An SEO audit is an integral part of any SEO campaign. It would be impossible to get the desired results from SEO if the ranking factors put forward by search engines were not considered. Having been involved in SEO for more than a decade, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of an audit as a tool to help formulate and maintain an effective and profitable digital marketing strategy. It is always the first activity I focus on whenever starting a new project.
Whether you’re starting a new SEO project, reviewing performance for an existing website, or simply trying to understand where the business currently stands, a thoroughly conducted audit will provide answers to a host of questions. It will also reveal crucial information about your site and provide valuable insights into your competitors. Both of these factors are imperative to your SEO campaign’s performance and future success.
In the context of this article, we will look at an SEO audit holistically – this is a strategic approach and an important element of SEO. When conducted properly, an audit will give your website a greater chance of short, medium and long-term success. A well-thought-out SEO audit will align your top-level objectives, with consideration to everything required by the search engines to help your website maximise SEO as a revenue generation channel.
The audit will analyse the campaign at all levels and provide actionable recommendations that will positively impact organic traffic (or help increase organic search traffic) if all actions are properly executed.
In my article, I will introduce a methodology developed back in 2008. This methodology was based on ranking factors from all the major search engines. Collating all this information helped to create an SEO audit that covers pretty much everything that needed to be included. What’s the difference between then and now? Well, a whole host of things have changed and evolved in the intervening years, such as technology, devices, mass adoption of the internet and the advancement of Google’s algorithm, which has become ever more sophisticated. The integration of machine learning into Google’s algorithm has transformed search engines to better understand the user intent. This, in turn, is used to index and rank websites. Google used to release its algorithm update about three times per year but these days it is every other month. In fact, there are hundreds of Google updates every year, ranging from minor tweaks to core updates, the most recent of which (at the time of writing) took place in the second week of January 2020. Before continuing on the topic and looking at how an SEO audit should be done, let’s have a look at how it was done 10-12 years ago. Back then the methodology consisted of four main sections:
- Baseline assessment
- Keyword analysis, research and selection
- Assess onsite/off-site factors
- Assessment of analytics and goals definition
Some, if not all, of these four steps are still relevant. However, there are aspects of SEO that didn’t exist 10 years ago. The table over the page shows how, in 2020, you need to optimise your website for every device at every speed, for instance.
Here are explanations of each of the steps described in the table below.
This will give the SEO expert all the background information they need in order to tackle the project. Consulting with stakeholders is crucial as this helps to align what the business is aiming to achieve and then making sure SEO is perfectly used as a tool to achieve this.
Keyword analysis research and selection
In 2008, a lot of focus and resources were invested on keywords, and arguably SEO was easier than it is now. With simple on-page tactics, you could get results simply by adding relevant terms in the content, title tag and meta description which would benefit your ranking on Google.
Assess on-site/off-site factors
This will tie in with the high-level technical audit conducted during the baseline assessment phase.
Tracking and reporting
This is crucial to the success of the project, and obviously you need to constantly TRAFFICreview and refine your SEO activities. Your results will be impacted by many things out of your control, for example your competitors improving their SEO, and Google’s new algorithm. The key is to stay informed on these changes as they often impact on the SERPs.
As you can see, most of the activities and processes that I used back in 2008 are still relevant today.
STEP BY STEP SEO AUDIT IN 2020
In 2020 it is all about looking at what has evolved over the years and finding a way to integrate that into the methodology, as well as adapting that methodology to current SEO ranking factors.
Remember that a successful SEO campaign is the result of hundreds of positive ranking factors. If there are factors that you have not considered as part of your campaign, you still have work to do. That’s why it is imperative that you examine every detail of your campaign. It does not have to be perfect, but you should aim for perfection.
Step 1. Define objectives
As discussed when looking at the 2008 methodology, it is crucial that the business objectives are well aligned. This is still the case in 2020; the main objective here is to determine the long-term goals for your SEO campaign and overall business objectives.
The way we have developed this process is to devise your objectives into two separate sections: overall business objectives and SEO objectives. A clear strategic objective will keep your campaign focused and help you achieve your goals. If you’ve heard of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) principle, make sure it is used in the process.
The key question you need to ask yourself is this: are your objectives Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely? Here are some examples of strategic objectives for an SEO campaign using the SMART principle:
- Affiliate X Ltd will increase its organic search visibility by 50% within the next six months.
- Affiliate X Ltd will easily grow from 20 linking root domains to more than 100 within the next 12 months.
- Affiliate X Ltd will easily grow its lead volume from organic search by 30% within the next 12 months.
Your strategic objective should be a mix of SEO KPIs and business KPIs.
