This comprehensive guide will walk you through the most important steps in doing an SEO Audit in 2017 and beyond. Over 10,220 words and 42 tools listed.
- Introduction: Start Crawling
- Pillar 1: Conversion
- Pillar 2: Content
- Pillar 3: Optimization
- Pillar 4: Authority
- Pillar 5: Promotion
- Now You Have a Complete SEO Audit
The importance of search engine optimization (SEO) in 2017 is stronger than ever as there are more than one hundred billion Google searches every month, presenting an opportunity for your organization to be discovered by the right customers.
According to eMarketer, 89 percent of marketers surveyed stated that SEO helps to improve their search rankings, web traffic, and lead generation, solidifying search as a vital part of their overall marketing mix.
With a constantly evolving ecosystem of different platforms affecting search, as well as the continuous updates to the algorithms of each search engine, it’s difficult to maintain a competitive advantage with SEO.
The first step to understanding your company’s progress with SEO is performing an SEO audit to systematically identify its strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement for the future.
Note: As the SEO industry evolves, we’ll be updating this resource to reflect the most updated recommendations, tools, and strategies for driving more traction from search.
Introduction: Start Crawling
Before starting the five-pillar process for an SEO audit, it is essential to first crawl your website to begin gathering data to analyze and better understand the site’s progress.
Crawling is the process of using a tool to review the pages that make up a particular website to map the site, understand the topics it is covering, identify any issues, and more. The goal of crawling is to understand how the search engines currently view your website and, eventually, use this information to compare it to others in your vertical.
Third-party crawling software provides a detailed report of a site’s content to provide insight into how the search engines might view the same site.
No third-party crawler is going to be 100 percent accurate compared to a search engine’s bots, but these tools provide a strong enough approximation of a site’s progress.
Screaming Frog helps website owners:
- Find broken links
- Discover duplicate content
- Generate an XML sitemap
- Detect temporary and permanent redirects
- Collect data from the HTML on a web page
- Review URL’s blocked by robots.txt and more
- Analyze the title tags and meta descriptions on your pages
- Integrate with Google Analytics to pair landing pages against a crawl
Up to 500 URL’s can be crawled on the free version of the software, but if your website is larger, consider buying the pro-version of Screaming Frog for around $130 a year.
To begin, download the program, enter the URL of your website’s home page in the empty field that says Enter URL to Spider and press Start.
Export the full report to Excel for the ability to customize it later as you complete this audit. As an example, we’ve provided what our Excel file looks like for DigitalCurrent.com when first exported from Screaming Frog. Download it here.
Leave the generated report on the website open within the software as we will be revisiting it later in the audit.
Xenu was created to primarily serve as a broken link checker for a website, but the tool also allows you to:
- Detect the title tags and meta descriptions of every page
- Identify temporary and permanent redirects
- Review missing alt text for images
- Create an XML sitemap
Similar to Screaming Frog, enter the URL of the website you wish to be crawled and Xenu will begin generating a report that can also be easily exported to Excel. One major limitation with Xenu is that it is only available on Windows.
Consider using both crawling tools as each has its unique process for reviewing a website, which provides your company with the most comprehensive overview. For the purposes of this audit, we will mainly be using Screaming Frog.
At this point, you’ve collected reports on the status of your website from one or both tools and it’s time to dive more deeply into how this data can be put to good use.
Recommended Tools for Intro: Start Crawling
Pillar 1: Conversion
The main goal of your SEO campaigns should be to generate conversions. A conversion is the act of driving action from a person visiting a website, whether that’s increasing sales of your products, encouraging downloads of a resource, and more.
Focusing on conversions matters because visitors must be convinced to engage when active on your website, otherwise they aren’t qualified and your marketing budget is being spent to attract people that don’t buy or do anything of worth.
If the traffic sent to your website from Google isn’t converting, it can hurt your bottom line. According to Kissmetrics, businesses that have a system in place for conversion optimization are twice as likely to see large increases in sales.
A lack of engagement from visitors may lower your rankings as Google views people immediately returning to search after first visiting your website as a sign that the site isn’t relevant.
To understand if your website is equipped to drive conversions from SEO, take the following steps:
- Identify the objectives of this SEO audit as they align with company goals.
- Analyze the accessibility of the website to drive conversions.
Identify the Goals of the SEO Audit
It’s essential to understand what goals you’re focused on in order to prioritize where you’re spending time, as well as what types of conversions are important to monitor on behalf of your business.
No two companies are focused on the same exact objectives, which is why it is important to customize your approach to SEO accordingly.
Don’t settle for choosing just one goal or one conversion type as your company will be missing out on the full range of benefits an audit and SEO overall can provide. At the same time, don’t focus on too many goals and conversion types at once because it may overwhelm your efforts with too many data points to reference.
The goals of your SEO audit could be to:
- Identify existing SEO issues
- Understand progress compared to competitors
- Fix a particular aspect of your SEO strategy
- Inform your team of potential areas of growth
- Rank for a certain list of keywords
The specific types of conversions worth monitoring:
- Downloading content like a PDF, white paper, etc.
