An SEO audit can help you rank higher on search engine results pages, leading to more traffic, brand awareness, and conversions.
Here, you’ll find:
- How to do an SEO audit
- Why an SEO audit is important for your site
- The tools that’ll help you audit your site
- Common SEO missteps to avoid
Google and other search engines are a huge source of opportunity for businesses.
By understanding search engine optimization (aka SEO) best practices, how search engines work, and the ways your customers use them, you can use SEO to attract, engage, and convert your audience.
Having a site with strong SEO is key. In fact, Google organic search is responsible for more than 59% of the world’s web traffic. The core of an effective SEO strategy is about improving your rankings and trying to appear at the top of organic results on the search engine results page, or SERP.
Conducting an audit helps you pinpoint SEO issues and areas of improvement in your current strategy. It also helps you improve user experience and gives you a helpful framework to refer to down the line. As a result, you can be sure you’re doing everything you can to rank as highly as possible.
The three pillars of an effective SEO audit strategy are technical, on-page, and off-page SEO. What do all of those terms mean? Keep reading to find out.
Because Google crawls millions of web pages per day, a clean on-site structure is crucial to any SEO strategy. On-site structure refers to technical issues like:
- Mobile site’s performance
- Page load speed
- Core Web Vitals
- User behavior
- Structured data
- URL structure
- Site architecture
- Schema markup or other structured data
Not having the proper structure in place can seriously hinder your ability to rank on page one. For example, users will get frustrated and leave your site without taking action if it doesn’t load fast enough. Let’s dig into the elements of on-site structure.
Perform a technical SEO audit
There are a handful of different tools out there to help audit your site and uncover any technical issues that might be going on during your SEO audit.
For example, Semrush gives users a high-level overview of errors (which are more serious issues), warnings (which should be addressed but aren’t as pressing), and notices (which are mostly for awareness).
When you run a site crawl, there are dozens of technical issues these tools are looking for, such as:
But don’t be alarmed! If the technical jargon overwhelms or confuses you, working with an SEO expert and a web development team can do wonders to ease your mind. After all, they use this type of language every day and know how to address and correct these issues.
Pro tip: Crawling your site for technical issues isn’t a one-and-done exercise. This is something that you should do regularly (ideally once a month or more depending on the size of your site). After all, new issues can pop up anytime.
Check indexed pages
Once you run a technical crawl, a good next step is to check and see what pages are indexed in search engines. As Google explains, a page is “indexed” if it has been visited by the search engine’s crawler, analyzed for content and meaning, and stored in the search engine’s index.
To check indexed pages, head to the search engine, then type “site:” and your domain into the query box. The below example shows this for our site, hawksem.com.
This allows you to see if there are pages that shouldn’t be indexed because you don’t want users visiting them. For example, development or staging pages from a site redesign should be removed immediately.
You also most likely don’t want landing pages solely used for paid efforts to be indexed. (To “deindex” a page quickly, you can leverage a resource like Google’s Remove URLs tool.)
You should also ensure these pages contain a “noindex” tag, so Google crawlers know not to index that page in the future.
On the other hand, you could have pages that are missing from the index and miss out on a huge portion of potential traffic. If for some reason the crawlers aren’t getting to your blog content, you want to look into why it’s not crawling and indexing as it should be.
More than half of us search on our phones: mobile accounts for more than 60% of all Google searches.
Not only are people using mobile more frequently, but Google crawls the mobile version of a site first (and has for years).
You’ll have a hard time getting the search engine rankings you want if your mobile usability is subpar. Even if most of your website traffic is currently coming from desktop users, it’s still extremely important to pay attention to your mobile site and mobile experience.
To know if your site is mobile-friendly, you can use a testing tool like the Google Mobile Friendly Test. If results show your site has issues, the tool will give you suggestions for how to fix them and improve the mobile experience.
Pro tip: It used to be a best practice to have your regular site and your mobile site be separate, perhaps with a different or modified URL. That’s not the case anymore. Ideally, you want a website that’s responsive to all devices and sizes (since device sizes can vary).
