Without a proper strategy and optimization, your website is unlikely to appear on the first page of organic search results (within the top 10), so your potential clicks may go to your competitors instead. However, there are no unsolvable problems, and the first thing you need to do if your SEO has lost its effectiveness is to conduct an SEO Audit. This will help you find out what exactly impedes your site’s promotion and how you can handle this problem.
In this article, we’ll talk about an SEO audit: what it is, which benefits it has, why you may need to hire an expert, and how a checklist can take your SEO game to the next level.
Why an SEO audit is a practical necessity
SEO Audit is a process of evaluating a website’s quality and compliance with specific ranking criteria. You can conduct it by yourself or with the help of digital specialists, but our team always recommends choosing the second option. After all, each of us wants the best professionals to check our health, so why don’t we treat our websites the same?
Just like people go to the doctor to keep their mental and physical states in good condition, your site needs constant check-ups to drive more traffic and perform at its best.
Types and their key aspects
SEO audit types can vary depending on the specific needs of your website. To define which one will suit you best, check the list below:
- Content audit: Identifies content that needs improvement, revision, prioritization, or removal.
- On-page audit: Optimizes internal elements of your page, for example, meta descriptions and alternative image text.
- Off-page audit: Verifies the quality of website links and external factors that influence ranking, such as backlinks and social media presence.
- Technical SEO audit: Addresses technical issues holding back site promotion in search engines, like broken links, missing meta tags, and slow page loading speed.
- Conversion optimization audit: Enhances the conversion rate of your site through a comprehensive analysis of traffic sources and users’ behavior.
- Competitive website audit: Reveals successful strategies of your competitors, enabling you to leverage their best tactics to rank high.
Of course, these audit type offer more benefits, but to understand the basics, it’s more than enough. Remember, no one can limit you to just one type, and taking a look at various aspects of your website is always a good idea.
So let’s carry on learning about the most important success factors of your online performance together, shall we?
The power of an SEO audit checklist
When it comes to optimizing your website for search engines, having an SEO audit checklist would be a great tool in your arsenal. Think of it as a roadmap that guides you toward your ultimate goal: increased website traffic, higher rankings, and more business opportunities.
At Halo Lab, we analyze hundreds of criteria to optimize our clients’ websites, but in this article, we’ve narrowed down the essentials. So, feel free to read about our SEO audit checklist and learn how to conduct the most comprehensive website check-up.
1. Check organic traffic
When it comes to SEO, organic traffic is a vital indicator of your website’s success. Google is constantly updating its search algorithms, with many of these updates targeting specific things like link spam or content quality. During these updates, your website’s positions (and, consequently, traffic) can fluctuate dramatically.
That’s why, during an audit, it’s crucial to check what’s happening with your traffic — whether it’s increasing, stagnating, or declining. This applies especially to the valuable pages that you’re actively promoting.
To review the website’s traffic, go to Google Search Console and open the “Search results” report under the “Performance” section.
The report contains four key metrics, but the most interesting one in this context is the “Total clicks” metric, which shows how many times users have clicked through to your site over a given period of time.
There are many ways to configure the report and check the necessary data. For example, you can view results by queries, pages, countries, devices, and search appearance.
These reports will provide you with valuable information about the organic traffic to your website, and you can always check it in the relevant SEO tools, such as Google Analytics.
2. Scan for relevant keywords
If a page doesn’t contain relevant keywords, it won’t rank for those queries or will be outranked by competitors. Therefore, the first step in optimization is to create a semantic core — a list of relevant keywords and topics that will guide the optimization process.
An SEO audit is a great opportunity to find out which keywords you should focus on. It can also help you identify the most valuable of them to target and ensure you’re not overlooking any crucial ones that your competitors may be using. Ideally, these words should be included in URLs, titles, H1 headings, title tags, and meta descriptions.
3. Identify site structure improvements
Having a clear and organized website architecture not only makes it easy for search engines to index all pages on your site but also helps visitors quickly find the information they need, which positively impacts SEO.
Besides, to create a streamlined experience for users, it’s better to avoid having too many levels of nesting. The optimal variant is to ensure all important pages are within one click from the homepage, and other pages are no more than 3–4 clicks away.
Your website’s structure should have a clear and logical hierarchy of pages organized by categories and interconnected with internal links.
Check basic on-page elements
By checking and optimizing basic on-page elements like meta descriptions, meta titles, and alt tags, you can help search engines understand what your website is about and increase the chances of it ranking higher.
