Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a great tactic to ensure that your website is in line with standards that allow it to rank better in search platforms, including Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
However, in recent years, I've seen experts wondering IF SEO still drives traffic.
Well, here's some data to help you out.
- 80% of consumers use Search Engines (like Google) to find local information
- As much as 71% of B2B researchers state that their research starts with generic searches
- 21% of searches usually lead to more than one click on Google's results
If you have a running site and want to launch a new SEO campaign, the best place to start would be to perform a full-scale SEO audit.
A forensic SEO audit reveals all the areas with problems and what you need to do for better ranking.
Website auditing can be simple or complex depending on the size of your blog.
If you have millions of articles, then it might take days to get the process done.
For those with small-to-medium blogs, the techniques discussed in this article can take a few hours up to a day to get done.
By the way, you don’t need to be a computer science guru or have previous SEO knowledge to follow along.
Here is a sneak peek of the SEO auditing process we are going to talk about:
- Scanning the website for problems
- Fixing on-page and off-page SEO issues
- Backlink analysis
- Content analysis and proper keyword use
Now, let’s get started with the show.
7 Steps on how to perform the perfect SEO Audit for a website
Step 1: Ensure your site exist in one version only-not multiple
If multiple versions of your website exist, then you are going to bump into problems with search engines. I mean how do you expect them to figure out which version is the right one? In this case, it would be easier for them to bypass your site and this will have a massive impact on your rankings.
Your website is likely to exist in the following ways:
Only a single version of the above URL permutations should exist. What do I do with the rest? Use the 301 redirects to forward them to the canonical version. (We explain more about 301 redirects and doing them in our backlinks SEO guide) So, when someone mistakenly types the wrong address, they will automatically be redirected to the correct HTTPS version.
Google currently prefers the https version as it's secure and thus is trustworthy. Bear in mind that if you are still on the HTTP model (one that lacks SSL protection), Google SEO will undervalue your site. Get yourself a free SSL certificate from any of the domain registrars out there.
Apart from the domain address issues discussed above, a conflict between the mobile and desktop versions of your site can hurt your rankings. You need to ensure both are working in perfect harmony.
Step 2: Crawl your site
This is the first practice amongst many. Web crawling is a diagnostic process that details out everything that is wrong about your site. There are countless tools you can leverage to get reliable results. The most common ones include Screaming frog, DeepCrawl, SEMrush, and Ahrefs.
Website crawlers look for the following:
- Duplicate pages - i.e. pages with similar content
- Headings - the type used (H1, H2, H3), keyword usage, and other missing details
- External links - all the websites you link out to
- Meta robots
- Rel Canonical
- Redirects (both temporary and permanent)
- General errors
- URL issues
- Page title tags
- File size
- Images page depth level
- Internal links
- Meta description tags
- Follow and nofollow links and much more
I get the feeling that you are looking for free crawlers. Aren’t you? Well, such tools do exist and work just as well as the paid ones. Screaming SEO offers free audits but only for the first 500 URLs. From there, you may be required to cough out a few dollars per year to continue with it. The best things about this are that it saves you from dealing with coding.
Free alternative tools to Screaming Frog are Xenu’s Link Sleuth and Beam Us Up. Unfortunately, unlike Screaming Frog and the rest, Xenu only scouts for broken links and nothing else. You will need to sign up for other tools for deep levels of website analysis. You can also take advantage of Ahrefs 7-day trial before purchasing the entire package.
But how do I configure a crawler? I hear you ask. Well, it’s not that hard if you pay attention. Let’s get down to it then. In this example, I’ll use Screaming Frog as the tool and Kissmetrics as the site.
First download Screaming Frog (or whichever tool you prefer) and run it.
Explore the crawl settings available by clicking on the configuration tab. If you are a paid customer, you will be able to change some settings, but if you are not, then you will have to go with what is provided.
If you’re satisfied with the settings in place, you can click the “ok” button at the bottom of the page, then key in your website link in the URL box. As I said before, in this sample we will use Kissmetrics. Once you are done, hit “start” and the crawl will get rolling.
Once the crawl is up and running, you will be able to view the progress of all the metrics right from the same interface. Check the screenshot below to see how the tool displays its results.
