When I hear the phrase “SEO audit,” two ideas come to mind, and they’re both unfortunate.
First, you might compare an SEO audit to a tax audit. Ugh.
That’s unpleasant—nobody wants an audit.
Second, you might’ve received a pitch from an SEO company that offers an SEO audit as part of their service, and now you associate it with a sales message.
That’s no fun, either.
Stick with me though, because I’m here to tell you that an SEO audit is not only helpful, it’s also an excellent way to grow your website and help clients succeed.
It’s one of the most powerful ways to grow your traffic.
You just have to learn to love audits!
Why Do You Need an SEO Audit?
When you’re constantly “heads down” on SEO work, you may lose track of the bigger picture. That’s one of the reasons why SEO audits are helpful.
In my view, an SEO audit has a few key benefits:
- Increase business results: An SEO audit often identifies easy wins. You’d be surprised how many websites have poor on page SEO, even in 2018.
- Reduce SEO risk: Before you start an outreach process to create more backlinks, you need to get the lay of the land first. With an SEO audit, you’ll identify risks to address. For example, your website may have an unnatural link profile, such as only using the company name as anchor text, or a large number of spam links.
- Support SEO specialist transition: When you’re taking over responsibility for an SEO’s work, you might be tempted to start applying your standard tools right away. No so fast! You might find the website has critical problems (e.g. slow site speed) that need to be addressed before you can do anything else. Likewise, if you assign a new specialist to a website as a manager, ask them to use this SEO audit to inform their approach.
- Enhance your client experience: Are you performing SEO for a marketing client? Using an SEO audit is a good way to prove you’re taking a thoughtful approach to the project. If you conduct an SEO audit before you start work and then again in six months, you can easily demonstrate how your work has improved the client’s situation.
Now, let’s get started with the SEO audit process.
The Ultimate 6-phase SEO Audit: Focus Your SEO Effort Where It Matters
Phase 1: Focus Your Audit Efforts
For an SEO audit to work, you need to focus carefully on a single specific website. If you own multiple websites, how do you know which website to focus on? Compare the different websites available based on the following metrics:
- Monthly Traffic: I like to use average unique users over a three month period. I recommend limiting SEO audits to websites that have at least 1,000 unique visitors.
- Site Age: I suggest using SEO audits on websites that have been online for at least one year. There may not be much insight to be had with newer websites.
- Backlinks: At this stage, keep it simple and simply note the total number of backlinks per domain, which you can find from your Monitor Backlinks dashboard. Focus your SEO audit efforts on websites that have at least 10 backlinks.
- Business Potential: Ask yourself, “If I doubled traffic to this website this year, would we see business results?” Answering this requires professional judgment and instincts. If a website has no conversion elements (e.g. there’s no email list opt in, buy buttons, etc), then you might want to fix those elements first. Unless these elements are in place, all those website visitors will arrive with nothing to do on your website.
- Owner Interest: If you’re working on an agency basis and the client owns multiple websites, ask them which website they’re most interested in growing. Also ask about other marketing programs the owner may have to support the property beyond SEO, such as pay-per-click or traditional advertising.
At the end of this process, come up with a single website to focus your SEO audit on.
Phase 2: Identify Your Strengths
Fundamentally, it’s easier to grow your website by building on your strengths. In going through this process, keep in mind your marketing strengths as well.
For example, if you’re strong at technical SEO, you’ll be able to notch a few wins much faster in that area.
For analysis purposes, make sure you look at all the elements covered in this section.
On Page SEO Audit
Make mistakes here, and the search engines won’t be able to understand your website. Here are some of the items you want to check from an on page SEO perspective.
- Is there a mix of internal and outbound links? Help your users find related information by linking to other resources on your website and on other related websites. You could even create a “resources” or “tools” page where you can mention your favorite industry tools and apps. With blog content, I suggest linking to authoritative sources.
The Guideline: Every content page should have at least three internal links to another URL on your website and one outbound link.
- Are images optimized? Your images are a major marketing opportunity if you approach them correctly. From an SEO audit perspective, look for images that have keyword optimized filenames and alt tags. Check whether or not the website has any link-worthy images such as infographics, memes or charts—such images are great for attracting inbound links.
The Guideline: Review the images on the homepage and at least two other high-traffic pages on your site.
- Is the keyword density at a reasonable level? Choose a product page and a blog page and evaluate their keyword optimization. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to see the keyword phrase used in the URL, title, first paragraph and one section heading. At the same time, check to see if the website appears to be over-optimized, with keywords used repeatedly. Some older websites may be using outdated SEO techniques by simply repeating keyword phrases over and over again.
