HOW TO DO AN EPIC SEO AUDIT – THE BEGINNERS’ GUIDE

seo-audit-checklist

INTRODUCTION

In this article I will run through the fundamentals on how to conduct your very own full SEO Audit.  SEO Audits can typically run in to 1000s of words in length.  As you would expect, they are detailed documents created by SEO Professionals that assess almost every aspect of a website in terms of its optimisation for the major search engines.  In most situations the SEO Audit will be directed specifically to assessing the impacts of organic search specifically through Google.

For those of you who are looking for a quick top-line summary, I would suggest to use my free SEO Audit tool here.  The SEO Audit tool will assess your website quickly and will provide you with a detailed PDF report afterwards that you can use to assess some of the top line issues with your website.

Get Your Free SEO Audit

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT PROCESSES!

seo-audit-process

Having clear processes in place for conducting an SEO Audit is essential. An audit by its very nature is hugely time consuming and can easily become a lot bigger than originally intended.  By setting clear targets and defining the scope of the audit from the outset, it will enable you to define (to a certain extent) the amount of time it takes to complete the audit.  An SEO Audit is by no means a quick and easy task.  Free SEO Audit Tools can only tell you so much, and unfortunately are not always as accurate as they claim to be.

 

KEEP A CONSISTENT FORMAT

consistent-format

For each section of the audit it is a good idea to structure it in the following format:

  • Explain the concept
  • Identify potential issues
  • Propose Actions to fix them

 

SUMMARISE THE KEY ISSUES: CLASSIFY INTO HIGH AND LOW PRIORITY

high-priority-issue-sign

On the front page provide an Executive summary and summarise the most high priority and lower priority issues on the front page.  This will enable anyone to glance at the audit and understand the key issues facing the site quickly rather than working their way through 1000s of words.

 

USEFUL TOOLS

seo-tools

SEO tools are pretty much the bread and butter of SEO.  Without tools, SEOs would have around 65% less conversation when they visit the Pub together.   When you start an SEO Audit you will be using a lot of tools to get an initial general overview of the site.  Once you have identified some of the potential key issues, some of the paid tools in particular can really help you to drill down into the detail of the issue.

Below is a list of some of the tools I use for conducting an SEO audit.

#TOOL NAMEBEST ATPAID / FREE
1MajesticBacklink Analysis, SitePaid
2AhrefsBacklink Analysis, Content Research, Site CrawlPaid
3SemRushSite Ranking, Analysis, Keyword ResearchPaid
4Searchmetrics ( Overall Search Visibility)Overall Search VisibilityPaid
5Keywordtool.ioKeyword ResearchFree
6Kwfinder.comKeyword ResearchPaid
7Screaming Frog (If you are going to buy one audit tool, get this one)Site Crawl, Site AuditPaid
8BuzzsumoBlogger Outreach, Link Prospecting, Link MonitoringPaid
9SimilarWebFast Topline Site AuditFree
10SEOSiteCheckupFast Topline Site AuditFree
11WooRankFast Topline Site AuditFree
12Google AnalyticsSEO AnalysisFree
13Google Search Console (Formerly Google WMT)SEO AnalysisFree
14Google Keyword ToolKeyword ResearchFree

GETTING STARTED

PRO TIP: Ask the following questions to your client before starting the audit

DEFINE GOALS WITH THE CLIENT

define-goals-client

Defining Goals from the outset is very important.  If you are working with a client, it is essential to make them fully aware of what they will be receiving from an SEO site audit.  Often clients will need a bit of guidance when it comes to explaining the scope of an audit, so define the options that you can audit in terms of Content and Technical issues, and then provide a reason of why this will be beneficial for them.  Make sure it is relevant for their business and discuss their longterm KPIs.

GET GOOGLE ANALYTICS ACCESS

google-analytics

This is always the first question I ask whenever I work with a new client.  Having Google Analytics admin access is essential to allow you to understand how visitors interact on the website, and which pages are engaging them the most.  Google Analytics, although free, is still one of the most powerful weapons in your SEO arsenal, so make sure you take the time to learn it properly and it will pay off serious dividends for your career, and will massively help you interpret the data for your business, helping you to make the most informed business decisions.

