• Kath

How to perform a basic SEO audit of your website

Updated: Mar 27, 2019



If you’re like me and reliant on traffic to your website for business development, and ultimately sales, it's important to give your website the best chance of being found in search results. After-all, there’s no point having a beautifully designed online shop window (your website), if nobody can find it. Here's my guide to performing a basic Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) audit of your website. These step-by-step instructions will take you through the process I use when auditing websites for my clients, with a handy checklist at the end for quick reference.


*Disclaimer* I have gathered everything you need to complete the audit into this one post. It is therefore not a short read! I will however, summarise all of the key steps at the end of the post, into a handy checklist, for quick future reference. I hope this helps.


What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) put simply, just means you are doing everything you can, to help your website be found in organic search engine results. A regular audit of your website allows you to identify any problems, make improvements and keep up-to-date with the latest in search marketing.


Why should you regularly SEO audit your website?

It is necessary to perform regular SEO audits (at least 2 times a year) as things change very quickly within the SEO industry. Google reportedly makes on average three updates every day, so auditing your website regularly will ensure you are aligned.


*Shameless plug* needless to say, if you don’t have the time to do this yourself, you can always hire someone to do it for you... (!)


After digesting multiple books, articles and absorbing information from the best SEOs out there, I began auditing websites for my clients. I have now locked down a process that I feel removes the really heavy technical jargon and covers the basics - ultimately helping clients to identify issues and make positive changes for improved SEO performance.


So here we go... good luck! Follow this guide and do let me know how you get on too :)


Initial Setup

If you haven’t already got Google Analytics and Google Search Console setup for your website, then I highly recommend you do. These are extremely helpful (free) Google tools jam-packed full of insight for your business that will really help you with this audit and whole ream of other cool things.


1. Check for Google Penalties

Your rankings will be affected if your website is under a manual or algorithmic penalty. Simple as that. So, you should check this. You can check within Google Search Console by selecting ‘Manual Actions’ from the left menu. You should also compare your organic Google traffic against the dates that Google released algorithmic changes. You can do this by logging in to you Google Analytics account, and click on ‘Source / Medium’ under ‘Acquisition / All Traffic’ from the left menu. Then click on ‘Google / Organic’ from the right-hand panel and set the dates to cover a long period of time. Compare any major peaks or dips with key dates Google made significant algorithm changes.


What shall I do if I have a Google penalty?

Don’t panic. In many cases, these can be remedied in time. The first step is to gather as much information about the penalty and Google update. For example, if you’re penalised for ‘thin content’ (a common one), then you can check the pages, remove any unnecessary pages and ultimately remove the penalty.


2. Check how you appear in search results

Search your brand name in Google and examine how you appear in the search results. Below are the search results for my personal blog The Sailing Nomads, as an example.

Example search engine results page for The Sailing Nomads blog

What you’re looking for:

  • Does my homepage come up first in the results?

  • Are there sitelinks shown with your listing?

  • Are the descriptions below your homepage and sitelinks accurate?

  • Does Google show a knowledge graph entry on the right had side of your listing (for example, a Google My Business listing)

  • Is the knowledge graph information accurate?

  • Take a look at the other Google results on first page. Are these relevant to your brand?

  • Are the related searches at the bottom of the results page relevant to your brand? Are any of the related searches relevant enough to perhaps become their own page on your website? For example, ‘reviews of company x’.


What should I do if the search results aren’t as I expected?

If you don’t get the results as described above, there are a number of potential issues with your website. But again, don’t panic there are steps you can take to make these improvements and at least you now know where to begin. Claiming your Google My Business page might be a quick win. You might also need to review your site structure and/or homepage SEO before going any further. I would recommend completing the technical audit, with a focus on your homepage to begin with.


3. Technical SEO Audit

All being well, you can move on to step three, which is to complete a slightly more thorough check on some of the technical elements of your website. Don’t worry, it’s not that technical. If I can do it, you definitely can. This step will also teach you a lot more about how search engines operate and generally make sure the pages on your website are being indexed by search engines without any issues.


How many pages of my websites are indexed?

Check to see how many pages of your website Google has ‘accepted’ into their search results. You can do this by diving into Google Search Console and clicking on ‘Coverage’ under ‘Index’ in the left-hand menu. Check that there are no errors or warnings highlighted.


What are your keywords and search queries?

If you know what people are searching for you can make sure your website answers their call. Find out which keywords your website is ranking for and generating Google traffic to your site. Click on ‘Performance’ in the left-hand menu of Google Search Console and examine the queries. Are they as you expected? Can you incorporate them in titles, copy, descriptions etc.?


Is your XML Sitemap optimised and submitted?

An XML sitemap is a list of your website pages. It’s a helping hand for Google to know which webpages are important for your website. Normally your content management system generates this XML sitemap and submits it to Google via Google Search Console. You can check that his has been done by clicking ‘Sitemaps’ under ‘Index’ in the left-hand menu of Google Search Console.


