How to Do an SEO Audit in 2019: In-Depth Guide

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Written by: Tom Donohoe
Last updated: April 20, 2019

Regular SEO audits are a crucial part of a search engine optimisation strategy.

You might be wondering:

“Why is it so important?”. An audit can identify issues preventing your website from ranking higher on Google. But also reveal opportunities for improvement in your current strategy.

In this guide, you’ll learn to conduct an SEO audit step-by-step. Then how to go about documenting the audit and prioritise key recommendations.

Let’s jump right in.

What is an SEO Audit?

An SEO audit is an analysis that should give you better insight into the current state of your website.

You will perform analysis on key factors that influence organic search rankings. This includes technical, on-page and off-page ranking factors. For local businesses, it will be important to review key local SEO optimisations.

The outcome should give you a clear path to what you need to do to fix and enhance your organic rankings.

Why regular SEO Audits are important

There are many reasons why regular audits are crucial to SEO success. I won’t list them all here but below is 7 great reasons why you should consider doing more audits.

1. Search engines are always changing their algorithms

Google and other search engines frequently update their algorithms. Google tweeted not too long ago that:

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused on specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year.

It’s important to stay on top of changes and identify which may impact your website.

2. What worked last year may not work this year

SEO ‘best practices’ change every year. While the basics will likely always remain at the heart of SEO, other tactics will fade. An audit can reveal any tactics that you may want to drop.

3. New errors pop up on your website all the time

New errors pop up on your website all the time. You should be monitoring these errors weekly but if you’re not an SEO audit can reveal them all.

4. Check your links the good, the bad and the toxic

Hopefully, you’re acquiring links. Better still high-quality links. Regardless, you must review them to ensure they’re not spammy. A natural backlink profile is crucial for solid organic rankings.

5. Identify outdated content

It’s hard to keep track of all the content on your website. An SEO audit provides an opportunity to review, update or remove outdated content.

6. Benchmarking your SEO efforts

A process to audit your website on a monthly, quarterly or at least yearly basis is a great practice. It gives you source to benchmark performance against.

Tools Required For an SEO Audit

To perform a throughout SEO audit it’s best if you have a stack of tools to assist you.

The good news:

Most of the tools required are free. But to take your audits to the next level you should invest in paid subscriptions.

Let’s go through them.

List of the tools to consider for your SEO Audit

Keep in mind that the tools in this list can be swapped in and out with other tools that provide the same features.

1. Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the most widely adopted analytics software. But, you can use whatever software you have installed on your website.

You’ll be using Google Analytics to analyse the organic segment of your website traffic:

  • How it interacts on your website
  • Your top landing pages
  • Growth or decline of traffic
  • User engagement metrics
  • Device / Browser issues
  • General health checks
  • And more..

2. Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a must-use tool if you’re serious about your website’s SEO.

You’ll be using Google Search Console to analyse several things:

  • Keyword/page rankings
  • Indexation problems
  • Site errors
  • Sitemaps
  • Structured data
  • Links
  • And more..

3. A website crawler

To perform a comprehensive SEO audit a website crawling tool is crucial. There are several on the market and the tool you use won’t make or break your site. My favourite is Screaming Frog SEO Spider and I’ll use it as an example in this guide.

You’ll use your website crawler to mimic the behaviour of search engines bots. And to identify any issues they may encounter on your website:

4. External SEO Tool

Google’s tools are awesome but they have their limitations. Paid SEO tools on the market, such as SEMRush, ahrefs and Moz will take your SEO audit to the next level.

It’s never a good idea to trust data from one source. And getting insights from other tools will give you a better understanding of your website.

You’ll use an external SEO tool to take your analysis further by:

  • Analysing your backlinks for quality
  • Research your competitors
  • Keyword tracking
  • Spot checks
  • And more..

5. Excel or Google Sheets

To deep dive into the data you uncover in your audit and report on it you’ll want to be using Excel or Sheets.