Test page speed
Some people think mobile-friendliness and page speed are tied together. But though they’re closely related, page speed is a separate (but equally important) ranking factor.
And if a site has a sluggish load time, visitors are more likely to bounce and seek out another site that will give them the information they’re looking for in a flash. A 2020 study found that even a small fraction of a second has an impact on users.
Analyze on-site user behavior
Google Analytics is one of the most important tools to measure your organic traffic and engagement during an SEO audit. It can reveal huge amounts of data to measure things like user behavior, site flow, and more.
In the Audience Overview section of Google Analytics, you can segment traffic by organic only. Then, you can see how many users and sessions organic traffic drove over a certain time period. It’s also possible to segment all organic traffic, which includes other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and more, vs. just Google traffic.
You can also view engagement metrics like bounce rate, pages per session, and average session duration. This can help determine how engaging your content and website design are for users.
Don’t panic if the bounce rate looks high or your average session duration looks low! It’s all about looking at this in context. If users are bouncing but spending two minutes on your page, it means they’re likely reading the content but not taking further action like clicking to another page.
The homepage is usually the top driver of traffic. It typically has the most backlinks and ranks for branded terms, so this is to be expected.
Your goal should be to get more traffic to some of these internal pages instead. This way, users get to the content they’re searching for as quickly as possible and don’t have to land on your homepage and navigate to it.
Once you’ve identified crawling or technical issues and reviewed how users are behaving on your site, you can move on to your on-page SEO — namely, your content strategy.
Your site’s content has a huge impact on your ability to rank well in search engines. It also affects how your users navigate your site.
Determine your personas & audience
When defining your content strategy, the first step is to understand who your audiences are through personas. Ideal client personas help you understand your audience in-depth: their goals, pain points, and what they’re looking for.
Once you understand your audience, you can appropriately write content that meets their needs.
The No. 1 rule of content writing for the web is to write for the user, not search engines. Google’s goal when ranking pages is to give the user the most informative results that will answer their question or query. Satisfying that requirement is what’s going to help you rank.
Pro tip: When developing a content strategy, don’t forget about video and images. These types of content are super engaging and can be shared on social media as well.
Conduct keyword research
Keyword research is crucial to understanding what keywords your target audience is typing into search engines. Ideally, you want to use your content to answer these queries as thoroughly as possible.
The Semrush example graph above illustrates how a website has ranked over time. Semrush is a great tool to use for this part of your SEO audit because it also shows where Google algorithm updates happened, which may have affected your website’s performance.
You can also add notes in Google Analytics (called annotations) to be able to quickly reference historical changes, like a site redesign, and identify patterns.
Next, you want to dig into which keywords you’re currently ranking for and which pages are ranking for those queries. Perhaps the most important place to check your current keyword rankings is Google Search Console.
You can also view how many impressions you’re getting for certain keywords, the average position, and what your click-through rate (CTR) is for those keywords.
After analyzing your list of keywords you’re ranking for, tools like Moz, Semrush, and Ahrefs can show you the search volume, competition, and related keywords for the terms that are worth targeting.
One of the best ways to find keywords and related questions is by doing your own search engine query and seeing what comes up. You can review SERP features like “People also ask,” Featured Snippets, and the related searches at the bottom of the results page as well.
Pro tip: Don’t forget long-tail keywords. There can be significant volume on keywords with four or more words. Plus, competition is generally lower for these terms vs. more broad terms.
Audit your content strategy
Once you’ve done the keyword research and determined what pages are ranking and which are not, the next step is to conduct a content marketing SEO audit.
A content audit can help uncover pages that could be hindering your performance and opportunities to revitalize and improve existing content.