Step 2. Keyword analysis
In 2020, it is easy to overlook the importance of keywords as part of your SEO audit or strategy, but keywords are as important and useful in SEO as they ever were. However, there are a myriad of other factors that are equally as important – and possibly more so. SEO has become far more complex, which is why placing keywords on a page isn’t enough nowadays. Also, the fact that the search engines continuously update their algorithms means marketers need to adapt how they are approaching keywords analysis.
The primary aim with this discipline is to determine whether the current keyword targeting strategy is worth the time and money. Your analysis should reveal untapped keywords that could result in quick or easy wins. If you’re working with a website that’s been online for some time, it is important to re-examine your current set of keywords, especially where keywords are ranking. You also need to assess which keywords are bringing in traffic and which have the potential for more traffic.
Try not to target keywords that are out of your league. For example, in the gaming industry it’s unwise for an affiliate website to attempt to compete with operators like Betfair or Ladbrokes on generic terms such as ‘football betting’ or ‘slots game’. Conversely, the affiliate will have more chances to rank on specific games such as ‘Fishin Frenzy Slots’, which have been around for a while.
If you are monitoring keywords (always a good thing to do) and you see that you have started to rank, the aim is to try and maintain your ranking position for as long as possible. That said, you need to prioritise where to focus your efforts. Strategically, it is best practice to review your set of targeted keywords every quarter. Incidentally, it’s always better to focus resources on keywords that are performing well – every keyword that you decide to target is a goal you want to achieve for your SEO campaign, which reverts back to the SMART principle.
There are many tools that can assist your analysis and research; the first place to start is by using intelligence tools and data from your analytics, be that Google Analytics or another tool you’re using to track traffic and performance of your site. Google Search Console has tremendous keyword data that will help your SEO audit, strategy and beyond. Remember that keywords are no longer just about what people are searching for on their mobile devices or computer browsers.
Step 3. Competitor analysis
This is a fundamental part of a successful SEO campaign. Competitor analysis works as a powerful research tool and will massively contribute in helping your site to rank higher, increase traffic and earn more conversions.
The process of analysing your competitors allows you to uncover SEO opportunities that you may not otherwise have thought of. Before attempting this task, here are some of the questions that you will need to ask yourself:
- Who are my actual SEO competitors?
- What keywords should I target?
- What topics should I cover?
- Where can I find links?
- What do I need to beat the competition?
Analyse what’s working for your competition (keywords, content, links, etc.) and leverage this intelligence to improve your own SEO efforts. The competitor analysis will help to validate your keyword analysis and will also reveal missed opportunities. This step of your audit will help to see if the keywords that you have selected are too competitive. Through this, you will also find new opportunities and have a better understanding of what content is performing better for your competitors, as well as new opportunities to acquire links.
There are many ways to do a competitor analysis for SEO. Consider this your starter guide. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Finding your true SEO competitors
- Keyword gap analysis
- Top content analysis
- Link gap analysis
- Google SERP analysis
Step 4. Technical analysis
The main objective of this task is to identify technical issues that are hurting SEO performance and user experience. It is more than likely that your site probably has some type of technical issue – a perfect website does not exist. The technical analysis is all about understanding these errors, fixing them and ultimately improving your website’s ranking, which will lead to better traffic and secure more conversions.
According to a study by SEMrush in 2017, more than 80% of the websites examined had 4x broken link errors, while at least 65% had duplicate content. The good news? There are many tools available that will effectively assist your technical SEO analysis. In fact, you can automate this process using a variety of tools and work through the list of errors created by the crawl. This process should be integrated into the overall SEO strategy as an ongoing monthly task to keep the site error-free and as optimised as possible.
Some of the technical issues you may encounter will include how fast your website loads. Your website loading speed will impact user experience (obviously, fast loading is better). Also, remember that everything is mobile these days: mobile optimisation, mobile-first indexing… you get the picture. I’m sure you understand the importance of mobile. It should be technically audited as part of your holistic SEO audit.
In addition, here are some other technical SEO elements to check for maximum optimisation:
- Identify crawl errors with a crawl report
- Check HTTPS status codes
- Ensure your site is mobile-friendly
- Check XML sitemap status
- Audit for keyword cannibalisation
- Perform a Google site search
- Check for duplicate metadata
- Check meta description length
- Check for site-wide duplicate content
- Check for broken links
Contrary to popular belief, technical SEO isn’t too challenging once you get the basics right. You may even be using a few of these tactics without even being aware of it.
