Performing a search engine optimization audit (SEO Audit) of your website is important for many reasons.
First, you can identify problematic areas that need improvement and create an action plan to correct them and second, a good SEO audit will keep your website up-to-date with the latest developments in search marketing and on top of the competition.
What is an SEO audit?
Before getting into the details on how to perform an SEO audit, it is necessary to explain what is it and what to expect from it.
An SEO audit is a process for evaluating the search engine friendliness of a website in a number of areas.
The SEO auditor will check the website against a checklist and come up with recommendations of what needs to be fixed (because it is wrong) and what needs to change so that the performance of the website in search engines is improved.
While there are various tools you can use to SEO audit a website, the best approach is to either do the audit using a guide (like the one you are reading now) or hire an SEO Auditor to do the work for you.
The cost is reasonable and the recommendations of a manual audit are specific to your website and are not generic like those produced using a tool.
What to expect from an SEO Audit?
You should expect 3 things:
- A description of the current state of your website – This is a detail analysis on how your website is performing in search, social media, number of internal/external links and any other information related to your website’s existing state .
- A list of actions based on a SEO audit checklist together with explanations for each and every item in the list.
- A report describing a complete Internet marketing strategy for taking advantage of all available sources of traffic and opportunities on the Internet and not just SEO.
Why it’s important to SEO audit your website on a regular basis
Things change very quickly in the SEO industry and what is working today may not work in 6 months from now.
It is necessary to perform regular SEO audits (at least 2 times per year) to ensure that your website is up-to-date with the latest developments.
How to perform your own SEO Audit?
Now that you are convinced that an SEO audit is a must for every website, let’s see how you can perform your own audit.
After reading almost all available articles on how to SEO audit a website and testing a number of audit tools, I came up with a list of 60 items that covers everything you need to check.
To make it easier to work with the list, it is separated into 5 sections: on-site SEO, website control, social media, off-site SEO and website promotion.
Note: If you feel confident you can jump to the SEO Audit checklist directly and skip the theory, otherwise we can take it step-by-step.
On-Site SEO Checklist
On-site SEO is the most important part of the SEO Audit checklist. In fact, many audits cover this part only but our approach, as explained above, is for checking other areas as well.
To check if your website is optimized for search engines, you need to take into account the following factors:
Titles and Descriptions – Are they unique for each page and within the specified size? Can the user tell from the title what the page is all about and is the description an advertisement of what the page has to offer?
URL Structure – You should check that the urls for each page are unique and properly formatted. For example:
This is a non-optimized URL: ‘http://www.example.com/12/badformattedurl/121358898
This is a good URL: ’http://www.example.com/good-formatted-url’
Good URLs include keywords (but they are not keyword stuffed), include hyphens (‘-‘) to separate the keywords, are unique for each page and are less than 255 characters (including the domain name).
Text formatting – Make sure that you don’t just have plain text in your pages. Any text should be properly formatted using H1 (for the main title) and H2 (for the main headings), bold and italics for the important parts, lists where necessary etc.
Content – The content of your website has to be unique. You can use copyscape to check all your pages for uniqueness and if you find duplicate content you have to remove or de-index these pages.
Use Google Analytics to find the most popular pages (both landing pages and with the most visits) and make sure that these have high quality content (free of spelling and grammar errors, properly formatted, properly promoted in social media etc.).
You also need to check content length and content freshness.
If you have pages with little or no content or pages with similar content, you need to merge them together using 301 redirects.
If you content is old or out-of-date, create a publishing plan and make sure that your website is updated on a frequent basis.
You don’t have to post daily but you need to maintain a steady posting scheduling.
Internal linking – Linking your pages together is useful to both search engines and users.
Check and make sure that you are indeed linking related pages together by taking into account these 4 factors:
- That you are not only using keyword anchor text for the internal links but you use both the full page title and non-keyword anchor text.
- The pages you want to rank better in search have the greater number of internal links.
- The pages you want to rank better in search are linked from your home page.
- You have between 2 – 10 internal links per page.
Images – Images are useful of making a web page easier to read and more attractive to social media (especially Pinterest) but they can work against your SEO efforts if they increase the loading time of a page.
In general you need to check 3 things when it comes to images:
- Image filenames are descriptive to what the image is about. You can use keywords in the filename but do not overdo it.
- All images have the ALT tag defined
- All images are compressed to minimize their size. If you are using a lot of images in your pages you may need to consider using a content delivery network (CDN).
