You write to rank. But how often do you pause typing to see how your SEO-focused content is performing?
A glance at the first page of Google won’t cut it. A simple SEO audit can provide a better understanding of the positives and adverse aspects of your site’s pages in the eyes of Google and other search engines.
It’s an important undertaking so you can improve upon what works and eliminate bad SEO tactics that affect your rankings (and in some cases, could result in your site being removed from the search engine altogether).
(Pre-step) Know the site’s purpose
While this article focuses on an SEO audit, it must be done on a solid foundation. First, document the answers to these questions around your brand’s purpose for the site:
- What do you want to be found for online?
- Which landing pages are most relevant (i.e., contribute to your goals)?
- What platform is the website built on?
With these answers, you’re ready for the audit.
Divide the SEO audit into 3 parts
Search engines use what are called “crawlers” to go through your website and analyze:
- Which keywords (i.e., search phrases) the website addresses
- How well the content meets the initial needs of a searcher
- How the content keeps the searcher on the site
- Its speed and technical security
- How well it meets the standard search engine guidelines
Google and others also use real-life searches to see if your pages deliver what their users are looking for.
An SEO audit should be split into three sections:
- On page – on your site
- Technical – coding and other elements behind the page
- Off page – online but off your site
Analyze on-page ranking factors
On-page SEO is the heart of your website. Knowing how well these factors stack up is the most important step because you can control (i.e., change) your pages.
Among the elements to assess:
- Landing page URL – text of web address after your domain (It should include one keyword.)
- Meta title – blue link of page title appearing in search results (It should exist and include the keyword no more than once, be 55 characters or less, and be unique and relevant to the page’s content.)
- Meta description – text shown below the title link in search results (It should exist and naturally label the page’s content in 50 to 160 characters.)
- Heading 1 (H1) tag – headline or title shown at top of page (It should include a keyword, explain the page’s content, be between 20 and 70 characters, and stand out on the page.)
- Heading 2, 3 (H2, H3) tags – subtitles within the content on the page (They should use variations of the keyword.)
- Images – name, title, and size of visuals on the page (Their title should be associated with your keyword. Their size should be 100 kilobytes or less. They should include alt text – what appears when the image can’t be seen on the page.)
- Internal links – hyperlink URLs in text that points to other pages within the site (They should be included in the page’s content, naturally linking the reader to current and relevant content – and often other relevant keywords – on the site.)
Use the table format below to conduct your on-page factor audit. At a minimum, list the URLs for every landing page identified in the pre-step as key to your site and brand.
After you go through this on-page section of your SEO audit, fix any of the elements where you answered no.
Assess the technical ranking factors
Technical SEO spans a wide range of topics, but in terms of an audit, stick to the core elements around access and user experience:
- Indexing – recognition of your site’s pages by search engines
- Site maps – Structure reviewed by search engine crawlers
- Web (and URL) structure – folders of website reviewed by search engine crawlers
- Security – HTTPS and SSL-related coding to protect site visitors and customer purchases
- Accessibility – ability of pages to be found
- Speed – how quickly the site’s servers respond to requests from visitors
If a website can’t be crawled properly, it will not rank. To see if Google can find your content (i.e., it’s indexed), go to Google Search Console through your Google Analytics account. Click on Index in the left column.
Audit question: Does the number of discovered URLs match the number of indexed URLs?
If not, keep reading on how to investigate – and fix – the problem. If your URL numbers match, move to the website structure section.
Staying in Google Search Console, look at the page-level data (use the search bar at the top of your website) to see if your target pages are being found by Google.
If not, add the target page(s) to your site map and ask Google to do another index. You can do this two ways as detailed by Google: (1) Use its URL Inspection tool or (2) Submit your site map.
TIP: Google recommends if you have a lot of new or previously unindexed URLs, submit a site map. If only a few URLs aren’t indexed, use the URL Inspection tool.