GET GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE ACCESS

webmaster-tools

Although there are a lot of very decent SEO tools out there, Google’s own tools are still the benchmarks.   Having access to Google Search Console (Formerly Google Webmaster Tools) can be useful to see how Google interprets any problems on your site. The HTML improvements section in particular, is very useful.  (Although, it should be noted that it isn’t always the fastest updating program).

search-console-html-improvements-2015

ASK THE CLIENT IF THEY HAVE ANY OTHER ASSOCIATED DOMAINS

computer-domain

Make sure you ask the client if they have any associated domains. Often you will find these out naturally during the audit investigation process, but it is often a lot easier to understand this from the outset as it can help you to understand the client’s business a bit more.  Sometimes client’s may have rebranded their site and have a whole other site which they haven’t initially told you about, because they thought it wasn’t relevant.  Make sure you have this discussion with them before you conduct the audit, so you know exactly what assets, or liabilities they may have in terms of domains.

THE CORE COMPONENTS OF AN SEO AUDIT

THE SITE CRAWL

site-crawl

 

The site crawl is really the first place you should start when investigating potential issues on a website.  There are many tools that you can use to crawl a site and discover different issues.  My favourite tool has to be Screaming Frog though, as it is fast easy to use and has so much information.

If you are looking to crawl bigger sites then other option are available, such as Deep Crawl.  But for most purposes Screaming Frog should be adequate for most websites.  As well as crawling the site In Google, I will also do a simple site:example search in Google.

DO A SITE:EXAMPLE.COM SEARCH IN GOOGLE

site-search

The site: search is one of the first things I do when I am given a new website to analyse.  From this simple search, you can see what Google has for this site within its results.  Using this search it makes it very easy to spot the following things:

Things to look out for:

  • Unnecessary duplications
  • Pages that shouldn’t be indexed: e.g. Historic Pages, private pages etc.
  • Client “Test or Pilot” sites that they have accidentally allowed to be indexed.  (Can sometimes be on a subdomain).
  • Hacked pages – More common than you would imagine. e.g. Goldfrapp.com.  Do a site:example.com search for PDF files.

Searching using the site:example.com advanced operator will allow you to see which pages Google has within its index.

CRAWL THE SITE USING SCREAMING FROG

screaming-frog-seo-spider

Screaming frog is often described as “The swiss army knife of SEO”. The tool itself is free to use on small sites of up to 500 URLs. If you are thinking of crawling sites that are any bigger than this, then it may be worth investing in the yearly subscription. (And some Proxies).

To perform a site crawl on Screaming Frog, simply enter the URL of the website in the URL box.

Screaming Frog will then start to crawl the site and collect a lot of the data you need to perform your site audit.

Once the crawl is complete, export the data to CSV and put it into Excel. (This is where the real fun starts)!

Having the data in Excel allows you to organise it and segment it. You will gain insight into on page errors, duplications, omissions, page speed, image optimisation and much more.

CHECK THE SITE SPEED – IS THE SITE’S SPEED AFFECTING IT’S RANKING?

site-speed

Key Tools used:

Site speed has always been an issue for Google, but more so in recent years. Google wants you to improve your site’s speed so much that they even built a tool to assess your site’s speed.   The Google Page insights tool is there to be used. So use it!

Yet again, this can be done on Screaming Frog and also in Google Analytics on a page by page basis. This can be useful to identify any problem pages.

Once you have downloaded the page speed of all the different pages, it is then a good idea to conditionally format these in either Excel or Google Sheets.   Doing this will enable you to work out and visually show clearly where the problem pages are in terms of site speed, and where there is room for improvement. Using simple indicators in Excel or Sheets for this, such as Red, Amber and Green will clearly show to the client the overall status of the site.

If you use WordPress, there are several hacks you can use to speed up your site.

DOMAIN CHECK

domain-check

Key Tools used:

Knowing the history of a site can be really important in understanding why it may not be able to rank for some of its core terms. Or also understanding what could be holding the site back.

To look at the history of any site you can use the excellent, and free, tool: Archive.org. Archive.org allows you to see the changes that were made to any website over the last 10 years or so. You don’t necessarily need to include any screenshots of Archive.org within your report, but it is useful to knowledge of the history of the site. It may enable you to diagnose any of the problems.

