Sniffing out most of a website’s basic SEO (search engine optimization) problems can be done in 20 minutes or less if you know what you’re doing. In this guide, I’ll provide you the essentials to conducting an effective and fast SEO audit. Take a dive into this guide’s information. Plenty of notes couldn’t hurt either.
Prints on the following paper sizes:
- Letter (8.5″ x 11″)
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- Super B (13″ x 19″)
Note: See The 20-Minutes or Less SEO Audit Infographic to see the full infographic. Btw, the tutorial was originally posted on SearchEngineJournal, but this post has graphics that better visually explain the process.
This guide is broken down into the following components for your reading convenience:
- Adjusting Your Browser
- Evaluating Your Homepage
- Testing The Website’s Global Navigation
- Reviewing Your Website’s Category Pages and Subcategory Pages
- Checking For Optimized Content
- Analyzing Your Website’s Off-Page SEO
Adjusting Your Browser
In order to perform a high-powered SEO audit in 20 minutes, you’ll first need to adjust your web browser so that you can determine if the website has crawling errors..
Many web pages prohibit access to online users if cookies are disabled. Disabling cookies on your browser helps you see which pages you can and cannot access. Browse through your website and remember to note web pages that have restricted access.
Nearly 70% of all search engine queries occur on Google so it makes sense to see your website from its point of view. You can do this by installing User Agent Switcher for Firefox and changing your user agent to GoogleBot 2.1. Give your website another run-through with Googlebot as your user agent and see if your website displays content other than the content shown as a default user agent. If so, your website might be running the risk of cloaking and could get penalized and even banned.
Evaluating Your Homepage
As the saying goes, “first impressions are lasting impressions.” The same can also be said about an online users visiting a website for the first time. This is why an evaluation of your homepage is absolutely critical.
Start by getting into the mindset of a casual browser. Scroll down your homepage and see what feelings/thoughts occur as you view the page. Does the homepage feel trustworthy? Would you refer this website to a friend or relative? Would you feel comfortable providing this website your credit card information? These are all very important questions to ask yourself when assessing the homepage and website overall.
In fact, Google asked these questions along with some others before releasing their highly publicized Panda update earlier this year. Google’s Panda update was aimed at improving the quality of search results for their users. As a result, your main concern as an SEO should be the user experience that your homepage provides its users.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, you will want to make sure there aren’t any duplicate or canonical issues associated with the homepage. Check to see that your website doesn’t have the following issues:
- A www (www.yoursite.com) version and non-www (http://yoursite.com) version of your homepage/website.
- The homepage (primary) URL doesn’t redirect to another website or irrelevant page?
- Is your homepage title tag duplicated on another web page? Can your title tag be improved to be more user-friendly?
Testing The Website’s Global Navigation
As you can tell from the screen shot of InMotion Hosting’s page, the global navigation is the set of links that can be accessed from any page on a website. Your global navigation also distributes your SEO “link juice,” the power that the search engine’s assign your website, across the various pages of your website. Therefore, you will want to check that everything is intact with it.
Reviewing Your Website’s Category Pages & Subcategory Pages
There should be rhyme and reason to each page that is created on a website. As an SEO, your primary goal is to make sure that each page has enough (good) content to make it a worthy link in and of itself. Ask yourself if people would even search for this content. If so, you probably have enough justification to create a category page or subcategory page.
Below is a screen shot of our Custom Web Design page (main category) and its subcategory pages (Overview, Business Websites, Ecommerce, SEO, etc.).
The Custom Web Design page contains content that serves as an overview of the main category. While some details are mentioned for the subcategory pages, most of the in-depth details are placed in the content for each of the subcategory pages. This not only gave meaning and reason for the creation of that page, it also allowed for maximum ranking in the search results. For instance, if you search “inmotion hosting seo” in Google, you will notice that our SEO subcategory page ranks higher for that query than our Custom Web Design page.
After assessing your content, determine if your design layout is conducive to readability. Are there eye sores obstructing your ability to read the content? Are there too many chunky blocks of texts? Are the text columns so wide that it’s hard for your eyes to read long the lines?
Lastly for this section, you’ll want to check that you’re properly linking to your other main and subcategory pages. Be conscience of your website’s link juice and avoid excessive hyperlinking to meaningless pages. Also make sure that you’re utilizing an anchor-text nomenclature that provides for optimal click- through rates and search engine indexation.