- Making a purchase
- Filling out a contact form
- Subscribing to an email list
- Watching a video
- Adding to cart or wish list
- Job application submissions
- And more!
Analyze the Accessibility of the Website
With an understanding of what your business is trying to achieve with an SEO audit, it’s time to clarify how accessible your website is to both visitors and the search engines. It is also important to measure the conversions happening on a website to understand if your SEO strategy is successful.
Setup Google Analytics and Google Search Console
Google Analytics is a free web analytics platform provided by Google that allows businesses to measure what is happening on a website, in addition to tracking conversions from search and elsewhere.
Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, is another free tool to help businesses monitor their presence in the search results and detect any errors in the indexing of a website.
Installing either tool is not considered a formal factor for whether a website is indexable or not, but installing Google Analytics and Search Console code on a web property is certainly an indication to Google that a website exists.
To check if Google Analytics is installed, follow these instructions outlined by Google to access your account and see if it’s collecting data or not. Another way to detect if Google Analytics is installed on a website is to enter the URL at GA Checker.
To detect if Google Search Console is set up for your business, log in to the tool with your Google account to see if the website has been added or not.
While reviewing an existing account or setting up your Google Analytics for the first time, evaluate if goals for conversion tracking are setup properly as well.
Goals in Google Analytics allow a business to track if the conversions you’re focused on are happening or not, whether that’s the download of a resource or a sale of a product.
To see if you’ve got goals configured, go to the admin section of your Google Analytics, then select view and then goals. Each goal of the 20 available will be listed if there is any currently active.
Determine Site Speed and Page Caching
The time it takes a website to load is essential as 47 percent of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds, especially since Google now considers page speed as a ranking factor. Google even recommends that above-the-fold content load in under a second to provide the best experience to searchers.
To understand how quickly your website is loading use the Pingdom Website Speed Test tool as it’s free and makes it easy to understand results at a glance. Aim for a performance grade of a C or better to ensure your website is performing effectively.
Analyze the site speed of a website’s homepage, but also the top 10 most performing pages, whether they are heavily trafficked, drive the most conversions or otherwise.
To get a sense of how other websites perform, simply enter the URL of a top news site or another website you’re familiar with to see how fast these sites are in comparison.
Review the site speed of the five top competitors in your industry to understand who’s loading faster or slower. Reviewing the site speed of competitors will help establish priorities in terms of how much optimization is needed on your own site.
If you’ve received a low performance grade, consider addressing these optimizations provided by Google to reduce the time it takes for your pages to load and increase the likelihood a visitor will convert.
Another way to increase the load time of your site is to ensure the caching of your web pages is enabled. Caching a page in your browser is the automatic process of saving a page for a visitor so it doesn’t have to be loaded entirely the next time they visit.
This decreases the time it takes to load a page and provides a person with a better experience with your website overall. Review the Performance insights at the bottom of the Pingdom Website Speed Test tool to receive a grade for each element that impacts the speed of your website load time.
Is There an XML Sitemap?
An XML sitemap is a list of pages on a website that are available for crawling on the search engines, providing search bots with information on what to index.
The first step of this process is to determine if your website has a sitemap currently or not.
Add /sitemap.xml or /sitemap_index.xml to the end of the URL of any website to see if a sitemap is present or if a 404 page loads instead, which means there isn’t one on the website. Another way to check is by using the Sitemap Test tool for a diagnostic.
If a website has an updated XML sitemap, then no further action is needed. If no XML sitemap is found on the site, pull up the Screaming Frog SEO Spider report within the software as seen above and select Sitemaps and then Create XML Sitemap. For more details about creating an XML sitemap, review this resource from Screaming Frog.
Once created, add the XML sitemap to the website’s Google Search Console account to confirm Google has access to the file. Google will crawl a sitemap on its own, but this is an added precaution to ensure the structure of the website is clear.
Is There Cross Device Compatibility?
Over half of all Google searches worldwide happen on mobile, requiring every website to be optimized for mobile users and the search engines across devices.
To test whether your website is compatible for mobile, use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool, Bing’s Mobile Friendliness Test Tool or Varvy’s Mobile SEO tool. Each tool will clearly indicate whether a website is mobile friendly or not, as well as some recommendations on how to correct any existing errors.
One common issue encountered when making a website mobile responsive is not having a viewport meta tag in the <head> of the website, which is needed to adapt a page to different screen sizes.
Having a mobile-friendly website is also an SEO factor, among the many, that Google uses to understand how highly to rank your website or not in the mobile search results.
Beyond compatibility, driving conversions from search on mobile requires your website be catered to how consumers actually use these devices to research and shop.
“What most businesses don’t realize is that a mobile user is at a different stage of the buying process and is trying to accomplish a different task than they would on desktop,” said, Bryan Eisenberg, a partner at BuyerLegends.com, keynote speaker and best-selling author.
According to Eisenberg, when people are sitting at their desktop, it’s like they are sitting down with you for a whole meal. They are ready to do research with the help of search, fill out forms etc., as they are more involved in the task.
When people grab a mobile device, it’s like they are snacking. They are on the go, grabbing a couple minutes between a break, making a quick search, on the toilet etc.
