Search engine optimization (SEO) requires ongoing work. It can feel like you’re always scrambling to keep up with the basics. But sometimes, it’s actually valuable to take a step back from the day-to-day execution of your strategy to perform an SEO audit.
HostGator recently polled our Facebook followers to learn when they did their last SEO audit. Turns out, more than 50% of them had never performed one.
In a way, it’s not that surprising. Website owners are busy, and an SEO audit is the kind of thing that’s hard to prioritize fitting into your calendar. But taking the time to analyze your website’s current SEO status can help you strengthen your strategy and make the work you’ve already put into SEO go further.
What Is an SEO Audit?
An SEO audit is a review of how your website performs now in all the key areas that influence SEO. It helps you spot easy-to-overlook issues that could be negatively affecting your website authority. And it reveals new opportunities to include in your SEO strategy moving forward.
12 Steps to Complete an SEO Audit
An SEO audit will require a considerable time commitment, but the good news is that most of the steps involved are something your average website owner can complete on your own, without having to hire a specialist.
1. Google your brand name.
Easy enough, right? This may seem like a strange step to include here, since your brand name probably isn’t on the list of top keywords you focus on in your strategy. But as long as your brand name isn’t comprised of a common term, if your website has the SEO basics covered, claiming the top spot for it should be a given.
With this step you can confirm that you are, in fact, the top spot for your brand name. If not, that alerts you to a problem you need to identify, such as a Google penalty or a serious technical issue with your site.
If the basics are covered and you do show up, this step also shows you how your website looks on the search engine result page (SERP), so you can check:
- What shows up in the meta description
- If there are sitelinks—links to specific pages on your site that show up under the main result
- If there’s a knowledge graph listing on the right side of the page—a box all about your brand that includes relevant information about you
Google decides which pages to display as sitelinks automatically, so you can’t choose those yourself. But if you don’t have any showing up at all, there are a few steps you can take to increase the likelihood of Google adding sitelinks moving forward, such as developing a clear site architecture for your website and submitting a sitemap in Google Search Console.
If you don’t have a knowledge graph now on the SERP, you can increase your chances of getting one by setting up a Google My Business listing (if your business is eligible). Having an accurate Wikipedia page and using schema markup also helps.
2. Confirm your website has no Google penalties.
If your website has been hit with a Google penalty, it’s crucial that you figure it out sooner rather than later so you can take steps to lift it. To find out if you have a manual Google penalty—one that targets your site specifically—check out Google Search Console.
Once logged in, click on Security and Manual Actions in the left-side menu, then click on Manual Actions. If it says No Issues Detected with a green check, then you don’t have a manual penalty. If you do have a manual penalty, you’ll see details on the problem in this section, along with steps to take to get it lifted.
3. Test out your website on mobile.
Having a website that provides a good mobile experience is a requirement in 2020, both for SEO and to keep your visitors happy. If your website doesn’t work well on mobile, it will hurt you in the search engine rankings. So double check and make sure your website is intuitive and easy to navigate on mobile.
Test it out on any mobile devices you have access to and take a few actions on the site, like signing up for your email list or making a test purchase to make sure you’re testing to the whole experience. Supplement the testing you do on your own with QA testing tools, which will help you see how your website works on different device sizes and browser types than those you use.
If your testing shows your mobile experience leaves something to be desired, make creating a mobile-friendly website a top priority.
4. Check your website speed.
Website speed is a key ranking factor. Google knows that people prefer websites that load fast, so their algorithm does too. Google provides a speed testing tool so you can easily check how fast your website is loading. It will provide you with a score, along with information on what’s slowing your website down and recommendations to fix it.
If the speed test suggests your website needs to be faster, there are a number of steps you can take to speed it up, such as compressing your images and getting rid of unnecessary plugins.
5. Make sure browsers default to one version of your domain.
You want all the SEO work you do to bolster one version of your website, not be split between several. That means you want to be careful you don’t end up with different versions of your domain, such as:
You want all of those URLs to bring up your website if someone types them into a browser, but you also want them all to resolve to one consistent version, so you’re not spreading your domain authority between so many places.
Choose one version to stick with—probably one of the https options—and set up 301 redirects for all the others.
6. Identify and fix broken links
Broken links create a bad website experience for your visitors, which can end up hurting your SEO in turn. Luckily, you don’t have to go page by page on your website and click on every link to spot ones that are bad.
You can use a free tool like Dead Link Checker to automatically find all the broken links on your website. Then make a project out of updating or removing them.
7. Make sure your website is secured with https.
With data breaches and website hacking on the rise, taking the simple step of purchasing an SSL certificate (or choosing a web hosting plan that includes one) upgrades your website from an http to an https. That immediately signals to both Google and your website visitors that your site is more secure. Google has been upfront about its algorithm favoring https sites, so check that your website is https, and invest in an SSL certificate if it’s not yet.