You’ll be using these tools for:

  • Further analysis through vLookup, Pivot Tables and IF statements.
  • Visualising data
  • Combining multiple data sets
  • And more..

This list of SEO tools to use in your audit is not extensive and there are other tools that I use. But I do 95% of the audit work within these tools.

Step 1

Technical SEO Checks

Technical SEO involves making sure a website meets search engine guidelines. Specifically, that it can be crawled, index and ranked for your target keywords.

Here’s the deal:

Technical SEO is the foundation of your website. And without strong technical SEO you’ll find it difficult to rank well.

Let’s explore the items you need to check off.

How To Do a Technical SEO Audit

Below is a list of items that you should review in your technical SEO audit:

Robots.txt – Is your robots.txt file preventing search engines from crawling key pages or sections of your website?

Robots.txt is a file that you can use to tell search engines on how to crawl your website. You can check yours by typing robots.txt after your website URL:

Showing how to locate your robots.txt file

The file should look something like this:

example of what a robots.txt file looks like

Make sure you’re not blocking any content or sections of your website you want crawled. If you’re you should remove them from this file.

Quick tips:

  1. It’s best practices to add the location of your xml sitemap to your robots.txt file.
  2. If you have an internal site search function you should disallow these from being crawled.

Noindex tags – Are you blocking key pages from being indexed with a meta noindex tag?

Noindex tags tell crawlers how to crawl and index information on a specific webpage. You can check if you are blocking important pages by using a crawling tool.

In Screaming Frog put your URL into the bar at the top of the application and start:

screenshot of starting a screaming frog crawl

Note: you’ll be using this crawl throughout the guide to analyse different parts of your site.

On crawl completion, scroll down on the Overview tab until you hit ‘Directives’. Here you’ll want to then click ‘Noindex’:

how to find noindexed pages with screaming frog

If any of these pages are of high value to your website you’ll want to remove the noindex tag.

Canonicals – are your web pages competing against each other in search results?

Using canonical tags is a way to tell search engines which version of a page you want them to rank in search results. This will prevent any duplication issues.

For example, if you have an HTTP and HTTPs version of your website you’ll want to tell search engines to rank the https version.

In your SEO audit, check if all pages on your website have the canonical tag. Even if you only have one version of each page you want it to use a self-canonical.

You can check this manually on small sites or use screaming frog on larger site:

example of canonical tags in screaming frog

4xx and 5xx errors – are your pages not accessible to search engines?

Search engines can’t access and index your website pages if they return errors. For example, the most common ‘404 not found’.

Using screaming Frog you can identify and fix any 4xx and 5xx status code errors on your website:

how to find 4xx and 5xx errors in screaming frog

To fix the errors you have a couple of options:

  1. If you still need the page update it so it can be found on that URL or 301 redirect it to its new location
  2. If the page is no longer needed then 301 redirect it to the most relevant page on your website.

It’s very important to use the 301 redirections (and not 302). Because it will pass through any links or SEO value the original URL had.

Index status – are all your website pages being indexed by search engines?

If you have a page on your website, unfortunately, it doesn’t guarantee that you will be in the index.

You can do a quick check by doing a site search in Google for example:

how to do a site: search in google

And ask the question, is this number in the range of Google Analytics data?

Jump into Google Analytics and go Behaviour > Content > Landing Pages:

google analytics landing pages report to check number of pages

I have 41 pages in Google’s “index” and 46 in my Analytics report so it all seems to be okay.

If you’re seeing a large discrepancy between pages on your website and pages in search engines index you will need to investigate.

Sitemaps – are you making your website easier to crawl with HTML and XML sitemaps?

Sitemaps are essentially a map of your website that search engines can follow to find all your pages.

Your website should have an XML and HTML sitemap. You’ll want to check if you have both.

Site Architecture – is your website well planned and structured to pass authority?

You can spend days auditing your site architecture to make sure it’s well planned.

But for your SEO audit, you want to make sure pages aren’t falling too deep into the architecture. By this, I mean more than three clicks from the homepage.

You can check this in Screaming Frog by selecting the ‘Site Structure’ tab:

how to audit site structure in screaming frog

If you’re seeing a large percentage 3 or more clicks from your home page you will need to address this.

Site Speed – is your page load speed providing a good user experience?

Page speed is important for user experience and search engines prefer fast websites.

2 seconds is the ideal speed that website should aspire to, but this is often not realistic. Run your website through Google Page Speed Insights and Pingdom Tool to get an understanding of how you stack up.

Google Page Speed Insights test results

If you’re getting average results you may want to consider enlisting the help of a developer. They will be able to improve your website’s performance.

Security SSL – is your website on a secure protocol?

Having a website secured by an SSL certificate has been a light ranking factor for some time now.

It’s a no-brainer to upgrade your website to HTTPS if you’re not already. You need to very careful with the migration and correctly 301 redirect HTTP to HTTPs.

secure website example

Here is a great resource for the process of the migration to HTTPs.

Mobile – is your website optimise for the device experience?

More than half of internet users are on a smartphone and search engines know this.

Is your website mobile responsive?

If not, you could be in for a big shock this year as Google starts ranking websites based on the mobile version. If you haven’t already made your website responsive you should ASAP.

Here’s Google’s guide how to prepare for mobile-first indexing.

Structured data – has your website been marked up with structured data?

Using Google Search Console, check if your website is using structured data. Do this by navigating search appearance > structured data:

checking for structured data in google search console

Structured data allows you to enhance your search result appearance. This can increase click-through rates and help provide more information to searches.

For example, display reviews for your product or service:

using to get reviews in google search result

Step 2

On-Page SEO Checks

On-page SEO is the process of optimising individual web pages to get relevant search engine traffic.

And here’s the thing:

Low-quality content, unoptimised tags and bad keyword targeting result in little SEO traffic.

Let’s explore on page SEO checks.

How To Do an On-Page SEO Audit

Below is a list of items that you should review in your on-page SEO audit:

URLs – are your URLs short, concise and descriptive?

URLs provide context to search engines and users. In your audit, include an analysis of URLs making sure they are short, concise and descriptive.

You’ll want your URLs to follow a breadcrumb structure as pages get deeper in the site architecture. Here’s what a good URL structure might look like:

Example of breadcrumb URL structure

Content – is your content up to date, meeting search intent and high-quality?

Content is crucial to rank well on Google. There are a few things you want to look at in your audit:

Freshnesshow up to date is your content?

Is the information in your content still relevant and useful to people using search engines? To understand this jump into Google Analytics and look for two things:

  1. Old content that is performing well
  2. Old content that is performing badly

Then have three options. One, leave the content. Two, update the content to be relevant. Three, remove the content from your website.

Qualityis your content comprehensive?

Search engines like to rank content that is comprehensive. And that covers many topics that are relevant to your keyword.

It’s best practices to aim upwards of 2,000 words for blog content and at least over 400 words for landing page content.

You can check this by jumping into your Screaming Frog crawl. Clicking the internal tab, scrolling across to word count and identify pages that have 400 words or less.

example of identifying thin content in screaming frog

Review these pages and then update or remove them. I wouldn’t worry about low-value pages (eg. privacy policy, etc).

Meets search intentdoes your content satisfy the users’ needs?

This subjective. But you want to ensure that your landing pages are meeting the search intent of users. There a few ways to determine this:

Manually checking the pages and their top keywords and deciding if they are a good fit.

Looking at Google Analytics with an organic search segment. And looking at user engagement metrics such as bounce rate and time spent on page.

screenshot of google analytics organic segment and engagement metrics

Page Titles – does every page have a unique title contain target keyword?

It’s important that every title tag on your website is unique and contains your target keyword. To check if you have any duplicate page titles use the HTML improvement report in Google Search Console:

how to find duplicate titles in google search console

The best way to understand if your targeting keywords in your page title is to do keyword mapping:

example of keyword mapping

You can then go through the process of optimising each title tag for your target keywords.

