You’re a year into your startup journey. You’ve grown your team by 60% and have just signed for a new swanky office in town to call your home.
Your product’s flying out the door and client’s are lining up around the block to use your services.
Word of mouth and referrals have led this growth and you couldn’t be happier. But a few months ago you invested in redesigning your website to bring it inline with the rest of your company.
You’ve had the site since day one and as your company grew it got a bit neglected. Things move so fast in startup land it can be tricky to keep all the plates spinning.
But you finally got round to it and the site looks beautiful yet it’s not bringing in the visitors, leads or sales you’d hoped it would.
Redesigning the front end of your site is only half the battle. Conducting regular and thorough site audits is necessary to make sure everything “under the hood” of your website is working for you too.
In this article we’ll explain what a site audit is, when you should do one, what the goals of a site audit are and the steps you can take to do your first one.
Why even bother doing an Audit?
Think of a site audit like an SEO health check for your website. It’s like a dental checkup that you normally have once every 6 months. A site audit is a way for you to thoroughly examine your site for any problems, issues or opportunities to improve it.
Conducting regular site audits can help you keep on top of any technical issues your site could be having. They allow you to identify problems quickly and take actions to stop them damaging your site’s authority.
SEO, like web development, isn’t a one time, fixed transaction. It’s a constantly evolving process that requires marketers to regularly engage with, and edit the sites they’re managing.
We can’t just write a blog or build a web page and leave it forever. Google’s search algorithms are constantly changing and links in your site can break and expire. Your site’s SEO can look healthy one month but half a year later, without regular checkups, it can look very different.
An SEO site audit is the best way to stay one step ahead of your site’s SEO health. Not only will it help you react to any problems your site is having quickly but it can also help you plan ahead and decide on future SEO strategies you could use to further increase traffic to your site.
What are the goals of an SEO audit and how do you do one?
There are no hard and fast rules for how to conduct a site audit. Google is notorious for keeping its site-ranking algorithm away from the public. So digital marketers and SEO experts need to use educated guesses to figure out what factors Google cares about when looking at a site (Thankfully there’s a lot of software out there that can help you do this).
This is why any article you read online about site audits will often give you contradictory information. Some people will tell you the technical aspects of a site audit are the most important whereas others will focus on link building or on-page SEO optimisation.
This means each person’s goal for their site audit can be slightly different. A large eCommerce site, for example, will be very focused on reducing duplicate pages and making sure all their canonical tags are correct. A small marketing agency on the other hand will want to know its content is appearing at the top of Google search results.
That being said, the ultimate goal of any site audit should be to reduce the number of technical errors on your site and make sure it’s structured in a way that Google likes.
Third party tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs and Moz.com (All have a freemium version or free trial you can use) can analyse your site and report on SEO errors. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. But all will look at your site and return a report which highlights where your site can be improved and what parts of your site are showing errors.
When performing a site audit it is important to note that getting to zero errors is almost impossible.
Many junior SEO executives have driven themselves mad trying to fix every single thing their site audit highlights. The internet is always growing and changing and can produce errors on your site at any time.
The key to using a site audit effectively is managing those errors and keeping them at an acceptably low level.
Setting a goal like “never having more than 100 errors on your site” is a great way to think about goal setting for your SEO audit. Another way to set goals for an audit is to work on reducing the outstanding issues and recommendations presented by the audit by 75% or 50%.
Managing your SEO audit this way helps compartmentalise the work. After all, SEO is a never ending process and if you don’t create tangible goals for your SEO efforts it can be difficult to know whether you’re succeeding or not.
How often should you do an SEO audit?
This is a question we get a lot at Forever. The answer depends on a number of factors. How big is your site? Do you have a dedicated SEO person? Do you even have a digital marketing team? (If not we’d love to help you with all your SEO needs contact us today to see how we can help)
As a general rule of thumb you should do a thorough, comprehensive and detailed audit of your website once a year. This could take a few hours all the way up to a week. But think of this like an annual checkup. A chance to get truly under the hood of your site to have a look at how it’s operating.
In between these yearly checkups however there’s plenty of opportunities to keep an eye on your site and monitor its health status. If you have a small marketing team or an individual whose job it is to look after the site, allocating a day or two a month for them to review the site’s SEO can really help reduce your workload when it comes to your annual audit.
Doing this also keeps your site’s SEO in tip top shape in between large audits and helps you be hyper-reactive to any issues your site could experience.
