A complete SEO audit is the first thing I do when I start working on a new client’s website. It is the best way to determine why a site is not performing well in the search engines– and what we should do to improve the rankings and traffic. A complete SEO audit is the first thing I do when I start working on the website of a new client. It is the best way to determine why a site is not performing well in the search engines– and what we should do to improve the rankings and traffic.
This SEO audit checklist will help webmasters develop a strategy and action plan. Then they should implement the strategy in order to make their websites more search engine friendly. Once you upload the changed pages, you should be able achieve better positions in organic search results for targeted keywords.
Let’s start the auditing process.
Analyzing the domain name should be the starting point of any website SEO audit.
Check whether the domain is penalized or not?
This is a must do step if some other SEO agency has previously worked on the domain, or when the domain had a different owner in the past. Because, in both cases, it is possible that they might have engaged in black hat SEO practices or banned link building techniques. As a result, domain could already be penalized.
Put the URL in Google search and hit enter, do the same with brand name. Also check with site:yourdomain.com search operator. If homepage is not present at the top for all these searches, there could be a penalty in play.
To confirm the penalty, use Panguin SEO tool (require access to your Google Analytics account to analyze sudden changes in organic traffic against major algorithm updates came in recent years). If you are reluctant to give access to your private analytics data, consider this penalty checker, it uses SEMrush organic traffic data to find out the any negative impact of algorithm updates.
Is it an Exact Match Domain?
Before the launch of EMD update in late 2012, exact match domains used to rank really well in Google in spite of having low quality content. But EMD filter had either removed or demoted all such low quality domains. Although, the high quality EMDs that offers extremely valuable content continued to rank high. Ask yourself, whether your domain contains great quality content or not, if it’s not—either change the content or domain name.
On Page SEO Audit
On site SEO audit helps us to determine and resolve issues exists in various page elements.
Title and Description Tags
- Home page title should have brand name for better brand visibility and high CTR. Keep the most important keyword in home page title as well if you intend to rank the homepage, otherwise not required. Title and description tags for all other pages should be unique and well optimized for targeted keywords and click through rate (CTR).
- Try to restrict the length of the title tag under 60 characters (exact 512 pixels width to display full title).
- Description tag length must not exceed more than 160 characters (better keep it around 150 characters).
Always place primary keyword in H1 tag, and secondary keywords in the H2, H3 etc.
Optimize image file names: put keywords in alt text for better rankings in image search.
- Keep the most important keyword phrase in the URL
- Never use too many parameters and sessions ids
- Convert dynamic URLs into static, and don’t forget to 301 redirect the old pages to new ones.
- Keep URLs short, under 90 characters or less in most cases. Remove stop words (of, the, but, or, etc.) from the url.
Ideally, your homepage must contain at least 2-3 small paragraphs and minimum 150 words content. This is enough to give search engines a fair idea about the topic page is. Put your most important keywords at least a couple of times.
Generally, these are the pages you want to rank in search engines for medium to high competitive keywords. Therefore, such pages need content that is not only unique, keywords optimized and well-formatted but also offers real value to the reader.
Use headings, sub-headings, images, lists etc. to make content more readable. The content must be formatted in such a way that the reader should be able grasp it easily and quickly.
- Target one main keyword per page
- Use of synonyms and related words throughout the page
- If there are multiple pages targeting one keyword, keep the best one and get rid of all others either by redirecting or removing.
- Keep the keyword density under 2-3 % maximum.
- First of all, copy a content snippet from the site and paste it in Google search within double quotes, if it exists anywhere else on the same domain, remove it from there. If these are tracking URLs with parameters, specify original URL as canonical URL to prevent content duplicity.
- Has someone stolen your content? You can ask Google to remove the page from search, file a content removal request here.
Indexation & Accessibility
- 301 Redirect all other URL versions (www version, non-www version and SSL version) on one preferred version to prevent indexing multiple URL versions in search engines.
- If your homepage uses index.html, index.php or index.aspx page; 301 redirect it to your domain name.
- Set preferred URL version in Google Search Console
- Put ‘rel canonical’ tag in the head section of every page to specify preferred url.
- Check the robots.txt file if it’s mistakenly blocking an important page or directory.
- Is XML sitemap submitted to Google/Bing?
