How to Do SEO Audit to Boost Your Google Rankings and Traffic
by Mike Khorev
While we can over-analyze SEO and make it as complex as possible, in its purest essence there are only two core aspects of SEO:
- Optimizing your content for SEO to provide more value to the human audience.
- Optimizing the technical SEO of your site so Google and the other search engines can properly index it.
Thus, in performing an SEO audit, we actually only need to focus on these two areas. It’s a very common mistake to perform a too technical SEO audit, that can take weeks to complete—and even by then, due to its very broad approach, we end up with a confusing result—.
Here, we will show you that an SEO audit is actually very simple, and you won’t really need to understand all the technicalities to understand—and even perform— this SEO audit.
Let us start from the very beginning: the concept of SEO audit.
What Actually Is an SEO Audit?
Simply put, an SEO audit is a process to evaluate how well Google and the search engines can index and recognize your site, and on the other hand how optimized your content is according to the search engine’s standard.
In reality, however, these two factors will involve many different technical and non-technical factors, and a proper SEO audit will provide you with a better insight into your website, your content, and organic traffic, among other aspects.
Typically, an SEO audit must be performed at the beginning of a new SEO campaign, and then regularly every quarter or at least every six months.
Common Insights Gained From an SEO Audit
Below are some of the most common issues and information that are revealed by a proper SEO audit:
1. Keyword optimizations
Both the home page and internal landing pages (content-rich pages) must include keywords that are specifically targeted to capture our ideal audience. Include 3-6 mentions (in an average 1,000-word content) of highly relevant keywords with decent search volume.
On the other hand, a landing page and/or product-service description page might be optimized for more than one keywords. For example, a single page might be optimized for “data extraction software”, “data migration tools”, and “data analytics solutions” almost equally between each other. This practice will prevent the page from ranking optimally (on the first page of the SERP) for any of these keywords.
Ideally, a separate page must be created and optimized for each keyword (or each set of keywords for one topic) with at least 800 words of content.
2. Technical issues on the site, including but not limited to:
- 404 and 500 errors
- non-secure site due to the absence of SSL certificate (the site is still using http:// instead of https://)
- broken external and inbound links,
- Non-optimized robots.txt file
- improper structured-data markup
- Existence of .htaccess files, can block Google crawlers and cause indexation errors
3. User interface issues including but not limited to:
- Slow loading speed, leading to a high bounce rate. There can be various causes for this, including:
- Unused and resource-heavy plugins/extensions
- Non-optimized images and vides
- Slow hosting service (slow server response time)
- Non-optimized site structure (XML sitemap)
- The site is not (fully) mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive:
- Test your site using Google’s mobile-friendly test tool
- Switching to a mobile-responsive template
- Simplify your site’s navigation and menus
Step-by-Step SEO Audit
1. Check The Canonicity of Your Site
The first, and also the most important thing to do is to check whether only one URL for your site is currently browseable—and thus, indexable by Google—.
Due to the nature of a web address, there can be various ways to type your website’s address into the internet browser, for example:
Decide one “default” URL for your website. Typically you should choose a URL that already uses https. Https is a confirmed ranking factor today. So, if you have migrated your site to HTTPS and already got an SSL certificate, you might as well make full use of it.
Use 301 redirects to redirect all other URLs to the chosen canonical URL.
2. Check For Basic Crawl and Indexation Issues
Here, ideally, we’ll need a tool of software capable of crawling your site. That is, this tool can “crawl” or “spider” your site similar to how Google would. This will give us an important insight into how Google actually sees and perceives your site.
You can use tools like BeamUsUp (free), Screaming Frog, or Ahrefs, among others to do this. Then, analyze the resulting crawl errors (if any). Fixing these errors should be one of your main priorities.
Next, use Google Search Console to check whether your site is properly indexed. Remember that if your site is not indexed, you won’t get ranked, ever.
Alternatively, you can search in google using the site: search operator, for example:
Using this search operator will also tell you how many pages of your site have been properly indexed. In general, however, using Google Search Console will provide better accuracy.