The Guideline: Aim for a keyword density of 1% to 2%. That means that a 1,000-word page would use the keyword phrase no more than 20 times. You can check the keyword density with the Yoast SEO plugin, if you’re on WordPress, or by using this keyword density checker.
- Are navigation and internal links functional? Inspect the homepage and one other high-traffic page for links. Are website visitors able to easily navigate to your most valuable pages (e.g. the store or contact us page) from any page on the website?
The Guideline: Make sure the website has a sitemap. If there’s no sitemap, Google (and your users) will struggle to find their way around the website. Use the XML Sitemaps Generator to create a Google search-friendly sitemap.
- Is user experience consistent across different platforms and browsers? Quickly test the user experience by loading the website on multiple browsers and platforms. On the desktop, I use Chrome and Firefox. For mobile devices, I use Safari and Chrome. First, you want to check if the website’s text and images are easy to read. Second, check whether or not you can click buttons, add items to your cart and carry out other activities that a customer is likely to do.
The Guideline: Make sure you can click and carry out important transactions (e.g. sign up for the email list, use the contact form, check out) easily on multiple platforms and browsers.
- Does the site load quickly? User experience is tough to evaluate. In contrast, site speed is one area of user experience that’s relatively easy to measure and improve. I recommend using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to look for areas of improvement. In 2018, your website should load in three seconds or less. If the site load time is over 10 seconds, that’s a red flag. Search Engine Journal reported bounce rate (i.e. people leaving your website without taking action) is significantly higher when load time goes over six seconds.
The Guideline: Test the website’s site speed at three different times over the course of a week. If you see consistently weak performance, such as load times over 6 to 10 seconds, fixing that speed issue should be a top priority.
Having a clean bill of health with on page SEO is good, but it’s not enough. We also need to look at how the rest of the internet views the website. The best way to get at that question? Look at its backlinks.
Backlinks are one of the most important factors driving SEO and online traffic. Use Monitor Backlinks to see how you’re doing in this vital area. Just navigate to the Your Links tab to see every link pointing to your site, ordered by most recent.
Look at the following factors to assess the strength of your backlinks.
- Backlinks Over Time: The best websites steadily attract new backlinks every month. Look at the past 12 months and see if the website is earning new backlinks consistently. If there’s a sudden increase in backlinks one month and then nothing afterward, the link building effort probably needs work.
- Domain Authority (DA): I break down Domain Authority into four categories: 0-10 (low authority), 10-30 (medium), 30-50 (emerging authorities) and over 50 (authorities). The most successful websites attract links from each category. Be concerned if the backlink profile is more than 50% concentrated with DA 10 and below.
- Do Follow vs. No Follow: Do follow links are the ones that move the needle in SEO. As a benchmark, you’ll want to see at least 50% of your backlinks as do follow.
- Top Linked URLs: Find out which URLs are earning the most links. If your blog, podcast page or articles attract backlinks, that’s a sign you’re creating successful content. Once you’ve identified the top five URLs that gain the most backlinks, look up the same URLs in Google Analytics. If those URLs also have a time on site of over 60 seconds, you have a winner! On the other hand, a URL with many backlinks but low time on site may not resonate with your target market—you might have a “false positive” on your hands.
In the screenshot below, you can see that this website has a good backlink profile, including numerous high DA backlinks. To highlight this website’s success, I filtered the results to show only backlinks with a DA of 50 or higher.
You can also see that the website is attracting new, high-quality backlinks over several months. This website gets a high mark in the backlinks department.
Phase 3: Categorize Your SEO Weaknesses
Every website has areas to improve. In this part of your SEO audit, you’ll go through your findings from above and look for what can be improved.
To keep the process easy, I recommend organizing SEO weaknesses into three areas.
1. Easy Wins: These are SEO areas where you can make rapid improvements. For example, you might decide to fix poor internal navigation so users can easily find other pages. Alternatively, you might find that the contact page is broken.
2. Long-Term Wins: Some SEO wins, such as obtaining backlinks from high-traffic business websites, take a while to execute. If you estimate the SEO improvement will take more than 30 days to implement, note it in the long-term wins category.
3. Low Priority: Finally, you may have a few SEO problems that are relatively low value and low importance to fix. For instance, your website might perform poorly in Internet Explorer or Opera. You might decide to accept those limitations for now as you work on higher value wins. It’s important to note these low priority areas so that you can track them in a follow-up SEO audit in 3 to 6 months.
Phase 4: Get Inspiration from Competitors
So far, we’ve focused all our efforts on analyzing your website. In reality, there’s much more to be learned by looking at your market.