- Search pages with meta robots noindex tag, is it correctly placed on right pages?
- Make sure homepage is linked to all the categories and other important pages.
- Categories, sub-categories and product pages are linked to each other properly.
- Place useful internal links in the content of every page.
- Do not place keyword optimized links in Footer, use footer for proper navigation only.
- Check if any broken link exists or not.
Technical SEO Audit
Technical SEO analysis is probably the backbone of website audit. Software like screaming frog and others are quite helpful in finding out technical issues.
- Are 301 and 302 redirects being used properly across the site for permanent and temporary redirection of pages?
- Use Screaming frog software to detect redirect chains. Google stops following a redirect chain after a certain number of redirects.
- Always prefer absolute URLs over Relative URLs.
- Check Google Search console and other Bing webmaster tools to see any other technical error.
- Check the page load time for homepage and other key landing pages, it shouldn’t be more than 2-3 seconds. Use at least 3-4 resources to reach a correct load time. Check Google Analytics, it also shows page load timings of every visited url.
- Enable caching and compression to further reduce load time
- Keep the image size as low as possible (but without compromising on quality). In WordPress, several plugins are available to compress images.
- For better speed, host site with a reputed hosting provider.
Today a large number of people browse websites on their mobiles, so it becomes extremely necessary to perform mobile site audit.
- Open your site in a mobile phone and tablet to check whether it is mobile friendly or not. Also review its various elements by the end user’s perspective.
- If it is optimized for mobile phone users, check the used technology–responsive design, separate mobile site or serving pages dynamically.
- Use Accelerated Mobile Pages to further improve rankings in smaller devices.
- Ensure GA tracking code is placed on every page. Link it with Google search console to get better insights. Set up Google analytics with Google Tag Manager, doing so now will save a lot of time and work in future.
- Link Adwords and AdSense account if you are utilizing these platforms.
- Exclude internal IP addresses to prevent showing visits by staff members.
- Set goals and track conversions to calculate Return on Investment (ROI).
- If you are advertising on social media platforms and other marketing channels, set up custom campaign URLs with Google URL builder to measure campaign performance.
- Set up event tracking to count activities such as file downloads and video views.
After completing the on page auditing process, now it is time to review the backlink profile of the website. Inbound links play a huge role in making a SEO campaign successful or unsuccessful. Inspect all the backlinks very carefully because a large number of low quality links can attract Google Penguin penalty. Learn more about Penguin update to correctly recognize bad links.
There are plenty of free and paid tools are available to help you scan the link profile of a site. Most popular ones are Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, SEMrush, Majestic and Google Search Console.
Never depend on one tool; numbers of links could be significantly different for different sources.The factors you should look for:
- If not all, majority of the links should come from topically relevant websites.
- Are the links coming from authoritative domains and pages? Determine Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) by Moz tools and Domain Rating (DR) by ahrefs tool.
- Ratio of DoFollow and NoFollow backlinks. Both types of links are required in order to have natural link profile.
- Link diversity is extremely necessary to show search engines that the acquisition of links is natural. Different sources of backlinks may include blog commenting, forums, reputed directories, profile pages, resource pages etc.
- Diversity in anchor text keeps Google penguin penalty away. The number of brand name anchor text links should always be more than exact match keyword links to not get penalized by penguin.
- Another factor to look into is the ratio of homepage links compared to links to internal pages. To be on safer side, it’s always the best strategy to create backlinks for homepage as well as other landing pages.
- Link velocity is the pace of acquiring backlinks over a period of time. Massive ups and downs in the links count is not considered good.
- Last but not the least is the total number of unique domains the website is linking to—the more, the better. Always strive to get links from relevant unique domains of high authority and trustworthiness.
Local SEO Audit
- There should be consistency in the NAP (name, address, and phone) information on all the websites where the company is listed. It is a major factor to rank high in Google local listing.
- Check whether title, description, URL and content is optimized for location keywords or not.
- Is the business listed on local directories?
Finally, create a complete SEO audit report and send it to your development team. In addition, also attach your recommendations to make it easier for them to sort out the issues.
I tried my best to summarize everything in this SEO audit checklist. Let me know in the comments if I have missed something that could further improve the SEO auditing process.