SEO audit is the best, most effective way to assess the performance of your SEO strategy, and especially to figure out the reasons why you are not getting good SEO results.
SEO audit should be performed before you attempt any SEO efforts, especially if you are an SEO agency handling a new client’s website. To achieve the best results, however, you should do SEO audit regularly.
In this guide, we will share 9 important steps you should do when performing an SEO audit, covering the most important aspects of SEO activities.
Before we begin, however, let us discuss the concept of SEO Audit itself.
What Is SEO Audit?
SEO website audit, in essence, is checking the health of your site according to SEO principles. A proper SEO audit allows you to check the performance of your site regarding the important ranking signals. This way, you can find the important weaknesses, as well as as strengths and optimize them further.
Without SEO audit, you can’t properly identify the current state of your site and implement the necessary improvements to improve your ranking on the search engine results page.
Sites that are properly optimized get more traffic and thus, generate more prospects with the potential of converting into paying customers.
What To Expect From SEO Audit?
There are three main things you can expect from SEO audit:
The accurate current state of your site, which is, a detailed analysis on how your website is performing according to the ranking signals. Especially, your social media presence, search results performance, number of inbound/outbound links, and any other relevant information.
SEO audit checklist, which is a list actions necessary to improve your SEO results.
Complete internet marketing strategy according to the available data.
Step-By-Step Guide To Seo Audit
Step 1: Making Sure Your Site is Indexable
No matter the amount of optimizations you do, it won’t matter if Google cannot index your page. So, this step, and arguably the most important one, is to ensure Google that other crawl engines can crawl your site.
First, let us understand how Google crawl your website.
Google’s spider bot visit your web page and “crawl” it.
Google then add the optimized pages to their index, cataloging them
Google then show the best results based on queries
Fortunately, Google does provide a tool to check whether your site can be crawled, which is the Google Search Console. Google Search Console is also an essential tool for any SEO audit activities, so keep it in mind.
To use this tool, you only need a Google account, which the most of us already have at this point. Also, if you already used Google Analytics previously, you can link the two together so you can monitor Search Console data from Google Analytics.
Here are a few necessary things to consider when monitoring Google Search Console to check whether your site is crawlable:
Having a proper XML sitemap is essential in making sure your site is indexable by Google. By creating an XML sitemap and submitting it to Google Search Console, you tell Google the exact location of your pages, giving Google an easier time to crawl them. Also, by doing this, you are telling Google that you are the original owner of your site content, which will prevent removal in the cases of duplicated content pieces.
Thankfully, there are many available tools that can help you in developing XML Sitemap. For instance, XML Sitemaps is a fairly popular site providing this service. If your site is WordPress based, you can also use various plugins to assist you, such as Yoast SEO.
Use Crawl->Crawl Errors to check for crawl errors on your site. 404 errors are not a direct ranking signal, but the can affect your SEO performances due to bad user experience, and thus, higher bounce and exit rates. Use redirects to fix these 404s if necessary. Again, if your site is WordPress-based, there are plugins that can assist you in this process.
Robots.txt is a small text file on your site server which tells the search engines which pages of your site they can (and cannot) index.
Not all sites have robots.txt, and Google can still crawl your site in this case. However, having a proper robots.txt can help in optimizing crawl budget.
Do a quick Google search using your proper brand name as the query.
If your brand name is properly unique, your own site should be the very first organic result. If your site is very, very new, however, you might need to wait a couple of weeks or even months.
If your site currently rank further down in the search results page, then Google thinks there are other sites that are more relevant for your brand name. Again, this often happens if your brand name is a generic word.
Here are several things you can do when you don’t rank on branded keywords:
More backlinks, especially from high-authority sites
Getting a PR mention from high-authority media, relevant influencers, and high-quality sites
Have a Google My Business account (and verify it), and build citations on local directories. Make sure your Phone, Address and Name are consistent across all listings
Have a proper presence on all major social media platforms
With these relatively simple steps, your site should slowly climb up the ranks.
However, what if your site is nowhere to be found in the SERP? If you don’t have any indexation problems, as we have discussed on the first step, most likely your site is affected by serious Google penalties. (internal link)
Again, use Google Search Console to check whether you are currently penalized by Google.
Step 3: Use HTTPS and secure your site
If you are serious about your business, you should definitely switch over to HTTPS.
Since 2014, having a secure website URL is a very important ranking signal while also bringing other direct and indirect benefits to your business. More and more people are now really concerned about online security, and let’s face it, if you land on a site with a security warning, most likely you are going to leave.
Thankfully, migrating to HTTPS is now easier than ever, and you can check out this guide by SearchEngineLand on how to do it. Also, if your site is WordPress-based, you might want to check this guide by WPBeginner.
However, migrating to HTTPS is just one aspect of site security. So, in this step, we will discuss how to audit the possible security issues that might affect your site.
You can use SEMRush’s Site Audit feature, click on HTTPS, and SEMRush will show various HTTPS-related security issues such as:
Internal links to non-secured pages
Some pages on your site that are not yet using HTTPS
Checking the state of your security certificates and server security protocols
Step 4: Broken Links
Inbound links, or backlinks are obviously essential to any SEO activities: the most important and prominent SEO ranking factor. Yet, these backlinks will only bring value when they work properly, and this is why checking for broken links is a very important step of SEO Audit.
There are many different tools you can use to identify broken links. Again, SEMRush’s site audit feature can be useful, and if you are using WordPress, you can use various plugins to help you.
Also, consider using DrLinkCheck in this process, the free version have a 1000-URL limitation, which is quite generous.