Meta Descriptions – does every page have a well-crafted meta description?

Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor. But they do influence the click-through rate you can get through search.

Make sure you have set a meta description for each page and contain your target keyword. This will then appear bold in search results.

You can find missing meta descriptions in your crawl report from Screaming Frog:

how to find missing meta descriptions in screaming frog

Duplicate Content – is the all the content on your website unique?

Duplicate content is an issue most website will face. Even more common if you operate in the e-commerce space. To identify if you have any duplication issues you can use an external SEO tool. Moz Pro will uncover duplicate content issues for you and investigate it further.

what the duplicate content report looks like in Moz Pro

You can also use a tool like Copyscape to bulk audit your website to find issues on the web. The best practice to fix duplicate content is to tell search engines which is the original.

You have two options:

  1. If both pages are needed, put a rel canonical tag to the one you want to appear in search engines.
  2. If one of the pages isn’t needed remove it from your website. Then permanently 301 redirect it to the original to make sure you don’t lose SEO value.

HTML Markup – is your code clean and up to the W3C web standards?

Clean code that meets w3C web standards will make your website easier to crawl.

You can do this here:

If it doesn’t meet the standards you may want to enlist the help of a web developer.

Images – do all images on the page have a descriptive alternate text?

Search engines are smart but can’t understand what an image looks like or means. You need to give them a helping hand with image alt text.

This is not only important for search engines. But for the experience of people who need screen readers or have trouble seeing images.

Use Screaming Frog to audit images that are missing alt text:

Find missing alt text in screaming frog

As you can see I need to fix this issue on my site. If you’re seeing the same. Update missing alt text with descriptive text that contains your keyword where possible.

External Links – are external links to authoritative and relevant sources?

Any external links you have on your page should be audited to make sure they are pointing to pages that:

  • Don’t return an error (eg. 4xx or 5xx)
  • Are an authoritative and trusted website
  • The content on the page is relevant

Another best practice is to aim to keep links on a page under 200. You can check this using Screaming Frog and Excel using conditional formatting.

Other Tags with the- are other HTML tags optimised on the page?

While getting the page title and meta descriptions right is your first priority. You’ll want to check other tags on the page are optimised.

You subheadings (h1-h6 tags) provide extra context to search engines and also improve the user experience. You want your subheadings to be descriptive as possible and contain target keywords where natural.

Simple so far, but semantics go much deeper than this. If you want to style a page and the content has no semantic relevance, you can use the standard italics and bold HTML elements

On the flip side, if it does have semantic relevance, it’s very important to use the right HTML tags. Here are some examples:

  • Emphasis – If you want to add emphasis to a word or phrase, avoid italics or bold. Opt for the <em> tag which passes semantics onto search engines.
  • Bold – If a word or phrase is very important, don’t simply bold it. Use the <strong>tag to pass semantics and signal boost the information you most want to convey.

Step 3

Off-Page SEO checks

Off-page SEO is the process of influencing external factors to improve your keyword ranking in search engines.

Here’s the bottom line:

Without links from other website you’re not going to be able to beat out competitors in search results who are investing in off-page SEO.

Let’s explore off page seo checks.

How to do an Off-Page SEO Audit

Below is a list of items that you should review in your off-page SEO audit:

Backlinks – are your backlinks relevant and high quality?

Not all links are equal. You need to watch and remove any spammy links on a regular basis.

In an SEO audit, you want to look at your link profile on a high level. And make sure you have a diverse profile of high-quality and relevant links.

To do this, you’ll need to jump into your SEO tool of choice. For this example, I’ll use Moz, put your URL into Open Site Explorer and export the data into a spreadsheet.

how to export your backlink data from Moz

Once you’ve got the data in a spreadsheet you want to slice and dice it a bit:

  1. Identify any link with a spam score higher than 5 and put them on a new tab.
  2. Then put anything with a spam score between 2-5 on another tab.
  3. Finally, review these links.

