In digital marketing, the term SEO gets thrown around a lot, and while search engine optimization holds the key to improving a site’s visibility, understanding and implementing it is a complex process, where the step of performing an SEO audit plays a central role.
But what does an SEO audit include exactly? Simply put, it’s an evaluation of how friendly your website is perceived as by search engine crawlers. Those bots index pages – they are essentially automations judging the level of a site’s optimization – and rank them in search engine results pages (SERP), based on certain criteria.
An SEO audit considers many factors and aspects – from your site’s architecture and design to its content and backlink profile, among others. The findings from it serve to offer valuable insight into how good your website performance in SERP actually is, according to the active SEO requirements.
This blog post delves deep into the integral components of the auditing process, whose results you can utilize to enhance your site’s performance. So, buckle up and let’s get started!
Site architecture and internal linking
A well-organized site architecture is helpful for both SEO and user experience (UX). Ideally, it fulfills its role of presenting users with a seamless and intuitive navigation experience, which is also what crawlers look for when indexing your content.
On a technical level, the site structure comprises of all the pages on your site, sorted in a hierarchical order of categories and subcategories. The most prominent pages, such as the homepage, are deemed to have a higher page rank because of their high level of SEO.
High-rank pages share what can be referred to as “link juice” through links to other pages within the website – a practice of internal linking. That way, main categories lead to subcategories one or several levels down, until reaching product and blog pages.
If we compare site architecture to a family tree, the homepage acts as a parent, with the category pages being its children; subcategories – grandchildren; blog and product pages – great-grandchildren.
That way, internal links are like familial connections, allowing others to get to know each family member – in this case, users and search engines to move with ease between pages.
When done right, your internal linking should distribute page rank across all your pages in a way that the number of clicks required to reach a given page is minimal for the best UX. Combined with other practices like site search, users and crawlers alike can find your website useful and worthy of visiting.
Logically, you want to avoid leaving out pages out of the site structure, unless, for one reason or another, your aim is to close-off access for site visitors. When you unpurposefully do that, you might frustrate users and confuse search engines because of broken links and duplicate links.
When performing SEO audits, you will have to split the process into steps, including one for a separate on-page SEO audit and similarly, a separate off-page SEO audit.
On-page audit refers to examining all the SEO elements present on your site’s pages. Each one has to include relevant keywords and high-quality content (that provides a lot of value to users).
Keyword usage and keyword placement are the initial steps towards on-page optimization, made possible by the process of keyword research.
First, you have to use SEO tools that will help you find out what those keywords are. Then, you make sure that your seed, target, and related keywords appear naturally in your title tags, meta descriptions, headers, and throughout the rest of your content.
During and after this process, be wary of keyword stuffing – inserting too many keywords too often in your text just to reach a certain length. The on-page SEO audit serves to examine keyword density and helps you ensure you are within the acceptable limits.
You may have heard a saying that goes like this: “It’s not about what you say; it’s about how you say it”. In SEO, it’s about both.
Meaning, your meta descriptions and page titles should include the target keywords you have set for each page, and the on-page content should also be of high enough quality to justify staying on it. To users and search engines alike, it’s about what you say and how you say it.
This extends to your pages’ URL structure as well. Clean, concise URL’s that contain your target keyword are more user-friendly and effective for SEO. For instance, www.example.com/seo-audit-guide is a better choice than www.example.com/post-123456.
Identifying and rectifying SEO issues with elements that influence the technical health of your website is part of your technical SEO audit. This section can sometimes be overlooked due to its perceived complexity, but we’ll try to break it down in a simple way.
Before all else, you will need to know how quickly your pages take to load. Measuring the page speed of your website allows you to understand why some users might be bouncing off it, or why search engines do not choose your pages above others despite everything else being on point.
Reason being, faster loading speeds provide a better user experience and require less time of crawlers to index a larger number of pages, improving your site’s visibility in SERP.
Among these technical aspects are also XML sitemaps – a form of a roadmap that leads search engine bots to all the pages you deem relevant. That can be a list of just some pages or all your website pages.
Without a sitemap, new pages might take longer to get indexed and old pages that are no longer relevant might not get removed, cluttering your website’s indexing and hindering performance.
Within the possible technical SEO issues you should keep in mind, one is related to site security. Most sites utilize the encrypted version of HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), which is HTTPS, where the S stands for “secure”, because it is more capable of enduring data breach attempts.
