Do you really need an SEO website audit?
It’s amazing how many businesses put their heart, souls and (often) a lot of money into creating a website but then neglect to monitor how it’s performing, especially when it’s been established for a while.
This means that issues such as broken links, slow page loading times, duplicate content, and missing meta data can all go unnoticed while collectively chipping away at the website’s rankings.
Ask yourself how much you know about your website right now.
- How many backlinks do you have?
- Do you know your site’s Domain Authority?
- Which are the highest domain sites linking back to yours?
- Are there broken links on your site?
- Are you using temporary or permanent redirects in the appropriate places?
- Are you using Schema Markup?
- Could your URL structure be hurting your SEO efforts?
- Does every page have a focus keyword and relevant meta data that follows best practice (e.g. right length, call to action, reflecting accurately what the page is about)?
- Is your site mobile-friendly?
If you’re not able to answer these questions then you probably need an SEO website audit.
In fact, I would always recommend conducting a website audit before you create or make changes to your SEO strategy.
It will help you to form a better picture of what you’re already doing well and where there is room for improvement. You can also hone in on the most critical issues, helping you to prioritise what needs to be done next.
The goals behind an SEO website audit.
It’s crucial to have clear goals behind your SEO website audit and subsequent SEO strategy so you know why you’re doing what you’re doing.
I think the following three goals work well for most businesses:
- Increase the targeted organic traffic coming to the website via search engines
- Improve the website’s conversion rates, i.e. visitors performing certain actions such as signing up for a free download, filling out an enquiry form or making a purchase
- Grow the revenue created by the website
You might also want to add a goal that’s about ranking higher than your local competitors, out-performing them for specific keywords or occupying a niche for which they don’t cater.
What’s covered in an SEO website audit?
As you’re probably aware, the search engines’ algorithms are constantly evolving and being tweaked to return the best search results.
Google, for example, has never published a definitive list of the hundreds of factors that can affect rankings, although – through a process of research, analysis and observation – we can make some sensible assumptions about some of the key ranking signals.
For this reason, SEO professionals may present website audits differently and focus on different factors, depending on what they feel are the most relevant to achieving your goals.
Broadly speaking though, a professional SEO website audit will cover topics/issues such as:
- Crawl diagnostics
- Page speed
- Mobile usability
- On-site optimisation
- Off-site optimisation
Let’s take a look at these topics in more detail:
- Crawl diagnostics
Could there be any issues that are affecting how search engines are able to crawl some or all pages of your website?
Technical issues such as ‘Page not found’ messages or pages with incorrect redirects can send both users and search engines to the wrong URL, negatively affecting how they interact with your site.
Google has what is known as a ‘Crawl budget’, which it defines as ‘the number of URLs Googlebot can and wants to crawl’ on each website. It’s a balancing act between not putting too much strain on your host server and meeting the crawl demand for your site based on how popular it is versus how much stale content you have.
To make the most of the crawl budget allocated to your site, it’s important to make crawling your pages as quick, easy and logical as possible.
Duplicate content is another common issue usually caused by:
- Issues with the technical build of the site; or
- Physical content that is the same on two or more pages of your site.When, for example, websites can be accessed by https://www.domain.com or https://domain.com (without the www), search engines will see this as two separate versions of the site, unless told otherwise. This means every page could count as duplicate content that may have its rankings penalised as a result.In order to fix duplicate content issues, you’ll need to specify which of the duplicates is the “correct” one.
There are three main ways to do this:
- Setting up a 301 redirect from the “duplicate” page to the original content page
- Applying a canonical tag (e.g. rel canonical) to the master versions of each page that you dowant search engines to index
- Using the parameter handling tool in Google Search Console.
A website audit may also explore any design elements of your website that affect the user experience. This could include widgets, plugins, call to action button sizes and positions for mobile users, ad placements, external embedded media, image sizes and other issues.
- Page speed
How long does it take for your web pages to load? Are there any that are slower and what is causing this problem?
The speed at which a web page fully loads can have a massive impact on your web traffic. Google has even confirmed in the past that Site Speed – and, consequently Page Speed – is a ranking signal.