For this SEO audit, I recommend analyzing at least three competitors and evaluating their SEO performance.
a) Find Competing Websites
I recommend using the following methods to quickly find competitors.
First, use Google search to search for your product or service category. For example, if you sell iPhone accessories, just search for “new iPhone accessories” and related keywords in Google. In the first page or two of results, you’ll likely have multiple results.
You can also use Monitor Backlinks to suggest competitors for you. From the Competitor Links tab, just click “Add new competitor,” and then click on the small arrow. You’ll be given a list of websites that are relevant to yours and that are targeting common keywords.
If you run an established website with 10,000 or more pageviews per month, I also suggest using SimilarWeb to identify competitors.
If you’re working with a company as an agency or consultant, you can also ask the business owner to recommend their biggest competitors.
b) Audit Competitor Websites
Continue using the above steps until you have 3 to 5 competing businesses. Next, you’ll become a secret agent and spy on their methods.
Specifically, there are three SEO areas of inspiration you can gain from competitors: backlinks, linkable assets and user experience.
- Backlinks: With Monitor Backlinks, you can enter a competitor’s domain and see what backlinks they have. I recommend sorting the backlinks by Trust Flow or Citation Flow so you can see the highest-quality backlinks first.
- Linkable Assets: Which competitor URLs are attracting the highest number of backlinks? You might find out that infographics are making a comeback in your industry. Alternatively, traditional marketing assets like white papers continue to perform well. A competitor’s success tells you about the needs and desires of your market, so pay attention.
- User Experience: Evaluating the user experience requires professional judgment. I recommend focusing on the website’s conversion elements (e.g. calls to action to join an email list or engage with a chat service). I also recommend testing competitors from a site speed perspective using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. If a competitor has better speed metrics than your website, you have an opportunity to improve.
How exactly do you use all of these competitive SEO audit insights from your competitors? That’s going to be covered in our second last phase below.
Phase 5: Make 5 to 10 High-value SEO Recommendations
This is where you apply your critical thinking to generate real insights. Skip this step, and you just have a pile of data.
In this section, you make a case for where you’re going to spend your time to achieve the best SEO results.
To avoid overwhelming yourself, limit your SEO audit recommendations to a maximum of 5 to 10 high-priority recommendations. You can include a few suggestions for long-term improvements as well. To make the process easier, use the following headings to organize your recommendations.
- On Page SEO: Prioritize recommendations here because on page SEO improvements are in your control and can usually be made relatively quickly.
- Backlinks: What can you propose to earn more backlinks? This recommendation usually includes a combination of content creation and content promotion.
- Competitive Insights: In your opinion, what’s the most compelling idea you can adapt from your competitors? For example, you might start a podcast tour to gain backlinks and high-quality prospects for your business.
- Technical Opportunities: Depending on the complexity of the website, this section may not apply. If you find that the website has too many plugins or that these plugins aren’t configured effectively, make a recommendation in that area. Or, you might find that using multiple popup providers to gather email subscribers is slowing the website down and may confuse users. You might also recommend using a CDN (content delivery network) to speed up the delivery of rich media content like images and videos.
In your recommendations, use the following approach to package each one.
- Recommendation Title: On Page SEO – Easy Wins
- Recommendation Summary: We’ve identified eight on page SEO problems on high-traffic webpages. Fixing these problems will lead to higher traffic and engagement.
- Estimated Resources: In collaboration with the SEO consultant, we’ll need to work with the company’s website manager. No outside resources are required.
- Estimated Schedule: We estimate these improvements will take one week of work effort to implement.
Tip: To increase the odds of winning support for your SEO project, consider adding charts and data from Monitor Backlinks and other sources to illustrate the recommendations.
Now you need to get the “Yes!” to put your SEO audit recommendations into action.
Phase 6: Start Your SEO Project
Your next step at this point depends on your situation. If you’re working on your own website, simply choose the recommendation you’re most interested in and get to work.
If you’re working inside a company or acting as an outside consultant, you need to make the pitch to win approval.
In this situation, I suggest organizing your recommendations into two or three packages. The lowest priced package should focus on a few quick wins. The medium tier package can include the lower package and some long-term improvements. The top tier package should include everything else plus a high touch strategy. For example, you might launch a supporting content program such as an industry podcast.
And there you have it!
We’ve developed an SEO audit process that guides you through analyzing a website, finding problems and making recommendations for improvement.
Bruce Harpham provides content marketing for software companies so they can grow faster. He is also the author of “Project Managers At Work.” His work has appeared on CIO.com, InfoWorld and Profit Guide. Read his B2B SaaS marketing case studies from ClickFunnels, Close.io, and other companies.