4. Meta Tags
Optimizing meta tags is a super important aspect of on-page SEO (perhaps the most important one), as it determines the visibility of your pages in search results and the effectiveness of your efforts to promote your website.
The title tag can differ from the text designated as the H1. It should include your primary keyword and be around 40–60 characters long (with spaces), so it won’t get truncated when displayed in search results. At the same time, the description meta tag is usually between 120–160 characters.
To attract visitors and search engines, it’s better to be simple, clear, and not overload your site with keywords.
Proper image optimization can drive traffic to your website and boost your pages’ rankings for targeted queries. With it, the images will load faster, improving the overall user experience and reducing bounce rates.
Another important element for images is the ALT attribute. It provides alternative information for an image if a user for some reason cannot view it (because of slow connection, an error in the src attribute, or if the user uses a screen reader).
6. Structured data
Structured data is an advanced form of markup that plays a crucial role in helping search engines gain a better understanding of your content. By implementing structured data, you can significantly impact how your webpage appears in search results. Without it, search engines may struggle to identify specific elements on your webpage.
Take a look at the example of a webpage that utilizes structured data and currently ranks among the top 10 search results for the query "how to make a cake at home".
And here’s how the page looks without it:
Structured data is a powerful tool that can increase click-through rates and attract more traffic to your website. The good news is that applying it is not as technically challenging as it may seem. For this, you can make use of the Google Markup Helper or a schema markup generator to simplify the process and streamline the task.4
7. Identify duplicate content
Many website owners are unaware that their site may have a significant amount of duplicate content, which can negatively impact the site’s overall ranking. Search engines treat these duplicate documents as separate entities, causing the content of the page to lose its uniqueness, which in turn decreases a page’s weight.
Here are some common reasons for duplicate content:
- CMS: Many Content Management Systems (CMS) can create multiple links to the same page, resulting in duplicate content.
- Dynamic URLs: URLs with dynamic elements can change based on various factors, resulting in content duplication.
- Unique Identifiers: Temporary sessions or information storage can be created using unique identifiers in dynamic URLs, leading to duplicate content.
- Print Versions: Pages optimized for print versions of a site can be perceived as duplicate content.
If you suspect that your website contains duplicate content, there are a few ways to verify and address the issue. Google Search Console is a useful tool for detecting pages with identical content. Once identified, the problem can be solved by simply removing duplicates, creating 301 redirects, prohibiting indexing of duplicates in the robots.txt file or in the meta tags of individual pages, using the rel="canonical" directive, and other methods.
Check for technical issues
To ensure that search engines can crawl and index your site, it’s important that it has a solid technical foundation. It’s quite logical that a site without major errors is more likely to rank higher in search results. So, before diving into on-page optimizations, here are some key technical elements to check:
- Site speed: Is your website fast to load across all devices?
- Sitemap errors: Are there any errors in your sitemap.xml file?
- Robots.txt: Is your site allowed to be indexed in robots.txt?
- 404 errors: Are 404 errors handled correctly?
- Redirects: Are permanent and temporary redirects configured properly?
- SSL certificate: Does your site have an SSL certificate and redirect from HTTP to HTTPS?
- Image optimization: Are the size, format, and metadata images optimized?
- Favicon: Does your site have a favicon in several resolution.
In the following sections, we will delve into these technical considerations in more detail.
8. Check for manual actions
If your website violates Google’s spam policy, the search engine may take manual actions against it. This means that your site’s rankings will be reduced until Google cancels the action.
Below are some reasons why you may have received manual actions:
- Excessive use of keywords.
- Unnatural links (both to and from your site).
- Various types of spam.
- Thin content with little or no added value.
To find out whether you’ve received manual actions, check it in the Google Search Console. In the left-hand menu at the bottom, you will see the “Security & Manual Actions” section, which contains a link to “Manual actions”.
Hopefully, you will see a green checkmark indicating that there are no issues :)
If manual actions have been taken against your website, you will need to address the issues and submit a request for reconsideration. For example, if you received manual actions due to purchasing backlinks (“Unnatural links to your site”), you will need to get rid of those backlinks by reaching out to webmasters or disavowing them.
