions
- Duplicate content
- Broken links
- Code validation
- Page load speed
3. Linking issues
- Inbound followed links
- Linking root domain
- Authority and trust
- Social media mentions and visibility
- Competitive link comparison
Today we are going to start with content issues.
The crawling tool
To figure out what it’s going on, it’s good to have a crawling tool. There are various and reliable tools available online for free like Screaming Frog SEO. This one will crawl every single page of your website and detect existing 404 error pages, 301, and 302 redirects, URL issues, duplicate content, title tags and meta description errors (like missing, duplicated, or just of the wrong length).
But don’t think that you need to use this specific tool. Feel free to decide yourself which one suits your fancy. Just download the preferred tool and enter your URL to spider.
After a few minutes, the crawling process will finish, and you will be given an excellent report on your website. Then download it as a CSV or excel file to read the data clearly.
Google Search Console
There is also one more thing that you need to do first. Establish a Google Search Console account—if you aren’t using it yet, here is the link to the tutorial on how to get started.
If you already have a GSC account, just go to its dashboard and view the data crawled.
Another necessary tool that is critical for performing your first technical SEO audit is Google Analytics. It’ll provide you with tons of data about your website’s traffic and its general condition. Don’t have it yet? Click here and register your site.
Google Analytics will be even more than helpful for conducting your first SEO audit and here’s why. Using add-ons for Google Spreadsheet, you can quickly generate a super useful report of GA data. Just add the Google Analytics add-on to a spreadsheet and create a new report.
Then choose the needed metrics and dimensions and run the report.
This report will pull the data from Analytics about sessions, page views, users, bounce rates and time on site onto your spreadsheet to help you filter it, sort it and compare it with each other in order to identify the best and worst performing pages.
Step 1: Keywords
Your ranking success relies on SEO-centric keywords research, so understanding what are core keywords for a website is critical.
Check whether a website correctly identifies and targets search terms that your prospects use. To assess its current status, use your crawling tool because it shows what keywords a website is already optimized for and which keywords it is trying to target.
Also, Google Search Console reveals the best-performing keywords in Google Search along with pages attached. Go into search traffic and view search queries. Export the keywords list from both of these tools, GSC, and Screaming Frog, and combine them.
However, while conducting your keywords research don’t limit yourself to these two sources.You should be aiming to discover new keywords opportunities that may bring you lots of well-targeted traffic. Google Suggest can further enhance your research.
A word of explanation: Google Suggest/Google related search are all the keywords that appear as an autofill when you type something in the search bar at the bottom of the search page and at the top.
Google Suggest automatically indicates related variations of your core keywords. I would also recommend that you use other tools like Wordstream Keyword Niche Finder, Keyword.io, or Ubersuggest.org to complement your keyword research.
Let’s make this clear: Any additional keyword research tool that can produce more keywords ideas and variations will be a great aid for crafting a much more precise and perfected keywords strategy for executing in the future.
As a final step of the keywords research process, use keywords data from all the tools and put it together as an Excel or CSV list. Then add your list to an Adwords Keyword Planner.
The beautiful thing about this tool is that it 1. multiplies your keywords versions, 2. adds search volume, and 3. tells you how competitive those keywords actually are.
Also, remember to adjust the localization in the keyword planner first so that you could analyze the data for the targeted market.
Look at search volume vs. competition columns, and prioritize keywords of high search volume and little competition.
*Of course, Google Keyword Tool works for PPC, so it focuses on commercial terms. This means that this tool selects the most competitive, high-converting queries and hides non-commercial ones.
Step 2: URL structure
Find the URL list in your crawling report and check if it fulfills the following criteria:
- Are the URLs static or dynamic? Static URLs are way more user-friendly because they describe what a particular page is about. It’s good practice to avoid random and confusing parameters that are used in automatically generated, dynamic URLs.
- Are the URLs short or long? Try to keep your URLs short. The best are under 100 characters with a minimal amount of dashes and slashes used.
- Do the URLs contain its relevant keywords? This is one of the basic on-page SEO factors. The use of primary keywords within your URLs improves the description of a page.
- Are the URLs aggregated into subfolders rather than subdomains? Subdomains are like separate, unique domains in the eyes of search engines. If you want to boost link-juice-flow over your whole domain, better aggregate your URLs into subfolders.
- Do the URLs include hyphens or underscores? When URLs are more than one word, it’s better to separate them with hyphens than underscores. In contrast to underscores, hyphens make search engines read the words as a separate not as a combined sequence of letters.
Step 3: Title tags
Auditing title tags are about evaluating whether they are correctly set. Their length ought to fit into 520 pixels and not be shorter than 320 pixels. 520 pixels wide equals about 70 characters of Arial type font, size 12.
Remember that title tags should be unique for each page. It’s better not to confuse potential visitors with the same title results in the search engine results page (SERPs), so make sure you craft title tags precisely to stress the difference between pages. Prospects should be able to decide which page is relevant to their needs from the results pages.
A good practice for title tags is to craft them so they clearly reflect what a page is about. It is also recommended to add geo-localization if your business is local.
A title tag is also a crucial element when it comes to click-thru rates. So, to attract well-targeted, high-quality traffic, mastering the art of creating headlines is essential.
Fortunately, Google Search Console automatically reports duplicate title tags, so you don’t need to check a crawler report manually. Just go to the Search Appearance section in Google Search Console and look into HTML Improvements. Duplicate title tags are listed there along with duplicate meta description tags.
Step 4: Meta description tags
A page’s meta description tag is concise, up to 155 characters, displayed below a link in SERPs, with the summary of a subject underneath a particular title. Meta description tags don’t directly act as an SEO factor, but along with title tags, they strengthen click through rates.