If you need more explanation on how Screaming Frog works, check out the beginner video on their site. It’s short and straightforward.
Google Search Console is also a great tool for checking your “crawl budget.” It displays the pages Google is currently crawling and how often it crawls your website
Crawling tools are great, but they are not the only way to perform the perfect SEO audit. You can do a simple Google search of your website to find out how it stacks up against the rest. If you type “site: yourrootdomain,” several sections of your website should show up as a sign that your site is crawlable. If we put the concept in action using Neil Patel’s site, the following springs up:
Remember, all the pages won’t show up, and your site doesn’t necessarily need to be at the very top. As long as it’s on the first page, you are all good. If nothing shows up, but your homepage has been indexed by Google, then there is no cause for concern. Want to know if your site has been indexed? Just type info:domainname (for instance, “info:webnots.com”) in the Google search box and hit enter.
Checking your SEO Score
We all struggle so much to get traffic which usually translates to conversions. The higher you rank against competitors, the more credible you become. While the tools mentioned above give you general feedback on how you can improve the visibility of your website, there is a shorter way to know your SEO standing. Just visit SEO Site Checkup and paste your URL in the search box and it will provide you with an SEO score. The software has loads of data and offers suggestions on how to improve.
This checkup can assist you in:
- Know all the broken links on your pages
- Spot the keywords you use often
The screenshot below displays the results obtained for webnots.com. Make use of it to know what sections of your website needs refinement.
Step 3: Perform on-page SEO checkup
On-page SEO is an overarching part of your optimization goals and hence must be looked into during an SEO audit. You can kick things off by first scouting for duplicate pages, title tags, and headers. This process is essential for those with massive content - as there is a chance that some of your content can be present on several other pages.
Are you a subscriber of Copyscape? If you are not, then start thinking of subscribing. This tool is great for identifying duplicate content and can help you avoid potential SEO issues arising from such an issue. Now, let’s move on to the most important pages of your site. By the way, the most important pages of your website are those that receive massive traffic.
Ahrefs is a great tool to identify the most important pages of your site. Simply go to Site Audit ˃ Project ˃ Internal pages, and finally Sort by organic traffic.
Now, whatever you are on, it’s time to analyze its title tags and page title. A title tag HTML code is usually displayed by search engines in the following manner:
Your title must relate to what is within your content and bear the relevant keyword. Also, the characters in it must be within 56-60 characters to avoid truncation. You can manually count the characters or use other Pixel width checkers like Searchwilderness.com, serpsim.com, and many other reliable checkers.
Other things you need to check while performing on-page SEO includes Meta description and headers. While Google’s John Mueller mentioned in his tweet that having several H1 tags on a webpage isn’t an issue, you don’t need to do that. Having multiple headers can distract and confuse your readers. Just stick to one H1 tag with a crisp clear description.
Regarding meta description, this essential part may not affect your rankings, but if you do it right, it can lure customers to check out your site. This section must be compelling and perhaps answer a consumer’s question in 160 to 320 characters.
Something else that’s worth mentioning is clear organization. You’ve gone to great lengths to write top quality content with high traffic focus keywords, so why would you want to be penalized for the lack of a clear hierarchy? The proper organization gives Google and other search engines easy time to crawl your pages and index them. The screenshot below displays an example of a good site layout.
Step 4: Manage internal and external links
Internal and external links provide good ranking juice as long as they are not broken. Links that point nowhere (due to disconnection) are as good as useless and can send bad signals to search engine bots. Links get abandoned often when a site gets either deleted, moved to another place, or restructured. A weekly check-up is recommended to ensure such errors don’t exist.
There are many broken link checkers that you can use for sniffing out orphaned links. The common ones are Integrity (for Mac), Xenu Sleuth, Screaming SEO and Broken Link Checker. Once you have one of these tools, simply paste your URL in the URL box and hit “enter.” You should have the feedback within a few minutes.
Step 5: Check how fast your site loads
There is a ranking boost for pages that load faster. Those that take forever will be sidestepped or ranked poorly simply because they don’t offer a good user experience. According to this article, websites that take more than 5 seconds to load have very high percentages of bounce rates.