Adapting your strategy to account for these considerations is important, as your SEO won’t drive the results you’re looking for if the mobile experience doesn’t match a consumer’s expectations.
The significant challenge businesses face driving conversions is understanding the unique behaviors of mobile users, how to guarantee they have a great experience accomplishing a task and connecting mobile activity with desktop.
It’s all about using mobile devices to drive the desired user behavior, whether that’s closing a sale online or encouraging a customer to experience their products in-store, added Eisenberg.
Security: With close to one billion sites created to date it is important to consumers that they are visiting secure and reputable websites. Google also values security, taking HTTPS/SSL encryption on a website as a minor ranking signal in 2014.
The goal of adding this level of security is to prevent spammers and malware attackers from impersonating a website, taking user data or monitoring their habits as they visit. It can also help decrease the likelihood a visitor will bounce when viewing your website providing more opportunity for them to convert.
To analyze the security level of your website, use Site Analyzer and run a page analysis to view the security report detailing if HTTPS is enabled and has a valid certificate, in addition to other security factors.
Recommended Tools for Pillar 1: Conversions
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- GA Checker
- Pingdom Website Speed Test
- Sitemap Test Tool
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool
- Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
- Bing’s Mobile Friendliness Test Tool
- Varvy’s Mobile SEO
- Site Analyzer
Pillar 2: Content
72 percent of marketers surveyed said relevant content creation was their most effective SEO strategy. The content included throughout a website is important because it provides the search engines with an indication of what topics the site is an authority on and it gives visitors the opportunity to find the answer to the questions they are searching for.
Content is copy on a landing page, a blog post, a services page, an infographic, video, an interactive quiz or any other information that lives on your website or a third-party platform (like social media) that provides value to your audience.
The act of creating content is an equalizer for all websites. No matter the size of your budget or level of prestige, every business can improve rankings and convert their customers with quality content.
However, it’s more challenging to compete for attention in search as many organizations are investing in content, which is why it is necessary to thoughtfully produce content and develop a multi-channel strategy to account for non-SEO related goals.
“Yes, some industries are more competitive than others, but these days, nearly every keyword worth ranking for has several competitors, and I believe there comes a time where you have to ask, ‘Is it really in my best interest to compete? Or is there an alternative strategy that might yield better rewards in exchange for the effort?’” adds Morrow.
To succeed with content in 2017, understand that SEO is only one of many goals and that it is vital to also pay attention to how content fuels paid advertising, retargeting, social media, customer service, and more.
“Perhaps you have a domain with lots of quality links, you’ve published lots of quality content, and you are well-positioned to continue competing over the long-term,” says Morrow. “In that case, just continue publishing the best content you can, linked to by the most authoritative sites in your space.”
If you’re starting a website from scratch in a competitive vertical in 2017, keep in mind that success with content and SEO doesn’t occur within a silo, but with a varied approach to multiple marketing mediums and strategies.
Not every SEO tactic is going to work for every organization and that is an important consideration to keep in mind as you complete an audit.
“The bottom line: Rather than asking how to adapt, I think you first need to consider whether or not you SHOULD adapt,” concludes Morrow.
When using content to achieve results from SEO, success comes down to the topics chosen, format choice, content quality, how content is promoted, and how it is optimized.
To understand if your website is leading with content for SEO, take the following steps:
- Take an inventory of your existing content on-site.
- Optimize for on-page ranking factors.
Content Inventory: An inventory is a starting point for understanding all the content a business currently has live on its website to date. Conducting an inventory identifies high performing content, any problem areas with content, as well as which gaps in coverage are worth addressing.
Content Review: Looking at the earlier reports from Screaming Frog provides a list of all the active URL’s on a website. Reference these to quickly identify every page on your site and start sorting out irrelevant pages.
To organize the Screaming Frog report around existing content, filter out irrelevant pages that aren’t active or are redirected.
Look above at how column C highlights the status of each individual page on a website whether they are active (200), permanently redirected (301), temporarily redirected (302), blocked by robots.txt (0), or broken/inactive (404).
Highlight column C on the report and select the sorting button in descending order to organize the entire document by status code. It’s much easier to review existing content when it is grouped together and easier to remove or ignore broken and redirected pages for this part of the audit and instead focus on any 200 coded page.
Next download an additional report from Google Analytics to combine with the Screaming Frog report to add your organic search traffic to the content inventory.
Access the Acquisition report in Google Analytics, then All Traffic, then Channels and then finally select Organic Search.
Set the date range for this report to when the website first launched, unless you’re trying to review content created within a more specific time frame.
Select Landing Page as the primary dimension, show the number of rows necessary to highlight all of your content on the report (choose from 10 to 5,000 pages to highlight) and then export the report as an Excel document.
Now it’s time to combine both Excel documents with the VLOOKUP function to create one actionable report to work from. Here’s a tutorial on how to do that from analytics expert Annie Cushing.
After organizing the report, identify the following elements on another tab of the Excel document to understand your progress with content:
- The different categories of topics covered
- Types of content included like product focused pages vs. content focused pages
- What relevant subject areas aren’t being addressed to date
- List the pages that generate the most traffic from search
- Identify the pages with the longest average session duration
- Select the pages with the highest bounce rate
- Determine the pages that have the best goal conversion rate
Content Readability: The reading level of content on a website should be accessible to a wide variety of visitors to guarantee the information presented is easy to understand and retain.