Google and other search engines view HTTPS as a ranking factor, as online security is not only a fad, but a real concern. Browsers have also been staying up-to-date, with warnings against HTTP sites that might be vulnerable or prone to utilizing user data in an unethical or unaligned with the GDRP requirements manner.
Lastly, checking for duplicate content. This one matters a lot, because search engines are likely to not deem your website naturally optimized and rank it lower if they index pages that share too many similarities or are blatantly identical in matter of content.
A technical SEO audit helps you identify these issues and suggest actions to rectify them, such as setting up 301 redirects or using canonical tags. In many cases, you will be able to gather information and act on it with the help of free tools like Google Analytics, though there are paid options that offer even more flexibility in your approach.
Nowadays, mobile traffic is undeniably larger than before, and in order to accommodate people on mobile devices, your website has to perform well on them.
Mobile friendliness entails several things, starting with responsive design that adapts to different screen sizes.
Consider tablets and niche types of phones as well:
- ones that are narrower in width than the average smartphone (e.g. Sony Xperia 1)
- ones that fold halfway (e.g. Samsung Z Flip)
- ones that can unfold and have twice as much screen space (e.g. Samsung Z Fold, Pixel Fold, etc)
You will likely notice that with certain types of phones, your website may not be looking as sharp as it could (especially with the Fold series). When optimizing your website for mobile devices, you need to ensure that navigation elements are easily clickable on any screen size and the overall arrangement remains unaffected.
User-friendliness is a main principle in user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. Are buttons and links spaced enough for mobile users to tap on? Is your content structured in a way it can be seen without issues on smaller screens?
Google Search Console has a test for mobile-friendliness that you can use to test this aspect.
Page speed we already mentioned, and it is important to stress on its effect on mobile users. When you’re on the go, you don’t always have an internet connection at the same speed as at an area with high coverage.
That’s where Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool can help you see how well your site performs on desktop and mobile, giving you suggestions for improvements.
Features and functionalities on your website should, understandably, be made accessible. During an audit, you can test them on mobile devices, going through the whole process for forms, shopping carts, etc.
Throughout this phase, you will find SEO audit tools like Google Search Console to be your best friend. Even more so if you wish to perform this for free, as Google’s line of marketing tools works without you having to pay a dime.
Backlink profile analysis
Off-page SEO is defined by your backlink profile, for the most part. Backlinks are external links from other websites that point to your own website, and your backlink profile is defined by the quantity and quality of those links.
From the point of view of a search engine, backlinks serve as a vote of confidence in your content. High-quality backlinks are considered ones coming from reputable and authoritative websites that excel in SEO and rank highly in SERP. Low-quality backlinks come from websites that might exhibit suspicious activity and unethical practices of handling user data.
You can check your backlink profile at any time with the help of tools like those offered by SEMrush or Ahrefs. They allow you to see which sites link to yours, how authoritative they are and what anchor text (the hyperlink text you click on) they use to link to your site.
Ideally, your backlinks should come from a wide range of different sites and various types of content. Lack of link diversity is a sign your site sends to Google that could be considered a red flag.
An even bigger red flag is the presence of harmful links that could lead to a Google penalty. These might include paid links, links from spammy or low-quality sites, or an over-reliance on keyword-rich anchor text.
It is possible to use Google Disavow and tell Google not to take into account certain sites when ranking your pages, but this is a step you should only take after conducting a proper research on each of those websites. Otherwise, your SEO might be negatively affected instead.
To go through this step, you need to perform a competitor analysis. That way, you can identify potential link-building opportunities and understand what types of content are likely to attract links in your industry. In some cases, this might include working on both internal and external links within your website.
Evaluating the quality, relevance and optimization of your site’s content happens through content analysis.
First, check for duplicate content on your pages, where you have chunks of identical information. Tools like Siteliner can identify such content, which you can then rewrite to prevent any confusion on search engines’ part, since their indexing prioritizes non-duplicate, original content.
Next, verify how well you have performed your keyword optimization. While keywords should be naturally integrated, if they do not reflect what your target audience is searching for, you might have to redo this phase.
While Google hasn’t explicitly mentioned it as a ranking factor, it is considered important because it increases a site’s credibility and reliability, and if you are wondering what we mean – that is assessing your site’s content from the perspective of E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness).