8. Perform a review of your analytics.
You may be regularly reviewing your website analytics as part of your ongoing SEO strategy—that’s definitely recommended! Add in an extra review as part of your SEO audit. You can find pretty much everything you need in Google Analytics, but may want to supplement that data with the analytics included in an SEO tool that makes tracking your rankings easier.
Some of the top things you want to identify here are:
Most popular pages – Which of your pages consistently earns the most traffic? Identify them and analyze what they have in common, and what they can tell you about what works best.
Best converting pages – Which pages are driving your visitors to take the actions you most want them to take, like signing up for your email list or making a purchase?
Highest ranking pages – There will probably be a correlation between this list and your most popular. Determine which pages have made it onto page one for target keywords, and which have snagged those top spots on the page.
What keywords you rank for – Determine which keywords you’re ranking for now, and what pages have those rankings.
Sudden changes in traffic or rankings – Look for trends in how your website and individual pages perform over time. Are there any sudden increases or dips in traffic or rankings? That may point to a penalty or algorithm update.
Pages on page two of the SERP – Pages that come close to making page one, but just miss the cutoff are a prime SEO opportunity. Create a list of all your web pages that currently rank on page two for a target keyword, so you know to prioritize strengthening them.
Underperforming pages – Pages that get little to no traffic or that get traffic but don’t convert should either be scrapped or updated to make them stronger. Put together a list of these as well, so you can determine how best to handle them.
9. Create a content update plan.
Your analytics review will give you a heads up on this, but flesh out the information you gained there with a content audit. The longer you’ve been doing content marketing, the more pages devoted to content you’ll have. Some of these will be woefully outdated, or not up to your current quality standards.
Create a spreadsheet that lists all your content, and put it into categories:
- Content doing well now
- Content doing okay, but that could use an update
- Pieces that are underperforming
Use this spreadsheet to create a plan for which pieces to update, assigning dates for doing so based on priority level.
Those pieces that are on page two or in spots 5-10 on page one now should be a high priority, since you can potentially drive a lot of new traffic by getting a small rankings boost for them. Your top-performing pieces may not need much work, but slight tweaks to keep them up-to-date, add internal links to other pages, and include new calls to action (CTAs) can help you make their success go further. And the underperforming pieces either need a total rehaul, or to be scrapped altogether, with the old URL redirected to another relevant page.
10. Identify new internal linking opportunities.
Most brands concerned with SEO get into the habit of including relevant internal links in the new pages they publish. Fewer do a good job of going back to old content and adding in internal links for newer pieces. Your SEO audit is a good opportunity to do this.
You know the target keyword for each page on the website, do a search of your site to identify all uses of each target keyword you have. Then go in and turn those keyword uses into anchor text for the appropriate page. Building more internal links is an easy way to give Google more signals to associate each page with its target keyword.
11. Implement or update schema markup.
Does your website have schema markup on the relevant pages yet? If not, make part your SEO audit process implementing it.
If you have it already, check that it’s set up correctly. Google offers a free tool for testing out structured data. Just enter your URL, and it recognizes structured data on your website, and alerts you to any errors.
Schema markup gives you an additional way to communicate to Google what your page is about, and the type of content it is. That makes it more likely to show up for relevant searches, and also influences whether or not your web pages are likely to show up for certain types of rich snippets, like recipes or local business results.
12. Evaluate your backlink profile.
This is the main step where investing in a paid SEO tool can really pay off. Use it to gain information on which websites are linking back to yours, what pages on your site are earning the most backlinks, and their anchor text.
Backlinks are a really important part of SEO, and one of the hardest parts of building website authority. And making matters even more complicated, links from websites Google sees as low authority can hurt your overall SEO performance. It’s just as important to identify low-quality links so you can disavow them, as it is to understand where your good links are coming from.
Analyzing your backlink profile also provides useful fodder in the brainstorming and planning you do for your link-building efforts moving forward. Seeing which websites link to you now and to which pages helps you gain clarity in your link-building strategy, so you know the best types of sites to reach out to when promoting specific pieces of content.
Why an SEO Audit is Important
All of this looks like a lot of work because, well, it is. You’re already busy with creating content and building links based on the strategy you already have—can you really fit all this in? An SEO audit is absolutely worth your time because it helps you evaluate all the work you’ve done so far.
You don’t want to keep putting work into tactics that aren’t helping you. And by taking a strategic approach to improving and boosting the work you’ve already done, you can make all the effort you’ve put into SEO already go a lot further.
An SEO audit is an important process for making sure you still have all the basics in place and your SEO strategy makes sense. And you’ll learn important insights to apply to your strategy moving forward.
Fortunately, you can make the audit process go faster, with a free SEO review from the experts at HostGator. Get yours here.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.