Keep in mind, however, if your site is brand new, it might take some time before Google can properly index your site. There are ways to speed up this process, but in general, patience is usually enough.
3. Check Your Site’s Performance for Branded Keywords
Search for your brand name in Google.
Your site should be the top result. There are only two exceptions here: First, if your site is brand new. Second, if your brand name is too generic (in such cases, we’d advise of rebranding your business).
There are, however, possible solutions when you rank further down the SERP for the branded keywords:
- Link building, can be difficult for the brand keyword, but possible
- Optimizing your brand presence on all major social media platforms (and make sure all of your social media profiles properly link to your site’s URL).
- Build citations on online business directories depending on your niche/industry and location
- Claim your Google My Business listing
- Implement a PR campaign to get media coverage from authoritative websites, and media
Do these steps consistently, and you should climb up the ranks, little by little.
If, however, your site is nowhere on the first page of the SERP, or nowhere at all, it’s a strong indication of being penalized (assuming your site is “old” enough).
4. Manual SEO Audit for On-Page Optimizations
Here, we will manually assess several key areas of on-page SEO.
We mainly start with your site’s homepage, unless there’s another page that’s generating more organic search traffic than your homepage.
Below are some of the important areas to assess in this page:
- How optimized the title tag is, and whether the title tag is already clickable
- Use this tool to simulate how the title will look on Google SERP, so you can assess whether it’s too long or too short
- Check whether the title already include the target keyword(s) naturally
- Check the search volume(s) of the included keyword(s), if there are any related keywords with higher search volume, consider re-optimizing the title.
- How optimized the Meta Description is.
- It’s important to note that meta description won’t affect your search ranking directly, so your main focus in optimizing the meta description is to improve CTR (click-through-rate)
- CTR, on the other hand, is a direct ranking factor. So, focus on writing a meta description that can appeal to the human audience
- In general, communicate your product/service’s unique value proposition within the meta description to encourage CTR. If you are selling a cheaper product than your competitors, say something like “guaranteed cheapest price!”
- There must be only one instance of the H1 tag, and it must be thoroughly optimized
- H1 tag is a direct ranking factor, but not critical, if it’s appropriate to include a H1 tag, do so and make sure it’s well-optimized, but don’t force it.
- As mentioned, make sure that there’s only a single unique H1 tag
- The H1 tag must provide value for your human audience, so make sure it’s comprehensive
- Include relevant target keywords if possible, but make sure they are naturally included
- Check the structure of H2, H3, etc. usages
- The main purpose of subheadings is to break up the page’s content in a logical way, to enhance the reading experience (improve the content’s readability)
- Again, include your target keywords and semantically-related keywords when possible, but make sure they are natural
- Make sure your subheadings are interesting and engaging, they are often a strong factor in keeping your audience’s engagement
You can also use various tools (i.e. SEMRush or Ahrefs) to generate a crawl report for these pages, which will automatically detect errors like when the title is too long, multiple H1 tags, and so on.
5. Check for Content-Related Issues
It’s fairly obvious that we should avoid duplicate content in most cases. Ever since Google implemented the Panda algorithm update in 2011, you can get penalized when you use duplicate content, especially in fraudulent ways (i.e., when you steal other people’s content and use it in your site).
However, there can be cases where it’s your content that gets stolen. In most cases, it shouldn’t bring any problem to your site, but you can always report the site to be safe (and so this thief won’t steal your traffic).
You can use tools like Copyscape to help find this duplicate content.
Important: even if you are 100% sure you always use original content, there’s always the possibility of duplicate content like—as mentioned— when your content is stolen by others, or when you are using a stock/template-based section in your content (i.e. when you use a stock disclaimer for your contact us).
Make sure to use rel=”canonical” in your original content, and always make sure duplicate or syndicated content links back to this canonical content.
Also, check for pages with thin content. While thin content typically won’t cause a Google penalty, it’s still a waste of resources (and site space). In general, consider updating or deleting pages with fewer than 200 words of content.