So when auditing this part just make sure that, instead of over-optimizing a page’s meta description with keywords, their structure is compelling and engages people to click.
For the same reasons as title tags, meta description tags need to be unique too. To check which meta description tags have duplicates, go into the HTML Improvements tab in Google Search Console.
Step 5: Meta keywords
According to experts, you don’t need to worry about meta keywords because they are ignored by search engines, hence, regarding an SEO audit, they’re unnecessary.
If there are some that’s okay; you can keep them. Now let’s move onto more important aspects.
Step 6: Heading tags
The way heading tags are used is important not only concerning readability and usability but also for SEO reasons. The font size used communicates your content to search engines even further. Keywords included within H1 and H2 tags send strong defining signals of what a page is about.
This is why each page of your site should contain only one textual H1 tag at the top of a page: to determine its topic. Moreover, the whole body should be divided into 5 line paragraphs with H2 tags used as captions after a few of them. Long chunks of text don’t look user-friendly, so it’s best to avoid them if you want to keep your readers actually reading.
SEO Audit Tip: Check if your heading tags are compelling enough and concisely explain parts of your content. Also, make sure that they contain targeted keywords.
Step 7: Content
It’s time to investigate your content. This is something the crawling tool won’t do for you. The simplest way to do this is to view the cached version of your website—text only version—and make sure that:
- A page contains at least 300 words, depending on its function. Each website’s section demands a different length. For instance, blog pages need to include 2,500-plus words because search engines love to rank long content higher in the rankings.
- A page is well-optimized for targeted keywords according to current on-page SEO rules, but looks and sounds natural, not over-optimized.
- The content is grammatically correct. Double check your website’s content with a professional proofreader, while typos can be controlled by Grammarly.
- The content is easy to read. Blog pages should keep a clear structure of paragraphs: short sentences and straightforward and understandable words that are appropriate for your audience. Remember about proper signal words and media which can add value to the text.
- When auditing the content, check the bounce rate and time on site of a particular page. Doing so will tell you more about your user experience and a page’s overall health.
Content audit should also focus on:
- Information architecture: Does the content of a website have the correct structure? Is it clearly categorized to be understandable to its users? What about content objectives—are they fulfilled efficiently? It should be mindful and based on a solid content strategy. Each page should be designed to execute its specific goal.
- Duplicate content: This happens when there are pages with the same content and includes the internal and external pages of a website.
- Keyword cannibalism: When many pages within a website accent the same or similar keywords. A rule of thumb: Better aim to create one awesome article optimized for a particular keyword, which gets traffic, backlinks, and strong social proof than to have too many mediocre pieces that compete with each other in the results pages. Moreover, repetitive articles will most probably make you lose conversions because they distract traffic.
SEO Audit Tip: Prepare a spreadsheet of all the websites URLs along with the targeted keywords and find the ones that repeat. Compare their performance with each other using various data. Pick the best-performing ones and add all the useful information from the others. Then, set permanent 301 redirects to alternative pages. 301 redirects are vital here because they are going to pass the SEO power to the chosen hero article. Keyword Cannibalism affects many websites these days because of the little awareness of its existence.
Step 8: Internal linking
Internal linking is an important part of your SEO audit and should be strategically planned. Internal links establish your website’s architecture by indicating topically related pages, and they spread the SEO power. The more relevant pages are combined with each other when crawled repeatedly, and as the crawling frequency rises, so does the overall rank in search engines.
Therefore, a healthy structure for a website should resemble a pyramid, and each page should have at least three internal links.
On the other hand, outgoing internal links work as an endorsement for these resources regarding SEO and trustworthiness. This is why during your SEO audit you should check the quality of outgoing internal links and make sure that they link to high-quality websites. Note if any outlinks create unnecessary redirects because this may worsen user experience, so better ascertain that all the links refer to adequate destinations.
Plus, check if there are any broken links. Your crawling tool will reveal them all so you will be able to perform the general fix. It’s a simple fact that you should always minimize the number of error pages, but in the case of an unexpected problem, it is highly recommended to design the error pages in an engaging, friendly way.
Keep the optimal number of outlinks. It used to be recommended to keep up to 100 internal links on your page, but this was connected to the crawling limits of search engines in the past. This is no longer an issue today because search engines are modern and pretty advanced.
However, it is always good to be reasonable with the amount of internal links on a page and not overdo them. Stay by no more than 150 internal links on a page.
Remember that robot.txt defines the crawlable link structure on your website and points out what needs to be crawled. Spiders are also not going to crawl any links in Java or Flash so make sure that you implement clear HTML links. Avoid placing links in frames or iframes because it creates some crawl ability issues, too.
Step 9: Anchor text
Anchor text is the visible part (characters/words) of a hyperlink. Anchors should clearly reflect the topic of the destination pages because they work as its initial explanation and they also count as a ranking factor. Thus, anchors should include targeted keywords. Anchor text help users decide if they want to click on the link and help search engines identify the topic of the linked page.
Step 10: Image names and alt tags
Placing multiple images on your pages is an important usability factor that makes your users engaged and entertained with the content you provide. Images beautifully complement the text, but there are some criteria they need to fulfill in order to bring SEO value in.
When auditing images on your website, ensure that their file names, as well as alt tags descriptively, reflect what is pictured. Target keywords work best here, and the use of numbers or random characters should be avoided.
Step 11: Nofollow
Rules concerning nofollow links are pretty simple. When conducting your first SEO audit, keep in mind that links of low quality or those worthless for users and search engines should all be marked as nofollow. When you put a nofollow tag, it means that you don’t want to pass your SEO juice, neither endorse the page you are linking to, and you don’t trust its quality.
This article originally appeared in The Positionly SEO and Inbound Marketing Blog.
This article was written by Kasia Perzyńska from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.