There are a few systems of measure that determine if a website is simple to read or not, including the Gunning Fog Index that measures readability from a 1 to unlimited score. For example, the New York Times has a score of 11 to 12 on average. The ideal score for most organizations is from 7 to 8.
Another system is the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level, which measures readability based on academic grade level from 0 to 12. The average score is an 8, which is having content be at an 8th grade reading level, which encompasses most adults in the U.S.
Content Quality: Google demands that content on a website is high quality in order to serve searchers the best answers to their questions, which in the end, helps the search engine make money as more people continue to trust and use their service.
Visitors look for reputable sources of information they can trust to answer their questions, which over time builds a relationship with them and your business. This ideally drives these users to make a purchase, contact your organization, etc.
Determining the quality of content on a website is subjective at times, but is better made clear by first understanding what content your customers want, and secondly, by comparing the content of competitors to your own.
To understand what content your customers are looking for:
- Review the searches conducted on your site’s search box to see what people are looking for and if there are any gaps you’re not addressing. Here’s how to quickly configure the site search report in Google Analytics.
- Conduct user testing on your website and specifically ask respondents to review, read and interact with your content to get their feedback. Usertesting.com is an affordable tool for getting real people to examine your website and send back a report regarding their findings.
- Create surveys to send to your audience through SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, or Typeform. Ask questions related to how customers view your existing content and if they found it to be a useful resource or not.
Reviewing the content of competitors can also help clarify the areas of content your organization excels at and also what ways your content needs to improve.
Both tools offer insight into what organic traffic and social sharing each piece of content drove for a given search. Competitive data from these tools can inform what content pieces to review and compare to your own for inspiration for future content or confirmation you’re on the right path.
Content Length: Another indicator of quality content, in particular with Google and the search engines, is the length of the written content included throughout a website.
Neither long nor short content is better than the other as it depends on how it’s being used; some circumstances call for one or the other.
If an article is 200 words or 2,000 words and doesn’t really contain useful info, Google will regard this as a piece of low-quality content. This is labeled as such because it is an attempt to rank for a particular keyword with little to no effort, mainly because low-quality content provides no value to a reader.
The length of an article or product page is important to a visitor as well, but it’s situational as it depends on how in-depth a person is willing to go to read up on a particular subject. An article of 800 words on a subject may be useful to one person, whereas a video with a 300-word summary might be more valuable to another.
There is no exact word count to aim for in all situations, for all websites. Instead, focus on making all content for your website useful, well-researched, and relevant.
As a general rule of thumb, articles, blog posts, and other written resources (not necessarily your product and services pages) shouldn’t be less than 500 words. Any less and there is often not enough room to fully explain a concept. However, there are always exceptions; this is just a recommendation to remind website owners to put thought into their content.
This doesn’t mean longer content is guaranteed to perform well as it still needs to provide utility, quickly answer a question for readers and offer more value than other sources on the subject.
To understand the length of content on your website, refer to the content inventory created from your Screaming Frog report and view the Y column for the word count of every page when it was last crawled.
The first priority is to understand why any pages have of a word count of zero and then identify which pages have a low word count to understand if it’s appropriate for that particular page or not.
Duplicate Content: Google penalizes a site when multiple versions of the same content exists on your website or across multiple websites by accident or with the purpose of deceiving the search engines.
In many cases, duplicate content occurs unintentionally like when a page has a printer-friendly version or a product pages has multiple versions to illustrate a different style of the same product.
To detect duplicate content on your website use a tool like Siteliner or Google Search Console, under the Search Appearance report, then visit HTML Improvements to see any duplicate content issues listed.
If your website does contain duplicate content, take one of the following suggestions from Google to correct the issue.
On-Page Ranking Factors
On-page ranking factors consist of the HTML elements found on every page of a website that can be optimized to help it accurately rank in the search engines. Like any factor that Google considers about a website, on-page optimizations are one step of the overall process and cannot be manipulated.
Title Tags: The HTML title of any page on a website is referred to as the title tag. The goal of the title tag is to identify the topic of a particular page to help Google understand its focus, as well as display the name of the page in the search listings for searchers.
The title tag should be defined by the website owner to accurately describe what the page is about and give Google a clear indication of its purpose on a website.
To review all the title tags used on a website, refer to column E on the Screaming Frog report that is labeled Title 1. To the right of that column, review Title 1 Length, which is column F to understand how many characters each title tag is comprised on every page.
Not only do title tags need to accurately describe the page they are referencing, include keywords naturally, but also need to be fewer than 55 characters in order to not get truncated in the search results.
Also check to see if any title tags are duplicated and correct them to ensure each is original and relevant. Title tags are typically easy to edit in the backend of WordPress or another content management system (CMS).
Meta Descriptions: The meta description is HTML used on each page of a website to provide a brief explanation of what subject is covered. The meta description is about two sentences long and is located below the title tag in the search listings.