Ask the following questions:

  • Is this website relevant to my business?
  • Does this website look high quality (it’s helpful to use Domain Authority to judge this)?

If your answer is no to these questions, you should disavow the link. You can do this through Google Search Console. If you’re unsure, here’s Google’s documentation on disavowing a link.

Anchor text – is the anchor text you’ve used over optimised?

Often overlooked in an SEO audit is your anchor text from backlinks. If you have a high ratio of exact match keywords in your anchor text this is spam in a search engines logic.

Again an external SEO tool will help with your analysis. In Moz, you can put in your domain name in open site explorer then export anchor text report.

anchor text report in Moz pro

Here you’ll be able to do an analysis on if you’re over optimising anchor text.

Links vs domains – is the number of links you have higher than domains?

It’s important to get plenty of high quality of links. But it looks unnatural if you have 10,000 links from only 50 domains (or unique websites).

You should check the number of links you have by the number of referring domains. You can do this at a glance with ahrefs:

how to check backlinks vs domains in ahrefs

If you’re finding this number is abnormal in any way you should take action to fix it.

You can do this by disavowing the spammy links.

Competitor backlinks – are there backlinks that your competitors have that you don’t?

Using an external SEO tool, such as Moz, it’s very easy to collect information on your competitor’s backlinks. It’s exactly the same as checking your own backlinks (we just went through that).

Go to Open Site Explorer, put in your competitors URL and then export the data. Repeat this for your top 5 competitors.

Now using this awesome Google Sheets template  created by John Reinesch follow the steps until you’ve produced something like this:

Backlink Gap Analysis report tab

Make note of the domains, where competitors have links from and you don’t. You will want to close the gap and build links from these domains.

Competitor keyword rankings – are there keywords that your competitors are ranking for that you don’t?

Using an external SEO tool, such as ahrefs, it’s very easy to collect information on your keywords your competitors rank for. Put in your competitors URL in the search bar, go to organic keywords and then export the data. Repeat this for your top 5 competitors.

Exporting organic keyword rankings for ahrefs

Again use Google Sheets template, follow the steps until you’ve produced something like this:

Keyword Gap Analysis tab

Make note of the keywords, where competitors are ranking and you’re not. You will want to close the gap by creating content targeting these keywords.

Step 4

Local SEO Checks

If your target market is local then you must to adopt local SEO strategies.

Search engines algorithms rank local business slightly different. And you need to put in place techniques to influence that.

In this step, I cover the key techniques to audit.

How to do a Local SEO Audit

Below is a list of items that you should review in your local SEO audit:

Name Address, Phone (NAP) – is it consistent across the web?

It’s essential that local business keep a consistent NAP profile online. Search engines interpret business information online via mentions of your NAP. A consistent NAP enhances your trust score and boost local rankings.

You want to lock in a consistent format for your business name, address and phone number then to stick with.

Audit the following to make sure that they are all using the same information and formatting:

  • Google My Business
  • Social media profiles
  • Online business directories
  • Business Website

Moving forward whenever you list your business anywhere online you want to keep NAP the same.

Titles, Meta and other code – do they contain location + target keywords?

Jump back to your Screaming Frog crawl, and look at the HTML of your pages:

Optimise local seo keywords in screaming frog

Ask yourself:

  • Does your title tag contain location + target keywords?
  • Does your meta description contain location + target keywords?
  • Does your h1 contain location + target keywords?
  • Does your h2-h6 contain location + target keywords?

If not, you’ll need to rewrite these to ensure you include the location and target keywords.

Google My Business & Key Directories – are they set up and profile optimsied?

Have you listed your business on Google My Business? To check this, do a quick search of your brand name on Google, and if you don’t see a GMB page pop up then you haven’t set it up.

