Using SEO Website Audits to Uncover Real Problems
Why Would A Website Require an SEO Audit?
When you think of how an SEO audit can help your website, there are three main things to consider from an SEO point of view, now every SEO checker might have a different way of characterising these three things but they form a common denominator in most website SEO checker services.
The first are identifying issues that are directly impairing your website's rankings. You may have noticed that the amount of organic search traffic in Google Analytics or in Google Search Console are starting to drop off.
The drop offs might be sudden or gradual, but both situations can cause quite a worry for webmasters. A common reason for the drop is that something on your website is impairing your search engine rankings, that means it is directly causing your rankings to decline.
This is what I normally refer to as an Error, and any website seo audit tool worth it's salt will flag them as major issues in whatever categorisations they might have.
EXAMPLES OF MAJOR SEO ERRORS
Duplicate Title Tag
Broken Internal Links
Broken External Links
Duplicate meta descriptions
Slow loading site
AMP page errors
Large HTML size
SSL certificate errors
The next level of errors that can affect your search performance I like to think of as warnings, these are issues that are preventing your rankings from improving.
So they are not actively causing your rankings to decline, but they ARE actively causing your rankings NOT to go up. Think of them like growth inhibitors, these are often optimisation issues related to your site's structure and site architecture.
The final set of issues are those of least priority, which I like to think of as just issues, SEMRush for example refers to these as 'Notices'.
Minimising these issues is best practice, because these issues tend to have the possibility of becoming 'warnings' or 'errors' in the future.
Always remember SEO is not a democracy, it is in fact closer to a totalitarian dictatorship that poses as an altruistic big brother type authority and every day the major search engines dictate what and how websites should change by adapting their algorithims.
These tend to be things like anchor text, orphaned pages, the number of incoming/outgoing links on each page, the number of redirects found on the website, tags for images, links and their semantics such as length, character count etc.
Will Search Engine Optimisation Increase Organic Search Traffic?
If the major search engines are not aware of your website's existence, they will not rank it users' search results. Once indexed by a search engine, if your website is not optimised according to their best practices, other websites targeting the same keywords will always outrank you.
There are several factors that can negatively impact your search engine results ranking. These include things like meta tags, technical SEO, user experience and duplication of content on your website. Other factors also include the bounce rate of your site, the website page load time and the SSL certificate.
Meta tags are often one of the most overlooked aspects of the above, which is why any site audit that is conducted always flags the lack of meta tags like image alt tags and title tags as warnings.
Any expert in technical SEO will tell you that crawlers and spiders do not see the internet with graphic displays, they instead read the code, and meta tags help provide guidance to them on the subject matter of the attachment.
One of the best things about doing a site audit and SEO audit is the understanding it provides on the improvements that are necessary on-site to enhance your website's organic search traffic. A site audit gives you an action plan and strategy, I recommend using a platfrom like SEMRush for site audit.
Is an SEO website audit worth it?
A common question that I am asked all the time is whether an SEO audit is worth conducting. The answer is always the same, the value of a site audit depends on the disparity between the amount of organic traffic your website is getting right now and the amount of organic traffic your website COULD be getting if it were ranking higher.
The organic traffic conversion rate is also crucial when considering the value of an SEO audit, so for example if your website's organic search traffic conversion rate is 2%, and your average order value is let's say £20, then your turnover increases by £40 for every 100 visitors derived from organic search traffic.
Of course this is not an exact science, but the general trend will remain the same, the conversion rate should remain the same and sometimes even increase if you are targeting the optimal keywords for your website, with the most valuable being longtail keywords.
At the same time the audit will be useful from a technical SEO point of view because it will help to identify issues that impair user experience for your website visitors.
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For example the site speed might be so slow that people are abandoning your checkout early, external links might be broken which will reduce not only your rankings but your trustworthiness as a reputable source of information.
Believe it or not broken links are one of the biggest errors on pages Google just doesn't like!
The audit should cover all the pages of the site, and a crawler should always be used to follow all external links and determine whether broken links can be redirected or updated or removed.
The sitemap should also be examined and submitted to search engines like Google Search Console, and a unique meta description should exist for every page on your site.
The SEO Audit Process: How to Conduct a Technical SEO Audit?