It ascertains your content is accurate, well-researched, and provided by qualified, experienced authors.
User engagement metrics such as bounce rate, time on page, pages per session and more can also be handy in determining how users find your content. If they leave quickly or visit few pages, this might be an indicator your content does not meet their needs.
Last but not least, content structure – if it’s hard to navigate a page, then you need to rework its structure. This involves looking at things like your use of headers, bullet points, and other formatting elements.
Local search optimization
Every business serves a geographical area, but some do so on a much smaller scale than others. Local search optimization pertains to those websites that target a more specific area.
Even if your website is globally active, there might be elements that are only relevant in a single region. On the most basic level, this means you should include local identifiers for your business, so that customers can use them to search for your products or services.
There are several local identifiers you can utilize:
- Business name, address and phone number. You likely already have these. They are responsible for keeping your NAP (name, address, phone) information consistent across all online platforms.
- Google My Business listing. This is what helps Google sort local search results and provide key information about your business to users, such as operating hours, location, reviews and photos. You can claim and optimize yours anytime.
- Local keywords. These are keywords or phrases that include geo-specific cues, such as a city, neighborhood or service areas.
- Local citations. Mentions of the business NAP on other websites, such as directories.
- Online reviews. Reviews on platforms like Google, Yelp and others provide context about your business and help in your reputation management efforts that also affect local search ranking.
- Local schema markup. Schema markup is a semantic vocabulary added to your website’s HTML to help search engines understand the content of your site, giving clues about the meaning of a page and the type of content on it and potentially leading to improved SERP display and higher click-through rates.
A local schema markup does the same, but on a local level, adding structured data with local information on your website. That way, you can allow crawlers to better understand your pages display your business information.
A common practice and a necessary step during an SEO audit is competitive analysis that involves assessing your site’s SEO performance in comparison to your competitors at the top.
For that, you need to begin by identifying your main online competitors, who are not necessarily the same as your direct business competitors. Any website that ranks well for your target keywords can be considered a competitor.
From there, with the help of the same SEO tools you have picked for your own site’s audit, analyze your competitors’ sites. Look at their backlink profile, keyword usage, site structure and other factors that you already know you can rely on.
Pay attention to keywords in particular because those hold the most weight in rankings. What keywords are your top competitors using to rank higher than you? How do top competitors use them naturally? Which ones are the seed, target and related keywords? Ask the same questions that you would ask when talking about your own site.
Look at your competitors’ content and continue with the questions. What topics do they cover? How in-depth is their content? This could inspire new content ideas or at least give you a direction to go in.
Throughout this process, remember that your goal is not to copy, but to understand. Competitors will always have their own leverage, but you have yours. When you know what strategies they are likely employing and can identify areas where you can focus your efforts, the results of a competitor analysis can be extraordinary.
Likewise, when you do that during every phase of an SEO audit, you can collect all the necessary data, analyze it and compile a website audit report. This report should summarize your findings and highlight pain points to address, providing clear, actionable recommendations for improvement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I conduct an SEO audit myself or should I hire a professional?
While it’s possible to do it yourself using various tools, a professional SEO auditor will have the expertise to identify complex issues and provide strategic recommendations. When working with ecommerce platform providers like NEXT BASKET, you have access to such services as an option within any business plan.
How long does it take to see improvements in my site’s performance after conducting an SEO audit?
SEO is a long-term strategy. Some changes yield quick improvements, and others take several months.
How often should I conduct an SEO audit?
The frequency depends on how often you make significant changes to any of the aspects of an SEO audit, but it is considered good practice to conduct one at least once a year.
What specific metrics in Google Analytics should I focus on for an SEO audit?
Organic traffic, bounce rates, pages per session, average session duration and goal completions are especially important for an SEO audit.
How do I find the right keywords for my content?
There are tools that help you with that, such as Google Keyword Planner, Semrush, Ahrefs, and many others. To choose the right one, you will need to identify what you need and see which tool gives you the best cost-to-performance ratio.
What is the impact of broken links on my site’s SEO?
They negatively impact user experience and might reduce the perceived quality of your site, impacting SEO.
How does a secure site (HTTPS) contribute to SEO?
Having a high level of website and data security is a major signal for Google to treat your on a technical level as a trusted source that provides a safer browsing experience for users.