SEO 30 min read April 26, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Performing an Actionable SEO Audit


Kobi Omenaka
Head of Digital at Kobestarr Digital
Are you pleased with your site but worried about its lack of traffic? Are you wondering why your competitors are ranking above you on Google with their inferior sites? Do you want to know how you can site's search engine performance and attract more visitors, leads, and revenue? Sounds like you need to perform an SEO Audit.
Conducting an SEO audit may seem mind-numbing, but it is one the most game-changing and revenue-impacting procedures that you can perform in your business right now. Once the audit is complete, you should have a bespoke and actionable, step-by-step solution to solving any problems and improving the SEO performance of your site and beating your competitors.

Being featured at the top of Google for your search terms may seem like a tall order now, but an SEO audit can turn the tables and help you get more visitors to your site from search engines. This could translate to millions in additional sales and revenue.


What is an SEO Audit?

An SEO Audit is a comprehensive evaluation of a site based on factors that are essential for the search engines when it comes to organic search results. It largely involves checking the website step-by-step on the list and identifying issues to be fixed or changed in a bid to improve the site's search engine performance. It is essentially a MOT for your website. You may have an all singing and all dancing beautiful site, but if Google and other search engines don't know how to "read" it then you'll never get found.

While there are many free SEO Audit tools out there, they cannot deliver the kind of results you will achieve by implementing the audit techniques you are going to learn in this article. Our recommended audit will give you exceptional results and maximize your time and effort.


What is the impact of performing a bespoke SEO Audit?

An SEO audit that is unique to your site gives you an actionable plan for boosting your website's search engine performance. With a good SEO audit, you will be able to:
1
Compare with your competitors and get an unfair advantage;
2
Instantly identify what to change and know how to do it;
3
Understand, at a glance, how efficient your website is from an SEO point of view;
4
Identify your website's weaknesses and know how to fix them;
5
Set realistic expectations for your website;
6
Have ongoing opportunities for improvement. While you may not be able to improve all the things on your SEO audit at once, you will have a range of stuff to work on over time.


What Skills Do You Need To Perform an SEO Audit?

We'll go through this audit step-by-step so as long as you can follow instructions you should be fine. There is some technical jargon and concepts you need to get to grips with before you embark on this audit:

  • Understand the major SEO terms – URL, ALT tag, meta description, robots.txt, image compression.
  • Be familiar with some basic SEO tools – some of the most effective tools are Serpstat, Majestic, Netpeak Spider, Screaming Frog.
  • Have some website technical know-how – otherwise, this audit will be quite challenging for you.

If you are new to the SEO world, don't worry. You can still do this. You just need to be good at following instructions, we'll teach you along the way.

We will introduce and link you to each of the tools that you'll need in each section so won't list them now.


What does an SEO Audit Consist of?

An SEO audit covers three main areas:
1
Technical – a website should have a strong technical foundation in order to be successful. This aspect is may best be handled by your web developer or designer.
2
On-page – this is all about the website content; having the right keywords in the right places and the overall look and feel of the site and user experience, (UX), of the site, is important too!
3
Off-page – this focuses on what your competitors are doing on their site, backlinks, social media, brand mentions, as well as external ranking factors.
By the end of the process, your audit will have three main sections, which correspond to the three main SEO areas.


Technical Part of SEO Audit

Does the term "Technical SEO Audit" strike fear in you? The technical part is the most nerve-wracking part of an SEO audit, it is, however, integral to the success. Its aim is to examine how accessible the website is to search engines and bots. To ensure maximum accessibility, you need to make sure that all technical foundations are in place. We have seen sites that have great content fail because of one or two technical glitches.

A website's technical components are akin to a vehicle's engine. The engine has to be well taken care of for the vehicle to function efficiently.