If you have ever wondered about SEO audits then I have written this guide based on my personal experience conduciting SEO audits for websites large and small across various industries.
Generally some of the most important things I tend to look at include on page SEO, the page speed for landing pages that are part of the SEO strategy.
Understanding the backlink profile of landing pages and the website as a whole is also very important, particularly in comparison to competing websites that are outranking you.
A site audit always follows a kind of checklist, depending on what particular audit tool you use for SEO audits.
The audit tends to look at the website content, technical SEO best practices, SEO issues and often looks at how well the keyword strategy matches the optimal strategy identified by keyword research.
I personally use a Google Sheet template that I have maintained for all of our clients' SEO work.
Before starting any SEO audit process, the most important thing is to check the tools that are being used by the website.
Google Analytics is an important and free tool that can be used to analyse the website traffic and content.
Installing Google Analytics is not that difficult and there are a lot of Youtube guides to teach you how, but I personally believe that you should use Google Tag Manager to install and manage all of your website's code insertion, from Snapchat pixel, Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn to things you might be using like Hotjar.
I also like to install some custom tags, for example if a client is using WordPress, I use one that listens for the contact form submissions and triggers it as an event in Google Analytics, Facebook, Snapchat and Google Ads.
This ensures that conversions are tracked and therefore unlocks the conversion optimising features of most digital marketing platforms.
Google search console and Bing webmaster tools are both crucial to set up, but setting up Google Search Console is more important because once you do you can import your website into the Bing webmaster tools very easily.
From a technical seo perspective this is crucial, especially if it is your own site, because these services allow you to directly manage your website's 'relationship' with the search engines, disavowing any toxic backlinks, submitting new or updated pages for indexing and also ensuring the correct sitemap file is submitted to each search engine.
My personal process for creating a blog post like this one for example, always ends with taking the direct URL of the blog post and submitting it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for indexing.
Once you have Google Analytics and Google Search Console set up, you will have an idea of how much SEO traffic your website is getting.
This will give you an indication of what short term gains can be made by improving the website's SEO, in terms of the low hanging fruit.
The low hanging fruit in this case would be any keywords that you are organically ranking for but are between page 2-4 (ie. average rank of 11 - 38).
At this stage you will also be able to identify how many pages are ranking, whether multiple pages are ranking for the same keyword, which we will need for keyword research in the next step.
Any glaring SEO mistakes are going to show themselves here, and you want to look for any page on your site with thin content and poor user experience.
The Technical SEO Audit
Now that you have the basics set up you want to engage in a technical SEO audit. There are a few choices for doing this, you can use a free website SEO checker like the one available on smallseotools.com or neilpatel.com.
A lot of these are based on the SEMRush API or AHREFs API, they help identify the key issues and SEO errors, but if you have a huge website with a lot of pages and an intricate site architecture then it might be worth signing up for a more in-depth service like SEMRush.
These services will give you a good picture of your on-site technical SEO, a SEO checker will generally follow the standards of the currently operating best practices, it will find broken pages, looking at things like load time, meta description of each page, title tag, page speed, number and quality of backlinks pointing at each page and whether there is any keyword stuffing on the page.
SEO Spider Tool for Technical SEO
One of the stand-out tools that you can use for aspects of your technical SEO audit is the SEO Spider Tool by Screaming Frog.
This tool effectively crawls your own site and looks at all the pages to determine what the issues are, it can identify title tag issues, broken links, meta descriptions and a lot more.
Check how many of your site's pages indexed by Google by checking the Coverage panel in Google Search Console.
This can offer you an insight into why pages indexed are ranking, and why pages are not being indexed despite being in the website's sitemap file.
The on page SEO is crucial because without having your page optimised technically and for a particular target keyword or keywords, it won't matter how many links you build with whatever SEO campaign you might run.
You should also bear in mind that the vast majority of traffic online these days is conducted on mobile devices, therefore you should always be sure that you are looking at the mobile version of your page and that the SEO checker that you are using does the same.
Ensure your Site's Mobile Version is Optimised
Ensuring your website's mobile SEO is up to scratch is vital. The majority of online traffic now is happening on mobile devices, including more than 60% of all Google searches. Mobile SEO offers more lucrative opportunities because users can obtain directions and call businesses directly from the device.