9. Check for HTTPS-related Issues
Your website may be available on different URL versions depending on whether your domain includes “www” and whether your site uses HTTPS. However, for search engines, these variations are distinct entities. For instance, the following URL versions may appear as separate pages to a search engine:
If your website operates on multiple versions of these URLs, it can cause many issues with scanning, indexing, and ranking your website. Furthermore, Google will consider them duplicates. A 301 redirect from all duplicate versions to the primary one is a recommended solution to avoid these issues.
10. Check for accessibility issues
For your pages to appear in Google search results, they must be included in Google’s massive index of billions of web pages. However, issues with indexing can prevent your pages from being included, making it harder for users to find your site.
These issues can be complex, but status codes will help you to check whether your pages are accessible. Here are some common codes:
- 200: A page is accessible and opens normally.
- 3xx: These codes indicate a redirect to another page, which may impact indexability.
- 4xx or 5xx codes: These codes indicate errors that prevent the page from being accessed.
It’s vital that the server’s response matches reality — errors must be fixed or redirected to a working page. But be careful not to overuse redirects as it may slow down your site.
11. Check for mobile-friendliness
In today’s world, mobile devices are paramount, and failing to optimize your website for mobile means you’re likely not prioritizing user engagement. It’s highly important for Google because an increasing number of people are using mobile devices to access the Internet, and search engines want to ensure their users have the best possible experience.
To check whether the mobile version of your website has issues, use the Mobile Usability report in Google Search Console. For this, just click “Mobile Usability” under the “Experience” section in the menu to the left.
Here you will find a concise summary of your page’s usability history, along with a list of any mobile usability issues that have been identified. The report lists any problems that may be impacting the user experience, allowing you to quickly identify areas that require improvement.
Here’s an example of what the report could look like:
12. Check page speed
The loading time of a website is critical for both user experience and search engine optimization. Ideally, a site should load within 1–3 seconds to ensure visitors are not frustrated and the site’s ranking is not negatively impacted. Fortunately, Google has developed tools to help you monitor your site’s loading speed as well.
13. Check core web vitals
The Core Web Vitals are key web metrics used by Google to measure user engagement. They include page loading time, interactivity, and content stability during loading. Although these elements don’t carry much weight in rankings, it’s still important to evaluate your website’s core web vitals for better user engagement. To do this, check the “Core Web Vitals” report in Google Search Console.
14. Check for broken links
“Broken links” are links that lead users to non-existent web pages, documents, or images that have been long moved or deleted. When users click on such links, their browser displays an error message, typically a 404 error.
There are several reasons why broken links may occur:
- Deleted old pages and documents;
- Changes made on external resources;
- Automatic data updates;
- Website redesign or overhaul;
- Incorrect page renaming;
- Typos in the link itself.
To find broken links on your website and fix them, you must perform a website crawl. When a search engine crawls a website, it follows links from page to page to discover new content and gather information about the website’s structure, content, and other details. This process allows search engines to create an index of web pages, which can be used to deliver relevant search results to users.
15. Examine sitemap issues and robots.txt
Robots.txt and sitemap.xml are two important technical files for the basic website optimization. The former instructs search engine crawlers which pages to index and which to exclude, while also providing links to the site.
To locate the files “robots.txt” and “sitemap.xml” on your website, you can simply enter addresses such as “site.com/robots.txt” and “site.com/sitemap.xml” into your browser’s address bar, using your website’s URL in place of “site.com”. If both pages load successfully, it confirms that the files are in place. Alternatively, Google provides tools that can be used to verify the accuracy of the “robots.txt” and “sitemap.xml” files.
16. Identify link-building opportunities
A strong backlink profile is a key component of successful search engine optimization. When external resources link to a website, this signals to search engines that it has engaging and quality content. As a result, the site will be ranked higher when it comes to organic search results.
External links are acceptable if the donor sites are high-quality, located in your region, and thematically relevant to your content. Also, these links need to have an optimal number of inbound and outbound links and traffic to the category where your link will be placed. At the same time, a well-designed internal linking structure allows search engine bots to quickly navigate to the desired page, improving site scanning and speeding up indexing.
[fs-toc-omit]Final thoughts on conducting an SEO audit
As you can see, the process of conducting an SEO audit is quite technical and time-consuming. But we hope our checklist will help you identify and resolve a range of common SEO-related issues, ultimately improving the online visibility of your website.
And in case you don’t have enough time and energy to do it yourself, we’re always glad to help you — just text us. Halo Lab’s specialists have everything you need to conduct a successful SEO audit and improve your website’s ranking to lead your business to success as quickly and effectively as possible.
Thanks for reading, and see you next time!