Here's how to improve the function of your website's engine:

DNS Settings

This involves checking to make sure that bots are not getting errors when crawling your website. The best way to do this is via Google Search Console. If you are not connected to search console I urge you to do so ASAP. It's all free! We'll be using Search Console to perform a number of checks including the DNS Settings Check, which is first up on our hit list.
How to you do it

1
Log in to Google Search Console;
2
On the dashboard, check "current status;
3
If you get a green tick, then your DNS is in good condition.
If you don't want to use Google Search Console, you can perform a free test on pingdom, which will provide a great analysis.
What should you look for
The test should give you either an all-clear sign or detailed explanation of any issues that need to be fixed.

Server Connectivity

Simply put this identifies if there are any problems with your web server that you should look into!
How to do it
Look for the "server connectivity" on the Google Search console dashboard. There should be a green tick.
Whilst you are here take a moment to navigate to:
1
Go to Crawl module;
2
Then choose Crawl errors;
3
And finally click on Server connectivity.
If there are any server connectivity issues they will be highlighted and you can start to address them.

Robots.txt Fetch

How to check it
Robots.txt fetch is one of the Google Search Console dashboard elements.

A more in-depth tool can be accessed in Google Search Console.

Go to Crawl module and choose Robots.txt tester.

What you should look for

If there are no errors, then all is well. However, it is imperative to ensure that there are no major areas of the website being blocked by its robots.txt.

Page Status Code Errors

This checks for the number and speed of missing pages, which could be indicative of problems with the website's performance or server.

How to check it

1
Go to Google Search Console;
2
Then choose Crawl module;
3
Click on Crawl errors;
4
Then at URL errors module choose Not Found tab.
What should you look for
If there are a few 404s, there's nothing to worry about. However, if there are thousands of 404s, as shown in the image below, then you need to dig deeper and find out what is happening.

HTTPS

Search engines give preference to secure sites. To improve your search rankings, therefore, you need to ensure that your website is secure.
How to check it
The URL should be https:// and not http://. The "s" shows that the website is secure. Also if you are running the most recent version of Google Chrome it will display as "Secure" in the URL bar as shown in the image below.

HTML Validation

It is advisable to perform a free check up on the validation of your website's HTML.
How to check it
There's a free tool at the World Wide Web Consortium that you can use:
What results should you look for
The tool may identify many errors. You don't have to panic. Consider sharing the report with your web developer so he can make any necessary amendments. "Fatal Errors" should be given first priority.

Indexation

Ensure that Google is indexing every page that it should. In fact, the number of indexed pages that your website features on Google search should be close, if not equal, to the number of indexed pages shown in The Search console.
How to check it
1
Simply search Google for "site:[your URL]," e.g., "site:kobestarr.io".
2
Then, test the number of indexed pages.
3
Check Search Console. Go to Google Index and click on Index Status.
What should you look for
If there are significant differences in the results, you need to investigate the issues.

Structured Data

Structured data markup describes things on your website, along with their properties. For example, if your site sells shoes, you could use markup to describe properties for each pair of shoes, such as the summary, the URL to a photo for the show, and its overall customer rating. Structured Data is becoming more and more important as this means that your content will appear in search engine results pages with more space and rich media such as images, review stars and site extensions.


Results with rich markup will be more appealing to people that are searching and will attract a higher click-through rate. Have a look at the rich snippets produced when searching for "Guardians of the Galaxy."
How to check it
1
Go to Google Search console;
2
Then click on Search appearance;
3
And then click on Structured data.
What should you look for
You will get a comprehensive report from Google. While structured data may be time-consuming to incorporate into a website, it has some positive impacts on search results as your "online real estate," and the clickable area will be larger and take up more space on a search engine results page.

XML Sitemap

XML sitemap is for bots only. If your website doesn't have an XML sitemap, it's a missed SEO opportunity.
How to check it
1
To begin with, you need to ensure that the site has an XML sitemap.
2
To do this, simply check Search Console, go to Crawl module and click on Sitemaps.
Here you can see that there is an XML sitemap but it has some warnings.

If you have an XML Sitemap, it should be simple and neat. Adding optional tags and instructions can compromise the XML sitemap's integrity, and bring about search bot confusion.

Use W3's syntax checker to evaluate your XML.

Malware scan and canonical header check

Many search engines are effective in identifying malware. Nonetheless, it is advisable to scan your website to scrutinize headers and identify potential risks.