6. Check Your Site’s Load Speed
Your website’s (and individual pages’) load speed is both direct and indirect ranking factors.
Simply put, more than half of site visitors will leave the site if the site loads more than 3 seconds (in a standard 3g connection). In turn, a high bounce rate will affect your site’s ranking.
You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check your site’s current performance. However, admittedly PageSpeed Insights is a little difficult to use (not very intuitive interface), so you can use additional tools like Pingdom (and others) to analyze your site’s current speed and possible issues.
While optimizing your site’s speed is a pretty deep and complex subject on its own (and you might want to check here to get a better picture), there are five important areas to focus on:
1. A good hosting service
One of the most common causes of slow site speed is the slow server response time, which is the amount of time required to load a website’s files from the server—so the client’s computer can begin rendering the page—.
The most common cause of the slow server response time, in turn, is a bad hosting service or a bad server. So, it’s important to choose a fast, reliable hosting service that also provides an included SSL certificate.
2. Caching your website
Caching—in a nutshell—, is putting your website’s data in a temporary storage area so the client can load it faster. There are various caching plugins available if your website is WordPress-based.
Also, you might want to check Google’s guidelines on leveraging browser caching here.
3. Optimize image sizes
Pretty self-explanatory, images and videos can eat a lot of storage space—and thus it will take a longer time to load these images—.
In general, however, here are some important things to remember:
- First, always crop the image to its appearance. If, for example, an image should appear as 768px in width, then resize the image to that width to avoid any unused space
- There are various compression tools and even plugins that can help reduce image sizes without a significant reduction in quality.
- In most cases, a JPEG format is your best bet. PNG typically uses a slightly larger file size, but is still manageable. Avoid TIFF and BMP formats.
- GIFs tend to be very heavy in size, so avoid them unless they are absolutely necessary, and use them in small sizes.
4. Use Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Simply put, a CDN is a network of servers that can store and publish your content, thus reducing the strain of your main server that hosts your site. A CDN will typically deliver your site’s static files from a network of servers that is closer to the user’s physical location, and so can significantly improve load speed.
Check your hosting service whether they also provide CDN packages (some, like Bluehost, include CDN in their hosting plan).
5. Minify your codes
Again, there are various tools and WordPress plugins that can help you in this aspect, for example, WP Super Minify.
6. Analyze Structured Data Implementation
Assess the site’s current implementation of structured data markup (if any) and check any pages that should have structured data but aren’t.
In general, structured data markups will allow the pages to be eligible for featured snippets, and should be implemented in as many pages as possible. Here are the common elements of a web page that often have structured data markups:
- Embedded objects (audio, image, video)
- Any event
- Any person mentioned in a website
- Creative entities: books, movies, music, recipes, TV series, etc.
- Products and service offers
- Health and medical
Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to check your site’s existing structured data markup, and take notes of any errors.
Implementing structured data markup should be an important aspect of your SEO strategy, especially if you plan to aim for featured/rich snippet spots.
7. Analyze Ranking Performance
Here we will analyze how our site’s rankings are progressing.
We will need a tool or software that can display our site’s ranking history here. For example, SpyFu, SEMRush, Ahrefs, and many more. There are also free alternatives available—although they might not be as accurate—.
There are several things to consider in this aspect:
- Check whether the site’s ranking is rising—albeit slowly—. If the site’s ranking is declining, there can be various reasons to cause this (penalty, outdated content, missing backlinks, etc.)
- Analyze various pages according to the various target keywords, and take notes of pages that are currently decreasing in rankings.
- Check whether there are pages that are already performing quite well—that is, ranking in positions 5 and above, or at least already in the first page of SERP—. These pages should be your main priority in the near future, since you can get to the top spots with just a little boost, in most cases.
How can we boost these high-performing pages into the top? There are a few approaches we can try:
- Update the content with newer, more relevant information and relaunch the content
- Get more backlinks/inbound links to the page
- Improve the page’s internal linking structure, and add more internal links
- Check the page’s overall keyword optimization.
