An SEO audit is one of the most important tasks to carry out as an SEO practitioner or website owner. There are many areas to cover in an audit and because Search Engine Optimisation is a relatively new marketing discipline, there is a high possibility of finding problems in website and search optimisation.
For example, some webmasters will select a Content Management System (CMS) without carrying out an assessment of its impact on achieving high rankings on the search engines. Some will develop their own CMS and they will reveal many issues when an SEO audit is carried out.
Here are some key issues to consider when carrying out an SEO Audit:
Usability is not often associated with SEO and organic ranking but this is a very good place to start. The reason is that if your website visitors experience difficulties completing simple tasks like browsing, searching, navigating from page to page, downloading, and carry out many other tasks and events, they will leave in frustration and that will affect the performance of your website.
For example, bounce rate is an important metric in Google Analytics to measure visitor engagement on your site. It represents people who enter your site and leave (bounce) without viewing other pages – regardless of how long they have been on the landing page. Google takes this into consideration in its algorithm and sites with poor bounce rates compared to competitors will have lower rankings.
Some factors to consider when carrying out a Usability review are conventions, sections, menus, breadcrumbs, content structure and any roadblocks that prevent people from doing what you want them to do on your website – like placing an order.
Ultimately a site with good usability and excellent content will lead to people wanting to link to it and this will lead to higher Organic rankings.
Accessibility and Spiderabiity relate to your visitors and search engine bots respectively. However, accessibility is important to search engines too because they must be able to reach your website to be able to crawl it.
This is not as easy as it sounds and many webmasters get this wrong because of the many web design and implementation constructs that search spiders have to understand. Your site should be in HTML format because while spiders do crawl Flash files and images, they are difficult to analyse.
A well designed Information Architecture (IA) requires that you put some thought into it and this can bring many benefits in users and search engines. Search bots aren’t able to understand pages the way humans do and this presents significant limitations for accessibility and spiderability.
One important factor is flat versus deep architecture. Flat sites require less clicks to get to inner pages and deep pages require many clicks to get to inner and deeper pages. Flat is often better for both spiders and humans but this will depend on the number of pages and categories.
Search Engine Health Check
Sometimes your website will not be performing well in the search engines for the following reasons:
• Many of your pages are not indexed by Google, Bing and Yahoo and you can find out by searching for site:yourdomain.com to check how many of your pages appear in the index. You can compare this with the number of pages that you have on your site and if there is a big difference, you should submit a sitemap to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. This will often solve the indexing problem but you should check that your site is indexable by using the tools available in webmaster tools.
• Brand name search – Search on your brand terms on Google to assess how you are ranking and to check if you have been penalised or not. If you have, then you should take corrective action by following Google guidelines to start ranking again – because your competitors will be taking advantage of your absence.
• Ensure that the cached pages match the current pages on your site
Keyword Health Checks
Are you targeting the right keywords? This takes time to correct if you have been optimising your site for specific keywords and then realise that you are targeting either very competitive keywords that require large time and money outlay or your keywords have zero or low traffic volumes and won’t bring the ROI that you require.
Avoid keyword cannibalisation – that is more than one page targeting the same keywords. This is a waste of resources and it’s better to have specific keywords for specific pages to gain more traffic.
If you are targeting a specific country it is important to make the search engines know where your business is located. There are many ways to do this and they include using a country specific Top Level Domain (TLD) for your domain e.g. .co.uk.
Other things you can do include:
• Host your website on a local server and not one that is abroad. Surprisingly, many website owners get this wrong and wonder why they are getting traffic from locations that they have little interest in targeting
• Include your physical address on every page of your site
• Use Google Webmaster Tool geotargeting to your target country
• Setup Google Maps
• Get links from websites hosted in the country you are targeting
• Use the local language on your website
External links pointing to your web pages are one of the biggest factors to achieving high organic rankings because they are a vote for your website. You can check these inbound links using a tool such as Majestic SEO or Alexa which records links to your site.
You should check the quality of links and compare these to your competitors’ links and check for bad patterns in the anchor text, like what keywords have been used – because these are the ones you want to rank for. A sign of link purchasing is having a high percentage of anchor text with the same keyword and this could be seen as spam by Google.
Also, check that there are links to other pages on your site and not just the homepage – for example a more natural linking distribution is many deep links in proportion to homepage links.
Check your title tag, meta description tag, content and image alt tag to ensure that they are well optimised for your keywords and there is no keyword spamming. Your title tag is very important because this is what searches see in the Google search results so you want to make sure it is relevant and includes the keywords that you want to rank for. You are unlikely to rank high if you don’t include your keywords in the title.
Check for a meta robots tag and if you do find one then you may have spotted a problem because a NoFollow or NoIndex tag could hinder your search ranking plans.
Make sure that every page has a unique meta description because this is another tag that people will see in the search results and if it’s relevant too they are likely to click through. Although they are not a significant factor in ranking, they will likely be used in duplicate content calculations.