Use File Viewer to scan your website.

Site Speed

Site speed plays an integral role in SEO. A small change in site speed can have a massive positive impact on indexation, user experience, as well as conversions.
Site speed plays an integral role in SEO. A small change in site speed can have a massive positive impact on indexation, user experience, as well as conversions.

You can use Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom for this part of the audit.
Pingdom website speed test
Each tool has exceptional benefits. Pingdom gives you a comparative analysis and site speed in raw seconds. Their waterfall analysis will show you precisely where the delays are taking place.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Google's PageSpeed Insights feature is useful too due to its mobile analysis. This is in light of the fact that load time on mobile devices influences the quality of a website as well as its search traffic.
What should you look for
There are several things that can slow down a website, but here are the most significant ones:

  • Code to text ratio – too much code can increase load speeds dramatically;
  • Page Size – pagers over 1.5 MB big are at risk of reduced load times;
  • Image file size – if images take up over 75% of the whole page's file size, you should be worried. Consider compressing all images on the page to save space;
  • Caching – caching should be installed, activated, and optimized to encompass as many cacheable elements as possible;
  • Script minification, externalization, and combination – your developer should identify code that can be eliminated, minified, or externalized to enhance your website speed.

Google provides a user-friendly report that will guide you on how to enhance site speed. Simply follow the instructions on the report, and you will see a significant improvement in your website's SEO.

Test of Mobile Friendliness

The Google Developers Mobile-Friendly Test is the best tool to use. If the result is "Awesome," then all is well. Otherwise, you will have to fix the listed problems.


On-Site SEO Audit

A comprehensive on-page or content audit should produce a list of all pages of the website in a spreadsheet, with detailed data on each page. Hence, the choice of whether or not to produce such an audit will depend on:

  • The size of the website;
  • The client's needs;
  • The goal of the audit;
  • The cost of the audit.

Netpeak Spider is the most effective tool for content audit, especially for page-by-page analysis. You can perform this audit on any website.

Menu Navigation

The layout and functionality of the main navigation are critical to SEO as they influence user experience. Hence, the site's main navigation should be:

  • Comprehensive – It should get to the site's main sections with at most two clicks;
  • Simple – A navigation menu with more than seven main features begin to overwhelm the brain;
  • Logically arranged – function over style here,please! Artistic navigation menus normally don't make sense;
  • Keyword-focused – It is advisable to include an obvious keyword focus in the menu navigation. However, don't stuff every navigation element with a huge long-tail keyword.

Footer Navigation

You need to ensure that the site's footer navigation (if it exists) is:
1
Useful – It should provide access to the site's most important pages.
2
Logical – It should follow the main navigation's pattern.
3
Strategic – The footer is normally the best place to display business' contact information.

URL Analysis

URLs play an integral role in SEO due to the fact that they are the path that search engines follow. Hence, you should include the right keywords in the URL.

The URL should also capture what the web page is about. Check URLs to ensure they:
1
Contain relevant keywords;
2
Are succinct – not too long;
3
Are neat and symbol-free;
4
Have no capitalization, which can create confusion and traffic deviancy;
5
Have dashes, instead of underscores, to separate words.

NAP Presence

Any business with a local presence needs to have NAP presence - Name, Address, and Phone Number - on its website, especially in the header and footer. You should integrate maps and relevant local keywords in a bid to improve user experience and achieve keyword relevance for local searches.

Likewise, it is imperative that the NAP is consistent in all its online occurrences and mentions. Consider using Moz Local to ensure the consistency of your NAP.

HTML Sitemap

An HTML sitemap presents an excellent way to create a strong website structure and complete indexation of the website's content. It should be just a single click away from any of the site's pages. In that light, you should put it in the footer.

Breadcrumbs

If your site has breadcrumbs, run a quick scan to make sure they are relevant and functional. In addition to providing a chance for schema markup, breadcrumbs are beneficial for navigation, provided they convey the true position of the page in the overall website structure.