Pages with slow load times tend to have higher bounce rates and less dwell time. In fact, according to Yoast in April 2017:
Google’s latest research shows that the chance of a bounce increases 32% when the page load time goes from 1s to 3s. 1s to 5s increases the chance to 90% and if your site takes up to 10s to load, the chance of a bounce increases to 123%.
Therefore, addressing the issues that affect Page Speed must be a priority. A website audit should help you to identify the issues relevant to your site.
- Mobile usability
Google now does what it calls ‘mobile-first indexing’, which means that it crawls the mobile version of your site first, only crawling the desktop version if there isn’t a mobile alternative. This reflects the fact that more and more of us access the web via mobile devices.
Is your website mobile friendly? Do you have a responsive design or, at the very least, identical mobile and desktop versions of the same site?
If not, creating a good user experience (UX) for people viewing it on smartphone or tablets should be one of your priorities. A web audit will help you look at issues such as whether:
- All of the elements of your mobile web page are crawlable and indexable (including images, videos and text)
- Any of your content is wider than a mobile screen
- Any of the clickable elements are too close together
- Your URL structure is mobile friendly
- Your website theme has been updated to the latest, most mobile-friendly version
- web pages have good load speeds Google’s free mobile-friendly test tool can give you some top-level information about suggested changes you could make to your site but an in-depth audit is likely to address potential issues in more detail across your whole domain rather than by one URL at a time.
- On-site optimisation
There are a number of on-site optimisation elements that can make a significant difference to your website’s click through rates from Google and also to how search engines understand the information on each of your web pages.
As I explored in my recent Keyword Research Guide, ideally each web page should have a targeted focus keyword or phrase – often medium-tail – that accurately sums up what the main topic of the page is about.
This target keyword should, if possible, appear in the SEO title for your page, the meta description, the H1 heading, one or more alt tags (only if appropriate) and other H2/H3 etc. heading tags.
Your meta data isn’t just about including the right keywords though. The SEO title should sum up what the page is about and the meta description should act as a call to action, showing the benefits of clicking through from SERPs to the page.
SEO titles and meta descriptions that are missing, too long or too short, or that simply don’t grab the reader’s attention can dent your SEO efforts.
Remember that, more often than not, an SEO title and meta description for one of your web pages will be the first thing that someone ever reads about your business – it’s important to make a good first impression. A website audit can help you find and plug gaps in your meta data.
Using a website audit as your starting point, you may also be able to build up a better picture of your current internal links and how you could develop your internal linking strategy to better tie related content together.
Let’s not forget too that an SEO website audit may include a section about your content quality and strategy. Which are your most successful blog articles? What search terms are people using to find your site? How can you increase the relevance of your content so that it’s more appealing to your audience?
- Off-site optimisation
Your off-site optimisation is important to your SEO efforts too but sometimes harder to keep tabs on.
Google likes content that is shared because it’s an indication of trust, authority and relevance. Your social media presence and interactions such as likes, shares and retweets can give important signals to Google on this front so many website audits will include a section about social media within an SEO context.
The backlinks that your site gains from third party websites will also affect your rankings. Search engines view them as a vote of confidence so the more respected the source of the backlink is, the better for your site’s domain and page authorities.
A professional SEO website audit may well look at your current external linking strategy, linking domains and ways you can improve your domain authority.
A tailored SEO strategy
The findings of a professional audit typically form the basis of a tailored SEO strategy that highlights your priorities moving forwards. This may be broken down into urgent areas needing attention, new developments and areas for ongoing improvements and monitoring.
One of the many benefits of an SEO website audit is that it gives you tangible evidence upon which to base your SEO strategy. This means you know where to invest your budget rather than just taking a wild stab in the dark about what will work.
Is it possible to do a DIY SEO website audit?
There are some fantastic free or relatively inexpensive tools available, some of which I’ll link to below.
However, free tools have their limitations. When all is said and done, they’re marketing incentives to entice you to sign up to the provider’s mailing list and maybe invest in paid-for tools or support in the future.
This means that most free tools only provide top-level information or you have to audit your website one URL at a time, which can be time-consuming if you have a site with lots of pages.
SEO specialists have usually invested in powerful auditing tools that let them assess sites of all sizes and purposes. I know here at SEO+, we think nothing of auditing sites of 100,000+ pages because we have the tools that enable us to do this.
If you do want to carry out a DIY website audit, you might like the following tools:
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider
- Website Auditor