- Pull a list of all blog URLs on your website into a spreadsheet (Hint: you can use the site search method discussed earlier, or your sitemap)
- Use Google Analytics to see how many site visits each page has had over the past six months, and use an SEO audit tool like Ahrefs or Semrush to see how many backlinks it has (this audit process will take quite a bit of time, depending on the number of pages on your site)
- Identify pages with “thin content” that don’t satisfy user intent — the exception to this would be press releases or event pages, which are naturally going to be shorter pages
- Make sure all metadata (meta descriptions, title tags, meta tags, and ALT tags) are filled out and accurate
- Look for any posts that have duplicate content or topics and decide if they should be combined into one long-form pillar post or removed from your site
- Identify posts with outdated content and make a plan to update that content as needed — it helps to keep a running list if posts need to be updated on a regular basis
- Repeat! (Ideally, on an annual or bi-annual basis)
When you’re reviewing your link-building strategies during an SEO website audit, you want to focus on backlink analysis, disavowing spam links, and internal linking. All of this falls under the category of your link profile.
Many digital marketers have a love-hate relationship with backlinks, because getting quality backlinks (which are links to your site that originate on another credible website) can be a difficult and tedious process. But it’s an important part of your SEO.
The first step in a backlink audit is to use a tool like Ahrefs or Semrush to download a list of your existing backlinks. From there, you should review and assess each individual link to determine its quality. Depending on how many links you have, this could be a long process, but we promise it’s worthwhile.
While each tool has a different way to assess link equity, like Domain Authority vs. Domain Rating, it’s worth noting that Google has its own proprietary way to measure link equity.
Remember, these metrics don’t mean anything in a bubble. They’re most helpful when comparing your site to competitors and others ranking for your keywords. Pick whichever tool you feel comfortable with and use those metrics to measure the quality of a specific link or website.
Consider if you need to disavow any backlinks
Don’t immediately disavow a link just because one of these tools says it has a lower Domain Authority or Domain Rating than yours. Relevancy is more important than these metrics.
To assess link quality during your SEO audit, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the site seem completely irrelevant to your industry?
- Is there a significant amount of ads?
- Does the website feature “unsavory” content?
- Is the anchor text clearly spamming to get keywords into the link?
If there’s a link you don’t actually want to be associated with your site, you can disavow it, which tells Google to ignore that link. This tool should only be used if you’re highly confident the links could be hurting your ability to rank, otherwise, you can drastically harm your SEO efforts.
Pro tip: Don’t pay to have your site listed somewhere for the purpose of increasing backlinks. You’ll almost definitely get caught and penalized. It’s not worth the short-term gains it might bring, so focus on links gained naturally by creating valuable content.
Review your internal linking strategy
Internal links (links on your site that link to other pages on your site) are often overlooked but are just as important as your backlinks. It’s difficult to control which sites are linking to you and what anchor text they use, but you have full control over internal links.
Make sure the internal links you add to your content are relevant. Links higher up on the page are crawled first and are therefore considered most important to Google.
You should also use external links to relevant, authoritative sources to help Google understand your website is legitimate. However, you want to use an internal link over an external link as much as possible.
There are some common mistakes you want to avoid when it comes to internal linking, such as:
- Using generic phrases in anchor text like “click here” or “learn more”
- Excessive linking via images instead of text (though it’s OK to link via images occasionally, text links are preferred)
- Linking to your homepage — this is almost certainly your highest authority page already and doesn’t provide any use for the user, who could just click on your logo to go back to the homepage
SEO audit checklist
Check on-site structure
Review technical errors (like robots.txt and XML sitemap issues)
Test site speed
Analyze on-site user behavior
Check indexed pages
Review mobile friendliness
Conduct keyword research
Determine audience personas
Ensure target keyword (and negative keyword) lists are updated
Review content strategy
Identify any thin, duplicate, or outdated content
Pinpoint broken links or redirects that need updating
Analyze your backlink profile
Disavow any backlinks if needed
Review your internal linking strategy
Review your Microsoft and Google Business Profiles (if applicable)
Check any profiles on third-party websites
Ensure all info in off-page directories is updated
Review social media profiles for accuracy and completeness
Creating a thorough SEO site audit report like the one described above takes time, effort, and dedication, but the knowledge and insight you’ll get in return are immeasurable.
By getting familiar with these tools, following these best practices, and committing to regular SEO audits, you’ll start to see your organic rankings climb — and what’s a better feeling than that?
This post has been updated and was originally published in February 2020.