Meta descriptions are not considered a factor by Google when it comes to page rankings. Instead, meta descriptions are used by searchers to decide whether to click on a search result or not, which improves click-through rates and impacts how Google views a particular webpage.
To review all the meta descriptions on a website, check column H on the Screaming Frog report and also view column J to review the character count for each.
Meta descriptions should be no longer than 156 characters to prevent it from being truncated in the search results. This HTML tag can also be edited in WordPress or with another CMS.
URL Structure: The URL of every page on a website is also considered a ranking factor as it is meant to help identify the overarching subject of the page to both visitors and the search engines.
From an SEO and user experience perspective, all the URLs on a website should be specific and concise to keep the navigation of a site organized. Aim for no more than five or six words in the URL, separated with dashes and dropping any common words.
For example, makeup retailer Sephora uses the following URL for their product category of fragrances: http://www.sephora.com/fragrance
Another example is from the tech publication Mashable using the following URL for an article titled “3 Easy Ways to Make a Lackluster Resume Shine”: http://mashable.com/2016/07/28/improve-weak-resume/
To review all the URL’s included on a website, refer to the Screaming Frog report and look at the first column to see where each page stands.
Headers: The pages of your website should be organized with headers and sub-headers to make it easier for readers to review a page or article. Including header HTML tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.) for these various headers also helps the search engines determine the focus of a page for ranking purposes.
The main header of a page should be designated with <h1> header tag, sub-headers with <h2> header tags, <h3> tags for sub-headings of the sub-headers, and so on.
Don’t over complicate the page with too many tags or overly categorized information as the focus is to create a worthwhile resource that is valuable to your customers. Review the <h1> and <h2> tags on your website in column M through T of the Screaming Frog report.
Alt Image Tags and Image Filenames: Including visuals throughout your content improves the experience for people visiting a website, making it more engaging for many consumers who are primarily visual learners.
The search engines review the alt tag and the filename associated with an image used on a website to determine its subject for ranking purposes. This HTML tag and the filename should be an accurate and concise description (100 to 200 characters approximately) of what’s actually shown in the photo, drawing, infographic, etc.
To ensure all images on a website include a concise alt image tag, select Bulk Export using Screaming Frog after your website has been crawled and choose Images, then Images Missing Alt Tags to create an Excel document listing every image missing this important HTML tag.
Recommended Tools for Pillar 2: Content
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool
- Google Analytics
- Juicy Studio
- Readability Test Tool
- Dairy Science
- Google Forms
- Ahrefs Content Explorer
Pillar 3: Optimization
The optimization of a website is the process of continually evaluating and improving its many elements to ensure it’s prime for indexing and ranking in the search engines for the right keywords. Optimization is also when you ensure it provides the best user experience.
“Optimizing a website for its peak performance is a critical concern in 2017 as Google is valuing real user interactions more highly than ever before,” says Chris Luttjohann, vice president of marketing services at Digital Current.
According to Luttjohann, it used to be enough to have rankings and links, but now Google values when visitors consume content on your site, interact with your offerings, and share it with others.
When reviewing your progress with SEO, use this section to understand both what’s happening on a detailed level, but also how each part of the process complements the overall experience of visitors.
“Focusing too heavily on the minor technical details, while neglecting the larger customer buying journey, will limit the success of your SEO strategy significantly,” adds Luttjohann.
“Optimizing for SEO from a technical perspective not only positions a website for success in search but, also adds value for other areas of your marketing like content strategy, social media, pay-per-click advertising, and more.”
To understand if your website is optimized for SEO correctly:
- Determine the website’s indexability.
- Focus on a specific keyword strategy.
Determine the Website’s Indexability
Before conversions from organic search are possible, understand if the search engines are correctly adding your webpages to their indexes for ranking.
Robots.txt: The robots.txt file is used to tell Google to ignore a page that shouldn’t be included in the search results, but not all companies need to use this file as many don’t need to block any content from search.
It’s perfectly normal to block certain pages while developing a website or if you’ve got premium content your company doesn’t want indexed, among other reasons.
To determine if any important areas of a website are blocked, add /robots.txt to the URL of any site like this: http://www.example.com/robots.txt
If you have a file on your website you’ll see HTML, here’s what the text means:
The entire website is discoverable for the search bots, which is ideal.
The entire website is blocked from the search bots, which is not ideal.
The main problem to look out for is if all of your content is being blocked from the search engines, it is fine if only certain pages are blocked as long as there is a reason.
If particular pages are being blocked, here is what the text will look like on the file:
A particular file is blocked from the search engines.
A particular folder is blocked from the search engines.
Robots Meta Tags: Functioning similarly to the robots.txt file, Robots Meta Tag is special HTML included in the <head> of a website used to inform the search engines to not crawl or not follow the links on a particular page.
If a page is blocked from being indexed or from following the included links, the HTML would look like this:
No Index Page & No Follow Links:
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”>
No Index Page:
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX”>
No Follow Links:
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOFOLLOW”>
For more Robots Meta Tag options, refer to Bing’s how-to on the subject. To detect whether there are Robots Meta Tags on your website, refer to Google Search Console to see if any pages are blocked and then visit those pages to review the HTML used.
