In my opinion, SEO Technical Audits are the most powerful deliverable in SEO. That should sound familiar if you’ve read my column over the past few years, since I’ve written about the power of audits several times. The reason I think it’s the most powerful deliverable is simple. Performing a thorough SEO technical audit reveals the strengths, weaknesses, risks, and opportunities of the site in question. What I love about audits is that there are times serious issues could be revealed in a relatively short amount of time. And if a company moves fast to rectify the problems discovered during an audit, it has the potential of seeing a tangible SEO impact quickly.
Although audits are so powerful, I find it’s still a confusing topic for some marketers that aren’t familiar with SEO. Where do you start? Should you outsource the audit? How long will it take? And what type of impact will it have? These types of questions often lead to delay, and delay won’t lead to anything but more 404’s, more canonical problems, more sitemap issues, and more application errors. And as you can imagine, that’s all not good for your SEO health.
Say Hello to the SEO Toolkit for IIS
So, if you’ve been delaying an SEO audit, I’m going to help you get moving today by using one of my favorite SEO tools, The Search Engine Optimization Toolkit for IIS (developed by Microsoft). It’s a phenomenal tool for analyzing a website from an SEO standpoint, and it provides a wealth of information for diagnosing various SEO issues. In order to run the SEO Toolkit for IIS, you’ll need Windows and IIS installed. The IIS extension is free and can be downloaded here.
My goal today isn’t to explain everything the SEO toolkit can do, since that would be a huge post. Instead, I’m going to show you how to jump start your SEO audit by analyzing a single report. The report we are going to focus on is the Violations report, and as you can guess, it provides an organized list of technical SEO violations from the site you choose to crawl. There are times this report alone can help you fix numerous issues hindering your site from an SEO standpoint. And by the way, there’s a good chance that you had no idea these violations were present. Let’s jump in.
Ready, Set, Go
After installing the SEO Toolkit for IIS, you’ll need to analyze/crawl a website. This is how the toolkit identifies the violations we will be analyzing. You can access the toolkit via IIS Manager in Windows. You’ll see “Search Engine Optimization” listed in Features View. Once you double click the toolkit icon, you’ll be taken to the home screen for the SEO Toolkit.
Click “Create a new analysis”, enter a name for your project, and enter the domain to crawl. Click the dropdown arrow to adjust additional settings, like the max number of URL’s to crawl, and click OK.
While the toolkit crawls your site, grab a cup of coffee, read some of my previous posts, and get ready to drill into your new reporting. The crawl will take varying amounts of time, based on your own site, the number of URL’s that are being crawled, and the settings you selected. Once the crawl is done, you’ll have a boatload of data to go through. But, before you get too deep into the reporting, let’s focus on just one report for now, the Violations report. Remember, our goal is to jump start your audit, not cover everything in the SEO Toolkit for IIS.
The Violations Report
On the left hand side of the toolkit, you’ll see the major report categories. Click the Violations report, which has a yellow icon with an exclamation point. When you click this report, you will see a list on the left containing report subcategories including:
- Violations Summary
- Pages with Most Violations
- Violation Categories, and
- Violation Levels
Each report enables you to drill into the various problems found on the site in different ways. Let’s keep this simple, so we’ll stick with the Violations Summary report. When you click the report, you’ll notice a list of violations on the right side, organized by violation level, category, and count. There is a dedicated SEO category for violations, but we’ll take a look at all violations found during the crawl. Let’s face it, there are definitely some violations outside of pure SEO that you still want to fix.
Example 1: Title Tags
So, you might be excited at this point, sitting and viewing the total number of violations found on the site in question, organized by category. But the SEO Toolkit goes much deeper, and provides SEO’s a plethora of information for each violation. I’m going to click “The title is empty” violation to bring up more details about the crawl.
When you double click the violation, the report will bring up all of the URL’s it found with empty title tags. How awesome is that? If you click a URL in this window, you’ll have several options for analyzing the page. The Violation tab is the default tab when you click a URL. If you click the Details tab, you can view additional URL information, such as the metadata associated with that specific URL, the time it took to download, the header response code, etc. In this example, you can clearly see the title tag and meta description are empty.