Now, assess the frame on which a website is built because it directly influences URL structure. Search engine crawlers like to see a top-level category page with all relevant sub-pages below and cascading relevant sub-topic pages. Ideally, it should look like this:
Audit question: Does your site’s URL order make sense?
If your site doesn’t logically structure the URLs, revise them so they are clean and tidy. (Note: Redirect existing URLs, which may have been published, to ensure that those visitors land on the right page.)
TIP: Proper URL structuring does not include capital letters, underscores, or punctuation/characters such as hashtags, etc. Search engines can’t crawl these characteristics.
Visitor privacy and protection also are important to search engines. An HTTPS site indicates it has an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate, which means the visitor’s data is secure between the browser and the site’s server.
Audit question: Does your site have its SSL certificate and corresponding HTTPS address?
If you don’t have a recognized secure site, check out this Google resource to learn how to obtain an SSL and have it automatically configured for your web server. (It’s not a complicated process.)
Search engines also want site visitors to be able to find the pages.
In Google Search Console, under Index, click on Coverage. It will show any URL with 404 errors (page cannot be found) and any other pages that have accessibility warnings.
If the URL receiving the 404 error was accidentally removed, restore it. If the URL receiving the 404 error was removed purposely, use a 301 redirect to a page with the closest relevant content.
Page speed relates to the time pages take to upload on your site. A slow page load can affect search and its users in two ways, according to Moz: (1) The search engine will crawl fewer pages in the site’s allotted crawl time and (2) user experience (visitors won’t wait long for a page to load).
Audit question: How fast does your site load?
Input your URL into a tool such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
Click to enlarge
If your site score is 85 or higher (on a scale of 0 to 100), the load speed is adequate. If it’s below that, you can take multiple steps to improve it as Aby League outlines in 13 Great Tools to Put Your Website Load Time in the Fast Lane.
Take an off-site trip
The final SEO audit area examines the strength of your site beyond the parameters you control – links to your site and mentions of your brand on third-party sites.
Unlike the on-page and tech assessments, this category isn’t as straightforward in how it affects SEO. For example, a link that may look like it has no brand value, may carry weight for rankings – whereas a brand mention might not have an SEO value.
Audit question: What is your site’s domain authority score?
Your domain authority, which is a formula developed by Moz, predicts how well the site will rank. The score ranges between one and 100, with higher scores indicating a better ability to rank. Though it is not a direct factor in search engine results, it indicates how well your site is linked to from other sites.
Audit question: What’s your key pages’ authority score?
Pick your key URLs and asses their page authority, a calculation for a page similar to the domain authority formula for your site.
Lower scores for domain and/or page authority indicate you have more work to do when it comes to attracting links (and ultimately traffic) to your site.
Now, let’s go a little deeper.
Audit question: Where do your backlinks come from? How authoritative are they?
Go back to Google Search Console. Go to the left column, pick Search Traffic, then click on Links to Your Site.
If you only have a few links, you’ll understand why your domain and/or page authority is low (and that you need to boost your backlinks).
If you have a lot of links and your domain and/or page authority is still low, evaluate the value of the linking sites. Go through the domain and page authority analysis (described above) for the linking site or pages.
If the linking sites or pages don’t have good authority, look for other relevant sites with higher domain or page authorities, explore how they use backlinks, and structure your backlink outreach to meet their standards.
Audit question: Which backlinks drive traffic to your site?
Finally, see which links drive traffic to your site. In your Google Analytics, go to Acquisition < All Traffic < Referrals. You can then identify the sources (i.e., URLs) driving the most traffic.
Maintain and grow your relationship with third-party sites that drive the most traffic to your targeted pages.
Completing your audit
To simplify the process, here’s a recap that you can copy into a new document and note your responses and plans for fixes.
To get closer to achieving your SEO goals, carry out this brief SEO audit every three months.
To assess where your content marketing program is – and figure out where it should go – attend Content Marketing World Sept. 3-6 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today using code CMIBLOG100 to save $100.
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute