The Importance of SEO Audits: How to Assess and Improve Your Website’s Performance

The SEO audit is defined as the process of evaluating the search engine friendliness of a website in a number of areas. Typically, SEO service audit is conducted in six key areas, to bring balance and success in accomplishing businesses goals. The tool used for conducting SEO audits is called ‘Spider’ or ‘Crawler’, which automatically browses the web and compiles lists of data from web sites. These data are then analyzed to act as the basis for further assessments. SEO audits can be conducted manually as well, provided that there are enough resources to analyze data compiled, and to actually make changes to the website. The main benefit of conducting SEO audits is to solve problems which can hinder search engine’s ability to crawl the website, or understanding the website context. Problems such as bad redirects, slow loading time, or unreachable pages can be hindering the website from getting indexed in search engines. But only through conduction of SEO audits, these problems can be found and resolved. SEO audits can also be a measure of whether webmasters are up to standard, and are good value for money. Failure to easily demonstrate SEO KPIs to clients can be a cause of lost contracts, and SEO audits can be a measure of a firm’s effectiveness in SEO. Failure to improve can also cost a webmaster his job, so this can be a measure of job security.

Definition of SEO Audits

A SEO audit identifies the potential issues that may be having a detrimental effect on a website’s search engine rankings. It is a method designed to eliminate the faults within a website and ensure the best performance for the site. An audit is often the first step required before taking further action. This will involve an in-depth analysis of the website from a search engine perspective. With changes to search engine ranking algorithms and indexing ranking criteria, an up-to-date understanding of what the search engines are using to rank your site is crucial to being found online. Optimizing and promoting a site without the knowledge of ranking criteria can often lead to the promotion of pages that are not indexed or are buried deep within the search results, this being a waste of time and money on resources. The overall use of conducting a SEO audit is to use the data collected to see learn what changes are necessary to the website to increase traffic and therefore the return on investment. This is measured using the site’s improvements with targeted key performance indicators, usually increased search engine traffic. A SEO audit allows for a website to be more accessible to both search engines and users. It will identify the obstacles to the user and search engine friendliness of a website and make the necessary improvements. This often involves changes to the site design and site content. Step one of an SEO audit is to take a look at the characteristics that define the website in the eyes of both the site owner and, more importantly, the search engines. This aims to identify who the site is targeting, the goals of the site owner, and the unique selling point of the site. Step two involves learning the target audience of the website. It is important to understand the wants and needs of the visitors that the site is trying to attract. By learning user trends from sources such as the Google Analytics tool, it is possible to assess the type of visitors arriving at the site and their behavior. This will allow for a site to make changes to its content and design to better fulfill the needs of its visitors. In turn, this will increase user satisfaction of the site. This is measured with indicators such as lower bounce rates and increased time spent on the site.

Benefits of Conducting SEO Audits

An efficient SEO has a task list of recommended changes. Taking an SEO audit to its full potential allows for that task list to be prioritized. With the knowledge of what tasks will bring about the greatest improvement, it becomes much easier to get the entire team moving in unison toward a common goal.

The ultimate goal of this type of audit is to identify any issues that may be detrimental to the site’s rankings. Identifying these issues is the first step in organizing the data in a way that will bring about the greatest possible results. A marketing manager does not want to read an SEO audit and have to surmise as to the benefits of a particular optimization. An SEO audit should clearly define the problem and the recommended solution. This is an important consideration for the hectic go-getter that exists in most marketing managers. If they can see where the site is not performing and what can be done to improve the situation, they will be more likely to affect change.

A well-executed SEO audit is more than just a specific list of changes that need to be made to a website. It is a comprehensive understanding of where the website currently stands in terms of organic search visibility. This is a search engine optimization expert’s chance to take on the role of a detective: to understand the complex inner workings of the website with regard to crawling and indexing, and to identify the areas in need of improvement.

Key Elements of SEO Audits

It is important to realize that an SEO audit is only a first step in a long process. Your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) success will depend on following up on the recommendations provided within the SEO audit.

At the most basic level, an SEO audit should address the basics covered in our Basic SEO Tutorial. With a basic audit, a website owner should expect to receive a well-thought-out guide for not only fixing elements of the website that are not search engine friendly but also guidance for going beyond addressing issues and making marked improvements in areas of content and overall user experience.

An SEO audit can come in varying levels of detail and complexity. A simple website audit can be as short as a few pages long and would address glaring on-page issues such as missing titles and lack of content. On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, a comprehensive website SEO audit will be comprised of dozens of pages (for larger sites) and address even the tiniest of website elements which may potentially be detrimental to the ranking-ability of a website.

Technical SEO Analysis

– Crawl Errors: Identifying and documenting URLs which result in a 404 or 500 error.

– Site Speed Analysis: How fast is the website loading? It’s recommended that a page should load in less than 4 seconds.

– Robots.txt File: Verification that the robots.txt file is in place and it’s not hindering search engines from indexing the website.

– XML Sitemap: Making sure there is an XML sitemap built and that it’s submitted to the search engines, ensuring all ‘important’ pages are indexed.

– META Data: Ensuring all pages have a unique title tag and META description (no duplicates).

– URL structure: Does the URL structure provide a hierarchy that is easily crawled by both users and search engines.

– Server Analysis: Documenting the current state of the server environment.

When assessing a website’s technical SEO, you should start with an analysis of the technical infrastructure of the website. It will provide the project team an idea of the current state of the website and what improvements are needed to bring the website up to an optimal level. A technical analysis looks at the following key factors which make up the foundation of SEO:

On-Page SEO Evaluation

With on-page SEO analysis, it becomes easy to work towards strategies that can enhance the prospects of linking to the right pages and trying to generate the maximum visibility. In a way, the process helps in ensuring that a search engine can direct users to your website easily. It is akin to a signboard that points in the direction of what you are looking for – very useful if you sought to find something specific and a great guidance if you were not entirely sure of your plans. From the perspective of a visitor, it is important to get this type of direction and guide. Here’s a quick example: a few years ago, I was advised by a GP that I should see an optician on the high street and book an appointment to have my eyes tested because I was beginning to show signs of a condition known as keratoconus. As I was not familiar with any opticians in my area, I went to a high street outlet of a well-known brand of opticians and was lucky to find plenty of information regarding the condition and specialist treatment. This particularly online has an equivalent in trying to find a page with information on a topic, and with on-page SEO analysis, you can help the customer to find the right page.

Off-Page SEO Assessment

It is important to determine the types of inbound links that are coming to your site. The quantity and quality of incoming links have a significant effect on building trust for search engines. There are many tools to allow you to monitor your inbound links. Google Webmaster Central and Yahoo Site Explorer are free tools allowing you to check the links coming to your site. There are also various link analysis tools like Linkscape that allow you to run reports and compare your link profile to competitors. The main measures to assess in link building are the quantity of links, the quality of links, the anchor text of the link, and the relevancy of the page with the link. This is so important to monitor has incorrect links to your site or spammy posts and links can really damage your trust and authority. If poor or no keyword anchor text is being used, then the optimization effectiveness is limited as keywords are an indicator to relevancy of the page. This is adjustable through a link building campaign where you contact relevant and quality sites and request that a change is made to benefit both parties. A tip here is to focus on one-way inbound links. These are considered more valuable than reciprocal links where you link to a site to have a link back to your page. A last note is to avoid automated and mass link building as this can have negative effects due to link spamming.

Keyword Research and Analysis

After you have decided on the best words for your SEO, you will then need to put those keywords into your on-page content. This ensures that whatever keywords your potential customers are searching for, it will lead them to your webpage. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee high rankings, but it’ll get your foot in the door. Be sure not to add too many duplicate contents of the same keyword to avoid being penalized. Create a spreadsheet that lists your keywords and the amount of times they appear in the on-page content. This will make it easier for you to manage and monitor what keywords are being used and how often. Periodically update your on-page content keyword strategy based on what is and isn’t working. Always be on the lookout for new and better keyword opportunities.

You should start by finding the best keywords for your business. If you know what keywords your customers are searching for, you will know what type of words they are using. You can find a variety of keywords using tools such as keyword suggestion tools and others, such as Google search-based tool. You can also brainstorm a variety of keywords that would best describe your business and input them into the keyword tools to find out the best combinations of related keywords for your SEO. Always keep in mind that branded keywords may be easier to rank for and cheaper than non-branded keywords. Always consider the negative effects of using or not using particular keywords. This includes the possibility of ranking for a keyword you don’t want to rank for or not ranking for a keyword that you do want to rank for. Always be flexible and periodically update your keyword strategy based on what is and isn’t working.

Conducting an Effective SEO Audit

An SEO audit should serve to highlight all SEO potentials and problems. It is almost like an SWOT analysis in that it should identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. During this audit, it is key that we take detailed notes, as we will be using the conclusions of this audit to compile an action plan.

This particular method is very much focused upon the nitty-gritty of a website. It is an in-depth and often painstaking process that can take several days or even weeks to complete properly, and is therefore not to be undertaken lightly. But the rewards are worth it and if you are serious about your business, then there is little doubt that this exercise is the best investment of your time that you can possibly make.

Conducting an effective SEO audit takes skill, diligence, and a good understanding of the field. Done right, it will reveal all manner of issues with a website, often uncovering problems that would never be identified in alternative business analysis.

Setting Clear Objectives

When conducting an SEO audit, it is crucial to start by setting clear objectives. Your objectives will determine the course and depth of your audit. Objectives should be set in terms of the particular aspect of the site they want to assess. An example of an objective is to assess the extent to which the site/page is optimized for search engines. This is a good objective as it is clear and it identifies the aspect of SEO that is to be assessed. It is measurable and can be assessed by comparing the current state of the site against SEO criteria and benchmarks. This provides a clear progression route since changes can be made to meet the criteria and the outcome can be measured. Setting clear objectives is important because it gives the audit a clear focus and removes the risk of getting side tracked. Without objectives, it is easy to start to assess areas of the site that are not relevant to the purpose of the audit. This can lead to inefficiency and the audit may fail to address key issues. If during the audit, additional areas are identified that seem worthy of assessment, make a note of them and assess them at a later date. Stick to your initial objectives. Setting durable objectives is also important, they should not change during the course of the audit and they should translate into a firm set of goals for the site.

Gathering Relevant Data and Metrics

Backlink data. It is important to gather data on the link profile of a website including information on the number of inbound links and linking root domains, the link anchor text, and the quality of the links. This will help to identify potential issues regarding links and also find new opportunities for link building.

Ranking data. In order to assess the visibility of a website search engine ranking positions for a wide range of key phrases need to be monitored. This can then be cross-referenced with incoming traffic data to gauge the usefulness of the traffic from those terms.

Crawl data. Various tools are able to perform site crawls to retrieve data on page titles, meta data, internal linking structures, duplicate content, and other on-page factors. This is the most comprehensive way to gather data on the on-page elements of a website.

Web analytics data. An invaluable information source for gleaning all sorts of information on how a site is performing. It will be used to access overall site performance in terms of visitor numbers, visitor geographical location, bounce rates, key phrase analysis, and referring traffic sources.

With clearly defined goals, the next step in the SEO audit process is to gather data from the website and other sources which is relevant to those goals. There are several different types of information and metrics that can be collected, including the following:

Analyzing Website Performance

Google Analytics is a very useful tool to help you in your website analysis. One important aspect of your website is the number of unique visitors as well as the page views. This is a key indicator of knowing if you are receiving targeted traffic to your website. Knowing your traffic sources and what keyword phrases are being used to find your website is also very important. This will help you to understand what methods are working, and what keywords to target, whilst giving you an understanding of your online market. Knowing what pages the visitor entered and exited your site is also very important. If the visitor is exiting the site on the same page they entered, then you have not captured their attention. However, if they are leaving on a page that is not your homepage then you need to have valuable information relating to what the visitor was looking for. If you are seeing a high bounce rate you can identify this by creating a custom report in Google Analytics. This will then present the percentage of single page visits in a table format. Sort the bounce rate column so you can see which pages have the highest bounce rate. If any of these pages are category or product pages and the bounce rate is high, then there is an issue with the page quality. This is because it has been visited by someone looking for a specific product, hence it not being the homepage or an information page. To improve on this issue you can take note of the meta description tag as well as the content on the page so it is more valuable to the visitor.

Identifying SEO Issues and Areas for Improvement

To identify these issues, it’s important to look in depth at the on and off page practices for the historical and current SEO campaigns. This can usually be obtained by talking to the client or the person responsible for the SEO, as they will have a list of the work carried out on the site. A good starting point would be to identify which strategies were implemented during certain periods of time. For example, a site may have had an SEO revamp in 2007, as other sites may have invested time in setting up a new partnership with another site for link building. By identifying the work carried out, on what specific parts of the site it was implemented on, and the time it was implemented, it can make any issues found easier to diagnose, and correlate any drops in rankings or traffic to the work carried out. An on-page strategy will be easier to identify, as the changes will have been made directly to the site.