Step 5. Page-level SEO analysis
This ensures that each of the selected targeted keywords are mapped to the appropriate landing page and the page is well optimised for user intent. The quality of your content is paramount and is an important factor in terms of fulfilling the intent of the user. Your audit should examine the quality of content and the optimisation of each page on the website. Make sure that not only the content on your page but also your entire page optimisation satisfies search intent – this is critical for ranking well in Google as it will impact your page engagement and click-through rate. It doesn’t matter how long your content is, what matters is how well you satisfy search intent.
Strong content without solid SEO optimisation will not perform well, while weaker content with strong optimisation will be equally as bad. What you need is strong content coupled with effective page-level optimisation to drive organic traffic.
You should also check to see if your content has been copied to another website. Stealing content is a common practice but tools such as Copyscape can help show if your copy appears elsewhere.
Keywords in the meta description should not be overlooked – you would be surprised how many sites don’t bother optimising page titles and meta descriptions. This is the core of your organic search strategy as it will be used in Google and other search engines as snippets in the search engine result pages. Is the target keyword within the first few sentences? This is a question you’ll need to ask yourself. Your main keyword should appear once in the first sentence of your content to help strengthen the relevancy of the page.
The landing page should include the target keyword in the URL and the URL should be short and clean. Does the ALT tag on the first image of the page contain the target keyword? All of your ALT tags should be filled out but your main keyword for the page should appear in the first image ALT tag. Equally importantly, does the last sentence of the content include the target keyword? The conclusion to a piece of content is your chance to solidify the relevance of the page, so make sure you include your keyword.
Internal links, if placed in the right way, will strengthen the relevancy of your page, but do make sure they are using exact-match anchor text. This is all you need to analyse for page-level optimisation.
Step 6. Content analysis
Analysing content is the most time-consuming part of an SEO audit. That’s because it is the most important part of the entire process. You can get all of the other parts of an SEO campaign right, but if your content is lacking, your results will not last.
The objective of content analysis is to determine whether or not the current content strategy is working, as well as what needs to be improved to get more out of the content. Content should be evaluated from a holistic perspective; every piece of content on your website – product pages, specifications, blog content and so on – is important. To this end, you must explore both your keyword-targeted landing pages and any blog content that’s been published.
The following questions will help you assess whether the content that you have on the site, and the content you are planning to have, are in line with SEO requirements:
- Is your content unique and original?
- Is your content useful and informative?
- Is your content better than your competitors’?
- Is your content engaging?
- Is your information accurate?
- Is your content long enough?
- Are there any grammar and/or spelling errors?
- Are there any broken links?
- Do you have too many ads?
- Are you moderating your blog comments?
Step 7. User experience analysis
User experience analysis in the context of an SEO audit is all about understanding how well users are interacting with your content and website as a whole. The best way to understand user experience is to look at data inside your analytics. There are various data points that you want to analyse that will give you a better indication of how your site is performing from a UX point of view.
The following metrics should be considered when analysing user experience for your site:
- Bounce rate
- Branded searches
- Return visitors
- Exit pages
- Goal completions
- Average time spent on site
- Social signals
Step 8. Link analysis
Analysing your links will help to identify any strengths and weaknesses in your backlink profile. As you know, backlinks can make or break an SEO campaign. This is why a large portion of any audit should be spent analysing the link profile. We use Ahrefs, Majestic, Open Site Explorer and Google Search Console to analyse the links. What are we looking for, you ask? Well, a few different factors, such as whether the backlinks hitting the site are relevant. Not all of your backlinks have to be relevant, but the vast majority certainly should be.
The goal of this exercise is to get a general relevancy picture of the domains that are linking to your site. By diversifying your backlinks, your profile can be made more ‘natural’.
Here are the different ‘types’ of backlinks that should be included on your site:
- Contextual links
- Site-wide footer/sidebar links
- Directory links
- Resource page links
- Niche profile links
- Forum links
- Relevant blog comment links
In addition to the ‘type’ of backlink, you also want to have diversity with ‘follow’ and ‘nofollow’ links. Another important link factor you need to examine is the ratio of homepage links compared to deep links.
If you are using a content-focused SEO approach, then the majority of your backlinks should be going to deep pages.
SEO has changed markedly over the years and will continue to change. A comprehensive audit will not only help your business thrive but will also help sustain its success in the long term. An audit helps put things into perspective and prioritises your efforts, as well as compile processes and systems to help you track, report and maintain a coherent and effective SEO campaign moving forward.
These days it’s all about optimising for every device at every speed. Make sure you include everything in your analysis, as the audit will help you understand what you need to do to be successful. Lastly, it is important to keep reviewing your overall SEO strategy and to use your data points to make informed decisions. This can be done on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.