How To Do An SEO Audit On Your Website
There are few things more frustrating to me than all the e-mails I get on a regular basis from agencies and freelancers pitching me SEO audits. Some offer me a free SEO audit — hoping I will agree and then buy services from them after they try to highlight things that may or not actually impact my site or my bottom line. Others want me to pay them to do a deep SEO audit of what can be improved on my website so that it will rank better in organic search.
Oftentimes, these types of SEO audit pitches offer results that are unquantifiable, or worse, they are outright scams. I ignore all of these requests and most of you should too!
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’ll spare you the caveats and details around how you should really think about SEO and organic traffic and just tell you this, website owners and digital publishers should be doing their own SEO audit.
Below, I’ll show you how to align an audit to your goals, how to perform a detailed SEO audit of your own site, and how to create and produce reports that will help you identify and take action on things that truly will help you generate more quality traffic to your website.
An SEO audit checklist for your goals
I find that a lot of website owners I’ve talked to in past really want to start with a checklist. They ask me, “Tyler, can you just send me a checklist of all the things I need to do”? My answer is always the same. I could, but it might be absolutely worthless to you.
Every site has a different reason why they want to do an SEO audit. The term itself actually kind of sucks. No one actually wants to do an SEO audit, what they really want is to get more organic traffic from search engines, and they think the mechanism for doing this is by performing some form of search engine optimization activities.
This sentiment is correct, but in my experience, the greatest ROI for these efforts comes when digital publishers understand their site well enough to align their goals to the activities most likely to impact these goals. Let me show you what I mean…
Let’s pretend for a second that you are getting 560,000 organic visitors a month from organic traffic (mostly from Google). In an effort to increase this, you want to do some form of SEO.
The best way to start this process is by analyzing your current organic traffic. For example, you may be getting 90% of that traffic from one URL and several variations. This is great, but it also tells us a lot about how we want to organize and direct our audit.
In this case, if a single URL is producing most of the organic traffic, we may want to identify internal link-building opportunities associated with this page to boost other pages. But more importantly, we now know that we need to mitigate the risk of having one page generating 90% of our traffic by building up our other pages.
Understanding this will help you focus the majority of your attention on how to improve existing high potential low-ranking URLs to spread the risk around.
In an example where 90% of the organic traffic is coming from a large number of different URLs, we would want to take a completely different approach. We would want to spend a lot of time digging into site-level changes that might be able to improve the site’s ranking as a whole to start with; followed by identifying URLs could potentially move the needle the fastest if we were able to improve their ranking even just a little bit.
This information we generate from the audit should help us take real actions that improve our site. Data is no good if you can’t do anything with it. As we continue below, I’ll show you how to collect the data that will help you take real action on your site.
Analyzing your current organic traffic
My favorite tool for doing this is SEMRush. It’s kind of expensive and not every publisher is willing to make that investment. If not, that’s OK. I’ll show you how to do a version of this same process below in Google Analytics as well.
Doing this in SEMRush is easy. Simply enter your URL into the domain search box and then click on the Organic Research tab on the left. Then you can see how your traffic has performed over time, what keywords rank, what their monthly search volume is, what URL they are associated with, and what percentage of overall organic traffic they are responsible for.
To do this in Google Analytics, open your GA and select the segment at the top listed as Organic Search (if you have a custom filter for this, as I do, use that instead). Deselect any other filters and click apply.
Now, go to Behavior and select Site Content and click All Pages. On this screen, you should be able to see your top landing page URLs for search and the percentage of your overall organic search metrics that each URL is associated with. If you want to see the terms associated with these URLs, you can log into and see them in Google Search Console (more about this here).
Using both of these free Google tools, you should be able to gain some pretty strong general insights as to where the most important opportunities there are for your SEO audit.
Two major directions for your SEO Audit
After doing this initial research for your SEO audit, you’ll already have some really valuable data that can lead you in two different directions. I’ll frame them both below and then we can dig into what needs to be done to create actionable insights for both models.
1.) You get most of your traffic from a very small number of URL’s
This is surprisingly common, so don’t freak out if you’re in this group. It can be a little jarring sometimes because publishers will immediately recognize the risk associated with this. However, there is a unique opportunity as well.
You can leverage your powerful URL(s) to potentially improve your ranking for other URL’s and use this wake-up call as motivation to do the proper research to figure out what other low-hanging fruit may be available to your site so that you can maybe add additional super-power URLs!