In a perfect world, all the data gathered in the SEO audit will point to a clearly defined strategy for all on and off page SEO practices intended to achieve the businesses goals. However, the reality is that many organizations will have their previous investment in SEO come back to haunt them. The excess of unethical or outdated practices implemented into a website can have detrimental effects on rankings, and in extreme cases can lead to a site being de-indexed. With the Panda and Penguin updates from Google, it’s become even more important to identify these issues and implement a strategy for recovery.

Developing an Action Plan

At last, it’s an ideal opportunity to assemble everything. You appreciate why the site exists, you comprehend the group of spectators you’re focusing on, and you’ve made sense of what achievement resembles. Presently you can distinguish clear needs what should and can be changed, taken care of, or improved so as to convey brisk and viable outcomes. Map these needs specifically on to the prescribed procedures prescribed in the site audit discoveries. This would then be able to be grown further into an arrangement of on-location changes, improvement endeavors, or potentially extra substance intended to cure the recognized issues. Try not to enable the arrangement to be separated over various distinctive territories or divisions if conceivable. To keep up center and amplify effect, viable changeless would more be able to effortlessly be accomplished through focus on each issue in turn and discovery what works best for it. The site audit should result in a record which will be utilized as a guide in the following periods of the SEO process. This ought to likewise be utilized to consistently track advance and for revealing.

Implementing SEO Audit Recommendations

Once you have the results of your SEO audit in hand, you’ll discover it is not enough to simply know what needs to be improved; you need to know how to make the improvements. It’s intimidating and you’ll have to be diligent, but the payoff will be a website that has more visitors, a better image, and a stronger web presence. This can often be the most time consuming part of the whole SEO audit process. The recommendations can often be a variety of both quick fixes and more difficult tasks. It will probably involve coordination with both development and marketing teams to carry out changes, so the first thing is to prioritize tasks. 4.1. Technical Fixes and Enhancements Start with the technical fixes as these are often the quick wins and can often save future development work. You’ll need to work through a list of issues that were uncovered in the crawl of your site. Categorize these into issues affecting the whole site, and issues affecting specific pages. Issues affecting specific pages should be dealt with when you get round to optimizing each individual page. Focusing on issues that affect the whole site, it is often best to start with those that have the biggest impact. This can typically be determined by cross referencing the list of issues with data from analytics, for example you may have an error that is preventing search engines from accessing a certain part of your site, fixing this could lead to an increase in search traffic to that area of the site. 4.2. Optimizing On-Page Elements Whilst this might have been covered briefly in the on-site analysis, specific optimization of on-page elements is generally something that will need to involve direct input onto the site content management systems. The most effective way of doing this is usually by providing training for those responsible for inputting content onto the site, as this will have a long term benefit to all new content that is added.

Technical Fixes and Enhancements

Server Errors There are many server response errors, but the most common is the 404 error message. This means that the page that the browser is trying to access cannot be found. There can be many reasons why a 404 error is given. If a page has been deleted, then the page will result in a 404 error. The reason for that page no longer exists may be due to a misguided attempt to delete duplicate content. It is possible directly or perhaps you are using a content management system, where the content has been moved to a new location.

SEO audits can involve a wide array of technical issues that need addressing. Most of the technical fixes are ones that only need to be completed once. You may need to involve your development team as many of these recommendations cannot be completed without their expertise. Below is a list of the required technical fixes. In order to assess how effective each change has been, ensure that you record the initial issue within your audit spreadsheet, and then add in the date completed once the issue has been resolved. This way you can slowly filter through the issues, and use the spreadsheet as a task list to be completed over the forthcoming months.

Optimizing On-Page Elements

Header Tags – Header tags are a great way to break up your content and emphasize the keyword relevance. The H1 tag is still the most important, followed by the H2 and H3. Using header tags also makes the content easier to read and digest. Make sure to put the keyword in the H1 tag and if possible, have your title tag and H1 tag be the same. This is also a great opportunity to implement some solid information scent.