To identify the use of Flash in your navigation, refer to the SEO SiteCheckup Flash Test for a quick overview by entering the URL of your website.
Identifying Manual and Algorithmic Penalties: Penalties from Google can remove a website’s rankings and reduce traffic significantly, either due to an issue on a specific website (manual) or a change made to the Google algorithm that affects a problem present on many sites (algorithmic).
To identify any manual penalties against a website, visit Google Search Console and review messages sent to the specific website by Google regarding any issues.
Secondly, visit Search Traffic on the menu and then review Manual Actions to see if there are any penalties. The page will look like this above if the website is penalty-free. If manual penalties are detected, each will be listed with a description as seen below.
To detect an algorithmic penalty on a website, pay attention to any sudden or unexplained drops in traffic in Google Analytics that coincide with news of the algorithm changing. Knowing which algorithm is affecting a website will inform what actions need to be taken to correct the issue.
Consider using the Panguin tool as well to align your analytics reporting with the Google algorithm history to quickly understand which penalty might have hit your website.
Begin addressing any penalties identified on your site by fixing the individual problem outlined either by Google Search Console or associated with a particular update to the algorithm.
The methods for fixing each type of penalty vary significantly, but there is a lot of documentation available on how to address each type like dealing with duplicate content or disavowing unnatural links.
Canonicalization Issues: All the pages on a website should have a single URL for the search engines to consider, otherwise the authority of a site is dispersed unevenly across duplicates of the web address.
Canonicalization is a fancy way of saying there are duplicates web addresses for the same page. To build a stronger link profile and maintain competitive rankings, it is important to regularly review the web addresses across a site to ensure there are no canonicalization errors.
For example, if the web address for the Digital Current homepage had a canonicalization issue it may appear in multiple versions like so:
Version 1: www.digitalcurrent.com
Version 2: digitalcurrent.com
Version 3: digitalcurrent.com/
Version 4: digitalcurrent.com/index.html
Version 5: www.digitalcurrent.com/index.html
If this were the case, the different versions of the same page would lead Google to unevenly distribute value to each option as opposed to simply giving full authority to the correct version.
Use Screaming Frog to detect canonicalization issues by selecting Reports after crawling a website and then select Canonical Errors to create an Excel document listing any errors to address.
Define a Keyword Strategy
Reviewing the keywords used across a website is necessary to understand if the right people are searching, visiting, and engaging with your offerings online. Knowing which keywords your company wants to rank for versus which keywords you’re actually ranking for can help inform how your entire website should be optimized.
Keyword Frequency: To continue to rank highly for a variety of relevant keywords related to your organization, the first step is to analyze what you’re ranking for and how frequently you’re using keywords related to specific subject and product categories.
To understand which keywords a website is currently ranking for, use a tool like SEMrush, KeywordSpy, or Moz’s Keyword Explorer. Each tool will generate a list of keywords your domain is ranking for, the position each keyword holds in the search engine results pages and the estimated search volume for each search term.
Export a list of keywords from one of these tools into an Excel document and start organizing them into different categories of your choosing, based on the topics areas or products they are addressing.
Once your keywords are organized into categories, it’ll be simple to see which groups are consistently ranking more highly than other groupings in search. By understanding the frequency at which your keywords rank, your organization will be able to:
- Identify which types of keywords to continue to optimize for
- Develop ideas for related keywords to invest in
- Understand which keywords and keyword groups are underperforming
- Clarify which keywords are too competitive and should no longer be optimized for
Remember that rankings aren’t the most important SEO metric since a high position doesn’t guarantee qualified traffic but it does give an indication that your content is performing in search compared to competitors.
Competitive Analysis: The keywords your competitors are ranking for not only inform your SEO strategy, but also your pay-per-click advertising campaigns as well. Use one of the keyword analysis tools above to review the websites of your leading competitors to understand what they rank for and what your organization should consider focusing on as well.
SpyFu is another useful tool for competitive keyword analysis that provides a quick review of how many keywords a competitor is ranking for on the first page, as well as a list of all their organic keywords.
Compare and contrast the keywords your company is ranking for versus competitors to see which gaps aren’t being addressed and are worth investing in further.
Recommended Tools for Pillar 3: Optimization
- Google Search Console
- SEO SiteCheckup Flash Test
- Panguin tool
- Moz’s Keyword Explorer
Pillar 4: Authority
An organization can create and optimize the highest-quality content in their industry, but if no other websites link to it, then it won’t generate the authority Google deems necessary to rank as a resource in search.
“Link authority and brand signals are considered the most important ranking factor because they have proven time and time again to be effective at producing quality search results for Google,” says Jarrod Hunt, CMO and partner at Digital Current.
Authority is defined by the search engines as the quality backlinks and social shares your website receives from others that truly clarify your expertise in an industry.
“Over the years Google has tested removing or reducing the weight they give links in their algorithm only to find that the resulting search results were not as relevant or useful,” adds Hunt.
“It is very unlikely that Google will reduce the importance of link signals anytime in the near future. On the contrary, as they continue to refine their ability to root out link spam, links that are naturally given and coming from top-tier content providers will likely have even more of an impact on your rankings.”