2.) Your organic traffic is divided among a large number of URLs
This is obviously a less risky scenario to be in, but often one filled with a lot of untapped potential. Site-level improvements and strategic URL improvements can often yield exponential organic traffic improvements.
Below, I’ll highlight how to identify impactful site-level changes, technical challenges, low hanging fruit for individual URLs, and offer some additional tips for growing organic traffic using data.
Identifying technical SEO issues & site-level opportunities
Luckily, nowadays you have a lot of free tools at your disposal that can give you pretty powerful site-level, technical SEO insights. If you know how to turn these insights into wisdom, you should be able to improve the SEO of your entire site and many of your pages pretty easily with a few simple adjustments.
The two tools I recommend starting with are Varvy and OnPage. Both are good and offer free insights with relatively painless processes.
Varvy is the easier of the two to access, use, and draw immediately impactful information from. It is basically going to check your site for some of the basic things Google is already looking at. There may not be earth-shattering data here, but below, I’ll highlight some of the different data points and what to do with them.
- Googlebot access: I doubt this is anything but green for you, but do make sure you have all forms of Googlebot enabled on all pages you want to be found in organic search
- Mobile Devices: Again, you should already have a mobile-friendly site free of issues, if not, the time is now. Google is moving to a mobile-first index, so it’s important for you to get this area green by leveraging the insights provided. It will be beneficial now and in the future.
- Security: If your site is not using an SSL and serving HTTPS pages, this will pop-up. This actually has less to do with security and more to do with the fact that it is actually a ranking signal for search engines. It’s not hard to move to HTTPS so we encourage you to do it (the link is to a guide).
- Accessibility: This can be a great way to identify missing data that could potentially help your site-level ranking for keywords strongly associated with your primary domain. This can often be things like missing metadata, alt text, and alt-lang tags. These are all ways of telling SERPs about your content.
- Pagespeed: These insights can often be misleading, but there are usually some core things that can be done with images to improve this. The easiest ways to improve speed are included in this write-up we did on SEO and page speed.
- Robots.txt: This should be configured so that it and your access file are allowing Googlebot and other crawlers the ability to view all CSS and JS that you want them to (it’s OK to not show them every script on your site). Just realize by not allowing some scripts Google will always serve you the old “you have render-blocking JS and CSS above the fold” notifications through their tools. There’s no penalty for this, so feel free to ignore those.
- Image Alt: All images should have alt. image tags that associate with the keywords relevant to that page. If you’re missing these, make sure to add them!
- Sitemaps: It’s always a good idea to submit your site map to Google Search Console. It’s not typically as important to have one available for users.
The rest of the Varvy insights will help you identify other technical issues and potential black hat practice risks. They are fairly straight forward and are sincerely worth addressing.
OnPage is a little more involved to get started with. They require you to sign-up for their free version of the software. Then, you’ll have to let their crawler do its work.
However, once it’s done, you’ll get much deeper insights into some technical considerations that may be able to help you improve site-level SEO.
OnPage’s insights are really valuable when you start digging into some of the indexability stuff. Looking at all of your 301 and 302 redirects is important. I once found a site with all redirects done as 302’s. This is bad (you can read about why this is here).
What’s a canonical link? It basically tells search engines that one version of a URL is the actual location of a page (i.e. www.bishopbjj.com, bishopbjj.com, and wordpress.bishopbjj.com all should canoncial to www.bishopbjj.com)
Taking time to make sure that you have clear canonical links and proper redirects set up for your site can really offer some powerful results.
A common scenario I see is that sites that are older; which have launched new versions of the site or done lots of redirects, often are missing canonical links and have improper redirects (i.e. 302’s instead of 301’s).
Ultimately, making some of these technical adjustments could help you boost site speed, the user’s ability to find your site, and a search engine’s ability to identify your content. Some sites have more to do here than others, but almost everyone has some work to do. These elements are all ranking signals that offer some benefit if improved.
Hopefully, you don’t have a mess of canonicals and redirects that need to be fixed, but if you do, look on the bright side there is a massive benefit to fixing this. Additionally, even the small technical changes could potentially help your site out incrementally now and in the future.
Quick ways to improve your entire site’s SEO
If you can impact the speed, security, and performance of your website quickly, it can often have a very fast effect on your search rankings. Things like moving your site to HTTPS or adding a CDN can offer nice returns with very little effort.