How do you do an SEO audit?
Audits like this are on the very techy end of the SEO scale and you’ll be pleased to know you can do a simple yet effective site audit for your website with no technical knowledge at all. All you need is a few online tools which you can get for free and an audit checklist of things you need to review.
We’ve supplied that checklist below along with how to approach each step of your SEO audit.
The first thing you’ll want to look at when you’re doing your SEO site audit is the structure of your website. You want to make sure all your pages are ordered in a logical, hierarchical way.
Your homepage should be at the top of this hierarchy, as that is the most important page on your site. Below your homepage should be your site’s core pages. Pages like your contact page, about us page, services pages etc.
These pages can be thought of as “child” pages to the homepage. The homepage is, you guessed it, the “parent” page.
When you look at your browser’s address bar you can see this structure in your site’s URL.
What’s a subdirectory?
A subdirectory is the technical term marketers use for a child page. They mean exactly the same thing.
As you might have guessed by now, the child pages of your homepage will have their own child pages. So they are parents to another host of pages which are all relevant to the parent page. So, we can use the services example above to show this this in action.
Now you can see the /services/ subdirectory has a page in it about our branding services. All of our Forever’s services pages will be child pages to our main service page. It’s the hub where all the other pages branch off.
Why does this matter?
Google likes to see ordered, logical, easy to navigate sites. The URL’s we’ve shown above act as guides for Google. They’re like pathways its crawlers use to understand your site.
If every page on your site had no structure like we’ve explained above and is just a child page of your homepage your site will look very strange to Google. It will struggle to determine what pages are the most important and which it should prioritise showing to searchers.
How can you check it?
A simple way is by browsing your site and looking at the URL in your search engines address bar. If all your pages are child pages of your homepage it probably means your site has no structure and that’s something you’ll need to fix.
Another tool you can use to look at your site’s structure is Screaming Frog.
You can download it for free and it’ll crawl any site and give you a visual representation of its structure (It can do loads of other cool things too but for this article we’ll just stick to its visualisation tools).
This is Forever’s site structure. Notice the defined tiers all leading to the homepage. This is what Google wants when crawling a site.
How can you give your site structure?
This depends on how your site has been built. If you’re not too tech savvy and you’re working with a developer, ask them to fix the site structure issues for you.
If you’re using WordPress the solution is very simple. If you go into your site’s back end and open up a page on the toolbar on the right hand side there’s an option to set a parent page.
By going through all your pages and making sure their parents are set correctly you can structure your site in a way that Google’s going to love.
Once you’ve checked your site’s structure and made sure it all makes sense you can then move on and look at your site link profile and identify any broken links.
Your site will have both external and internal links and over time some of these may break. When you click a broken link it will take you to a 404 error page. This means the page you were linking to has disappeared.
As you can imagine this isn’t something Google looks kindly on and any broken links on your site or to external websites must be fixed otherwise Google could penalise you.
SEMrush, Ahrefs and Moz will tell you how many broken links you have when they produce a site report for you. You could also use a free tool like broken link checker to find all your broken links. Tools like this will return a list of broken links and the pages they’re on and you can go in and fix each one.
Building internal links
While you are checking for broken links it is also worth looking at your internal linking profile. Like your site structure, building up links between blog posts and content that share similar goals and themes is a good way of telling Google what the content on your site is about.
If you want to get really deep into your audit you can use WordPress plugin Yoast to analyse the amount of internal links on any page on your site. By making sure your blog content is linking with other relevant content on site you’re giving Google more data it can use to understand what your content is about and it will rank your site highly on the search results page.
Once you’ve done this with your old content you can begin to do it to new blog posts and content you release. When you publish a new blog go back through your older posts and find relevant anchor text you can use to link it to your new posts.
Do this with every new post and when it comes to your annual site audit you’ll see a great looking internal linking profile.
Make sure your titles and meta descriptions are optimised
The title of your page is one of the first things Google looks at when ranking some content. It’s important that the title is keyword optimised and tells readers clearly what the page is about. The same goes for the meta description. Your meta is a brief two sentence description of what your content is about.
These might not seem all that important but it’s worth remembering there the first two things visitors will be before they even enter your site.
Tools like Ahrefs and Moz can tell you if your title tags and meta are keyword optimised or too long but it’s worth going over them manually too and checking that the copy has all the keywords you want a page to rank for.
