Regardless of your business, industry or niche, a great process to have in your arsenal is mastering an SEO audit. Even if it’s a minimal, quick process or full-scale audit, the results are sure to pay off. Following an actionable SEO audit from start to finish is the first step (of an ongoing process) that is necessary to make sure your website can maximize its organic visibility on search engines. Read on to learn more about how to perform an SEO audit in 9 steps.
SEO audit – a simple definition
An SEO audit is one of the key actions of an SEO professional or website owner. It involves checking various aspects of your website to measure how well it is conforming to organic search best practices. There is no single way to complete an SEO audit, and there are those that focus on on-page audits, off-page audits, technical SEO audits, website audits, and Google Business Profile audits, just to name a few. But there are certain best practices involved in an SEO audit to ensure you can maximize your visibility and performance on search engines.
Why do an SEO audit?
An SEO audit is essential to succeeding in terms of Search Engine Optimization. Understanding what the audit is for and even doing it is not the most important aspect, but rather the actionable results that are derived from the audit. When completing your SEO audit, you might find that certain pages on your website are not accessible to search engines, that there is competing content, or a topic that is essential to your business and has no landing page. In order to improve your website performance, an SEO audit is essential.
When to do an SEO audit?
Considering the reasons to do an SEO audit, it is critical to know that almost any time is the perfect time to do an SEO audit. SEO audits can be performed monthly, quarterly, or annually. In fact, some steps in an SEO audit can be completed weekly. The bottleneck is simply the reward based on the time it will take to complete. Mostly, we would recommend doing a complete SEO audit at least once a quarter. But this can be more often or less often based on the size of your website and the amount of content that is published monthly.
Popular tools used in an SEO Audit
An awesome set of SEO tools can make or break the success of your audit and drastically decrease the time it takes. Here are the required tools for our x step SEO audit.
- Google Search Console
- Screaming Frog (free is ok, but the paid version is more helpful)
- Google (of course)
- SEMrush or Ahrefs (if you want to dive in deeper into rankings, keyword research or automate aspects of the audit)
Further Reading: The 15 Best Free SEO Tools You Need to Know
How to Perform Your Own 9 Step SEO Audit
1. Crawl your website
One of the most essential steps in any SEO audit is to complete a crawl of your website. There are a few high-quality website crawlers that work well for this purpose, but the one we have found to be the most useful is Screaming Frog. Website crawlers mimic the way Google might crawl your website following the sitemap.xml or by crawling from link to find and analyze each page on your website.
This step of the audit contains a few sub steps which can be achieved from the results of the crawl.
A) Identity broken links and redirected links
When a page from a website is deleted (if you have set it up correctly) then a 404 error or “page not found” will be returned instead of that page. The issue is that many times a 404 page is not useful for users, and it is not useful for search engines. When looking at the results of your website crawl, find any 404 pages that are linked from your content. If the pages at one time existed on your website, then you can choose to either remove the link, replace it with an alternative page that satisfies the same intent, or create a new page satisfying that intent.
B) Update any redirected links
There are two common types of page redirects; a 301 redirect which is permanent and a 302 redirect which is temporary. In most cases, these redirects are caused by you either updating a page and the URL changed or the link is pointing to a non-canonical version of the page (HTTP instead of HTTPS) and it redirects to the proper version. Internal links that redirect slow down the experience of the user on your website and send mixed signals to search engines and should be replaced.
Pro tip: When pages have been redirected multiple times it creates a “redirect chain” and identifying and fixing these should take a higher priority. Example: page 1 > page 2 > page 3. This is inconvenient for website crawlers as well as users and hurts your overall SEO efforts.
C) Check key on-page signals
In the next step of your SEO audit you should look at your meta title and h1 tags and, we suggest, using a simple site search (for example typing, site:domain.com into Google) to get a quick overview. To take this a step further, you can crawl your website using a tool like Screaming Frog, which will tell you far more detail about elements on your pages like:
- Meta titles and meta descriptions
- All h tags, including h1 tags
- Word count of each page
- The crawl depth of the page
- Any other meta tags like noindex or nofollow
- Pages that are marked as “disallow” in the robots.txt
D) Find orphan pages and internal links
Orphaned pages are pages that are not linked from anywhere else on your website. Since Google finds and index pages via links, it is important to make sure pages can be found by optimizing internal links. Furthermore, in your crawl results it will show you how many links are pointing to each page and how many are pointing out to other pages (inlinks and outlinks). You will want to keep an eye out for pages that have too few links going to them or too many links going out.
Pro tip: In Screaming Frog, export the “all inlinks report” and build a pivot table in Excel. Then you can see all at once which pages link to where and you can even add in the anchor text to make sure that they are optimized.
This will be the most comprehensive view of the on page aspects of your website possible at this stage and you can easily identify pages that can be eligible for a “quick win”.