There are some more easy tips here that I wrote about before.
Leveraging popular URLs to boost existing content ranking (and new content that is created)
Whether most of your organic traffic is going to a small or large number of URLs, you can equally leverage your most popular URL’s to boost the ranking of your currently existing content.
To do this, simply find your most popular URL’s via the analytics methods we outlined above (HINT: the ones getting the highest percentage of traffic are the popular ones). Now examine the content on that page.
Try to find other URLs that you have on your site with similar content that may not rank as high. Link to these URL’s inside of the popular page.
Make sure these existing URLs actually have the potential to rank for keywords that could potentially help you. Driving traffic to these pages can help improve their ability to rank, but they need something to rank for. Here’s a smart way to do this research.
The best way to promote this content is by linking at the top of the page, not the bottom. Some people are scared to do this; as they are afraid it will affect the ranking of the existing popular page. This is rarely the case, and often the opposite is true. Both pages usually benefit from this if the content is relevant.
Using you organic analytics to gain actionable page-level insights
One of the best ways to generate loads of impactful organic traffic is to dig in deeply to your existing URL’s that already rank — in some capacity — and improve their position. Yeah, sure, but isn’t that hard to do? Actually, it’s really easy, and the more content you have, the greater the opportunity you have.
How does this work?
You create content, and if you’re thinking dynamically about it as you create it, you probably are targeting various organic keywords along the way. One of the things that happen over time is that your site will likely rank for a number of “unintentional keywords” (i.e. keywords that are good, but you did not intentionally try to rank for).
Some of these keywords have a high volume of monthly searches. In fact, for many sites, if you add up all of these unintentional keywords, you could be talking about millions of potential visitors per month.
Unfortunately, these types of keywords usually appear on the 2nd or 3rd page of search engine results; meaning you are getting -0.005% of the traffic.
Fortunately, if you understand what these keywords are, how you rank for them currently, and how difficult they will be to improve, you can easily begin acquiring this traffic very quickly.
The process for executing on this is actually fairly straightforward:
Step 1.) Identify the keywords with the highest volume that are just off of page 1 (and therefore offering the greatest opportunity for ROI)
Step 2.) Augment the content on those URL’s to better support the identified keywords
Go into your CMS and begin adding additional sections that speak to the subjects related to these additional keywords. This means adding sections that include:
● Create New H2 and H3 headings that include the new keywords
● New body text with the keywords
● Additional images with alt. image tags that include the keywords
NOTE: THIS ABOUT ADDING CONTENT, NOT MODIFYING OR DELETING OLD CONTENT
If you’re using WordPress, you should go ahead and install the Yoast Plugin if you haven’t already. You can use the Yoast tool to test each new keyword to see where additional opportunities may lie with this new content. (WARNING: If you use Yoast, realize that you will not be able to do every recommendation with every keyword).
I am not advocating keyword stuffing or anything of the like; however H2 titles, alt. images, and adding the keyword in the body content, in general, can offer real benefits when incorporated into helpful new content that speaks to the new keywords that potential; searchers will type into search boxes.
Consider other fixes and link opportunities that may not have existed when the original content was published. Usually, there are updates, details, or information that can be added to the content to make it better. Think about what you could add to this content that might improve its value to readers.
Another thing publishers often forget to do with older content is going back and linking to their new content (where relevant). Discover where in this content you could anchor links back to some of your newer content (this will increase CTR’s). Having these links at the top of the page is proven to get more clicks. A lot of publishers only include them at the end.
Use this as an opportunity to improve the quality of your entire post. Ensure it is engaging and optimized to reduce bounce rate and improve time on site by ensuring that you are using more than 1 image, leveraging quotes, and breaking up text with headers and shorter paragraphs.
Launch your updated post and share it on your social media pages (so that it will get an activity boost). Also, go into Google Search Console and have the content crawled by Google.
Simply go into Google Search Console, go to Fetch as Google, and then submit the link and click submit to index.
We dive deeper into this process here.
Combine all these things together and track the results
You can use all the information above to complete a quick and actionable SEO audit of your website. In the future, I’ll dive deeper into some of the more detailed reports you could look at to draw on even more specific insights. However, the content above is more than enough information to get 95% of websites started with improving their organic search traffic.
What did I leave out? Have questions about how some of this works? I’m happy to keep the conversation going below in the comments section.