When it comes to title tags too, don’t be afraid to get descriptive and add search terms you want your pages to rank for. Time and time again we see websites where the title tag for their homepage is just that “homepage” or slightly better “company name – homepage”.
This doesn’t give Google much information to work with. If you look at the image above you can see our title tag contains the keyword “digital marketing agency” in the title and meta.
When you’re auditing your site, reviewing these manually is a good way to make sure the information you’re presenting to Google is as helpful as possible.
Duplicate content is another thing to review when auditing your site. Screaming Frog, Ahrefs and Moz will let you know when you have duplicate content issues on your site. This can be a real issue if you’re an eCommerce site (Let’s use a trainer eCommerce store as an example). You might have 10 pages on your site for 1 type of trainer that are basically identical except for their size.
Why is this an issue?
Google likes sites that are informative, useful for visitors and helps them solve a problem they’ve having. Google also likes unique, bespoke content that has been produced by the company that owns the website. Google doesn’t like copy pasted, duplicate content or pages on a site that it believes add no value to a reader.
When it sees a lot of duplicate pages it thinks one of three things:
1. The website owner is trying to flood the Google search results page by maliciously duplicating pages on their site so they have the best chance to rank.
2. The website owner doesn’t have a good understanding of site structure and this site is confusing.
3. The content management system (CMS) the site owner is using is creating archive’s without their knowledge and this is creating lots of useless duplicates on their site.
All of these will make Google rank your site lower than your competitors. When you have 10 pages all selling the same product Google doesn‘t know which to show to users as they are all the same. To get around this you can use a thing called a canonical tag.
A canonical tag is a piece of code you can add to your duplicate pages that tells Google you know you have duplicates and it should only pay attention to one of them.
So if you run a trainer eCommerce site and you have 10 pages selling the same trainer you can add canonical tags to 9 of them and get them to direct Google to the one page that doesn’t have the tag. This is a really useful way to tell Google what parts of your site it should focus on.
The Yoast SEO tool for WordPress allows you to set canonical tags in your posts so you don’t have to worry about poking around in code to set them up.
Content management systems not behaving
Another common source of duplicate or redundant content on a site can come from tools like WordPress or Wix automatically adding pages to your site that you don’t want. If you have multiple authors for your site’s blog, WordPress will sometimes take that meta information and make a page for each author and display all their posts on it.
This can be annoying but it’s a simple fix for a developer or you can add the pages to a robots.txt file so Google doesn’t index them. You can find out how to do that here.
When you’re checking for duplicate content Ahrefs and Moz will also flag thin content for you to review as well. Thin content is pages or posts on your site that Google believes don’t offer any value to your reader or have just been produced to target a keyword.
The hallmarks of thin content are blog posts that have heavily copied another post with no original thought of their own. A very brief post, less than 300 words, or a post that doesn’t offer a solution to a reader’s problem.
Google doesn’t like thin content as it believes these posts are only there to try and game its algorithms. When dealing with thin content the best course of action is to make a list of all the pages and go into each one and write additional content.
Whether that’s thoughts, news learnings or new industry news. Adding some fresh, well researched text will reduce the amount of thin content on your site and give Google every reason to rank your content highly.
Last but not least, when conducting a site audit you should review each of your pages and blog posts to make sure they’re adhering to on-page SEO best practices.
On-page SEO is the practice of optimising individual web pages to give them the best chance of ranking on Google’s search results page.
Ahrefs, Moz and Yoast SEO will all give your pages a score based on how SEO friendly they are and suggest improvements you can do to make them better.
Yoast’s SEO tool is extremely good at this as it lives on the backend of your WordPress site and has a handy traffic light system that lets you know how your page is doing. Here’s an example from a recent blog post we wrote.
Spending the time going over each page on your site and reviewing it’s on-page SEO is a great way to make sure no stone is left unturned when you do your site audit and will set your site up for success in the months to come.
Ready to do your first site audit?
The checklist above can be done in any order. The key thing to remember when auditing your site is to prioritise the fixes that will provide the most impact to your rankability. Once you’ve completed your first audit, staying on top of your site’s SEO health with regular monthly checkups will make future audits quicker and less painful.
If you need help sorting out your website’s SEO and marketing strategy Forever Agency can help you on your way to the top of the Google rankings. We’re an experienced SEO agency in Manchester who can help you stay ahead of your competition. We work with clients across a range of industries so drop us a message to see how we can help you!