Yes, this is a wasted opportunity. But worse, it’s a wasted opportunity across 1,672 URL’s! If you click the Content tab, you can analyze the actual HTML for the page. This can enable you to pinpoint coding errors for the page at hand. And to find additional violations for the page, you can click the Violations tab. It will list all the violations for the page in one nifty tab. You can see this page I’m analyzing had redirect issues, broken links, and image optimization issues.
Example 2: Canonical Problems
Jumping back to the main Violations Summary report, let’s drill into another example. We all know that canonicalization issues can wreak havoc on a site, so let’s see what the SEO Toolkit finds on this front. I’m going to click “The page contains multiple canonical formats” error to see what we find.
Drilling into the report reveals content that can be found at multiple URL’s. This can help you track down duplicate content, and more importantly, how that duplicate content is being generated. For some URL’s, you can see canonical issues with trailing slashes, default.aspx being added to the end of directories, or separate URL’s containing the same content. Talk about a jump start… the report I’m looking at listed over 3K URL’s that might have canonical problems. For larger sites in particular, this can track down serious canonical issues in a short amount of time. Then it’s up to you to drill into those URL’s to find out what’s going on.
Example 3: Redirects
Let’s look at another example from the Violations report. We all know that redirects can be problematic SEO-wise, depending on how they are set up. For example, 302’s, meta refresh redirects, daisy chaining redirects, etc. I’m going to click “The page contains unnecessary redirects” violation to see what we find. By the way, I love this report. It’s an easy to way to track down all the redirects occurring on a site, including the ones you don’t know about…
In this example, I quickly found some redirect issues that can be causing serious problems. The first is related to how 404’s are being handled. I see a redirect from a page to a URL with “Not-Found” in the querystring. It ends up all 404’s are not actually 404’ing. They are 302 redirecting to an error handling page. That’s across the entire site, and I picked that up in 2 minutes via this report. The second error reveals that requests for certain pages on the www subdomain 302 redirect to a subdirectory. This is happening across many URL’s. The 302’s can be killing the rankings for those pages.
On a similar note, there’s a separate violation for “The page uses a refresh definition instead of a redirect.” As you can guess, the SEO Toolkit flags meta refresh redirects so you can change them to 301’s if needed. Again, using the Violations report can greatly quicken up the process of finding these errors.
Example 4: Noindex
If you haven’t run into a situation where the meta robots tag was being used improperly (using noindex), then check out my post about how one line of code could kill your SEO efforts. If you mistakenly add noindex to a page, then you are telling the engines to not index that page. That means it has no shot of ranking… The SEO Toolkit provides a listing of all pages that contain noindex, so you can make sure the meta robots tag is being used correctly. Using this report, there are times I find key pages that have noindex present, while my clients had no idea that it was there… They simply thought the content just didn’t rank well. That could be a costly problem SEO-wise.
Clicking the “The page was excluded by a noindex attribute” reveals all of the URL’s containing noindex. You can easily right click and view each URL to see the content, and you can export the URL’s to Excel for further analysis. Talk about a quick fix… you can easily have a developer remove the noindex tag, and then use Google Webmaster Tools to fetch the pages and submit them to the index. Boom, Bang, Pow. Problem solved. :)
The Violations Report – Just the Beginning
I can keep going here, but I’ll stop based on the length of the post! I hope you see the enormous value in jump starting your SEO Technical Audits by using a tool like the SEO Toolkit for IIS. We just scratched the surface with what you can find using the tool, and we still ended up uncovering serious issues. And by the way, I didn’t even cover tracking down querystring parameters, broken links, excessive outbound links, infinite redirect loops, or too much script code. Yes, they are all there in the Violations report.
So, if you are struggling to get started with an SEO Technical Audit, then download the IIS extension today, crawl your site, and check out the Violations report. I’m confident you’ll find a number of important items to change that can improve your SEO performance.