If possible, analyze all of your pages’ keyword optimizations. You can check this section on what to assess on your pages regarding keyword optimizations. The main principles, however, are that:
- Include 3-6 mentions of the target keywords every 1,000 words
- Make sure the keywords are included naturally. Focus on maintaining readability and comprehension for human readers
- Make sure the target keywords have a high enough search volume, relevant to your business, and manageable (in terms of competitions).
8. Assess Your Backlinks Profile
The quality and quantity of your backlinks are some of the most important factors in determining your site’s ranking.
Again, here you’ll need a software or solution that can analyze your backlinks profile. You might want to check our previous guide on link building here, but here are some important areas to consider:
- Check the total number of your inbound links, but also your internal links and outbound links.
- The quality of your inbound links, based on the E-A-T principle
- Relevance and diversity of anchor texts for the incoming inbound links
- The frequency and consistency of how you get these backlinks
- Overall history and integrity of your inbound links
9. Assess Inbound and Outbound Broken Links (404 and 500 Errors)
Simply put, broken pages and links on and to your site are wasted opportunities, so you’d want to find and fix these links as soon as possible.
These broken links commonly come in the form of 404 and/or 500 errors:
- 404 error: 404 Not Found mainly means the page you are trying to reach (or in this case, linking to your site), cannot be found on their server for one reason or another
- 500 error: is a more obscure server-side error that generally means something has gone wrong on the site’s server, but it can’t identify the actual error
Various tools (i.e. SEMRush or Ahrefs Site Explorer) can generate reports for broken links and broken pages (your own).
For broken pages on your own, prioritize pages with the highest SERP rankings and pages with the most inbound links. However, you should decide either to fix all of these broken pages or to eliminate non-performing ones altogether.
For these broken pages, you’d need to:
- Replace and/or update the content
- Redirect the broken page to a live one
- For pages with no backlinks, you might want to delete it.
For broken links, since you can’t directly control the source sites, there are various different approaches you’d need to take on a case-by-case basis. You might want to check out this guide on link reclamation for a more in-depth discussion of the topic.
10. Find Content and Keyword Gaps
Our main focus here is to check for keywords that your competitors currently rank for, but you haven’t yet.
Several tools, most notably Ahrefs, can automatically generate reports for content gaps by analyzing competing sites.
The main idea here is to find sites with a lot of overlaps on keyword rankings with your current site, and thus we can find these keyword gaps.
If you find any content gaps during this SEO audit, analyze these keywords whether they are really good fits for your brand. If yes, they should be your main priority.
11. Content Performance Audit
Underperforming—or even, nonperforming content pages— can significantly slow down your site in the long run, and can also affect your site’s structure and overall user experience.
If, for example, a user that is currently interested in your brand stumbled upon your older, low-quality article, it can be a major turnoff and might affect their purchase decision.
In general, in this step you should:
- Check for non-performing pages with very little organic traffic and very little inbound links
- Look for ways to improve them if possible:
- Update the content with more relevant information
- Leverage the content in another form (i.e. non-performing textual content can work better as a video)
- Improve the content’s structure, add more images, etc
- Optimize the keywords and get more inbound links to generate traffic
- Otherwise, you might want to permanently delete these pages and use 301 redirects for the URL to a live, relevant page
By default, you should always try to fix, update, and relaunch the content to perform better in the future.
By following the essential steps of SEO audit above, you should have gained various useful insights into your website’s performance and should provide you enough information on how to plan your enterprise SEO strategy.
Keep in mind that these steps are not exhaustive, and certainly, you can commit to the enterprise SEO growth program that will analyze more aspects of your site and your content and even conduct a full-blown SEO forensic which can take days or even weeks to complete. However, this basic SEO audit we’ve discussed should provide you a great way to assess your site’s current condition and plan a new SEO campaign.
If possible, you should conduct this SEO audit regularly every quarter or at least every six months to analyze your progress and gain insights that might be useful in adjusting your strategy whenever necessary.
June 6, 2020