Understanding how to both attract attention from third-party websites organically and build relationships with other authoritative organizations in your niche will help improve your SEO in the long-term.
To understand if your website is generating the authority it deserves:
- Analyze and interpret your website’s link profile.
- If applicable to your business, focus on local citations and reviews.
Conduct a Link Audit
Run a report on an existing website to see what links have been generated to date, what spammy links need to be disavowed and where competitors are with their own link profile.
Review Link Profile: Refer to Google Search Console to first get a quick overview of the total number of links to your website according to Google, what websites link to the site the most, your most linked to content, and the most common anchor text used to link to your site.
- Number of backlinks
- Number of referring domains
- Type of referring domains (.gov vs. .edu vs. .com, etc.)
- Sources of a site’s backlinks
- Dofollow vs Nofollow links
- Timeline of links generated
- Most common anchor text included
- Most linked to pages
Export the Anchors report to view all the anchor text used with every backlink or the Top Referring Content report to view every piece of content referring links.
Disavow Low-Quality Links: While reviewing your backlink profile on a link-by-link basis, identify any links that don’t add value and potentially reduce the authority of your website.
Jarrod Hunt says that if you’re not proactively disavowing low-quality links, there is a good chance that your backlink profile has its issues.
“If you are a big brand with tons of quality links, this might not be a huge issue, but it’s worth watching, or if you are a smaller brand in an industry with a lot of SEO competition,” he adds. “You definitely need to review your link profile as it is easier than ever for your competitors to build low-quality links to hurt your rankings and trust.”
While reviewing the Ahrefs link report, look for links from low-quality, spammy sites with no unique content, too many ads across a website, or sites that try to game the search engines with tactics like keyword stuffing. If there’s a high volume of low-quality links or unnatural anchor text on a site that links to you, that’s another indication of the presence of harmful links.
Ahrefs provides ratings on the quality of each link (as seen above highlighted in pink) to simplify the process of finding bad links but the most accurate way to understand the source of a link is to review it manually.
Once a list of low-quality links has been identified (if there were any), use Google’s Disavow tool to alert the search engine which links to your website should be ignored from the index.
It is important that you’re confident the links being disavowed are currently or may in the future harm your site’s performance in Google. Links are difficult to generate, which would make it unfortunate to disavow a useful link by accident.
Fix Broken Pages (404 Errors): Broken pages across a website indicate to Google that the site isn’t well maintained and isn’t as valuable as it could be to visitors. Fix the broken pages on your website (404 errors) on a bi-monthly or monthly basis.
After doing a crawl of your website with Screaming Frog, sort the report in the dashboard by response codes or the Excel file by the status code, bringing the 404 pages to the top of the list.
To begin removing and redirecting broken pages on your website, follow this tutorial from Screaming Frog.
Competitive Link Review: Use a tool like Ahrefs to conduct a similar backlink review of your top five competitors. The goal of a competitive link analysis is to:
- Understand the number and types of backlinks competitors have and use this data as a relative benchmark.
- Identify the authoritative websites that link to competitors to inform your team of neglected link opportunities.
- List the most linked-to content of competitors to compare content strategy success.
Analyze Local Citations
When addressing the SEO authority of a website, it is important to review a company’s local profile in the areas where it is most active.
Local Citations: A citation is a listing of your organization’s physical locations that the search engines refer to when visitors conduct a local search.
Local listings are essential as 50 percent of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone will visit a store within a day.
To scale your local authority, it is important that your company has an accurate local profile on websites like Yelp, Yellow Pages, Google, Bing, and elsewhere.
Use a free local listings scan like Yext or Moz Local to conduct an overview of your listings for each company location. This scan pulls together a broad report to highlight where your business locations aren’t listed, as well as the types of information you’re missing like address, phone number etc.
If you pay to use either Yext or Moz Local, they can both help to scale and streamline the process of keeping your local citations updated across each service. However, each of these profiles can be updated manually for free for each location as well.
The decision to pay for the tools or go the manual route depends on how many physical locations your company needs to optimize.
If there’s only a few then it makes sense to update them manually, but if you’ve got 10+ locations it may be cost effective to purchase a tool that automates the process to save time and resources.
Local Reviews: Reviews of your physical location influence search rankings, but also impact the decision-making process of consumers looking for a business that suits their needs, whether they are looking for a restaurant or a tailor.
To evaluate your existing reviews manually, visit each local listing website where customers are leaving feedback. If your business is only comprised of one or a few locations, than looking at your existing reviews shouldn’t be too difficult of a process.
Keep track of locations that perform better than others in terms of receiving more positive reviews to learn what is done at that location and apply these lessons across your stores to increase reviews.
Take note of patterns in feedback both positive and negative to apply these findings, as well as respond to all negative reviews to resolve any open issues.
If your organization has many physical locations, manually checking each website isn’t an efficient use of your time as there are tools to bring all reviews from different services into one dashboard.
Tools like ReviewPush, Reputology, and ReviewTrackers allow organizations of all sizes to scale their efforts analyzing and responding to reviews, saving time and resources as your company continues to focus on building authority with SEO.