Main Page Content

The homepage is the site's most-visited page, so the main content page needs the best of SEO care. You should check the page to ensure:
1
It targets the right long-tail keywords for its industry;
2
It includes sufficient concentration of the keyword.
3
It has sufficient content. A homepage should have at least 400 words of optimized content.

Consistent and Frequent Content Production

You should produce content regularly for your site to remain competitive. In fact, websites updated every week or more frequently maintain good content publication velocity. This keeps them actively indexed and ranked.

To check how Google is indexing your content, just perform this Google query: site:www.yoursite.com, and then click "search tools," → "anytime" → "past week" (or any other timeframe).

Page-by-page Analysis

Now, you need to delve deep into each page of the site. To make it easy, consider creating a checklist, like the following:

  • Page Title – the page should not only have a title, but the title should be within the standard length of 30-35 characters, relevant, and include keywords. Also, ensure there is consistency in how the title is set, including the symbols used;
  • Meta description – check if the page has a meta description and whether it is of the right length and engaging for users;
  • H1 – check if the page has an H1 and ensure it is relevant and optimized;
  • Keyword focus and representation – normally, it is important for every page to have a unique keyword focus, with the keyword occurring on the page with sufficient frequency and semantic variety;
  • Copy – the page should have enough copy, and the copy reflecting the page's keyword focus;
  • Visual and interactive content – make sure the page has relevant and engaging imagery, and the videos are playing. Also, there should be functional interactive elements;
  • Alt tags – images should be optimized with correct filenames and tagged with relevant keywords;
  • Internal linking – the page should have at least one internal contextual link. In fact, a website with strong internal linking plays an integral role in creating a website with sturdy internal architectur;
  • Last updated – frequently changed pages normally rank higher. Hence, consider revising pages that haven't been updated for at least one year;
  • Broken links – no page should have broken links;
  • Authority – it is good for the pages to be written by copywriters who have refined knowledge of the content;
  • Unique content – content on each page should not be duplicated elsewhere on the site, including H1s and title tags. Likewise, the content should not be copied from external sites. Otherwise, you may suffer duplicate content penalization;
  • Ads – ads may overshadow the purpose of the site and undermine user experience unless the site's main goal is Ad revenue;
  • Bounce rates – the main pages' bounce rates should not be too high or too low;
  • Layout and Readability – be sure that content width, kerning, as well as font type, size, and colour all translate to improved site layout and readability;
  • Outbound links – linking out to authoritative websites can enhance your website's co-citation and co-occurrence;
  • Overall value – the page should deliver value to the user. If it serves a purpose or provides solutions to a problem, then it's definitely valuable. Otherwise, it should be revised;
  • Call to action – if further action is expected, the page should include appropriate CTAs, which encourage the user to take the next desirable step.
You can use Serpstat's Site Audit module to quickly find the errors your site contain. The errors are divided according to their type.


Off-Site Audit

An Off-page audit is largely about backlinks so you need to be familiar with backlinks in order to perform it effectively. The Off page section of the audit and backlinks in particular can have a huge impact on the site's SEO rankings so this part of the audit can be the important when it comes to SEO performance.

In light of the fact that Backlink analysis is all about comparison, you need to know at least five of your competitor's sites before starting the audit. Otherwise, it will be difficult to measure the effectiveness of the off-page SEO elements. If you don't know who your competitors are, find them via Serpstat.
1
To find your competitors, enter your domain to Serpstat's search box and choose the database.
2
Go to SEO Research at Domain analysis module and choose Competitors feature.
Also, note that most of the audit elements require that you have your website's backlink data. You can also get the backlink data from Google, especially if you prefer working with raw data.
1
Log into Google Search Console and go to Search Traffic section.
2
There you need to choose Links to Your Site.
3
And under Who links the most clik on More and then Download more sample links.
4
A CSV dataset will be downloaded which you can tweak, modify, and analyze depending on your skills with spreadsheets.