Many web page builders such as Beaver Builder allow you to design specific page versions for each of the three device categories; desktop, tablet and mobile. The developer console in Google Chrome allows you to emulate a mobile experience from your desktop browser, however this should not be relied on alone.
Why Not all Tests are the Same
A pro tip for you, always check to see the location of the testing server when you are looking at things like Google Page Speed score, website analysis platforms like GTMetrix.com are great because they have testing servers all over the world, finding the one closest to your target territory will give you the most relevant result.
There is no result more accurate than another, but the relevant result will be the one that closely matches the experience of the users in your target territory, for example if your website is an e-commerce store whose primary target territory Slovakia and host it on a website server located in the USA, testing the Google Page Speed score from a US-based testing server will give you a much better result than testing from a European-based testing server.
The European result will be far more relevant for your users however since they live closer to the European testing server.
How to Prioritise A Website's SEO Issues
The technical SEO audit will flag the most pressing issues for you that require attention. Prioritise them based on the breakdown of your site's SEO, consider whether each page is just a content page, a landing page or a service page.
You might want to give greater priority to a landing page and also the service pages since those are the ones that are cultivating revenue for your organisation.
Since each website SEO checker might present results differently, here are the areas that I think everyone should focus on, particularly if you are having SEO issues or your search performance has seen some sudden drops:
When conducting a backlink analysis, you should keep the concept of link equity firmly in your mind.
There are some backlinks which strengthen your domain and page authority, and there are some that negatively damage them.
The latter are called toxic backlinks in the world of SEO and might come from spam domains, XXX related websites or de-indexed domains.
There are a few free tools you can use to identify the backlinks coming to each page on your website, however a custom crawler like SEMRush's backlink analytics tool is a great way to ensure you are seeing every backlink.
This can help you spot things that could be draining your server resources and bandwidth without your knowledge, for example my own personal pet peeve, unauthorised image hotlinking.
Hotlinking is when somone links an image from your server on their website without your permission, so everytime it is displayed to a visitor it eats up your server's bandwidth to present it.
You can take steps to prevent hotlinking and it is important to disavow any toxic domains and toxic urls from Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
Identify Duplicate Content
You have to realise early on in your webmaster life that Google hates duplicate content. This represents a major risk to your rankings and luckily there is a free tool to identify duplicate content on your own site.
These content issues will depend on what Content Management System (CMS) you are using, many of them have an issue with archive pages, they tend to duplicate the meta description for each page in your blog archive for example.
Resolving this can be as simple as marking any archive pages as NOINDEX or by declaring them all canonical urls (the former is what I normally do).
Using Siteliner, you can easily identify and resolve duplicate content issues. Siteliner is a free service that lets you find duplicate content and scan up to 250 pages absolutely free.
If you have a huge website you might want to sign up to their premium service which will allow you scan up to 25,000 pages.
Siteliner will present you with a report and the first thing I do is to download the spreadsheet version of that report and sort the pages found by the percentage of duplicate content found and filter those by the metric 'Page Power'. Page Power is a score attributed to each page by Siteliner.com based on how prominent the page is on search engines.
Internal Links are Crucial for Strategy
Ask yourself, how does Google know which page you want to rank for a particular keyword?
As a personal trainer in Dubai for example, you might have more than one page ranking for lucrative keywords whilst only one of them is optimised to maximise conversions.
INTERNAL LINKS ARE CRITICAL FOR ORGANIC SEARCH
A big part of the answer is internal link building.
The more internal links there are pointing to a particular landing page, the more authority is attributed to that page internally in terms of your website.
The number of internal links and the anchor keywords they use help to build a kind of pyramid of priority for the crawlers that Google and the others use to map out your site.
AUTOMATE THE WORK ON POPULAR CMS PLATFORMS
Many CMS platforms provide plugins that can help automate this process for you, where you assign particular keywords to a page or a blog post, and the plugin will automatically create internal links to that page wherever the keyword is found across your website.
The more advanced of these plugins even let you know tweak the number of links that you want to have for each keyword.
Internal linking also helps you avoid the orphaned pages error, by creating a sitemap page you can list out every page and blog post on your website.
Resolve Broken Links Quickly
Make sure you fix broken links as a high priority. Google sees broken links and broken code in pretty much the same way, as a sign that the your website is not being effectively maintained for quality user experience.