Recommended Tools for Pillar 4: Authority
- Google Search Console
- Open Site Explorer
- Ahrefs SEO Backlink Checker
- Google’s Disavow tool
- Moz Local
Pillar 5: Promotion
According to a BuzzSumo report, 50 percent of content gets eight shares or less and even fewer links, as of November 2015, which will only get worse as more competition arises.
Accounting for the promotion of content is often neglected in a typical SEO audit, as social media and the growth of influencer marketing online have continued to evolve.
Promotion involves generating awareness, traffic and engagement to your website and content through the use of social media and industry influencers online and offline.
Content promotion should be a significant component of any 2017-focused SEO strategy since the amount of content published today makes it difficult to stand out.
An SEO strategy optimized for promotion focuses on:
- Reviewing your social media presence and social sharing performance.
- Analyzing existing influencer partnerships and building new relationships with content creators.
Review Social Media
To understand what areas of your social media marketing efforts need to be improved for SEO purposes, start with your existing social profiles.
Create and Optimize Social Profiles: While the exact influence social media has on search is unclear, it’s evident that a business’s profiles on channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere rank on the first page when searching for a company’s brand name.
Identify whether your company has an optimized profile on the major social media channels where your audience is most active. It is not important that your brand be active on every channel, but it should have a robust presence on a few social sites that matter the most to your audience.
Dominating the search results for your own brand name is essential to establishing authority in search but also to quickly providing customers with the best social channel they can use to communicate with your business.
Identifying, creating, and optimizing your social media profiles is primarily a manual process, as well as regularly updating each account with relevant content of interest to your customers and related to your company’s offerings.
Ensure the title, URL, and profile of each social media account accurately identifies your company and includes necessary contact information to help make it easier for Google to pull those profiles for inclusion in the search listings.
To add social media icons from your social profiles to Google’s search listing of your company (as seen above on the right), follow this tutorial from Marketing Land and set up structured data markup on your site.
Analyze Social Sharing: Google and the major search engines use some level of social signals as an indicator of quality in the search results, but it is unclear to what extent.
There’s likely a loose correlation between a resource that is heavily linked to and widely shared, providing the search engines with a stronger sense of the relevancy of a piece of content.
To get the most exposure for a website and its content, focus on getting it shared by your audience on social media.
Getting content shared for the sake of it being shared is not useful, but creating worthwhile, valuable content relevant to your customers and making it easy to share is a worthy investment.
Analyze how widely shared your existing content is to date by using BuzzSumo or Ahrefs Content Explorer as each tool breaks down shares by social network, while also providing the total shares every content item generates.
Whether reviewing sharing data within each tool’s dashboard or exporting this data to Excel, identify the following information to understand your performance on social:
- Which social channels drive a majority of your social shares?
- What content topics drive the most shares on social media?
- Which types of content are shared the most on social media?
- What elements are present in your most shared content that can be duplicated to spur future social sharing?
Energize, Analyze, & Develop Influencer Relationships
“Social media not only gives your content exposure to a new audience that isn’t necessarily searching for you on Google, but social also provides an opportunity to connect with influencers via the content you’re sharing,” says Neal Schaffer, founder of Maximize Your Social and founder, editor-in-chief of Maximize Social Business.
Schaffer recommends using social to promote your content and engage with influencers, which should help inform what content to refresh in the future for continued success in search, as well as what content topics and formats should be your company’s cornerstone content pieces.
Influencer Audit: Identify existing influencers that are discussing and sharing your content on social media and elsewhere online by using BuzzSumo and searching the URL of your website.
BuzzSumo will populate a list of content that’s been shared on social media with the option to View Sharers, which creates a new report of the Twitter accounts that shared a particular article or page on your website.
This report helps your company identify who’s already sharing your content, the number of Twitter followers they have, the average number of retweets these users get, and what percentage of their tweets are replies and retweets as compared to regular tweets.
Review this report and identify Twitter users with an engaged audience that shares your content or content of a similar subject. These may be influencers worth contacting and building a relationship with or that simply deserve a “thank you” from your marketing team.
Finding the influencers already interested in your content and building a stronger relationship with them can help lead to more promotion of your content on social media, as well as more mentions online that result in additional backlinks to your website.
Attracting Influencers: If your company’s content isn’t currently being shared by influencers you’re excited about, then use BuzzSumo to identify what influencers are sharing as it relates to your industry overall.
Using BuzzSumo, search for topics related to your company’s offerings and expertise to get listings of influential accounts on Twitter sharing content related to the particular topic. In the example above, I searched for the topic “healthy fast food” to find experts discussing the subject across Twitter.
This data can help inform outreach to tastemakers in your industry, which can help increase the likelihood they’ll be interested in partnering as they are already sharing related content to your own.
Recommended Tools for Pillar 5: Promotion
Now You Have a Complete SEO Audit
That’s a wrap! In our opinion, these are the most important areas to pay attention to when conducting an SEO audit of your website.
There are certainly areas we left out, but the SEO elements included will have the most impact for the widest range of businesses. Are there any elements, tips, or strategies that weren’t included that you’ve found useful in the past when conducting an SEO audit? Share your thoughts with us over on Twitter @DigitalCurrent.