Organic Traffic

Google's Search Analytics is an excellent tool for auditing a site's search traffic. To get the Incoming Search Traffic report, simply go to the Search Console, choose Search Traffic and click on Search Analytics.
The chart provides an in-depth understanding of the website's search visability, performance, and ranking. It serves as the starting point for a detailed analysis of the site's off-page elements.

Identifying Penalties

You need to check if the site is penalised or not. If you are hit with a penalty that will of course hinder your SEO performance and would need to be rectified ASAP.

Note that there are two main types of penalties:
1
Manual Penalty – it's served by Google itself and enacted by a real-life human being. You should be really worried if your site suffers a manual penalty.
To check for a manual penalty, go to the Search Console, choose there Search traffic and click on Manual Actions.
2
Algorithmic Penalty – it's levied automatically based on the different changes in Google's search algorithm. When Google changes its algorithms, it may or may not have an effect on your search performance.
Barracuda has a really effective tool for checking algorithm penalties.

Quantity of links

The total number of links is an excellent gauge of the domain's overall power and authority. Nonetheless, you can't rely on link quantity alone to gauge the site's health, since some links can be harmful, such as those created through blackhat SEO, putting your site at risk of penalization.

Deep Link Proportion

Deep links are links that target the site's internal pages. They are considered more reliable, and hence more valuable to the site's overall integrity and authority.

In that light, a website needs to have more deep links compared to homepage links. A deep link ratio of 75% is perfect, but any ratio above 50% is okay.

Top-level-domain type

Top-level-domain or TLD refers to website's domain type. Healthy websites have mostly .com and .org referring links. Likewise, .edu and .gov TLDs are considered authoritative and can present a great link reputation to the recipient websites.

Link Trust and Authority

A very high number of low-quality and weak links can undermine the site's authority and trust. Hence, it is imperative that you examine the authority and integrity of the referring links.

You can check the link trust at Serpstat. Enter your domain to the search box and go to Backlink Analysis module. Then click on Referring domains feature. There you'll see the list of domains that have outbound links leading to your website. Look at the last column, there is Serpstat Trust Rank that shows how trustworthy the domain/page is.

Types of Incoming Links

Here are three types of incoming links:

  • Redirect – links that automatically redirect from another site or internal page;
  • Follow – the standard link from one website to another;
  • No-follow – an incoming link with a no-follow tag.

A ratio of at least 90% followed links is fine. If there's a significant amount of redirects and no-follows, you should investigate the reason behind it.

Spammy Backlinks

Every website is prone to harmful links. Unfortunately, a definitive solution to the problem of spammy links is yet to be found.

Consider downloading the site's backlinks and cherry-pick through them to ascertain the nature and authority of the respective linking websites.

Lost Backlinks

Websites can also lose links. Hence, consider analyzing link attrition metrics to determine the speed at which this is happening. If the rate at which the site is losing links is high, it could compromise the site's authority. It could also be the result of a technical problem and should be investigated as soon as possible.

You can check the lost backlinks at Serpstat. Type your domain to the search box and go to Backlinks module. Click on Backlinks and go to Lost Backlinks report. There you'll all required data:

  • Donor URL;
  • Serpstat Page and Trust Rank of both donor and acceptor;
  • The dates when the link was first indexed/ created/ deleted.

Mentions of Your Brand Name

Don't confuse brand mentions with links. A brand mention refers to when the website is mentioned but not linked directly.

Brand mentions are a great source of authority for websites as they play an integral role in promoting the site's reputation.

Use Google query technique. The method involves excluding your site's URL and social media profiles from the search, and manually analyzing the SERPs.


Final Thoughts

An SEO Audit is a comprehensive assessment of a website through the search engines' eyes. If you are serious about search engine rankings and the success of your online business, you will strive to do SEO audit regularly.

Note that if your website is small, it is not advisable to overdo the audit. You don't need to waste time dwelling on stats while there are other important things that you can work on. If you have a medium to a large website, however, you need to perform comprehensive audits on a regular to identify any issues and fix them in time before things get out of hand.

This detailed guide is all that you need to be able to conduct a comprehensive SEO Audit on your site. If you want to present the audit to a client, it is imperative that you package the report in a attractive way.

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