Is your robots.txt file optimised?

This isn’t as weird as it sounds. It’s basically just a text file that instructs search engine crawlers, which pages should be crawled and indexed on your website and which should be ignored. If you type in your website into the address bar, followed by /robots.txt you will be able to see your file. It is very important that this file is optimised. If you need to do this, I recommend following this video guide from the guys at Quick Sprout. Here is what mine looks like: https://www.kathrynyoungmarketing.com/robots.txt

Example Robots.txt file

Do you have SEO friendly URLs?

Have a scan through your URLs, especially those of any news pages, blogs, publications or case studies. Are they unique and properly formatted? Good URLs are less than 255 characters (including the domain name), include keywords, don’t include hyphens to separate the keywords and are unique for each page. Here is a good example and a bad example:


Good URL: https://www.example.com/good-url

Bad URL: http://www.example.com/645/badlyformatedurl/145839284


Do you have a breadcrumb menu activated?

This is typically a secondary navigation menu that reveals the user’s location on a website and helps them navigate back to the homepage. Named after the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale in which the two children leave breadcrumbs as a trail to find their way back home. Google recommends having one, which is good enough advice for me.


Do you have structured data enabled?

This is a topic that is only going to get bigger in my opinion, especially with an increase in voice searches. Structured data is information that has been highly organised. Search engines love this, because it helps them make sense of things. Where possible, you should add structured data mark-up to your webpages, homepage (logo, website and company), breadcrumb menus, articles, products etc. You can read more about how to add structured data to your website on one of my favourite geeky blogs by Neil Patel here.


Do you have a canonical URL set for all your pages?

A canonical URL helps Google identify the most important pages of your website. It's good SEO practice to have a canonical URL setup on every page of your website, especially if you have duplicate content issues. Read this guide from Google for more information.


Is your 404-page optimised?

This is the page you get when a webpage can’t be found. There is nothing more annoying, especially if the 404 is a dead end and doesn’t help you get back on track. Moz has a nice video and guide here if this is something you need to work on.


Is your website HTTPS?

Https is a known ranking signal. Websites with URLs starting with https mean that they have a secure certificate installed. If your website is not https yet, then you are definitely at a disadvantage, and you should prioritise this.


How fast is your website?

Your website should load fast. Slow websites keep people waiting and often lead to abandonment and bounce rates. A slow website affects your rankings, but also your conversions. Run your website through this free Google Speed Test to see how your website performs. The results will suggest recommendations on how to improve too. Here is some general principles for you too:

  • Make sure all of your images are compressed, I use the free tool by Squoosh [by Google]

  • Remove unnecessary data from your CSS and HTML to make their file size smaller, there are a number of tools out there to help you do this if you’re not sure

  • Use a caching plugin or page speed service to serve cached pages to users, again there are a number on the market

  • Minimise your http calls by reducing the quantity of images or using sprites and browser caching

  • Remove unnecessary JavaScript

  • Make sure your website and software are up to date

  • Make sure you have the latest version of PHP


Is the website mobile friendly?

With the introduction of the Google Mobile First Index, we know that if websites aren’t optimised for mobile they are simply ‘excluded’ from mobile searches. You can start by using the Google Mobile Friendly test tool and follow the results and recommendations. You should also check within Google Search Console too, click on ‘Mobile Usability’ under ‘Enhancements’ in the left-hand menu. Check for errors, but also monitor how many valid pages are indexed. You might also want to consider Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), depending on your website. AMP pages are a format created by Google (and others), which load faster than normal HTML pages, but do have restrictions on functionality. There is a lot of debate in the SEO world over whether to adopt AMP on your website or not. Personally, I think unless you are a news publisher serving multiple images, ads, videos etc. I would spend the money elsewhere at the moment... but keep an eye on it.


Is your website in more than one language?

If you have more than one version of a page in different languages, you need to let Google know so that they don’t treat the translated content as duplicate content. You need to make sure you have the necessary SEO settings defined in the HTML. If this applies to your site, you can read more in this guide from Google.


Is the structure of your website optimised?

It is pertinent to take a critical look at the way your website structures content. Is the content grouped into relevant categories and pages? Are important pages linked to from each page? Does your website have contact, privacy policy, disclaimer, terms and conditions and about us page? You can read more about website structure in this guide by Yoast.


*Phew*!!!! If you’ve made it this far guys... well done! I’m with you and you are definitely getting there... I hope you feel like you have already learnt something about SEO and how your site is measuring up.


4. On-Page SEO Audit

Once you have worked through the technical SEO audit and fixed any issues, you can move onto the actual content of your website. This is the most important section, because ultimately the websites that do well are those that serve high quality content, accurately, concisely and quickly. All you need to do now is help the search engines to make sense of your content. They’re robots, you need to help them out!


Review all of your titles and descriptions

Can the user tell what a webpage is going to be about from the title and is the description a good advertisement of that page? Is the title and description within the specified size limits?