2. Map out your pages and keywords
Google Search Console is a tool provided for free by Google to allow site owners to monitor traffic from Google to their website. It also allows you to check for some basics like; website speed, crawling and indexing errors, top linking sites, and even notifies you if your site has been hacked. In the second step of your SEO audit, you will be able to see what are the top performing pages of your website and the top search queries for each page. With this information, you can check the page to ensure that you are sufficiently targeting that query and topic on the page and satisfying the search’s intent in the best possible way.
You have a few options here, either check page by page, and copy the URL into a spreadsheet, then add the top keyword for that page. If you have a larger website, then you can easily make use of the Google Search Console API to export all of this information at once. You can use this information to better optimize each page, but there is a lot more that you can do with this information;
- Find pages competing for the same keyword
- Find URLs that are getting clicks or impressions that shouldn’t be (for example, thank you pages)
- Find multiple versions of the same page
- Find low performing pages
Pro tip: Filter out your brand name in Google Search Console to see the top driving results that don’t include your brand, as these are the terms you are actually competing for. But don’t disregard the branded searches, they are an excellent indicator of your brand growth and how recognized you are in your industry.
Further Reading: SEO Basics: A Beginners Guide on How to Do SEO
3. Meta titles and H1 tags
Your meta title is the text that appears as the blue link in search engines. It is important so that users and search engines know the topic and purpose of that page and is arguably one of the most important ranking signals, and that is why it is the third step of your SEO audit. An optimized meta title can improve your organic rankings and increase the CTR for users. Each page should have a unique title that includes the topic (or keyword) that that page is meant to target.
Generally, you should have the main keyword or topic on the far left and many meta titles end with the brand name. In between those two, you should expand on the topic of the page: Here are 2 examples of optimized meta titles:
- Meta Titles: What are they? – Brand Name
- What Are Meta Titles? – Brand Name
You should aim to have a meta title that is about 55 characters long, and every page on your website should have a meta title.
It is almost the same importance and process for the h1 tag. There should only be 1 per page, and it should describe as accurately as possible the main topic for the page. It can be slightly different from the meta title, but the meaning should be the same. Checking your h1 tags will require you to either manually check each page or utilize the results from your website crawler.
Here is an example of a great h1 tag:
- Why Every Web Page Needs an H1 Tag
Here is an example of a not-so-great h1 tag:
- H1 Tags Are Good
Pro tip: Sometimes Google might replace your meta title with your h1 tag, so conduct a “site:domain.com” search on Google to only see the results from your website. It is the quickest and easiest way to see how your web pages appear on Google and to identify any that are too long, too short or not helpful.
4. Robots.txt and sitemap.xml
The fourth step in your SEO audit is also potentially the quickest. It involves checking
- That a robots.txt and sitemap.xml exist.
- Ensuring they are accurate and set up correctly.
A robots.txt is a text file that lives in the root folder of your domain, so you can find it at domain.com/robots.txt. It is a set of instructions to search engine crawlers detailing which subfolders and pages they are permitted to crawl and which they are not.
A sitemap.xml is essentially a list of all pages on your website that you want search engines to discover, crawl and index. It also lives on the root folder in most cases and can be found at domain.com/sitemap.xml.
On some CMS platforms, the sitemap.xml and robots.txt is automated and managed automatically, which eliminates the risk of errors. If you are using WordPress then popular plugins like Yoast or RankMath also help you to manage these.
You want to keep an eye that the robots.txt is not preventing search engines from crawling essential sections of your site with a “disallow” directive and that your sitemap.xml contains your most important pages and does not contain pages you do not want search engines to index.
Further Reading: The 15 Best SEO Plugins for WordPress That You Should Know
5. Menu and footer
The fifth step of your SEO audit is that your menu and footer include links to the most essential pages on your website. You would be surprised at how many menus don’t contain links to the main category pages or main landing pages. If it is easy for users to find your main pages then it will be easy for search engines to find them, too—it’s a win-win. It is also a powerful signal of your site hierarchy
While this might be overlooked at times, it should not be underestimated. And can be done manually or with the assistance of a website crawler, depending on the size of your site.
Pro tip: Don’t use your menu and footer as a dumping ground for any and all links on your website. If there are too many it becomes difficult to navigate and sends mixed signals.
6. Find duplicate versions of your website
Duplicated versions of your website or web pages are more common than you might think. Search engines view even the smallest variations in a URL as a separate URL. This can include any of the following:
- HTTPS vs HTTP
- www vs non-www
- Trailing slash (/) vs non-trailing slash
- Capital letters vs lowercase letters
For the sixth step of your SEO audit, check for non-secure pages and non-canonical pages by including the following after the site search (site:domains.com) to find pages that should not be there (these can be copied and pasted into Google):
- inurl:http: (or -inurl:https:)
- inurl:www (or -inurl:www.)