Broken links – Broken links are bad for the user experience and thus not good from an SEO perspective. There are 2 ways to check for broken links:
- Use a tool like Xenu for checking all your external links. The tool is free and can give you a report of all broken links. You can then fix them by either removing them completely from your website or redirecting them to a valid URL.
- Use the ‘Crawl errors’ report in your Google and Bing webmaster tools to find broken links within your website. You can also fix them by correcting the links or doing 301 redirects to a valid URL.
Use of banner ads above the fold – A few year ago, Google started penalizing websites that have too many ads above the fold.
While they are not specifying exactly what do they mean by ‘too many ads’ you can use this guide from Adsense to get an idea what is allowed and what is not (even if you are not using Adsense the examples in the guide are still useful).
If your ad implementation is not according to standards you have to remove or change the position of the ads.
User friendliness – Although it is difficult to judge what is a user friendly web site and what is not, because this depends on the type of website and how it is designed, there are a few checks you can make:
- What happens when a user types a wrong url? Is the 404 page friendly?
- Can the users find what they want is less than 3 clicks?
- Does it have a clearly defined main menu?
- Can you distinguish between Site content and ads?
- Does it have a consistent interface across all pages?
- Does it have a user sitemap?
Page speed – From my experience talking to clients, handling web site page speed is one of the most difficult tasks at least for the non-technical users.
Unfortunately it is also one of the most important SEO factors and HAS to be addressed successfully. There are many studies showing that page speed affects both your rankings and you conversion rates.
Your website should load fast and preferably faster than your competitors. There are tools by Google that can give you recommendations about page speed but in general what you can do is the following:
- Compress images or use a CDN
- Minimize Http calls by using sprites and browser caching
- Minify your CSS and HTML to make their size smaller
- Use a compression plugin or page speed service
If the above list does not make much sense to you, you better hire a developer or SEO expert to do the work for you.
It will not cost you a lot and it is something you have to do if you want to improve your rankings.
Web site structure – Regardless of the type of website you are running, there are certain elements common to all, necessary for SEO purposes and a good user experience. What I usually check is the following:
- Does the website have a clear content structure? Is the content grouped into relevant categories and pages?
- Does it have a breadcrumb on all internal pages?
You can read detail explanations for all the above factors in my post SEO Tips for beginners which also include real examples from our websites.
Web site control Checklist
Are you using all the necessary tools to properly control your website? Have you registered your website with Google webmaster tools, can the search engines bots access your web site without any problems?
Do you know the most important analytics reports to monitor? These are just some of the questions you have to answer in this section of the audit checklist.
Web site control was deliberately position after on-site SEO and before the other parts (off-site SEO, social media and promotion) because if you don’t know basic information about your website (including current state and potential problems) you cannot successfully move on to the next steps.
So, if you find out that there is room for improvement in this part then I suggest that you give this high priority in your implementation plan.
Hint: Our comprehensive DIY SEO Tutorial covers all these steps in details.
Social Media Checklist
You cannot survive online without social media; it is as simple as that.
If you neglect social media and depend solely on search marketing then it’s like putting all your eggs in one basket and your risk is higher.
To make a living online you have to differentiate both your traffic and income sources and dependency on a single source (i.e. Google) is not the way to go.
You may be wondering, how is social media related to an SEO audit?
That’s a good question and there is a very simple answer: Social media affects your SEO efforts both directly (in the form of links) and indirectly (more exposure which may create more natural links and direct visits) so it is a factor that can influence your efforts to have a properly optimized web site.
Basically what you have to check in this section is whether you have a proper presence in the most important social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest), whether it’s easy for people to find and follow you in those channels and if your social media profiles are SEO optimised.
Off-Site SEO checklist
Off-site SEO is important but if you are not careful of what you are doing and if you don’t know exactly what you are allowed to do and what not, it is also very risky.
Although there are only 3 items in the checklist, you need to do a bit of analysis before having a clear picture about your off-site SEO current state.
Incoming links profile analysis – Find out who is linking to your web site
You can find out about your incoming links either by using a tool like SEMRUSH or by using the ‘Links to your site’ report from Google webmaster tools.
If you already have a subscription to semrush, you can also use it to compare your website in various areas with your main competitors.
Hint: If you are not familiar with webmaster tools, you can read my quick guide: How to use Google and Bing webmaster tools for beginners.
Once you have the report with incoming links you need to answer the following questions:
- How many unique domains are linking to you?
- Which of these domains are considered trusted domains?
- How many links are pointing to your home page and how many links to your internal pages?
- Which of your pages have the most incoming links?
- What percentage of the links is keyword based?
