How to audit your website's SEO
On Google's 21st birthday, Keith Hodges takes you step-by-step with practical actions on what you need to do to optimise your website to achieve maximum impact on your search engine ranking
In 2019 the impact high Google rankings can have on a B2B business should not be understated.
Whether you want to take on some search engine optimisation yourself or keep your SEO agency on their toes - understanding the core elements of your website, what makes for positive or negative SEO results and where priorities should be placed is the basis of online success.
Building an understanding of your current positioning, progress and areas for improvement will allow you to audit and make informed decisions on the performance of your website and your agency, creating opportunity for long term business growth.
What is an SEO audit and why is it important?
Simply, an SEO audit is looking at every single element of a website and its competitor sites to determine:
- Can the website be found when searching online?
- Is your website relevant to your product and customer base?
- Does the site work correctly from a technical perspective?
- Does the website engage your customers to buy from you?
These four questions may seem vague at first, but each step of an SEO audit process will give you the answers you need – these starting points will allow the focus of the work to remain targeted purely at business and online growth, as opposed to swaying into branding or other forms of marketing/advertising. An SEO audit should then be split into three areas – on site, off site and technical.
Within the questions above you will need to determine some variables which are unique to your business:
- What do you want to be found for online?
- What pages (these are called landing pages) are relevant to your product/service?
- What platform is the website built on?
- How do customers by products online?
Then, from here you can make a list of top-level actions – we would recommend using a table such as the below – filling out the actions as you move through your audit.
What are SEO ranking factors?
Once you have the basis of your audit in terms of what you want to know and achieve with a website from a business perspective, the next stage is to understand what Google (and the other search engines) are looking for to rank a website. These are called search engine guidelines and adhering to them can aid ranking, adversely carrying our bad SEO tactics can impact your ranking and in some cases see a website removed from a search engine all together.
Search engines use what are called ‘crawlers’ to go through your website and analyse and determine the following factors, again these can be attributed to the initial five points:
- What keywords should this website most likely be shown for in Google results?
- Does the content of the website meet the needs of a customer?
- Is the website fast and technically secure?
- Does the website meet the needs of customers?
- Is the website meeting search engine guidelines?
On-page ranking factors
- Page and website content
- Website performance
- Website accesibility
- Trust signals.
Off-page ranking factors
- Trusted links
- Brand mentions
- Website partners.
Technical ranking factors
- Security of a website
- Loading speed
- Image tags
- Website structure
Key elements of your SEO audit and how to carry them out
Within an SEO audit there are some core elements to look at and make decisions on.
On-page SEO is at the heart of your website and the content within each product or service landing page.
Within on-page content there are some core areas to consider:
- Landing page URL: URL of the landing page (after the website name)
- Meta title: This is the blue link that shows in Google
- Meta description: The text that shows under the blue link in search results that draws a user to click
- Heading 1 tag: A title that shows at the top of a page
- Heading 2/3 tags: Additional titles which are placed within the content of a page
- Content: The physical content on the page needs to meet particular criteria
- Keyword density: The percentage of keywords to total text ratio on a page
- Images: The size, name and title of an image on the page
- Internal links: Links which point to other pages on the website
Within an on-page audit there are some core things to consider:
Are keywords placed in your landing page URL, meta title and H1 tag? these are core signs to a search crawler about what is expected on a page.
In H2 or H3 tags, are variations of a keyword used? For example, if your target keyword is 'B2B marketing', an H2 tag might be ‘Marketing driving exposure with the B2B sector’ – this shows a break in content, but also creates a greater level of natural conversion within content.
Content should be informative and ideally a minimum of 500 words on the page. This creates enough depth for a website to adequately describe and give confidence of a service, but not necessarily overwhelm a customer with too much text.
Within content, consider keyword density – reusing a keyword over and over again is called keyword stuffing and will result in an adverse ranking impact. Again, using variations will help this.
Actions: Re-write meta data to include keywords, add heading tags to content.
Keep images below 100kb and ensure they have alt text attached to them, as well as an image title that is associated with your keywords and phases. Google cannot see an image and relies on the data behind the image to help with accessibility and outline what should be seen on a page.
Action: Reduce sizes of images.
Links within your text, to related products or services, to customer service pages or through to contact pages are known as internal links – as in they are internal to your website.
Keep in mind these should be relevant to a customer and where possible be placed around your keywords – this creates a greater level of relevancy and trust within the page itself.