Wondering how to check your site’s speed? It’s simple. Start with Google’s PageSpeed Insights. The tool will give you an overview of your site’s speed, how it stacks up against close competitors and recommendations on how to work up your page load time. So, if you get an unsatisfactory report, do what they are recommending.
Step 6: Do a backlink audit
Backlinks are essential to the success of any blog. If many links point to your site, search engines get the idea that you are reputable and helpful to others. The absence of such links or presence of poor quality and spammy links, on the other hand, means your site is not adding value to many internet users, and this could hurt your off-page SEO efforts.
Those with a good number of backlinks need to audit them for effectiveness. Tools such as Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, Open Link Profiler, and Backlink Watch are useful in reviewing backlinks. Backlinks and keywords go hand in hand and therefore it would be a great idea to have a resource like SemRush. SEMrush will help you know what keyword you should rank for or the ones your competitors are using. Such valuable information can help get you back to the top - where you can bask in insurmountable volumes of traffic.
If you are new to the game and no one knows your name or that of your website, then you need to learn how to build top-quality backlinks. It’s not a walk in the park. In fact, the number of backlinks needed to drive a site to the top position can make you give up pronto. Anyway, here are a couple of ways you can get high-quality backlinks to your site:
- Build relations through social media - In your write-ups, try to be honest and transparent. Just be you - don’t pretend to be some know-it-all computer nerd or internet marketer. Telling your story as it is can be a powerful weapon to make people get interested in you.
- Draft competitive content - Great content is the real magnet that attracts backlinks. It’s that simple. People will only link to you if they find your images, content, or illustrations to be worth sharing on their sites. Rehashed, wordy, and ho-hum content doesn’t inspire anyone to click the “share button.” If you must emulate your competitors, then look at their work and come up with something better and publish it on several sites - not just one.
- Create an infographic - People still love infographics because they are visual and thus easy to scan through.
- Draft testimonials for other sites - Reviewing a product or service of competing sites may appear counterintuitive, but it can work wonders for your site. It may not be a good idea in real life, but it’s a great SEO strategy for obtaining backlinks. In your testimonial, make sure your website’s link comes next after your name.
- Link to other sites - Links can get two websites to communicate with each other. When you link to a website, reach out to them via email, praise their work and promise to keep sharing it. Do not request a backlink right away. Just keep playing your game, and they will be compelled to return the favour.
- Comment on blogs similar to yours - Yes, it’s a great way to let the site and its readers know about your existence. Check a sample comment below.
Step 7: Perform a full content audit
Keyword research, broken links, and poor off-page optimization aside, the biggest culprit to poor ranking is underperforming content. Yes, you heard me right. Some pages on your site receive little to no traffic at all because their content doesn’t add value to readers. Keeping such articles around does more harm than good.
When you delete low-quality content from your site, not only do you give the rest a chance to shine but you minimize the possibilities of massive bounce rates as well. But before you put a knife to those articles, check if they can be updated for reposting. If they are absolute crap, go ahead and uproot them. Oh, just one thing, though-while deleting a page, make sure you have another relevant spot to redirect those empty URLs to so you don’t lose those few clicks still trickling in.
There are also those instances where several pages are all focusing on one keyword. This is what digital marketers define as keyword cannibalization.
What the heck is that? It’s self-sabotage because your pages are competing against themselves thus undermining the chance of one of them taking the spotlight.
The solution to keyword cannibalization is simple; take those posts and merge them to form one super-epic post. You should see that the post performs better than the previous stand-alone versions.
Is this the ultimate "How to" for Search Engine Optimization?
There are many ways to perform the perfect SEO audit for a site. Any guide that presents itself as the ultimate reference point for SEO auditing would be lying. SEO practices vary a lot, and the worst part is, Google keeps changing its algorithms without explaining why they did so. Even better, it’s best to do a complete marketing audit that covers some actionable items for ensuring the website is optimized for search if time permits.
Having said that, the methods described in this article are time-tested and found to be reliable. All of them still apply. Avoid some of the mistakes highlighted and make use of the tools suggested, and you will be on your way to the first pages of search engines.