Begin the Deep Dive into Your Business Website with a SEO Audit
Do you ever feel like you are not getting out what you put in to your online marketing efforts? Do you ever wonder why you are unable to get the results you’re after? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to both of these questions, you will need to do an SEO audit for your business website. But first…what is an SEO audit anyway? I’m glad you asked. Call me nerdy, but I really like talking about audits and especially SEO audits. So, first things first, no matter what your business goals, industry, limitations, aspirations, longing, yearning and urges, SEO audits are a critical part and as some might say, a non-negotiable first step to any good SEO marketing strategy. For those of you who give a hoot about their online marketing campaigns, or are in search for some nice long reading material for the can, the following lines are going to be related to my favorite A-word in the Anglo-American English language, which is ‘audit’ of course!
What is an SEO Audit?
This looks like an appropriate place to start our crawl from, get it, ‘CRAWL’ ha ha ahem! A Professional SEO audit basically involves an analysis of the ins and outs of your existing website. The basic task of the SEO audit is to help you understand in which areas your website falls short or lacks when it comes to getting indexed and ranked by the various search engines. In other words, a thorough SEO audit can help you unlock the key factors that are necessary for searchers to find your website on Google, Yahoo or Bing, et cetera.
Where to Start Your SEO Audit
While performing an SEO audit, most people look to dive straight into the analysis, although it sounds more fun, the initial urge for immediately analyzing the data should be avoided. Here’s why! First you have to make sure that you haven’t missed out on anything in your SEO audit and that nothing has fallen through the cracks. This will require a bit of planning on your part and a very good eye for detail.
Learn to Crawl Before You Walk
Another very (very!) important part of diagnosing a problem while carrying out an SEO audit is by knowing what exactly one is dealing with. To make sure you get things right the first time, make sure you crawl the whole website.
The Tools You’ll Need
If you don’t have an issue with writing custom crawling and analysis code that’s great, but if your brain objects to code then you might want to use ‘Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider’ to perform the site crawl for you. FYI, the software is free, atleast for the first five hundred or so URIs and £99/year hence forth. And if you’re really, really cheap, then you might want to go for Xenu’s Link Sleuth, but beware that this tool is designed to crawl a site in search of broken links, which means, it was initially designed to display page titles and meta descriptions and not for the level of analysis required of a SEO audit.
The Right Configuration
‘Ask and You Shall Receive’
Crawling a website give us access to a wealth of information, but in order to take your SEO audit to the next level, you will need to check with the search engine. Regrettably, search engines aren’t big on giving unobstructed access to their servers, therefore you will just have to settle for the next best thing…’Webmaster tools,’ YIPPEE KI-YAY MO…search engine. Most of the search engines, atleast the ones that matter, offer various diagnostic tools for people to play around with, but the one to focus on will be Google’s and Bing’s Webmaster Tools. So, if you haven’t registered your website with one of these services, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU MAN! Now that the search engines have been consulted, you will also need input from your site’s visitors and the best way of doing that is by using the site’s analytics. It is important to note that the web is constantly being monitored by a list of analytics, which is expanding constantly. For to serve our purposes, it doesn’t really matter which package your website uses, as long as it allows you to investigate the patterns of your site’s online traffic. So far, you will have just about enough data by using the tools mentioned thus far to begin your analysis, so let’s dive right into it.
SEO Audit 2014
To get this party started, the analysis is basically broken down to five main sections, which are,
- On-page ranking
- Off-page ranking
- Competitive study
Needless to say, if people can’t access your website, there’s no point in its existence. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to make sure that your website is accessible.
The Robots.txt file
The robot.txt file is basically used to limit the crawlers from accessing certain sections of a website. Though this file is extremely useful, it’s also an easy way of blocking crawlers. For example, the robots.txt entry will restrict all web crawlers from accessing your website; User –agent: * Disallow: / To stay safe from that, you will have to manually confirm the robots.txt file to make sure that it’s not hindering access to your website. To further your purpose, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to help you identify the URLs that have been blocked by the robots.txt file.
Robots Meta Tags
Meta tags are used to inform crawlers if they are permitted to index and follow a website’s links. While you are analyzing your website’s accessibility, you will want to identify the web pages that are unintentionally blocking crawlers. The following is an example of how a robots Meta tag can prevent crawlers from indexing a webpage or follow its links; <head> <meta name= “robots” content+ “noindex, Nofollow” /> </head>
HTTP Status Codes
The XML Sitemap of your website is the roadmap that search engine crawlers use to ensure that they can easily find the pages of your website. The following are a few extremely important questions that you will need to answer regarding your Sitemap.
Is it a well-formed XML document?
That is, does if follow the Sitemap protocol? Since search engines expect a specific format when it comes to Sitemaps, it is important to find out if yours conforms to the specified format, or else the crawlers will not be able to process the information correctly.
Has it been submitted to your webmaster tools accounts?
Although it is possible for search engines to locate the Sitemap on their own, you might want to make things easier on yourself by notifying them about its location.
Are there pages in the site crawl that don’t appear in the Sitemap?
What this basically means is that you want your Sitemap to have an up-to-date view of your website.
Are there pages listed in the Sitemap that do not appear in the site crawl?
If such pages do exist, they are probably orphaned. You need to find an appropriate location for them within the architecture of your website and assign them atleast one internal back-link.
Needless to say, the architecture of your website defines the overall structure of your website, such as its vertical depth, or its horizontal breadth. While evaluating the architecture of your website, try and identify the amount of clicks it takes to get you from the homepage to the other pages within your website. Also, don’t forget to evaluate who well the web pages are linking to other in the website’s hierarchy. Ideally, you will be looking for a more flat site architecture which is able to take full advantage of both the horizontal and vertical linking opportunities.
Another extremely important factor is loading time. We live in an age where people want to get things done is a few seconds, so if your website is taking close to a minute just to load, people are going to leave, your sales figures will drop, you will have failed and life as you know it will come to an end. Ok, maybe not that last one, but, the point is, your customers will leave. Quite similarly, search engine crawlers too have a limited amount of patience and time that they can allocate to each website on the internet. So, the websites which load quickly are crawled more thoroughly, while the slower ones are left behind. Luckily for you, there are a number of tools which allows you to evaluate the performance of your website, such as, Google Page Speed and YSlow are two great names that come to mind. They even provide users with helpful suggestions when it comes to compressing files and leveraging certain content which is causing an increase in the loading time. Pingdom Full Page Test is another great tool when it comes to finding out the loading time, page size and the various objects that are loaded on a given page.
So, we’ve identified the pages which the search engines are permitted to access, now all you should do is determine how many of those are being indexed by the search engine.
Search engines normally offer a “Site:” command which allows users to search for certain content on a specific webpage. This command can be used to get an estimate on the number of pages that are indexed in a search engine. Though rarely accurate, having a rough estimate can be very valuable when trying to identify the following;
The index and actual counts are roughly the same
The ideal scenario being, the search engines are able to successfully crawl and index the pages of your website.
The index count is larger than the actual count
This usually suggests that the website is serving duplicate content, as in, web pages that are accessible via multiple entry points.
The index count is smaller than the actual count
This indicates that the search engine is unable to index many of your website’s pages. Hopefully, the source of the problem has already been identified by now. If not, you might want to check if search engine has penalized your website.
Index Sanity Checks
With the “site:” command we are able to keep track of the indexability of a webpage, now it’s time to be a bit more precise. To be specific, using Index Sanity Check, we are able to make sure that the search engine is able to index the most important pages of a website.
While performing the “site:’ query, you will find out the high priority pages of your website, but if not, you can also search for specific webpage URLs to check if they have been indexed appropriately. If the page you are trying to go to is accessible, you should if that particular webpage has been penalized.
When it comes to business websites, your company’s or brand’s name matters. After you have checked if the high priority pages of your website have been indexed, you must also check whether or not your business website is ranking well for your brand’s name. To do this, all you will have to do is type in your company’s or brand’s name in the search bar, if your website appears at the top of the results, golden, if not, chances are your website has been penalized, which will require you to dig deeper into the matter.
Search Engine Penalties
Okay, so you’ve made it this far with your SEO audit without finding a hint that your website has been penalized. But if you’re still not satisfied, the following are some of the ways in which you can get to the bottom of that matter.
Step 1: Make Sure you’ve been Penalized
Before you even sound the penalty alarm, make sure that you’re website has actually been penalized. In most cases, penalties are very obvious, as is, the pages will be completely de-indexed or you will receive a penalty message in your webmaster tools account. Sometimes people mistake an accidentally noindexed page or a shuffle in the search engine rankings as a penalty, which is why you have to be sure that you’ve actually been penalized. Changes in the search engine algorithm can also cause the website to lose traffic, so no matter what the reason may be, it is important to move forward with diligence.
Step 3: Fix the Site’s Behavior
After you have successfully identified that your website is infact been penalized, you will need to fix the problem pronto. This is easier said than done, but fortunately for you, help is always a few clicks away with online communities such as, SEOmoz et cetera.
Step 2: Identify the cause for the Penalty
Once you are absolutely sure that your website has indeed been penalized, you will need t investigate the root cause of the penalty. In most cases, a notification is received from the search engine, which means that, hale your problem has been solved, unfortunately, that’s not always the case, if your site has fallen victim to an algorithmic update, you will have more detective work then you would like. To get to the bottom of it, search various online forums and news sites which are related to SEO for answers. Updates in search engine algorithms usually cause websites to malfunction, so finding a solution online should not be a problem.
Step 4: Requesting Reconsideration
Okay, so you’ve fixed the problem, now all you have to do is request the search engine to reconsider your website. This can only be done if your website was explicitly penalized by the search engine, which means that your request for reconsideration won’t work if the changes to your website was on account of an update of the search engine algorithm. To get more in-depth information on this matter, you can always read Google’s guide for reconsidering requests.
(3) On-Page Ranking
Up till now, we have discussed how you can analyze the indexability of your website, now it’s time to turn towards the other characteristics that matter in a webpage and that’s the influence your website has on the search engine rankings. To investigate the on-page ranking factors, we will have to look into the page level uniqueness of the website’s individual page as well as the domain level uniqueness of the complete website. Normally, analysis of the pages is a critical part of identifying the chances of improving optimization, while the domain level investigation helps define the level of effort it will take to carry out site wide corrections.
Needless to say, the entry point aka the URL of your website is the first place to begin on-page analysis. While you are analyzing a URL of any given page, the following are some of the factors that you need to keep in mind:
- Is the URL user-friendly? URLs should not contain more than 115 characters.
- Does the URL contain the relevant keywords?
- Does the URL use sub-folders instead of sub-domains? Sub-folders are preferred instead of sub-domains, reason being that, sub-domains are mostly treated as distinctive, when it comes to passing link juice. Sub-folders on the other hand do not have that problem.
- Does the URL evade using extreme parameters? If possible, register them with your Google Webmaster Tools account or try using static parameters instead.
- Since underscores have had a shady history with search engines, another important question will be, is the URL using hyphens or underscores to separate words?
Apart from analyzing the website’s URL optimization, it is also critical that you examine the existence of any duplicate content on your site which is URL based. Since URLs are mostly accountable for the majority of duplicate content of a website. For instance, every webpage URL has its own specific entry point in to a website, but sometimes, two or more distinct URLs can point to the same page, which makes the search engines believe that there are actually two distinct pages. In addition to analyzing the site’s URL optimization, it’s also important to investigate the existence of URL-based duplicate content on the site. Preferably, your site crawl will discover most of the duplicate content on your website, but to be on the safe side, you should double check your site for URL based duplicate content.
Since content is king, let’s give your website the regal treatment now shall we! To learn more about the content of a webpage, there are various tools that we can make use of, the simplest of those being, Google’s cached copy of the page. Apart from that, you can also use SEO Browser. Both these tools show the text-only version of your webpage, along with the page title and its meta description. No matter which tool you choose, the following are some of the questions that you need to ask yourself;
- First of all, does the webpage contain substantive content? A webpage should contain the minimum of atleast 300 words.
- Is the content important to the audience demographic who will be viewing it? This is somewhat biased, but it is possible with the help of certain metrics, such as, time spent and bounce rate.
- Is the content having specific keywords?
- Is the content spammy, as in, have you over stuffed the content with keywords? While you do want your content to have the relative keywords, you do not want to overuse those keywords.
- Does the content have any grammatical mistakes? There is no better way of losing credibility than by with content which is riddled with errors.
- Is it easy to read? You can find out about the readability by using online tools, such as Fog Index et cetera.
- Is the search engine able to process the information? Try not to use Flash or images with your content.
The Areas You must Focus On
While analyzing the content of your website, you need to focus on three main areas.
The information architecture of a website defines how the information is spread out on the entire site. In other words, it is the design of your website. During the SEO audit, you must ensure that every page of your website has a purpose. Also, make sure that each page is properly represented by a relevant keyword.
‘Keyword cannibalism’ describes the condition in which a website uses multiple pages using similar keyword. When this happens, it creates uncertainty for the search engines, and for the visitors. In order to identify keyword cannibalism, try creating a keyword index which maps the keywords to the pages of your website. If you identify a particular keyword being used in two or more pages, you can either repurpose the competing pages or merge the pages together.
A website has duplicate content if many pages contain similar content. Duplicate content can be identified on internal pages by creating likeness with the site crawl. These classes are basically clusters of duplicate content. For each cluster, you can then assign one of the pages as the original, while others can be designated as duplicates. For identifying duplicate content on external pages, use online tools, such as, Copyscape or Blekko.
It is always hard to overemphasize the value of your website’s HTML since it always contains the most important on-page ranking information. But before you can dive into the specific HTML elements, you will have to validate you website’s HTML and its standards of compliance. W3C offers a markup validator which helps you to identify violations in the HTML markup.
Needless to say, the single most important way of identifying a page is by its title. The title is what appears first in the search engine results page and it is also the first thing that people notice on the social media outlets. When evaluating the title of a specific page, try considering the following;
- Is the title concise? 70 characters is the maximum length that a title should have. Using longer titles will only get cut off by the search engines.
- Is the title able to describe the page’s content properly? Using a compelling title which is able to describe the body of content properly is what matters.
- Does the title contain a targeted keyword? The title of a page is the strongest on-page ranking factor, so it is important to make sure that it includes a targeted keyword.
While meta-description doesn’t affect the ranking of a webpage, it does however affect the page’s click through rate in the SERPs. The requirements of Meta-descriptions are almost identical to a page title, as in, it should contain no more than 155 characters, and should never be overly optimized. In the domain level analysis, you would want to make sure that all of your pages have a unique meta-description. For your convenience, duplicate meta-descriptions are usually reported by the Google Webmaster Tools account.
Other <head> Tags
Now, since we’ve covered two of the most important parts of the HTML <head> elements that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Here are more things that you will need to consider.
Are the pages using meta keywords?
Since the use of meta-keywords is commonly linked with spam, avoid using them altogether.
Do the pages contain a rel=”canonical” link?
Although the link element is commonly used to evade duplicate content, it should be used correctly.
Are pages in a paginated series?
There are certain things which helps with the problem of pagination, such as, do your pages use rel=”next” and rel=”prev” link elements to inform the search engines on how to handle the pagination of a website.
While a pretty picture might speak volumes to humans, to the search engines they are mute. Which means that your website needs to provide the search engines with the image metadata for them to be included in the discussion. The two most important factors of analyzing an image is the images file name and the image’s alt text. Both of these should include the relevant description of the image and the relevant keywords.
Another important element of your SEO audit is that your site should link to other high quality sites, since a link is an endorsement of a webpage’s quality. Here are a few questions that you will need to answer in order to evaluate the links on a page.
- A website should avoid linking to spammy sites because it will have a negative effect on your credibility, so, does the link point to trustworthy sites or not? Is the first question you will need to answer.
- Secondly, are the links that are provided relevant to the content of your webpage? When you link to another page, its content should supplement yours.
- Are the links that are used using the applicable anchor text? And, does the anchor text include the relevant keywords? Long story short, a link’s anchor text must be able to accurately describe the page’s content.
- Are the links that are used broken? 4xx or 5xx status code are considered broken. These can be easily identified by the site crawl.
- Are the links using unnecessary redirection? This means that if the internal links are generating redirects, you’re link juice is getting diluted, so it important to make sure that your internal links all point to the suitable pages.
- Are any of the links nofollowed?
When analyzing a site’s out links, the sharing of internal links pointing towards various other pages within the website should be investigated. This is crucial if you want to make sure that the most crucial pages get the most internal backlinks. That being said, this is not to be mistaken for page rank sculpting, since all you are doing is simply ensuring that the most important pages of your website are the easiest to find.
Other <body> Tags
Images and links are not the only things to look out for, the following are some questions that you will need to ask when it comes to the HTML <body> section.
Is the page using H1 tag?
Although the H1 tag is not as powerful as the page title, they are still important when it comes to including targeted keywords.
Does the page have frames and iframes?
Whenever you use a frame to embed content the search engines don’t associate that content with the right page, so make sure that your content is being associated properly.
Does the page have a decent content-to-ads ratio?
If the website uses ads as source of revenue, and it probably does, make sure the ads don’t over shadow the content of your page.
(4) Off-Page Ranking
While on-page factors play a vital role in the position of a website on the search engine, they are only one part of the puzzle. Now we are going to discuss the ranking factors of external sources.
When it comes to websites, the popular websites are not always the most useful, yet they are able to influence the audience and draw more attention. So, while the site’s popularity is not the only important analysis to check, it is still valuable nonetheless. The following are some of the questions which you will need to answer when it comes to evaluating your website’s popularity;
Is your website able to gain proper traffic?
Aside from processing your server logs, your analytics package will be your most important resource when it comes to determining the amount of traffic your page receives.
How does your website’s popularity compare to other similar websites?
With the help of services, such as Quantcast and Alexa, one can easily evaluate the popularity of a website and whether it’s outpacing the competitors or being outpaced.
Is your website able to receive backlinks from other popular websites?
The mozRank is not only important to monitor your website’s popularity, but also the popularity of all the site links that are pointing back to yours as well.
The trustworthiness or dependability of your site is an important metric mainly because every individual has their own interpretation when it comes to the level of trust. To keep away from any personal bias, it is much easier to identify the behavior which is more commonly accepted as dishonest, which is In this case, malware or spam. To check for malware or spam try using Google’s Safe Browsing API along with blacklists, such as, DNS-BH. When it comes to spam or malware you can never be too careful, so here are a few more things to ponder about.
Keyword stuffing refers to creating content which is unnaturally stuffed with keywords.
This refers to the exploitation of the technology breach between the web browser and the crawlers of the search engine, for instance, hiding text by making it a similar color to the backdrop.
This refers to the returning of dissimilar versions of a site or showing the search engine one thing while showing the searcher something completely different. The bottom line is, that even if your website appears to be trustworthy, you will still need to put it to the test to make sure of its trustworthiness. Neighborhoods of untrustworthy websites can easily be identified and singled out by a process called BadRank, which can be deployed on both outgoing and incoming links. Apart from that, you can also face this problem head on by propagating trust with the help of a seed set of trustworthy websites. This approach is known as TrustRank, and is being used by sites such as, SEOmoz and many other leading websites.
As mentioned earlier, the popularity of your website has a lot to do with the quality of the backlinks. Keeping that in mind, it is vital to examine the back-link profile of your website and identify any opportunities you might have for improving your back-link profile. Fortunately for you, there is a huge list of tools which you can use to get the desired results, such as, Site Explorer, Blekko, Majestic SEO and how can we forget Ahrefs. The following are some important questions you will need to ask yourself about your site’s backlinks;
What is the number of unique root domains linking to your website?
The truth is that we can never have too many high quality backlinks, that being said, a link from a hundred diverse root domains is going to be more significant than having a hundred links from a sole root domain.
How many of those backlinks are nofollowed?
In the perfect world, the bulk of your backlinks will be followed. Though, a site which does not have nofollowed backlinks appear doubtful to the search engines.
Does the distribution of the anchor text seem natural?
It is important to note that if the majority of your site’s backlinks are using the exact match anchor text, the search engines will most probably flag all those links as not natural.
Are the backlinks topically relevant?
Having relevant backlinks is important because it helps establish your website as an reliable resource of information in your market niche.
How trustworthy are the root domains to your site?
It is important to remember that if many of your site’s backlinks are from low value websites, your site will also be measured as a low quality one.
Needless to say, the authority of a particular website is determined by a combination of various different factors. To help you evaluate the authority or trustworthiness of your website, SEOmoz provides its users with two very important tools, Page Authority and Domain Authority. While one predicts how well a webpage will do in the SERPs, the other metrics forecast the performance on the domain.
Since the web is transforming into a social medium, where people get to hang out and be more social, the success of a site will depend mainly on its ability to attract the most social mentions as it possibly can. While each social medium, such as, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and so on has its own social currency, the more your content is able to create social conversations, the more popular your website will be. So, regardless, of a definite network, the sites that possess the most social currency are the ones that are going to matter the most. This is why it is so important that when you are analyzing your website’s social engagement, measure how well it is able to accumulate social currency in each of the social media networks, whether it’s, likes, tweets, +1s or pins. You can either query the social media networks for information or use third party services to provide you with the answers. Apart from that, you should also be evaluating the authority of all those individuals who are sharing the content of your website. Because, just as you want backlinks from high quality websites, you would also want to be mentioned by people that are highly influential or who are considered at the top of their game when it comes to authority.
(5) Aggressive Analysis
Finally, this might sound like a painful task, but think about it, the easier it is to spot your competitors, and preferably their weaknesses, the easier it will be for you to climb up the SERPs.
After you have thoroughly analyzed your website and the sites of your opponent, you will need to collect all that information in an SEO audit report. To make your SEO audit report as informative as possible, here are a few tips which you can use;
Write the Report for a varied Audiences
Since the meat of the report should contain information which is very technical and will mostly involve various observations, you will have to carve it in a way that it will be understandable to a wide audience. To play it safe, try to write the report so that even those who don’t have proper knowledge of SEO will be able to understand.
Provide Actionable Suggestions
Never ever give generic recommendations, such as, “Write better titles.” Instead of cheese like this, try giving specific examples of what can be done immediately to improve the impact of your website. The information that you provide must offer concrete steps that can be used to help you get the ball rolling.
It doesn’t really matter who reads your SEO audit report, you should always respect that person’s time. Prioritize your report by placing the most important problems at the start of the report, so that everyone knows which items are of more importance and which ones can be taken care of later.
While everyone has their own ways of carrying out an SEO audit, the most important thing is not to find out what’s wrong with your website, but to find a set of ways in which you can improve your website’s performance.