How to Perform a Site Audit: A Complete Guide
So you’ve got a new website. It’s fab! Like, really, you’re showing it to all of your friends and colleagues, printing new business cards… but nothing really happens. You’ve got some visitors coming in, but something seems to be stuck. What are you missing?
SEO is essential for marketers and is a primary focus for inbound marketing. Since everyone else is already doing it, you should be too. When you don’t, you’re inadvertently losing sales or missing out on them.
However, it’s hard to know where to start. The good news is that a simple assessment of your website is the first step, and it’s quite easy to do with an SEO audit. This allows you to see how your site ranks and what you can do to improve those statistics.
It can sound a little scary and labor-intensive at first, but it’s easy when you understand all of the steps. Here, you can learn what to do and when to do it. I promise I’ll do my best to describe all the following steps.
Before we start, though, you should understand what an SEO audit is and why you need it.
So, What Is a Site Audit?
The content you provide to people needs to be relevant to those who visit your website. Old tactics don’t cut it. You can no longer expect decent results from stuffing the content full of keywords or setting up different pages for variations of your keywords.
The ranking factors from major search engines have changed significantly in the past 10 years. Now, favor goes to those websites that are optimized for the user and mobile-friendliness. Search engines now use algorithms to ‘crawl’ the site and compare it to others based on various factors for ranking.
You need to know how many people are accessing your site through search engines, how long they’re spending, and how many pages they view per session. These metrics can help you determine where you need to improve to get more people to the site and get them to stay there longer.
You also need to understand how search engines “view” your site and how they understand it.
Why You Need a Comprehensive Site Audit
Each page of the website is crawled to find out if your site is providing legitimate and useful content. The search engine also takes this time to determine if the site is easy to use, fast, and secure. Then, it gives your pages a specific rank, which shows where it should be placed on the SERPs for anyone who searches those keywords.
Every search engine has a special algorithm, but it gets changed and improved frequently. However, that’s not all that you must consider. Your competition is also trying to outrank you at every turn. Old content isn’t going to cut it, so you need to update it regularly so that you remain relevant.
You also have to adapt to new tactics when the SEO rules change again. Sometimes, a bad link might cause users to meet a 404 page or even a hacked page (yup… it happens).
All of these things are why you require a site audit that’s comprehensive and helps you keep up with the demands. This audit is like a health checkup for your website. Of course, the full audit is your friend and should happen every six months or so. You can also perform small ones each month to assess your website’s needs. (I personally scan my sites every week, but I am a bit crazy :))
There are many tools out there to help you perform a site audit (you should check JP’s audit tool). Generally, the information you get from the reports are extensive, but these tools help to keep it simple and easy to understand.
Getting Started with a Site Audit: 5 Steps
Your website audit should include back-end factors, front-end factors, and link quality. This sounds confusing, but these five steps are going to help you handle each one quickly and efficiently.
Start a Website Crawl
The most important aspect of your site audit is the website crawl, which should only take about five minutes when you use JP’s audit. The first thing you have to do is enter your website URL into the bar and click on the search button. There is a site audit section that you can click on. It’s going to start scanning the entire website and each webpage. When it’s done, you are going to get a lot of information. (That’s my favorite part!)
Generally, it tells you about any problems on your site, such as a low word count, duplicate content, unlinked pages, or too many redirects.
Each section tells you the primary issues. If you need more information, you can click on the line and see ways that you can fix the problem.
1. Technical Audit
The technical audit sounds scary to most people, but it’s important because it can give you info about how your technology is or isn’t performing. This is going to affect all other aspects of your website and how others use it.
It’s important to follow each of the steps listed below for your technical audit. These include:
- Assessing the SSL certificate – is it consistently and properly implemented?
- Does the website utilize a content management system? This makes updating it consistent and easy.
- Have you obscured or changed the default CMS settings, such as the login location page?
- Does your website feature the best practices for security needs, such as access denial after multiple failed login attempts?
- Does the site show up correctly on every major browser? Have you performed appropriate cross-browser testing?
- Does the site show up correctly on all mobile platforms? Have you tested it using the Google Mobile-Friendly Test?
- Is the site utilizing Google Analytics or another analytics tool to report data from each page?
- Are you blocking some important pages via robots.txt or noindex meta tags?
- What makes your site so heavy? CSS? Scripts? Images?
- Is your navigation links readable without JS?
All of these things (and more!!) can and should be checked. It can take a while to complete all of the steps and check everything, but it is essential. I really love using Aleyda Solis’s site audit template (she’s super awesome)- see it here.
2. On-Page SEO Audit
Most people like on-page audits because this is where you’ve got most of the control. Companies often take months to make their big changes, especially when the busy (oh, SO busy!) dev team is involved. On-page SEO done right can handle all low-hanging fruits.
On-page SEO focuses on everything on the site that influences search placement. There are roughly 200 ranking factors for Google, but they are mostly unproven.
Still, there are a few things we know about ranking factors, and we are going to include them here. When auditing your on-page needs, consider:
- Does each page on the site feature a meta description and title tag that target your most important keyword? Will the user immediately understand what they find on your site after clicking?
- Is the text on your pages helpful, substantial, informative, and topic-relevant?
- Does your site have appropriate relevancy indicators, such as a phone number and address? Can the user understand who’s standing behind the site content?
- Are the content pages set up so that they can be shared on social media platforms?
- Do you utilize a sitemap, which helps to improve crawlability and indexing of your pages?
- Are you utilizing keyword-enriched structures, and have you avoided dynamic URLs?
- Do the content pages link to deep content and use appropriate header tags?
- Are the major content categories and pages easily reachable through the primary navigational menu?
- Are the on-page images also optimized for keywords and utilize alt-text?
- Do you have more than one page talking about the same topic?
- Do you have old content that no one visits anymore?
- How is your internal linking strategy doing? Did you know that just by linking internally in your site, you can see quick results in traffic and rankings?
The above-listed bullet points are all things you should do during the on-site audit.
3. Off-Page SEO Audit
While on-page audits are often fun, most people think that off-page audits are the hardest when it comes to achieving the best visibility.
In the past, it was even harder to integrate your off-page SEO audits with the rest of the site. With time, Google provided more resources for this so that experts can do things easily.
For most people, counting the backlinks pointing to your site is the biggest issue. Even with the right tools and proper diligence, it’s impossible to see what Google and other search engines see.
Look for this information:
- How many domains link to the website (all pages within)?
- Do you monitor the link portfolio each week?
- How many backlinks do the landing pages and content have?
- Is the backlink portfolio increasing or shrinking over time?
- Have you cut out all the bad backlinks? (look for spammy, fishy niches and unnatural backlinks)
- Is your site getting shares on social media? How many?
- Is the site getting mentions and traffic from YouTube and social media platforms?
- Are you sharing content with and reaching out to social influencers frequently?
- Are the backlinks relevant for their language, focus topic, and location?
Although Google automatically discounts the low-quality backlinks by itself and doesn’t require any “external” help to identify it, you can always perform a disavow request.
PRO TIP: If it’s your first time doing disavow, please ask for a professional SEO’s help.
4. UX Audit
SPOILER ALERT: The most important step!
The next step is to see what your users are seeing. Therefore, you can use your eyes to initially scan the site and see what impression you get from it. But understand, YOU ARE NOT THE USER. You know your site too well, so you cannot perform this audit by yourself. Make sure to use someone from your target audience to have the very first impressions on the site: let them perform actions and funnels, read the blog, and generally understand what your site is all about.
User experience (UX) is essential for the website to be persuasive and helpful. It refers to how each user gets what they need from the site and ensures that they can use it the way it was designed to be used. With that, they are going to develop a more positive association with your branding while they are doing this. UX is where technology, intent, and design all intersect. The steps for this include:
- Are the site pages getting loaded in about two seconds or less with an average connection?
- Do you have simple and easy-to-use navigation menus and breadcrumbs on the page?
- Does the site use advertising that doesn’t interfere with the viewing of the content?
- Does the site use lead capture methods that aren’t obnoxious?
- Is the site utilizing appropriate videos, such as embedded, and without the auto-play feature enabled? (yes, it’s super annoying, guys!!)
- Is the site using Flash? If so, is there a plan in place to phase it out by the end of this year (2020)?
- Is there a responsive design so that people on mobile devices can access the information?
- Do you use lossless compression, which ensures that graphics can load quickly and efficiently?
- Do you have clear CTAs?
- Do you have clear landing pages?
5. Content and Funnel Audit
No website audit is complete without focusing on content strategy. Good content is one of the best ways to be visible and build a lasting relationship with your prospects. It’s at the heart of your inbound marketing techniques and is how you show that you can add value to the lives of your customers. To perform this audit, consider these things:
- Does the content show that you’ve got an understanding of product use and buyer personas?
- Are the pages useful, helpful, relevant, informative, and without the use of technical jargon?
- Are the landing pages optimized with one service, product, or offer on each?
- Do you have more pages with 300 to 500 words of content instead of 1,000+ words?
- Do the content options move a user to buy the product?
- Do your pages include engaging and relevant visual elements?
So What to Fix First?
Now that you know what to look for in the audit, you can see everything that needs to be fixed. Now is the time to determine what you should fix first. Though most people focus on the bigger aspects, it is often better to start with lower things and then work your way up to the complex problems.
I personally start with things that don’t involve other teams, like dev, and things I can solve
myself with a nice impact.
ONE LAST PRO TIP: Make sure to tag every impactful thing you fix. This way you know how to tie action to your end result.