How to perform a comprehensive SEO audit
Let’s face it: SEO can be overwhelming.
From responsiveness and speed to meta descriptions, titles, link building, and more, the list of things to worry about seems to go on and on! But it’s definitely worth the time investment. Why?
Because great search engine optimization can mean an increase in traffic to your website that fits into your target audience. And visitors in your target audience can result in more leads and conversions! Plus, long term, it’s one of the cheapest methods of online marketing and can pay off for years to come.
Many of my clients don’t know where they stand in terms of SEO, so I’ve developed a method of auditing their site to help them figure out where they need to make improvements. I’ll walk you through some of the most important things to review when auditing your own site as well as some of my favorite SEO tools!
Free SEO tools for your audit
I consider these SEO tools invaluable, both for SEO audits and for continued monitoring of my clients’ websites. Plus, they’re all free!
Google Search Console: Work directly with Google to identify SEO errors, submit sitemaps, fix broken links, and more.
Moz Open Site Explorer: Research backlinks, discover potentially-damaging links, etc. Some tools are premium, but the free version provides a lot of value, too.
Google Keyword Planner: Identify relevant keywords that your audience is searching for as well as the competition for rankings.
Yoast SEO: A WordPress plugin that helps you optimize for on-page SEO factors such as meta descriptions, titles, alt tags, inbound links, etc.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO): Respond to reporters’ questions specific to your industry and you may be quoted or featured in an article on a reputable website. This is a great way to build high-quality links!
Search engines need to be able to “read” your site accurately and many of the aspects of accessibility also apply to your user experience. Remember, Google’s main focus is providing high-quality, relevant content to its users. So you want your user to be the #1 focus for you as well! Here are some things to consider:
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Is your Robots.txt file set up correctly?
Your robots.txt file gives instructions to robots, which can dramatically impact how search engine robots index and view your website. Check for any errors in your file through your Search Console account using these instructions.
Are there any broken links?
Broken links frustrate users as well as search engines! You can use the Broken Link Checker plugin on WordPress to identify any broken links throughout your site, as well as the crawl error functionality of Search Console.
Do you have an XML sitemap?
An XML sitemap lists all the pages of your website and helps search engines learn valuable information about each one. The Yoast plugin will create a sitemap for you – just make sure you submit it using Search Console!
Do you have a logical site structure?
A great site structure makes your website intuitive for users and search engines. Do your URLs make sense and contain relevant keywords? Don’t just use example.com/about or anything that looks like random numbers and letters. Do you use internal links? Each page on your site should have a link to and from another page using applicable keywords.
How quickly does your site load?
Do you use high-quality code?
Low-quality code can negatively affect your SEO, your site speed, and your site security. Make sure that you’re using an excellent WordPress theme with clean code.
Is your site secure?
A hacked website can hurt your rankings and your reputation! Make sure to use strong passwords and usernames, back up your site regularly, and partner with a reliable hosting company that handles security for you. You should also purchase an SSL certificate (or enable your free SSL from Flywheel!), which secures any information you capture from your site visitors (credit card info, email addresses, etc.). Google is starting to put a much larger emphasis on SSL certificates for all websites, not just eCommerce sites.
Is your site responsive?
Your website should look great on screen sizes from phones to tablets to giant iMacs. Screenfly is a great tool that allows you to view your site on all kinds of devices! You should also check your website on all major browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.).
Your on-page ranking factors apply directly to the content on your website. Remember, just like Google, your site visitors should be your first priority! So start with high-quality content that is useful and relevant to your audience. Avoid stuffing keywords, hiding text content, and other black-hat SEO techniques. And consider these factors as you write blog posts and review your site:
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Are you regularly creating valuable content?
Google values both relevancy and quality. Regularly post content (like blog posts) that provide value for your website visitors, answer their questions, and do so thoroughly.
Are you using effective keywords?
An effective keyword balances your ability to rank for it with a good amount of people searching for it. Use Google Keyword Planner to help you find the right keywords for your website and then incorporate those throughout your blog content and website.
Are you optimizing your page titles?
Incorporate your target keywords naturally into the titles of all of your pages and posts without overdoing it. Your title should be attention-grabbing and effective! The Yoast plugin can help you figure out the right length and other important details.
Do you use effective meta descriptions?
Your meta descriptions are shown on search engines for each of your pages. They should be descriptive, contain your keyword, and compel someone to want to click and read more! Yoast can also help you with a great meta description.
Do you use alt tags for your images?
Alt tags are used by Google to “index” your images and by screen readers to “read” your images to the visually-impaired. Your alt tags should contain your keyword but also be descriptive of your images
Off-page SEO is made up of actions taken away from your website that can impact your ranking. These actions transfer relevance, trust, and authority to the reputation of your site in the eyes of search engines.
What backlinks do you have to your website?
Backlinks are like an endorsement from websites that already rank well on Google. Use Moz Open Site Explorer to determine the number and quality of backlinks you have.
What is your social authority?
Your social media accounts affect your ranking, too! Make sure you link to your website from each one and verify your accounts. Optimize your posts for social media platforms (Yoast can help with this), post regularly on your accounts, and stay engaged. A good social strategy can only help with your SEO strategy.
Are you listed in directories?
This is especially important for websites that also have physical locations. But don’t focus on spammy, low-quality directories. Instead, consider ones that are applicable to your industry and are high-quality with good reputations, such as:
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- Google My Business
Remember, SEO is an important investment to make towards your long-term website success. So, even if things seem a bit overwhelming, start somewhere! Taking one little step at a time (like creating a Yelp listing or securing your website) will help you start down the road of great rankings. And committing to a content strategy that results in high-quality, regular blog posts is an excellent way to dive into your optimization head first!
What was the result of your site audit?
Thanks Kathryn, great checklist covering both on and off page SEO. One free SEO tool you didn’t mention is Screaming Frog SEO Spider. We use it to discover various issues that you talk about in your article such as broken links, and missing meta titles and descriptions.
It’s also a great tool to generate a list of all the large images on a website. Image optimization is often overlooked but can really affect many on-page factors such as loading speed, user experience and indexing – if alt tags are omitted.
Thanks so much! I absolutely agree with you about image optimization – that’s one of the most common mistakes that I see website owners making when it comes to speed.
I think that leaving alt tags out is a bit mistake, too. Not only does it hinder SEO optimization, but it also makes website use much more difficult for those who have to use a screen reader to “read” the images.
Thanks for the suggestion of SEO Spider. I appreciate it!