When you find a broken link you should determine whether it is temporarily broken, the page has moved and the link needs to be updated or the website has gone completely and you should find another article or url to link to.
Exploit Featured Snippets if Possible
Doing some keyword research will help you to identify which keyword search results offer the opportunity for featured snippets.
Google has an automated system that select featured snippet for specific search requests, often based on what their algorithim perceives to be the user's search intent.
Optimise your page for the featured snippet available for search terms that you are trying to rank the page for and you can take advantage of this quick way to build organic traffic.
Increase your Website's Speed
Running a Google PageSpeed test is as simple as using developer console on your web browser. The Lighthouse feature in Chrome for example gives you the PageSpeed score and a step by step guide to improve it. This is pretty much how Google sees your site and is important to understand how search engines process your site, including meta tags.
The quickest and easiest way to enhance most websites' speed and load time is to use lossless compression on all the images on the website.
Using a website like tinypng.com is free, and can cut up to 75% of th filesize whilst retaining image quality.
Determine the image size called and displayed on the site using developer tools in Chrome, before you compress the image on a service like tinypng.com, resize it so the dimensions are the exact ones required by the website.
There is no point in having a 2000x2000 pixel image that is being resized by browsers to display as 270x270. Resizing the image to 270x270 will cut about 90% of the file size then optimising it with tinypng.com will shave off even more, reducing the page size and loading time.
Check for Primary SEO Errors
The primary SEO errors that are most common have to do with:
- Title Tag
- Meta Description
- Image Alt Tag
- Outgoing Link Title Tag
- Keyword usage in first 300 words
- Keyword usage in headings (H1 - H6)
- Number of headings
- Duplicate links
- Too many links (18 is the limit for me)
Almost everything on the list above should be present and optimised for the target keyword, this reinforces the page SEO.
Just what improvements you will see from the above are unknown, but if put together they will help you achieve a lot greater things for your site's SEO.
Identify and Optimise Thin Content
Google algorithim updates are making high quality content more and more valuable for your keyword rankings.
The majority of SEO tools will have some sort of scan that finds pages with low word counts and in many competitive niches pages will often require between 1,200 - 6,000 words in order to see big improvements in competitive keyword rankings.
The question is whether or not you hire an agency or freelancer to do it for you, or you write the content yourself.
A simple site search will identify the pages on your site that require the most work, you can even use Screaming Frog's spider tool.
Run a Content Gap Analysis
Getting into the more technical SEO side of things, a content gap analysis is basically a way of looking at what your website could be ranking for but isnt right now because of missing content. This type of anlaysis helps you to build an effective SEO campaign because it identifies a content marketing strategy based on real data, ie. what your potential visitors are looking at and what your competitors are doing.
A content gap analysis can help you further your understanding of the type of content that your visitors want to see, and conducting one is always a great idea.
This blog article is a great resource for understanding content gap analysis is greater detail.
You can rewrite pages that have thin content to help fill content gaps, as well as creating new pages and blog posts that can help your digital marketing efforts.
Avoid creating new pages with thin content, meeting the best practices and guidelines of the major search engines should always be your primary goal.
Destroy Zombie Pages
A website might have pages that are generating no traffic at all. These pages are often called Zombie pages and like all zombies they need the double tap from Zombieland.
In fact research that I read recently showed an experiment where a website experienced almost 35% increase in organic traffic and increased search engine rankings after removing almost 5,000 zombie pages.
Check the Keyword Optimisation
It is a good idea to make sure that your landing pages are optimised for the keywords that you are targeting.
Multiple online tools exist to scan for keyword optimisation, plugins exist for most major CMS platforms that can help guide your keyword optimisation efforts.
Rankmath's SEO plugin is one of the ones that I favour personally for WordPress for example. The plugin allows you to easily make changes like not indexing duplicate pages of the blog, ensuring all images have alt tags and creating a standardised naming regime for page titles, blog post titles and images.
I hope that this article has helped provide an insight into the kind of work that goes into a website SEO audit. It is important to use free tools to measure your website's traffic and understand organic search traffic, such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
Meta tags and meta description are crucial as well, a technical SEO audit can help show you what people see in organic search engine results for particular blog post or landing page.