7. Test if your website is mobile friendly
The seventh step in your SEO audit is to check if your website is mobile friendly. In 2022 most website traffic is from mobile devices (you can also see it for your website in Google Search Console). There is nothing that is worse for users and for your website traffic than a page that cannot load properly on mobile devices. Luckily, Google has created a free tool that can identify issues in the mobile versions of a webpage, called the Mobile-Friendly Test. Some of the most common issues on mobile include;
- Text that is too small
- Button or elements too close together
- JS or CSS that won’t load
- Core Web Vitals and Page Speed
This is now only essential for your users, since 2020 Google has been crawling the mobile versions of websites, so extra care should be taken.
8. Core Web Vitals and Page Speed
As of May 2021 Google is looking at the Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal for websites. They also have a tool that makes measuring the speed of your webpage and the CWV very easy: PageSpeed Insights. In the eighth step, you should use this tool to measure aspects like:
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Largest Contentful Pain (LCP)
9. Google, Google and Google some more
The ninth and final step in an SEO audit, but certainly not least important, is to utilize your most valuable tool: Google. If you are optimizing for search engines, then you must know the relationship between the search engine and your website inside and out.
Google your brand
Start with Googling your brand name to ensure that Google recognizes it’s you. Here are the top things to look for:
- That your website is ranking first for your brand name
- Social media profiles on the first page
- Knowledge Panel and/or Google Business Profile
- Any negative reviews or competitors targeting your brand
Making use of a “site:” search. A “site:domain.com” search will return only URLs located on your website. It provides a quick and easy way to see an overview of your pages.
Here are the top things to look for:
- Do you see any pages you don’t recognize?
- Are the page titles and descriptions an appropriate length and are they useful
- Check for non-secure pages and non-canonical pages by including the following after the site:domains.com to find pages that should not be there
- inurl:http: (or -inurl:https:)
- inurl:www (or -inurl:www.)
- You can also include a main topic following the site search (like site:domains.com running shoes) to see which pages contain that topic or keyword.
- Check the number of pages being returned by Google. In fact, take it a step further and check the same on Bing to make sure the numbers are similar.
This final step in your SEO audit can help you to understand—without any additional tools—the general health of your website, technical SEO errors, content duplication and so much more. Plus, it takes almost no time at all.
Now that you have the knowledge to complete your 9 step SEO audit you are on the right path to creating a website that is both user-friendly and search engine friendly. As you get to know the search landscape and your website’s strengths and weaknesses, you can tweak the audit to derive the best results. Keep up the great work and happy auditing!
This article was written by Kyle Place. Kyle is an SEO professional at Wix.com with experience across various industries. He enjoys trying and testing every aspect of SEO and believes in a data based approach.
Hero Photo by ÇAĞIN KARGI on Unsplash
SEO Audit FAQs
An SEO audit is a strategic review of a website to assess its optimization for search engine ranking. It identifies areas where changes and improvements can be made in order to get the site closer to the best practices defined by Google, Bing, and other search engines. An SEO audit examines key elements such as the structure, content, and technical architecture of a website to identify any potential issues that would prevent search engines from properly indexing the pages.
Here are the steps in SEO audit:
1. Evaluate your website’s current ranking in the search results, analyze meta tags and keywords, review content quality and quantity, check for broken links, and test server response times, among other things.
2. After this initial step, it is important to carefully review all analytics data to understand how users are interacting with the website. This step may also include tracking rankings compared to your competition.
3. Finally, an audit should provide recommendations on how to optimize each area that was previously identified as needing improvement.
Here are the ways you can do SEO audit for free:
1. Use a free keyword research tool such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner or Moz’s keyword difficulty tool to identify which words and phrases would be optimal for your website.
2. Investigate your website to make sure that potential visitors are able to find it on search engines. Look for broken links, outdated content, and pages without titles or meta descriptions that may cause issues with visibility.
3. Use a competitive analysis tool such as Google Trends or SimilarWeb to compare your website against other competitors in your industry and adjust accordingly.
SEO audit tools are an invaluable resource for any business owner looking to improve their online presence and visibility. They allow users to conduct a comprehensive analysis of their website, mapping out any issues that could be hindering its performance from an SEO perspective. Popular SEO audit tools come in many forms, from desktop applications to cloud-based services. Having a robust SEO audit tool is essential if you want your website to rank high in search engine results.
An SEO checklist is an important tool for website owners, webmasters, and marketers to make sure that their websites not only look great but are also fully optimized for maximum success in search engine processing. Having an effective SEO checklist allows you to systematically review all aspects of a page or post so nothing is overlooked. This helps ensure optimal ranking and indexing on major search engines such as Google and Bing.