Depending on the answers, you may have to take some corrective actions so make sure that these are included in your action plan.
For example, If only a few domains are linking to you, you need to get links from related domains so you need to create a list of possible websites to be used for guest blogging.
If you don’t have links from trusted domains you need to get in touch with the leaders in your niche and let them know that you exist (it’s easier said than done but if you get noticed by the big fish you have more chances surviving in the pot).
If all the links are pointing to your homepage, you need to ensure that links are pointing to your internal pages as well. You can do this by either removing links from the home page or by building more links to the internal pages.
If all the incoming links are keyword based (and you have not yet had a penalty by Google) you need to urgently change them by making them more natural by using your domain name only, your full post title and things like ‘click here’,’ link’ etc.
Unlike on-site SEO, off-site SEO is not a straightforward task and that’s why you need to know exactly what you are doing.
Links are important if you want high rankings but you really don’t have to go out and build links like crazy.
Instead, you should concentrate your efforts in building good websites (with good content) and links will flow in naturally.
For my web sites I don’t do any massive link building (besides a few selective guest posts) and they are performing exceptionally well in all search engines. You can view real cases studies and read all about it in SEO eBook.
Web site promotion checklist
The last part of our SEO audit checklist goes beyond SEO and slightly touches the area of Internet marketing. Certainly internet marketing is not only about these 6 items but these are proven to work with minimum effort.
For example, you must have a mobile version of your web site since more than 50% of online searches are made through mobile phones.
You need to have an android app when there are millions of new android users per day; you need to have some presence in YouTube since millions of people are on YouTube every single minute.
In other words, you need to look for the big picture and how you can promote your website on the Internet (as a whole) and not just on search engines.
A good SEO Audit will include recommendations for finding your missing opportunities, finding where your potential customers are hanging out online and suggest ways on how you can make those your readers or even better your customers.
For all those who have made it to this point, congratulations! If something is not clear or there is a point you did not understand, let me know in the comments below and I would be more than happy to answer it.
SEO Audit checklist (Updated 2017)
ON-SITE SEO CHECKLIST
- Titles are unique for each page?
- Titles length is between 50 – 65 characters?
- Description tag is between 150-160 characters?
- Description tag is not keyword stuffed?
- URLS are SEO friendly?
- H1 Headings for title?
- Use of H2 and H3 for subheadings
- Small paragraphs and use of bold, italics
- Is there a unique logo for the web site?
- Is there a favicon?
- Content on the web site is fresh?
- Content length on post pages?
- Content optimized for featured snippets?
- Internal linking – Do you link internal pages?
- Internal linking – Use of anchor text (is it varied?)
- Trying to rank for high competitive keywords?
- Is there an ALT tag for all images?
- Are image files names descriptive?
- Image file size is optimized?
- Blog comments have the ‘nofollow’ tag?
- External links have the ‘nofollow’ tag (if not from trusted websites)?
- Banner ads have the ‘nofollow’ tag?
- Are pages with duplicate or no content, noindex and nofollow?
- Too many ads above the fold?
- Checked for invalid use of 301 and 302 redirects?
- Site implements rel=canonical to identify the original content?
- Site checked for broken links?
- Page speed: Average time to load home page?
- Page speed: Average time to load other pages?
- Are most important pages linked to from home page?
- Are most important pages linked to from Sidebar?
- Is there a user sitemap (html) in the main menu?
- Is there a ‘related posts’ section below each detail page?
- Is there an author for all site pages?
- Is there a breadcrumb on all pages?
- Is there a custom 404 page?
WEB SITE CONTROL CHECKLIST
- Is the web site registered on Google Webmaster tools?
- Is the web site registered on Bing Webmaster tools?
- Checked robots.txt?
- Is there a valid XML Sitemap?
- Is the web site registered with Google Analytics?
SOCIAL MEDIA CHECKLIST
- Social media buttons on all pages?
- Is there a Facebook business page?
- Is there a Google+ business page?
- Is there a Pinterest business page?
- Is there a twitter account?
- Are social media profiles SEO optimized?
- Facebook Like box?
- Google+ Add to circles button?
- Newsletter and RSS registration?
OFF-SITE SEO CHECKLIST
- Number and type of inbound links?
- Opportunities to acquire new links?
- Competitor analysis
WEB SITE PROMOTION CHECKLIST
- Does the web site have a mobile friendly version?
- Is the web site listed in Chrome Web Store?
- Is there a native android app in Google Play?
- Is there a native amazon app in Amazon Store?
- Does the web site have a dedicated YouTube channel?