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Haris Cajic
03.15.2017

SEO Audit 101

An SEO audit is a procedure which documents a website’s performance based on a variety of factors. The overall goal is to identify and develop a strategy to tackle any SEO challenges the website faces. Today’s SEO audits are as dynamic as the world of SEO itself. There are now many more factors to consider when auditing a site than just on-page factors alone. Site auditors must be knowledgeable on the current state of SEO to give meaningful recommendations. A comprehensive technical SEO audit is usually the first strategic step taken in any SEO strategy.

Although each SEO audit is unique and should be molded around the business requirements of the client, there is a standard procedure we follow at Sagepath for conducting a thorough audit. No matter how we end up sculpting this initial audit, the end goal is the same: identify issues and provide solutions.

Crawling

Website crawlers are some of the most powerful tools available to us. We run client websites through a variety of different crawlers to gain insights into the accessibility of their sites. Crawling is a great way to view a website through the eyes of a search engine spider. This allows us to quickly identify common SEO-related issues such as 404s, poorly-optimized URLs and spider blocking. Our relationship with crawlers usually do not end with just SEO. We have utilized crawlers to obtain lists of URLs for UX teams during their initial component identification stages and throughout our QA process. Furthermore, these tools can help with the 301-redirect mapping of URLs during URL cleanups.

Configuration and Accessibility

Although it is considered SEO 101, the number of sites we encounter that block search engine crawling is enough to warrant precursory checks. Most of the time, such configuration blunders are the result of hastily transferring a website from a development or staging environment to production. Such a simple oversight can be disastrous to a business as the entire website can effectively vanish from search engines.

Aside from robots configuration, xml sitemaps also serve as a great tool for communicating with search engines on the status of a website’s pages. The most common problem we encounter is either poorly formatted or outdated sitemaps. With sitemaps, we can quickly alert search engines to new or updated content.

Mobile Friendliness and Speed

These two ranking factors have become increasingly important in the last few years. A large percentage of the traffic we analyze for our client’s websites consist of mobile users. As such, a mobile-friendly site is extremely important for success online. With ever-increasing internet speeds, users now demand faster and faster page speeds. A study performed by DoubleClick, a company owned by Google, found that over 50% of mobile site visits were abandoned if pages took over 3 seconds to load. No matter how great a site’s SEO, slow page speeds will result in higher bounce rates and decreases in conversions.

Keyword Research

Keywords serve as the nexus between many parts of a successful SEO campaign. Whether optimizing on-page elements, devising content strategy or creating new landing pages, keywords play a significant role each step of the way. We employ a combination of automated and manual research techniques in order to devise the most relevant and effective keyword lists. While automated tools are good for working with aggregate data, uncovering truly valuable keywords usually takes some digging.

It is also important to remember that keywords are about value, not just volume. Does it make sense to rank for a keyword that gets thousands of queries each month if such a ranking doesn’t lead to more overall conversions? Perhaps the visibility afforded by such a ranking is justification enough. These are the types of questions that we hope to answer during our research.

On-Page Elements

There are numerous on-page elements which have been shown to help the SEO authority of a page. The usual culprits such as titles, headings and images are known far and wide, but there are numerous other elements. For instance, implementing appropriate schema markup on a page can do wonders for rankings. If a business generates great reviews online, then a few simple lines of code can place those 5 out of 5 stars right on search engine results pages, allowing that business to really stand out among the other results. We spend a significant amount of time optimizing pertinent on-page elements to help boost rankings.

URL and Information Architecture

The overall organization and architecture of a site plays a significant role in a website’s success online. If a human visitor has difficulties traversing a site, then don’t expect much from a software crawler. Our general recommendation is to make all pages on a website reachable through no more than three clicks. Achieving such a goal usually requires SEO collaboration throughout a website’s design process, especially during the development of the overall sitemap.

Proper formatting of URLs is also extremely important to SEO. We always opt for short, descriptive and keyword-optimized URLs. Website URLs with excessive parameters and cryptic naming conventions many times suffer from a variety of canonicalization and indexing issues.

Content

Although content can be grouped with many other portions of an audit, such as on-page elements (it is a significant part of the body of most web pages), it is important enough to warrant its own section. The biggest issue most sites face with regards to content is a lack of it. Thin content simply doesn’t rank well. During our analysis, we usually identify key areas of negligence and suggest ways to produce unique, valuable, keyword-optimized content. In many instances, a complete content strategy is needed. One of the challenges we face when performing site redesigns is how to provide unique and valuable content while conforming to modern UX and design principles. With mobile searches now exceeding desktop, presenting such content in an efficient way on smaller screens has become more important than ever.

Backlinks

For the foreseeable future, links from external domains remain the greatest ranking factor for a site. One of the biggest issues we encounter when performing backlink analysis are “toxic” backlinks. These are links that are many times built through previous black hat SEO efforts. Although the likelihood of being penalized for such practices has decreased in recent years by our observation, cleaning up such links is standard protocol.

Aside from checking for bad backlinks to a site, we analyze all other types of backlinks as part of our initial link building recommendations.

Competition

Being in a competitive niche may not always be a bad thing. An effective competitive analysis will not only establish an SEO benchmark with your competition, but help serve as a guide for future success. Want to know the types of content that resonate with your visitors and lands more external links? Simply research what successful content your competition has published. Many successful content strategies have revolved around creating content that is ten times as valuable as the competition’s. And this flavor of gap analysis is applicable to many other actionable items, from keyword research and link building to social media and videos.

Conducting an SEO audit requires a unique understanding of SEO, business and web technology. Being able to effectively communicate the results of an audit to multiple parties ranging from technical developers to CEOs is the defining skill of a strong technical site auditor. Remember, SEO website audits are there to resolve confusion, not create more. By crafting comprehensive and organized site audits and presenting the results in the languages each party understands, we provide solutions to the SEO challenges faced by our clients.

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