Sniffing out most of a website’s basic search-engine-optimization problems can be done in 20 minutes or less if you know what you’re doing. Here are the essentials for an effective and fast SEO audit.
I’ll warn you now that reading this guide might take a bit more time than it does to actually perform the SEO audit itself. But by the time you finish reading, you will be fully prepared to improve a site’s visibility. Take good notes as you complete the audit; you’ll need them to prioritize optimization tasks.
There’s also an easy-to-follow chart you can you or others through the process.
This guide is broken into the following components:
- Adjusting your browser
- Evaluating your homepage
- Testing the site’s global navigation
- Reviewing category and subcategory pages
- Checking for optimized content
- Analyzing your site’s off-page SEO
- The 20-Minute-or-Less SEO Audit infographic
Adjusting Your Browser
In order to perform a high-powered search audit in 20 minutes, you need to know if your site has crawling errors.
Also, by disabling cookies on your browser, you see the page exactly the way it is seen by people who choose to disable cookies, a not-insignificant audience. Browse your site noting pages that have restricted access. You might have to reevaluate your cookie strategy.
Nearly 70% of all searches occur on Google, so it makes sense to view your website from Google’s point of view. Do this by installing UserAgentSwitcherforFirefox and changing your user agent to GoogleBot 2.1. Give your site another run-through with Googlebot as your user agent to see if your website displays content other than the content shown as a default user agent. If so, your site could be seen as cloaking, which can get your site penalized and even banned.
Evaluating Your Homepage
As the saying goes, first impressions are lasting impressions. The same is true for first visits, so a thorough evaluation of your homepage is absolutely critical.
Get into the mindset of a casual visitor. Scroll down your homepage and see what feelings and thoughts occur as you view it. Does the homepage feel trustworthy? Would you refer it to a friend or relative? Would you use your credit card on the site? These same types of questions should be asked of every page.
In fact, Google asked them along with some others before releasing its highly publicized Panda update this year. Panda was aimed at improving the quality of search results. As a result, your main search concern should be the experience that your homepage provides.
Last and probably most important, you will want to make sure there aren’t any duplicate-content or canonical issues associated with the homepage. Check to see that your site doesn’t have the following problems:
- A homepage (primary) URL that redirects to another site or an irrelevant page
- The homepage title tag is duplicated on another page or that’s just not effective
- There’s a www (www.yoursite.com) version and non-www (http://yoursite.com) version of your site.
Testing the Website’s Global Navigation
The global navigation is the set of links that can be accessed from any page on a website. Your global navigation also distributes your link juice, or the power that the search engines assign your website, across the pages of your site. Therefore, you will want to check that everything is intact in these links.
Review Your Category and Subcategory Pages
There should be rhyme and reason to each page on a website. 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.
A category page serves as an overview of the main category. While some sub-category details are mentioned, most in-depth information is the relevant subcategory pages. This not only gives meaning and reason for the subcategory pages, it also allows for maximum ranking in the search results.
After assessing your content, determine if your design layout is readable. Do eyesores interfere? Are there too many chunky blocks of texts — are words too close together? Are there too many lines of uninterrupted text? Is there little spacing between lines? Are line lengths so long they exhaust your eyes?
You’ll want to check that you’re properly linking to your other main and subcategory pages, too. Be conscious of your website’s link juice and avoid hyperlinking to meaningless pages. Also make sure that you’re using an anchor-text nomenclature that provides for optimal click-through rates and search-engine indexation.
Checking For Optimized Content
Done with your high-level assessment of your site, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty elements of your content. Check to see if the following elements follow best practices:
- Title tags
○ No more than 75 characters
○ Proper and consistent formatting
○ No duplication
○ Easy to read and understand from results pages
- Meta descriptions
○ Though they aren’t used as signals for ranking higher in results, a well-written meta description improves click-through rates, which is a signal for ranking higher
○ Contain keywords specific to the page
○ Short, human-eye friendly
○ Easy to remember
- Alt tags for images
○ Contain keywords
○ Describe the image
○ Read properly in a screen reader, which improves accessibility for the visually impaired
- H1 and H2 tags
○ Proper but not abusive use of keywords in header tags
○ Effectively breaks up content into scanable chunks
○ These languages still lead to crawling and indexing issues
These HTML elements may seem small and meaningless to the average person, but anyone seasoned wouldn’t disregard their importance. Enough studies suggest that there’s a high correlation between optimizing the elements and higher search rankings. Go after these on-page weaknesses immediately. 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 for its comprehensive SEO software package. Premium account holders are granted access to one of my favorite off-page analysis tools, OpenSiteExplorer. Just enter your target URL, and it will access SEOmoz’s web index to gather site data.
Here is the information you’ll want:
- Page Authority and Domain Authority
- Total Links and Link Root Domains (the number of different domains linking to your page)
- Anchor text distribution of inbound links
- Facebook likes/shares and tweets
Compare this information to competitors that are experiencing better success in search results. You might discover that your competitors are beating you in crucial off-page SEO categories.
Next, you’ll also want to determine how well your site has been indexed by the search engines. For a relatively new site, I like to throw in a few competitive keywords in SEOBook’s Rank Tracker to see if my site’s URLs are ranking in the three major search engines.
- Your website simply does not rank for the keyword
- You haven’t submitted a site map to the search engines
- Your page has been de-indexed
- Your site has been banned from search indexes
The latter two issues are more serious, and require urgent attention.
For a de-indexed 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 if your website was banned by the search engines, it’s as easy as doing a branded search query. If you’re not appearing in the search results you’ve most likely done something to anger the search engine gods. Submit a re-inclusionrequest to Google.
As you wrap up this last step, make sure that your site has no duplicate content. Paste content from your site into a search bar and place quotes around it. Submit to see if that content appears elsewhere on your site or on the Web. You can also use the Google Webmaster Tool to see if there are any reported duplicate title-tags issues.
Duplicate content is an important issue to check for during an audit. Any pages with duplicate content or title tags have the potential to compete with each other in results. In these instances, you’re leaving it to the search engines to decide which page is the correct one. Too many times the search engine selects the one with outdated or incorrect information. This is a bad your site search rank and your visitors.
Once You’ve Finished This Guide…
Review your notes, and create a prioritized checklist. I always recommend fixing the low-energy/high-yielding items first before working on more complicated and time-consuming issues.
Last, print a copy of the accompanying infographic 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.