Checking For Optimized Content
Now that you know how to take a high-level assessment of your website’s various pages, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty elements of your content. Check to see if the following elements are using SEO best practices:
- Title Tags
- No more than 65 to 75 characters
- Proper and consistent formatting
- Are not duplicated
- Are keyword-specific
- Easy to read and understand from the SERPs
- Meta Descriptions
- Though they are not used as signals for ranking higher in the SERPs, a well-written meta description improves click-through rates, which is a signal for ranking higher.
- Contain keywords specific to web page
- Short, human-eye friendly
- Easy to remember
- Alt Tags for Images
- Contain keywords
- Describe the image
- Read properly in a screen reader; this improves web accessibility for the visually impaired
- H1 & H2 Tags
- Proper but not abusive use of keywords in header tags
- Separates large amounts of content on a web page
- Content created in these languages still lead to crawling and indexing issues with the search engines
These HTML elements may seem small and meaningless to the average online user, but any seasoned SEO wouldn’t disregard the importance of them. There are enough studies done by leading SEO experts out there that suggest that there’s a high correlation with optimizing them and higher rankings in SERPs. Take advantage of these on-page SEO weaknesses as they are the easiest and least time-consuming to fix.
Analyzing Your Website’s Off-Page SEO
No audit is complete until you have analyzed its off-page optimizations. I strongly recommend subscribing to SEOmoz if you haven’t already for their very comprehensive SEO software package. As a premium account holder, you are granted access to one of my favorite off-page analysis tools, Open Site Explorer. With Open Site Explorer, you just have to enter the URL that you want analyzed, and it will access SEOmoz’s index of the Web to gather data about your website.
Here is the information that you’ll want to gather for your website:
- Page Authority and Domain Authority
- Total Links and Link Root Domains (the number of different domains linking to your website)
- Anchor text distribution of inbound links
- Facebook Likes/Shares and Tweets
Now you’ll want to compare this information to competitors that are experiencing better success in the SERPS. You might discover that there are some crucial categories in your off-page SEO that your competitors are simply running laps around you in.
Next, you’ll also want want to determine how well your overall website has been indexed by the search engines. For a relatively brand new website, I like to throw in a few competitive keywords in SEOBook’s Rank Tracker and see which URLs are ranking in the three major search engines (as shown below).
If your website doesn’t show up at all in the results on Rank Checker, it can be due to a few things:
- Your website simply does not rank for the keyword.
- You have not submitted a sitemap of your website to the search engines.
- Your web page(s) has been de-indexed from the search engines.
- Your website is banned from the search engine indices.
The latter two issues are more serious and require attention. For a deindexed page, check the source to make sure that a developer hasn’t accidentally inserted a “noindex” tag or prevented the page from being crawled/indexed by the search engines with overzealous editing of the robot.txt file. If you’re not sure whether or not your website was banned by the search engines, it’s as easy as doing a branded search query, such as “Example.com” in the Google search bar. If you’re not appearing in the search results then you’ve most likely done something to anger the Search Engine gods. Therefore, you might have to resubmit a re-inclusion request to Google.
Finally as you wrap up this last step, you’ll want to make sure that your website doesn’t have any duplicate content. Simply copy and paste content from your website into a search bar and place quotation marks around it. Click submit and see if that content appears elsewhere on your website or on the Web. You can also check Google Webmaster Tool to see if there are any reported duplicate title tags issues. Duplicate content is an important issue to check for during your SEO audit. Any pages with duplicate content or title tags have the potential of competing with each other in the SERPs. In these instances, you leave it to the search engines to make the decision on which page is the correct one. Many times, unfortunately, the search engine may select the wrong one which can have outdated or incorrect information. This is not a good situation for your website’s SEO and user experience.
Now That You’ve Finished Each Component Of This Guide…
You’ll want to review all notes taken during your SEO audit. Create a checklist and prioritize your action items. I always recommend fixing the low-energy/high-yielding items first before working on more complicated and time-consuming issues. Lastly, since this is a lengthy and information-packed article, below is a trusty infographic that you can use for quick referencing. And as an added bonus, you can conveniently copy the HTML code snippet below and paste it onto your website for easy blog posting.