The internet hosts over two billion websites that are constantly being reworked, replaced, and updated by the second. In a dynamic environment like this, your website needs ongoing maintenance and SEO audits should definitely be a part of it.
Including audits in your SEO routine helps you identify and fix critical issues before they become problematic and start damaging your search presence.
It’s not incredibly difficult to perform an audit on your website, but it can be very time-consuming. As a consultant, I’ve been doing audits for years. I know their importance and the purpose they serve, but I’m also aware that the cost of an ultra-detailed technical SEO audit isn’t something that all business owners can afford.
And that’s before the time or money cost of implementing the suggested fixes. For that, you’ll need to hire developers separately.
So for those who want to learn, I encourage them to audit their site themselves. As you’ll see later in this article, learning how to audit your website in-house gives you the ability to make it part of your ongoing site maintenance. This can really put you ahead of your competition.
Whichever route you decide to take, here are the basics of SEO auditing that you should get familiar with.
What do I include in an audit?
An SEO audit analyzes every aspect of your website – good, bad, and ugly. You end up with a detailed analysis of everything from content quality and internal linking to site speed and security.
This may seem intimidating for beginners which is why I recommend having an SEO maintenance checklist in place.
Here are just some of the many things your audit can include:
- Keyword usage
- Correct heading hierarchy
- Unique title tags that aren’t too short or too long
- Identifying broken links and redirect chains
- Sitemaps and website architecture
- Page load speed
- Website security and SSL certificates
- Accessible to those with visual impairments
SEO is not a one-time thing
The mistake most people make is assuming that a one-time audit is all they’re ever going to need.
You simply can’t get away with updating your website every month and not impacting the SEO. Something as simple as editing your most recent blog post or updating a plugin can undo all the hard work that makes your website rank so well.
Even if you don’t touch your site, the internet is ever-changing and so are Google’s search algorithms and the associated best practices. Tools like Lighthouse tend to change quickly, so it’s best to keep up with the latest revisions. You can get perfect SEO scores today, but check back in three months and your score could be down to 85/100.
What does this mean for your SEO? Mostly that you’ll want to be regularly auditing in conjunction with maintaining your website.
What breaks your website SEO?
SEO is more fragile than you may think and if I had to cover every element that could potentially hurt your SEO and rankings, it would be a separate post in itself.
Instead I’ll show you some of the more common mistakes people make, which can break your site and as a result, your SEO:
- WordPress core changes and plugins
- Publishing or editing website content
- Broken or outdated links
WordPress core changes and plugins
Given its built-in SEO friendliness, WordPress is a godsend for anyone looking to optimize their website. But just as Google’s SEO best practices are constantly changing, so are the updates made to WordPress.
Dealing with WordPress plugins and core changes can go either of two ways. You can skip out on the updates and theoretically keep your current configuration from an SEO point of view, but this exposes your site to many security issues.
Or you can update all the core changes, themes, and plugins only to find sitemaps disappear, indexation changes, or a different internal link structure.
A few years ago there was a bug in the popular Yoast SEO plugin that affected the 5+ million sites using it. A simple default setting change that rolled out in a plugin update caused, in many cases, thousands of new pages to be created and indexed in Google for each website that used the plugin.
Many friends suffered from losses of their search rankings and traffic as a result. One of my sites was affected, but luckily I caught this issue thanks to a routine audit.
Pay attention to your WordPress website maintenance and how it affects your SEO. There are many maintenance plans available that can do this for you if you don’t know where to start.
Publishing or editing website content
You may be wondering how adding valuable content to your website could do any harm. It’s supposed to help your SEO, not hurt it, right?
The truth is, website SEO follows a long list of guidelines that you need to check on when editing or adding content. Your latest blog post could be a fun read and still load an image over HTTP instead of HTTPS, use the wrong heading tags, or have too many external links. This can be counterproductive in your attempt to rank well on search engines.
If you really want to be at the top of your game, you’ll want to follow the best practices even while making minor tweaks to your content. If you publish a lot of contributed content, you’ll also want to have guidelines for guest posts, like Flywheel has for the Layout blog to ensure your site’s quality doesn’t slip.