BACKLINK ANALYSIS

back-link-analysis

Tools used:

  • Majestic
  • Ahrefs
  • Google Search Console
  • Opensite Explorer

After you have checked the history of the site. It is then a good idea to run the site through your favourite backlink analysis tools. My go-to tools are Majestic and Ahrefs. Majestic provides a decent bench mark for understanding the quality of the links pointing to the site. Ahrefs is also very good at picking up links that Majestic doesn’t pick up. Also, it is ridiculously fast at picking up new links. Ridiculously fast.

Once you have downloaded all the links from your favourite backlink analysis tools, it is a good idea to put them all into one single spreadsheet and de-duplicate them.   Doing this will enable you to get a full view of the links pointing towards the site.

Like the site speed test, you need to give the client the clearest possible indication (And yourself)! of the quality of the links pointing to their site.

Classify the links using conditional formatting into Red, Amber and Green colours. Using your backlink analysis metrics, you can also work out which are the most problematic links.

 

CHECK THE SITE STRUCTURE

site-structure

Understanding the site structure and architecture is still crucial to SEO. Unfortunately in a lot of cases many of the clients I have worked with often have had appalling site structures. Even more worrying, this is not something that they will prioritise as an issue. It is usually something that they say will be dealt with when the new website is built. 

seo-structure

Having a clear site structure like the example above, really does help to show Google that the site is well planned, easy to navigate for users, and provides a good user experience.  Any serious deviation from this general format may mean that Google will view the site as being over complicated and will rank the site accordingly.

 

CHECK THE ROBOTS.TXT FILE

robots-txt

When conducting an SEO audit, it is definitely worth checking the robots.txt file.  This is normally located at the root of your site:

http://www.example.com/robots.txt/

The robots.txt file indicates to Google which parts of your site you don’t want accessed by search engine crawlers.  Sometimes site owners will block ridiculous things in their robots.txt file, so it is an essential check to see what is being blocked.

If you see the below in a robots.txt file, this will instruct all robots to stay OUT of the website.  From a search perspective, this is obviously something that you generally don’t want. (Unless you are Louis Theroux).

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

CHECK FILE AND URL NAMES

file-name

Good Vs Bad URL:

http://www.MyWebsite.com/about-us
http://www.MyWebsite.com?navItemNumber=3421

PERFORM A KEYWORD ANALYSIS

keyword-analysis

Keyword analysis is really worthy of its own document if you have the time.  In an SEO Audit, I will generally provide the top line results from this document, depending on the scale of the audit.

Useful tools:

What keywords is the site targeting?

Are these the right keywords it should be targeting?

These are all the type of questions you should be asking in this section.

CONTENT – TOP-LINE PAGE ANALYSIS

content-analysis

To get an overview of the key pages on your site it is worth conducting a content analysis. The top line content analysis allows you to identify any potential issues. To do this, simply download the key landing pages from Google analytics, export them into Excel or Google Sheets and conditionally format each column to quickly identify any potential issues. Although you can filter and segment the data as much as you want, for our purposes it is really only necessary to look at the top line data from the following pages:

Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages
Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages

CHECK IMAGE OPTIMISATION

image-use

Images are crucial to the success of a website. Choosing the wrong images can convey the wrong meaning to the user. Choosing the right images can make your visitors feel at home when visiting your website. This is especially important in some industries such as Fashion and E-commerce, but every website should take into their use of imagery.  Users are used to scanning websites very quickly to get what they want.  Not everyone has time to read a 10,000 word essay, so

  • Make sure all images are compressed for fast loading, but still retain their quality. You can use Screaming Frog to identify any larger image sizes on your website.
  • Use Tools like ImageOptim to reduce any large images size.
  • Use Screaming Frog to identify any missing Alt Tags. Keep Alt tags descriptive and say what the images actually are.
  • Choose the right file name.  Keep the file name consistent with what the image actually is.

CHECK THE CALL TO ACTIONS

Click Me

Call to Actions (CTAs) are one of the most important ways to signpost a visitor through the site in the way you intend.  CTAs also are very good at persuading the user to carry out certain actions, such as converting on the site.