URL Structure – Including keywords in the URL for your pages is a great way to tell the search engines what the page is about. It’s good to use short, static URLs with no query strings. They should also be unique to each page. A big part of optimizing your URL structure is making your site easy for the search engines and users to understand. For a more detailed overview of URL structure and best practices, I’d recommend reading this post by Rand Fishkin.

Title Tags – This is the most important on-page element. It’s what’s displayed at the top of your browser and it’s also what’s displayed in the search engine results as the headline for your site. Title tags should be unique to every page and contain the most important keywords for that page. Keep the length to around 60 characters. Anything longer will get cut off in the search results.

On-page elements significantly influence your site’s ability to rank in the search engines. Here’s a concise overview of the most important on-page elements to optimize.

Building High-Quality Backlinks

Backlinks are inbound links from other webpages to your webpage. These are important to the overall off-page SEO optimization of your website. An example of how to create a backlink is to put a link to your site on a friend’s website. It is always best to try to use keyword-laden anchor text when linking. This is good, but not as effective as getting a backlink on a website with a higher page rank. A page rank is a number between 0 and 10 that is assigned by Google to a website. It is based on the importance of the content on the site, as well as the amount and quality of backlinks it has. A higher quality website is one that has a high page rank and is directly related to your content. In terms of backlinks, this would be a site that links to your site using keywords relevant to the content on your site. This is because the linking site needs to have similar content to yours so that it is using the right keywords, and also because a high page rank means that the link will be indexed faster. The best way to obtain quality backlinks is to write high-quality and relevant content. This way, readers will naturally link to your site. Writing articles specifically designed to attract backlinks with anchor text is usually known as article marketing. Some forms of article marketing are effective, some are not, so it is best to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve. A good idea is to create a blog on your website. Post often, and if you find that some of your posts are particularly relevant or popular, you may want to use those posts as article ideas. A great way to get backlinks to your site is to simply provide other blogs in your niche free content to use on their blog. Guest blogging can be a great way to get backlinks. Step one is to locate blogs with the potential for a high page rank, but try to find one that is not overly competitive. Build a relationship with the owner of the blog and simply ask if you can write a blog post for them. If you have already established your own blog, this should not be too difficult to do. Standard article directories can also be an effective way to get backlinks. This can be time-consuming, but the payoff can be worth it. As previously mentioned, it is best to have an understanding of what type of article marketing works and how article directories can be conveyed as a “link farm”.

Creating Engaging and Relevant Content

Engagement – Engaging content leads to repeat visits and brand loyalty. Try to develop content that will interact with your visitors on a personal level. For example if you own an e-commerce web site that sells skateboarding gear, consider writing an article or blog post about the best skateboard set ups for different styles of riding. It is a well known fact in SEO that using humor can be an effective tool to help engage your visitors. An engaged visitor is partially sold on your product and more likely to convert.

Usefulness – The content on your web site should be relevant and useful to your company’s target audience. Don’t try to reach a broad market by writing about things that are not related to your product or service, you will only attract unqualified traffic. Qualified traffic results in higher conversion rates. If you feel that you have useful advice or knowledge to share that is not directly related to your product or industry, consider creating a new section of your web site or a blog.

Relevance – Assess the content on your web site in terms of how it informs and educates visitors about your product, service or industry. It should be immediately apparent to visitors what you are offering and what makes your product, service or company unique. Avoid writing for search engine bots, it rarely produces compelling content.

You should follow these recommendations to improve the quality of your web site.

Website content quality is the major factor influencing rank and potential visibility of your web site. By quality we mean content that is relevant and engages the user, thus increasing the amount of time they spend on your website.

Monitoring and Tracking Progress

Once you have successfully implemented the recommendations outlined in your SEO audit, the next step is to monitor and track progress. This is a crucial step that is often done incorrectly or overlooked entirely. A lack of monitoring will prevent you from identifying any potential 404 errors, failing to redirect the old page or the old backlink. These errors are very damaging to your search engine ranking and can be detrimental if a search engine has indexed your page under a certain keyword, then when users click that link it displays ‘Page not Found’. If search engine spiders continue to encounter this error when they visit your site, they will eventually de-index the page, removing it from your site’s listing in the search engine results. This is obviously something you want to avoid, so using the server header check in React Developer Tools can identify any server header responses and location headers.

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