Performing a regular SEO audit for your website is a good thing that helps you evaluate your site’s performance in SEO. Only when knowing the factors that stop you from gaining better rankings and more conversions, can you make an optimization plan that will work.
This tutorial guides you through the steps and tools that are needed to conduct an SEO audit. We have split the analysis into four important sections, and you can make a checklist of them for a quicker reference.
But before getting started with the audit, make sure that you have collected enough data for analysis. At least you should have already got Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools set up for some time. Other helpful tools are introduced contextually in this post.
- Check the Site Accessibility
- Check the Indexing of Your Site
- Check the On-Page Search Engine Ranking Factors
- Check Your Backlink Profile
Check the Site Accessibility
If your site is inaccessible, it is worth nothing. And if some important pages cannot be accessed accidentally, you can suffer from a loss of traffic and sales. To make sure the accessibility, you have to check the following things.
Robots.txt is a useful file that allows you to restrict the access of search engine crawlers. While it should be already set up properly, you may have made some changes and block crawlers unintentionally. So we’d suggest you check the file manually to make sure there is nothing wrong. Also, you can see in Google Webmaster Tools if some URLs are blocked in the robots.txt file.
Site errors not only lead to broken links, but also impact the user experience, so you should pay much attention to them. You can discover the 404 errors on your site by logging into Google Webmaster Tools and visiting Google Crawl > Crawl Error. And for 500 internal server errors, Screaming Frog helps identify them.
For those pages that do not exist anymore, you’d better redirect them by using 301 redirects. This redirection technique can ensure the link juice is well passed to the destination page.
A good XML sitemap helps search engine crawlers find all your pages easily. Therefore, you should check the sitemap, and make sure it:
- Follows the proper sitemap protocol.
- Has been submitted to Google and Bing.
- Is clean and up-to-date, with new pages included.
Speed is an important search engine ranking factor that has been underestimated by some webmasters. If your site loads quickly, it will be crawled better than those slow sites. There are many tools which you can use to evaluate your site speed, for example, Google Page Speed and GTMetrix. These tools not only help you find out the actual performance, but also provide some suggestions about how to speed up your site.
The structure of your website decides how easy/hard to access pages. When evaluating the structure, ask yourself these questions.
- Are the important landing pages accessible from the homepage or the navigation menu?
- Are the valuable web pages accessible from the landing pages?
- Is my navigation intuitive enough for first-time visitors to discover the valuable content?
If the answers are NO, you should take some actions to prioritize the important pages and make sure they are well linked.
Check the Indexing of Your Site
Now that you have known which pages can be accessed by search engines, it’s time to see how many pages are actually read the indexed. There are several things to look into in this aspect.
The number of indexed pages
Taking Google as an example, there are two easy ways to find out how many pages on your site are indexed. The first way is to use the “site:” command. Just enter “site:yourdomain.com” in Google, and you will see the number of pages indexed. Another method is to go to Google Webmaster Tools and access Google Index > Index Status.
After getting the exact number, you can start an analysis.
- If the indexed page number is nearly the same as the actual page number of your site, it means that your pages are well crawled and indexed by Google.
- If the indexed number is much smaller than the total page number, some of your pages are not indexed. Maybe you have already found out the reason when checking the site accessibility. But if not, you may have to check whether your site is penalized.
- If the indexed number is much larger, it indicates that your site has an internal or external duplicate content issue.
Page and brand search
These checks are not necessary if search engines are indexing your site properly, but we want you to make sure that the most important pages are in a good condition. Just paste the URLs of the pages in search engines to see whether they appear in the results. In the unlikely event that you cannot find a page, recheck the accessibility, and if there is no problem with the accessibility, it might be penalized.
Searching your brand name in search engines helps you know how well your website is ranking for it. Also, your site disappearing from the result list could mean an ongoing penalty.
If you need to confirm whether your site is penalized by Google, refer to this comprehensive tutorial.
Check the On-Page Search Engine Ranking Factors
Besides checking the overall performance of your site in search engines, you should also invest some time to see how your pages are performing in the important ranking factors. The content below covers both the domain level and individual page level analysis.
The most significant principle for website content is being fresh, valuable and unique, while you can do many other things to optimize individual articles for SEO. Try asking yourself the following questions.
- Is the keyword included in the content with the appropriate density?
- Is there a keyword stuffing issue?
- Have I made any grammatical or spelling errors in the content?
- Do I have multiple pages targeting the same keyword? (If so, merge the pages.)
- Is the content easy-to-read for both visitors and search engines?
- Are the page titles and meta descriptions in proper length and with keywords included?
- Are the page titles and meta descriptions over-optimized?
Besides, remember to visit Search Appearance > HTML Improvements in Google Webmaster Tools to see the content issues identified by Google, such as duplicate meta description.
Duplicate content is a severe issue that can cause your site to be penalized by search engines. To identify the duplicate content, you can use a tool like CopyScape for assistance. As the duplicate sources can be either internal or external, you should take different measures accordingly.
- If you have duplicated the same piece of content on different pages of your site, remove the content or modify it on all pages except for one.
- If you find that your content is scraped by other sites, you can submit a request to Google for removing the content.
Images work well for readers, but they are not read by search engines. So you should provide the right meta data to help search engines understand your images. The ALT text, therefore, is of great importance. Make sure the ALT attribute includes a description of the image as well as the targeted keyword.
The image size is also a concern as large files can slow down your site. Remember to compress images before uploading them, or use a tool like Smush.it to compress images automatically when they are uploaded.
The last thing to do regarding images is to conduct a reverse image search with TinEye to find out whether someone else is using any of your images without permissions. For those who are doing this, send an email to them to ask for the attribution information with a link to your site.
Two aspects are concerned in this section – the internal links, and the outbound links. For the first one, you should check your popular pages to see whether they are receiving the most internal links from other pages. Being well linked makes sure the important content to be found easily.
For outbound links, there are more to take care. You’d better check every outbound link to confirm that all of them are:
- Pointing to trustworthy websites with completely no malware or spam.
- Highly relevant to your page content and using the right anchor text.
- Not broken.
Check Your Backlink Profile
External resources can also contribute much to your site rankings. That’s why backlinks are of great importance. The votes from other sites can have a big impact on your site’s:
It is important to increase the quantity of the backlinks to your site, but the process must be natural, and the quality of those links matters much, too.
To conduct an SEO audit, you should go to Google Webmaster Tools > Search Traffic > Links to Your Site to see all backlinks, and then analyze each one carefully. When checking the backlinks and making a future optimization plan, keep these questions in mind.
- Are the links from sites relevant to my site topic? High relevancy helps your site become an authoritative resource for your topic.
- How trustworthy or authoritative are the sites linking to my site?
- How many domains have linked to my site? 20 backlinks from 20 unique domains are much better than 20 backlinks from a single domain.
- Is there any nofollowed backlink? A site with no nofollowed backlink looks suspicious for search engines.
During the audit, you should have made a long to-do list for the future optimization of your website. To achieve the best possible results, it is suggested to prioritize some important items and make a timeline for your tasks. Besides, as the checklist in this post is not all-inclusive, you may refer to some other SEO guidelines and tips to complete your to-do list.