Action: Add more internal links to content.
Overall, for the page itself, we’d recommend creating a table and auditing each of the points in our checklist one-by-one per page, using a simple traffic light system to determine where improvements can be made.
Technical SEO spans a wide range of areas and topics, but in terms of an audit on your website, we’d recommend sticking the core elements around how Google can access and interpret your website, considering the speed (and ultimately user experience) as well.
- Web structure and URL structure: Essentially the folders in use website is built
- HTTPS/SSL: Security for customers or users visiting the site
- HTML Build: Code behind core elements of a website
- Schema/JSON: Code that allows websites to send additional information to search engines
- Server speed: The speed in which servers respond to requests from users
- Sitemaps/robots: Used by Google to crawl websites
- Accessibility: Are all pages able to be found?
Crawling and indexing
Crawling and indexing is a core element to consider in your SEO audit. As mentioned earlier, a search engine will crawl a website to determine what a website rank for in search results – if a website cannot be crawled properly, it will not rank.
The core area to determine website crawling is within Google Search Console – this is a system used by SEO agencies and webmasters provided by Google to aid in visibility on the health of a website. If you do not have Google Search Console setup, it can simply be added to your Google account and verified in a number of different ways.
Within Google Search Console you will see the below Index section – this will tell you discovered URLs and the amount of URLs Google has indexed. Ideally, these should be the same number.
If an SEO campaign is not working in the way you feel it should, then you can have a closer look at indexing and whether your target pages are being found by Google.
If you want to look at a page level, use the search bar at the top of your website (below).
Identifying issues within crawling and indexing will help determine action points around on-page and technical performance.
This would include:
- Page missing from sitemap
- Page blocked by Robots.txt
Actions: Add target page to sitemap, Request indexing from Google.
Do the URLs make sense? Ideally you would have a top level category for core services/products, then sub-pages beyond this.
Website structure is the frame on which a website is built, and directly influences URL structure.
A website structure should be clear and tidy.
A URL structure should following the website structure, contain no capital letters, underscores or characters (such as #,?: etc.) as these are not crawlable for a crawler.
Action: Make URLs cleaner.
Are all pages accessible from menus with no errors? You’ll find this information in the same index section, under 'Coverage'.
This will include any pages with 404 errors (not working) and any others which fire up warnings.
404 errors can be a problem if you do not want them, but do not necessarily mean there’s an issue with a website. For example, if you remove a service from a website it is natural this will create a 404 page.
To see in Google Search results a round-up of the pages indexed (and the latest versions saved by Google) you can do a Google Search for ‘site:websitename.com’ – this will provide a list of indexed pages (see below).
Action: Redirect or add new pages to place 404 pages.
Using tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights will give you data on areas within a website loading time that can be improved.
Whether these elements are worked on with an SEO agency or a web developer will differ based on the business in question. PageSpeed insights will give you a score out of 100 for your website speed, with the ultimate goal of course to hit 100.
Action: Update server for faster loading speed.
The final area of note when auditing your website is the strength of your offsite profile and links or brand mentions being generated by an SEO agency. Now, unlike the other areas the value of these links are not as straightforward as technical/on-page SEO elements.
For example, a link which may look like it has no brand value, may carry weight for rankings – whereas a brand mention might not have an SEO value.
When auditing your SEO agency, take a measure of your domain authority – this domain authority is a score out of a hundred from a company called Moz. They have a free access account which allows you to do this.
Then, set up a Google Alert for your brand name – this will then email you every time your brand name is crawled on another website.
Finally, use Google Search Console to determine which of your pages are being linked to and monitor changes here. This can be found using the Links section from the right-hand menu of the page.
Over the course of your SEO campaign you should see vast improvements in each of these metrics – giving you a breakdown of the quality of links, link profile improvements and areas to work on.
Action: Gain links from specific industry sites.
Completing your audit
Once all data is gathered on your audit, it is possible to then complete the top level audit table and send across to your SEO agency/partner.
Carry this out every three months and you’ll be continually closer to your search engine goals.
• Keith Hodges is an SEO expert with more than eight years’ experience in the industry. Heading up the search team at POLARIS, the SEO agency specialises in campaigns for clients in the B2B, Retail and Services sectors. Keith enjoys technical SEO and the ever-evolving landscape that is organic search, keeping up to date with changes in the industry and how these changes impact client accounts.
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