Step 5: Check for Redirect Chains
Redirect chain, is the term we use to define more than one redirects between two URLs. Redirect chains can affect your link profile, and so affect your ranking. Also, a long redirect chain can affect the page load time, which is also an indirect ranking factor.
A redirect chain can especially happen after a site migration, including when you switch from HTTP to HTTPS.
Most SEO audit tools can find redirect chains and redirect loops, and fix them.
Step 6: Checking Backlinks Quality
Backlinks from low-quality sites not only can hinder your ranking. In a worst-case scenario, you can get penalized by Google. So, during your SEO audit, it is important to find these low-quality backlinks and remove them.
Most SEO audit tools have the feature to check these low-quality links, but again you can easily do this with SEMRush’s Backlink Audit feature.
Here are a few different factors to look for:
The relevancy of the backlinks is extremely important in determining SEO results. For example, if you are a real estate company, having a backlink from entertainment sites can be concerning.
Yet, manually checking the relevancy of each inbound links can be extremely time-consuming. Thankfully, there are many tools that can help you with this aspect, especially Ahrefs with its Bulk Backlinks feature inside Link Map Tools.
As we have mentioned, the quality of your backlinks is significantly more important than quantity. Having just one or two authority backlinks can get your site to rank higher faster compared to having tens of low-quality links. Yet, how can we determine the quality of our backlinks? You might want to check out this guide by SEOMark, and use various SEO audit tools to track the metrics listed there.
There are many different sources of backlinks from directory links to contextual links to sidebar links, and so on. You might want to check this list to check all the different types/sources available.
The thing is, you would want a decent amount of diversity to make your link profile more natural. Also, you would want a proper diversity of DoFollow and NoFollow links.
Anchor Texts Ratio
There are generally two different anchor text types to consider: exact match anchor text (EMA) and branded anchor. The thing is, the majority of your anchor texts should be branded anchors, so check the ratio between EMAs and branded anchors, and adjust your tactic when necessary.
Homepage Links VS Deep Links
If your SEO is based on content marketing (which is, the most of us), the majority of your backlinks should target deep pages. Again, however, aim for proper diversity to allow a more natural link profile.
Step 7: Page Analysis
Since, as we have just mentioned, the core of most, if not all SEO activities is content marketing, SEO audit should properly address the quality of your content and page optimization of each content.
No matter how good your content is, it won’t get ranked unless the page is properly optimized, and vice versa. In this step, we will first discuss the key areas to audit when optimizing your page.
Duplicate content check
You can use various duplicate content checker like Copyscape. This is useful if you are outsourcing your content development process, as well as to check whether there are others on the internet who are stealing your content. If you do find a duplicate content, you can remove it (if the duplicate content is yours), or file a DMCA Report to Google, which will allow Google to remove this content from indexation.
Target keyword locations
There are four main locations where your focus keyword should be included: the title, META description, and the first paragraph (or at least, one of the earliest paragraphs, and the last sentence of your content. Mention your target keyword only once in these four locations.
Your URL should also include the target keyword. Make sure the URL is short and comprehensive enough for human readers.
For internal links, make sure you are using exact match anchor text (EAM).
Step 8: Content Analysis
As mentioned, an optimized page will only work with an optimized content. If in the previous step we have discussed how to audit your page optimization, here we will focus on content quality.
Analyzing content is both the most important and time-consuming part of SEO audit, and here are the key areas to focus on:
Your content should be unique not only in the eye of the search engines, but also human readers.
Your content should bring value to your audience by giving new information or solving problem. Also, your content should be engaging, usually by using “you” and “your” within your content to address your audience.
Avoid using excessive ads on your content pages, it can distract your audience and even cause a high bounce rate.
Look for links in your blog comment, remove any unrelated and suspicious links. Having these links in your blog comment section can get you penalized by Google, so be extra careful.
Step 9: User Interactions
In this step, we will focus on analyzing how your users are interacting with your site, and especially your content.You can do this step just with the handy Google Analytics, and here are some key data points to focus on:
Generally, you would want a bounce rate below 60%, with 80% being the threshold until you should worry about a potential problem. If your bounce rate is above 80% or even 90%, this should be your priority to fix.
Dwell time is now considered a significant ranking factor, although Google hasn’t confirmed it. However, a high dwell time means there are more chances to convert the audience, so you should definitely aim for a higher dwell time. An average dwell time of above 1 minute is decent, and you should aim for above 2 minutes. Remember, the better your content is, the more time they will spend on your site.
Exit rate measures the rate of visitors that are leaving specific pages. This way, we can identify which pages that are not performing well. Again, aim for an exit percentage of around 50-70%, and you will need. High exit rate often occurs when your content in this specific page doesn’t provide enough value or doesn’t answer your audience’s problems.
The number of people who return to visit your site is a strong positive signal. It means, your audience finds value in your content, and with more visitations, you have more chance to encourage conversions. If your return visitors rate is low, you either have issues with your content or with your overall user experience (including site optimization).
There are certainly other areas you can analyze when performing an SEO audit. However, the 9 steps we have shared above are among the most important, and you can use the same principles to assess other areas.
Regular SEO audit is a very important aspect if you want to maximize your SEO results: monitor everything regularly, find gaps, and know when to adjust your approaches.
Mike Khorev is an SEO expert and digital marketing consultant who helps small and mid-size businesses generate more leads, sales and grow revenue online. He offers expert advice on marketing your company the right way through performance-based SEO digital marketing, web design, social media, search engine marketing and many other online practices. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter