As a business owner, it’s more important than ever to regularly take actions that will boost your online presence. This includes keeping up with SEO trends, algorithm updates, creating quality content, and more. While this may all seem overwhelming (especially if you’re new to the digital sphere), conducting a thorough SEO audit is a crucial way to concisely understand where your website stands from the perspective of search engines. Keep reading for some of the most important steps to take during an SEO audit.
Set up Google Search Console
While there are endless third-party tools available to help you conduct your audit, most SEO experts would agree that the best place to start is within your own data. Google Search Console is a free tool provided by the search engine to help webmasters gain insights and optimize the visibility of their websites.
To start using Search Console, you will need to add your website as a property and confirm your ownership using one of the verification methods. (Learn more about this process here.)
Identify and Address Penalties
Once verified, you can utilize your Google Search Console dashboard to obtain some essential information. First and foremost, it is important to check if your website is currently being penalized by Google. This step is crucial; No matter what steps you take to improve your SEO, your rankings will continue to decline – or even disappear – if your website is subject to a penalty.
There are two types of Google penalties: manual and algorithmic. Manual penalties are placed by a Google employee, while an algorithmic penalty happens automatically.
To identify if your website has received a manual penalty, log in to your Google Search Console account and select “Manual actions” (found under “Security & Manual Actions”). If there are any items in this report, they will include details on the reason for the penalty as well as which pages are affected.
An algorithmic penalty – a negative effect on a site’s rankings due to a change in how Google evaluates websites – can be harder to identify as there is no direct notification from Google. The best way to determine if your site has suffered from an algorithmic penalty is to analyze your organic traffic for any significant drops. You can then correlate the time period to a penalty using MOZ’s handy Google Algorithm Change History.
Submit Your Sitemap, Find Coverage Issues & More
Submitting your XML sitemap in Google Search Console will ensure that the search engine can find all of your site pages. Additionally, the Index Coverage Report will provide insight on which of your site pages have been indexed (or if Googlebot encountered any errors when attempting to do so).
Note that once you complete your SEO audit, you can return to Google Search Console to find additional tools to help you monitor your search engine performance.
Start a Website Crawl
As mentioned previously, there are plenty of third-party SEO tools available (see our comprehensive list of Top 25 SEO Tools in 2020). However, Screaming Frog and SEMRush’s Site Audit tool are among the most popular.
Issues identified during your website crawl may include:
- Broken pages
- Unsecure pages
- Missing or duplicate meta information
- Missing image alt text
- Missing H1 tags
- Redirect chains
- Sitemap issues
If you conduct your website crawl using SEMRush, you will notice that issues are categorized by their level of criticality (Errors, Warnings, and Notices); this will help you determine which problems to tackle first.
Ensure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly
We live in a mobile-first era, and that’s likely never to change. While Google enabled mobile-first indexing for all new sites in the summer of 2019, it will be enabled for all websites starting September 2020. That being said, if you do not have a mobile-friendly website soon, your rankings are guaranteed to suffer.
To ensure that your website is tailored to the needs of mobile users, check out Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Simply enter your URL to verify that your website is responsive, visually appealing, and overall user-friendly when viewed on a smartphone or tablet.
Optimize for Page Speed
A poor page load speed can negatively affect both your rankings and user experience.
To evaluate your website’s performance when it comes to speed, take advantage of Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. When you enter your URL, you will be presented with a page speed report for both desktop and mobile devices, as well as suggestions on how to improve your scores.
Add Structured Data
Structured data, or schema markup, is code you can add to your website to help improve how Google and other search engines understand its content. This is essential because when search engines understand and index content most efficiently, they will provide more relevant results.
Structured data works by enhancing search results with the use of ‘rich snippets’. No longer does the first page of search results consist of ten links made of plain text; with structured data, results are more visually appealing and highlight the most useful information (think star reviews, knowledge features, and product listings).
Still not convinced of the importance of structured data? Enhanced results have been proven to improve click-through rate (CTR) and revenue from organic traffic.
To test existing structured data on your site, use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
Identify Thin Content
Content is one of the most essential pieces of the SEO puzzle. It’s no secret that Google and other search engines reward sites that feature useful, authoritative content. That being said, publishing pages with little or low-quality content can be harmful to your rankings.
As you work on improving or expanding your on-page content, consider the information that is needed to enhance user experience and build your audience’s trust. Keep in mind that you will also be creating more opportunities to link internally and insert target keywords (more on that below).
Keywords are the phrases in your web content that allow users to find your site via search engines. Because keywords are one of the main elements of SEO (as they’re crucial to ensuring your site appears in organic search results), each of your website pages should be optimized for these phrases when possible.
However, the first step you’ll need to take toward using keywords effectively is knowing what terms your target audience is actively searching for.
Conduct Keyword Research
Keyword research is the process of analyzing queries that users enter into search engines.
There are several tools available to help you conduct your keyword research, including SEMRush and Google’s very own Keyword Planner.
To start, simply create a list of important topics, products or services related to your business. As you enter them into your chosen keyword research tool, take note of each term’s monthly search volume to help you determine how important each topic is to your audience.
Analyze Competitor Keywords
An important and often overlooked aspect of keyword research is discovering the keywords used by competitors. By paying attention to which keywords your competitors are using (and outranking you for), you will gain a large advantage over other businesses in your industry.
SEMRush has a comprehensive suite of Competitive Research Tools to help you gain insights into your rivals’ strategies. These tools can help you identify some essential information, such as:
- Which keywords your competitors are concentrating their efforts on
- The sites you’re competing with for top positions
- Target keywords you’ve overlooked
Optimize the Essentials
When it comes to keyword placement, certain places on your website are more essential than others. Four of the most critical places to optimize for keywords include:
- Meta tags (Titles and descriptions)
- Alt text
If you have hundreds or thousands of pages on your website, the task of optimizing the items above on each page will seem overwhelming – especially if you’ve discovered from your crawl that many are missing entirely. As you work through this portion of your on-page SEO, consider starting with your homepage and any other pages that receive the most traffic.
Don’t Force Keywords
As you optimize your website for search terms, make sure to do so naturally. In other words, don’t use them repetitively or in a context in which they don’t belong (a practice otherwise known as keyword stuffing).
Piecing it All Together
It’s important to note that by conducting an SEO audit regularly, you will have the advantage of detecting and fixing problems before they negatively affect your rankings. In other words, performing an audit to determine issues shouldn’t be a reactive measure. However, it’s never too late to start! By following the steps above, you should have discovered several opportunities you can act on to improve your organic rankings.
At the same time, there are endless factors you can choose to focus on as part of an SEO audit, and all websites cannot be analyzed the same. Especially if you have a very large or complex website, you may be facing additional technical issues that require advanced troubleshooting.
Professional SEO Auditing Services
At LSEO, our SEO website audits are manually performed by experienced online marketing experts – a profound difference from running an audit using a tool. If you choose our ongoing SEO services, you will receive a prioritized action plan on how our team can drastically improve your organic visibility.