Also, you’ll want to make sure your business is in key directories and local niche directories. Here’s a list of the top Australia directories and how to see if your business is listed. Search:

  • Yellowpages + your brand name
  • TrueLocal + your brand name
  • Local Search + your brand name
  • Bing Places + your brand name

Next, it’s important that you’ve optimised your profile’s listing. This includes:

  • Filling in all the fields available in the sign-up process
  • Including several pictures of your business.
  • Making sure your NAP is consistent.

Local Reviews – have you got reviews from third-party sources?

Review signals are important to local organic rankings. Things like quantity, velocity, and diversity of reviews are what search engines look at.

Audit where you have reviews, for example, Google My Business, Facebook, other directories, etc. Then Answer this:

  • What’s the sentiment positive or negative?
  • Can you get more reviews?
  • Do you have reviews on many profiles?

The answers to these questions should give you some action items.

Local Link & Citation Profile – is your link and citation profile natural?

Link and citation signals are very important is local SEO. Your audit your should check the following.

Link signals:

  • Link Signals: are links from local websites or relevant websites?
  • Inbound anchor text: is the anchor text natural and contain localised keywords?
  • Linking domain authority: are the sites linking to you of high quality?
  • Linking domain quantity: how many backlinks do you have in comparison to competitors?

Citations signals:

  • NAP consistency: are your citations on the web using your NAP information and format correctly?
  • Citation volume: how many citations do you have in comparison to competitors?

Structured data – has the website been marked up with for local business?

Jump into Google Search Console and go to search appearance → structured data. From there you will be able to identify the types of structured data is on your website and what pages:

checking for structured data in google search console

If you’re not using any structured data you’ll at least want to put in place local business schema.

This identifies your website as a local business to search engines crawling the site.

Step 5

Documentation & Prioritisation

After your SEO audit you should document your findings and recommendations.

And more importantly, prioritise your findings so key recommendations get acted on first.

In this step, I’ll provide a template for documenting your audit and offer a framework for prioritisation.

How To Document and Prioritise Project from your SEO Audit

Documentation and prioritisation should be an ingrained process within any SEO project. If you’re serious about SEO, you’ll want to routinely document everything.

This can often feel like a chore, it’s important for several reasons:

  • To keep a record for future benchmarking
  • To get stakeholder input and engagement
  • To make sure internal teams are not double up on work
  • If the person is no longer involved in the company leaves the PI isn’t lost

There are some key things that your SEO audit documentation should include:

  1. Executive summary of the audit
  2. Objectives
  3. Approach
  4. Findings
  5. Recommendations
  6. Prioritisation and next steps
  7. Measurement and KPIs

The PIE Framework

It’s not usual to complete an SEO audit and there’s a long list of changes you want to make to your website.

How do you decide which to put in place first?

I suggest the PIE framework. I came across this on Matthew Barby’s blog, and have used it ever since. Matthew says:

“The PIE framework is used specifically to prioritize the projects that you’re suggesting and it’s broken down into three ranking criteria, scored on a 10-point scale.”

You rank projects from 1-10 on there potential, importance and ease. Here’s a breakdown of the criteria:

  • Potential: the potential the project has to meet your objectives and drive business results. If your project has a high chance of achieving your goal rank it closer to 10. If the project is less likely to deliver the desired goal than rank in towards 0.
  • Importance: the importance of the project to the business. If your project is in an area of your website that delivers most of your business then it should be ranked towards 10. If the project is on a non-key area of the website than rank it towards 0.
  • Ease: the ease of the implementation process. If your project is relatively easier to complete and achieve the desired result rank it towards 10. If your project difficult to get signed off by stakeholders or has technical issues than rank it towards 0.

Here’s an example of what the PIE Framework might look like in action after you’ve completed your SEO audit:

Example of using the PIE Framework for an SEO Audit

You’ll want to average the sum of your three ranking criteria to get your final PIE score. And then sort your projects by that number.

Time for you to get started

There you have it. A step-by-step guide for you to follow to conduct an SEO Audit.

You have everything you need now to start improving your SEO efforts.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions?

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