Broken or outdated links
Deleted, broken, and outdated links are more common than you think. The page you linked to may have changed its location or perhaps the product you recommended doesn’t exist anymore.
Checking every outbound link on your website manually is crazy, but we’ll take a look at some handy tools that can speed up the process for you.
Not only do they crawl all the pages of your website but they also provide in-depth analysis of everything that needs fixing.
How to perform a “relatively quick” SEO audit
Truth be told, there’s no rushing an SEO audit. Think of it as if you were peeling back all the layers of an onion –– discovering something new every time. Every single element of your website is thoroughly analyzed, providing you with “fixes” to improve your SEO.
An in-depth technical audit could take anywhere from a couple of days to a week, and sometimes even more. If you don’t have that sort of time on your hands, you can still perform an audit that won’t be as detailed or time-consuming.
By the end of it, you will have a list of the major issues on your website and how you can fix them.
Before you get started, here are some of the tools I find to be helpful:
These SEO auditing tools crawl and inspect your website in a similar way to search engine crawlers. You don’t have to use these specific tools, there are plenty of alternatives out there.
Begin a website crawl
The first step to running a successful audit starts with crawling every page of your website. Sometimes people will analyse a single page but this can miss issues hidden away in their site.
All you need to do is enter your website URL into your tool of choice and hit ‘enter’. Grab a coffee or better yet, work on something else, because this can take a while.
While smaller sites can be crawled in 10 minutes or less, larger sites can take hours or even days.
On-page SEO checks
After crawling your website, you’ll be left with a lot of data staring at you in the face. Don’t be overwhelmed by it, it’s not as complex as it looks.
Tools like Ahrefs’ Site Audit and Website Auditor both break down this data into reports which is helpful to get an overall view of where your site is at. For digging deeper into specific issues however, I prefer Screaming Frog’s CSV outputs.
Here you’ll check page titles and headings, meta descriptions, keyword usage (sometimes keyword stuffing), and everything else that’s part of your checklist.
Depending on which tool you’re using for the crawl, you’ll be able to see which tags are too short, too long, missing, duplicate and so on.
Internal and external links
I’m not really a gambling man, but I’ll bet that you have at least one broken link on your website.
Chances are that links on your site point to pages that no longer exist, giving users a 404 not found error. This can negatively impact your user experience and your search rankings.
Luckily, your audit will pick up on these and give you a list of broken URLs. From there it’s all about manually updating the links or hiring someone to action all the changes.
It’s good practice to also fix links that point to 301 redirects. Link redirects ensure that users end up at the right place in the end, but left for years it can mean that they follow a long chain of redirects, which can be slow and even Google will stop following at some point.
These are an easy fix. Simply find out the final URL and update your link so it points directly to it.
Diving in deeper
If your website isn’t too big, your SEO audit should be complete with a list of all the many elements that need to be changed or reworked.
You can stop right here and end your audit or push on and begin unraveling the more technical elements within your website, such as:
- Canonical tags
- W3C HTML and CSS validity
- A correct robots.txt file
- 90%+ scores in Google Lighthouse
For more info, check out this guide to performing a comprehensive audit.
SEO Audits: Check up on your website’s health
Having a solid SEO strategy in place is one thing, but making it foolproof with regular SEO maintenance is what really gives your business an edge.
SEO audits help bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be in Google’s search results pages. If you care about your website’s SEO, you’re going to need to audit your site more than once or twice per year.
If you’re not confident about performing a detailed SEO audit yourself, or if you just don’t have the time, it might be better to outsource this work. Just make sure that it’s not a one-time thing.
This is what we do at Rank Defender. Our customers are too busy to handle SEO auditing and fixes in the house, so we manage this whole process for them.
We keep our auditing checklist up to date with the latest best practices and run your site through that list every day. By using an iterative SEO process to fix and audit your site continuously you can be sure your site gets healthier by the day.
What’s next: Increase your WordPress site’s security