Within the audit it is worth assessing the typical journey a user would take through the site.  You can use tools such as Mouseflow to support and backup your theories.

CHECK FOR DUPLICATE CONTENT

duplicate-content

Key Tools used:

Duplicate content can be the silent killer in the SEO world. Rather than being something that happens and penalises your site overnight, a Google Panda penalty can gradually eat away at your rankings and organic traffic over time.  For the majority of sites duplicate content isn’t necessarily a problem, but for certain site types it can cause huge trouble.

It is important to identify any potential duplicate content problems from the outset. To check for duplicate content you can use a number of tests. The simplest of which is to search the suspected duplicate content with quotes:

e.g.

“This is an example product description”

Google’s Matt Cutts, explains their approach to duplicate content:

Common examples of duplicate content pages include:

  • Tracking IDs
  • Post IDs and rewrites
  • Extraneous URLs
  • Print Pages

REL=CANONICAL – INDICATING YOUR PREFERRED URL

rel=canonical

Rel=Canonical is a meta tag that is used by SEOs to indicate to Google which is the preferred URL that you want Google to index. The tag is commonly used when you need to show variations to your customers of a certain product. Or if you have large amounts of largely identical content.

Rel=Canonical doesn’t redirect the page like a 301 redirect would do, instead it just indicates which is the original or ‘master’ content.

Clients and sometimes even developers alike, are not always 100% certain of how to implement Rel=Canonical, so it is important that you have crawled the site using a program like Screaming Frog to see if the canonical tags are on the right pages.

HOW TO IMPLEMENT THE REL=CANONICAL ELEMENT

To specify a canonical, put the code below into the head of the document:

<link rel="canonical" href="URL of the canonical page">

DOMAIN LEVEL DUPLICATION – SETTING YOUR PREFERRED DOMAIN

url-names-domain

Domain level duplication can occur as soon as a website is built.  If the web designer doesn’t permanently redirect the www. version or the non www. version if can result in a full site wide copy of the website.

It is unfortunately very common for the domain to be duplicated in one of these ways.  Using a program like Screaming Frog can identify this kind of problem very quickly.

Below are some examples of the most common ways that the domain can be duplicated:

APACHE WEB SERVER EXAMPLE DUPLICATIONS

http://www.example.com/
http://www.example.com/index.html
http:/example.com/
http://example.com/index.html

MICROSOFT INTERNET INFORMATION SERVICE

http:/example.com/
http://www.example.com/default.asp
http://example.com/
http://example.com/default.asp

 

TRAILING SLASHES

Use  of trailing slashes is another issue that can cause unnecessary page level duplication.  If your blog can be accessed by both of the following methods, and there is no canonical implementation, then this could also be another potential duplication issue.

http:/example.com/blog/post/
http:/example.com/blog/post

 

CHECK FOR MOBILE OPTIMISATION

mobile-analysis-seo

Making sure the site you are auditing works on mobile devices is now more important than ever before.

Since ‘Mobilegeddon’ Google has made it very clear that it wants web masters to put a strong emphasis on optimising websites for mobile devices.  Mobile devices are one of the most common ways that we consume media these days, so it makes sense that as SEOs we are considering this as one of the primary methods of accessing a website.

To check whether the site you’re auditing is mobile friendly you need to consider a few things.

  • Site speed: Check using the Google Page insights Tool (Mobile Section)
  • Is the website easy to navigate on mobile?
  • Is the website responsive? (Google Recommends Responsive Design)
  • Is the text readable on a mobile device?
  • Does the website use old technology such as Flash that are largely unplayable on a lot of mobile devices?
  • Look for any smartphone only errors
  • Test your site on different mobile devices

In Google Analytics go to:

Audience > Mobile > Overview

Download the data and assess the value of mobile customers to the business. In some cases, it may be more important for the mobile site to be more optimized than the actual desktop site.

 

CONCLUSION

conclusion

In the conclusion, you need to set out your proposed actions and next steps for improving the client’s website.  This can take any format you like, but it needs to be as clear as possible to the client, as this is likely to be one of the most read sections of the audit.