Make sure your headings and copy are formatted correctly

All text should be tagged with the appropriate formatting for example, H1 for the main title, H2 (for the main headings), bold and italics for the important parts etc.


Check your content SEO

Make sure your website is unique. I use Copyscape to audit a client’s website, which searches for duplicate content you can then de-index or remove. It’s also good practice to find out which pages within Google Analytics are the most popular on your website and make sure they have high quality content on them. It’s important the content is the right length and in-date. If you have pages with no content or duplicate content then you should merge them using 301 redirects. Fresh content is also advised, a scheduling plan is one good way to tackle this.


Make sure your website is user friendly

Whilst this is somewhat subjective, you should check the website has a clear menu, is consistent across all pages, has a user-friendly 404-page, enables users to find what they want in less than 3 clicks, for example. If you’re unsure, then why not ask your customers for honest feedback?


Review Image SEO

A picture speaks a thousand words, but they can work against your SEO efforts if they contribute to slow loading speeds of your website. Make sure each image is compressed, again, I use Squoosh to do this. Check the image filename is descriptive of that image. and you have the ALT tag defined.


Review your internal link structure

Linking between relevant pages of your website is helpful for the user and search engines. Make sure you are using keyword anchor text for the internal links, but also the full-page title and non-keyword anchor text too. Read this guide by Moz on anchor text for more information. Ensure the pages you want to rank better in search results have the greater number of internal links and linked from your home page. As a general rule of thumb, stick to between 2 – 10 links per page.


Make sure your website doesn’t have any broken links

Nobody likes a broken link, period. Click on ‘Coverage’ in your Google Search Console and then review ‘Errors’. You can fix broken links with 301 redirects to a valid URL.


Check your banner ads

Google started penalising websites with too many adverts above the fold. There aren’t precise rules about what constitutes ‘too many ads’, but it is worth reading this guide from Adsense to get an idea.


5. Off-Page SEO Audit

Off-page SEO put simply, just refers to ways in which you can promote your website across the internet. More often than not, this is referred to as link building (backlinks). Backlinks are considered by the Google algorithm as ‘votes of trust’, especially when they come from high quality and high authority websites. If you are able to gain high quality backlinks to your website then you are more likely to rank higher in Google search results. Conversely, low quality links can seriously penalise your website, so it is important you go about link building in the right way (I will write another post on this soon and dutifully link to it!).


Review the current incoming links to your website and identify any toxic links

If you login to your Google Search Console again, you will be able to click on ‘Links’ and see which external sites are linking to you. You should check whether they are trusted domains, which pages these links are pointing to within your site, and what percentage of the links are keyword based. There may be some immediate issues to resolve, but going forward you should then develop a link building strategy. You might want to develop a list of target websites to achieve links from, perhaps by guest blogging, for example. If all the incoming links are to your homepage, you know you need to try building links to internal pages as well. If all incoming links are keyword based, then you need to take some time to make them more natural e.g. ‘click here’, ‘link’, or to your domain name only perhaps.


6. Social Media Audit

Social media affects your SEO both directly, as it links to your website, but also indirectly, as it inevitably gives you more exposure to natural links and direct visits. So it’s important to check that you have a proper presence, on the important social media channels within your sector. Make sure that people can find you quickly, you post regularly and share high quality content. Here is a graph with the latest social media popularity stats from 2018, thanks to the guys at Smart Insights.


Most popular social networks worldwide as of April 2018

Well blimey!! Congratulations guys. If you made it to the end, I salute you! I truly hope this was helpful and as ever, I’m here to help and answer questions if you need me.


Kath




SEO Audit Checklist


1. Check for Google penalties

2. Check how you appear in search results

  • Is my homepage come up first?

  • Are there sitelinks?

  • Are the descriptions and sitelinks accurate?

  • Do I have a Google knowledge graph listing?

  • Is the knowledge graph information accurate?

  • Are the other results relevant?

  • Are the related searches relevant?

3. Technical SEO Audit

  • How many pages of my website are indexed?

  • What are your keywords and search queries?

  • Is your XML Sitemap optimised and submitted?

  • Is your robots.txt file optimised?

  • Do you have SEO friendly URLs?

  • Do you have a breadcrumb menu activated?

  • Do you have structured data enabled?

  • Do you have a canonical URL set for all your pages?

  • Is your 404-page optimised?

  • Is your website HTTPS?

  • How fast is your website?

  • Is your website mobile friendly?

  • Is your website in more than one language?

  • Is the structure of your website optimised?

4. On-Page SEO Audit

  • Review all of your titles and descriptions

  • Make sure your headings and copy are formatted correctly

  • Check your content SEO

  • Make sure your website is user friendly

  • Review your image SEO

  • Review your internal link structure

  • Check your website for broken links

  • Check your banner adverts

5. Off-Page SEO Audit

  • Review the current incoming links to your website and identify any toxic links

6. Social Media Audit

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