Premium search engine rankings are the main obsession of SEO professionals and website owners worldwide. No matter how much effort and caution you invest into your website creation, there is still a chance to experience a drop in rankings at one moment or another. This is mainly because search engine algorithms are an ever-changing category, so even giving your best today may be insufficient tomorrow.
Be how it may, the journey to website optimization, just like any other journey, begins with a single step: SEO audit. In today’s article, our SEO agency in Chicago explores every corner of this process and outlines the importance of SEO audit for business websites. Let’s dive in.
What is an SEO audit?
An SEO audit is a process of combining data on your website that professional SEO agencies like ours pull from Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and other SEO tools. These data tell the story of your website’s performance, its strengths, and weaknesses, as well as opportunities to improve. The goal of an SEO audit is to assess how many of the ranking signals your website supports and which areas you need to work on.
With over 200 ranking signals, examining the data is only the first step in bettering your website performance. The work after that is highly laborious and time-consuming for most business owners. While we do recommend you master the traits of search engine optimization, with so many tasks that go into running a successful business on a daily basis, having an SEO professional by your side will save you a tremendous amount of time.
Moving on, let’s explore the different areas of SEO audit and check all the actions agencies take to improve the visibility and performance of business websites.
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO is an area of search engine optimization that focuses on improving your search engine rankings in order to make it easier for search engines like Google to crawl your business website. Improving website load time, checking robot.txt files, and ensuring that redirects work properly are only some of the boxes you need to check while performing a technical SEO audit.
Search engines like Google give the upper hand to websites that follow their webmaster guidelines. Your website content needs to be user-friendly, easy to access and navigate, and above all, accurate. However, these guidelines are not limited to content only. If your website takes too much time to load, lacks design responsiveness and a secure connection, it will not meet these guidelines.
This is where technical SEO enters the scene, helping you improve the technical features of your website and drive more organic traffic.
Why is technical SEO important?
The best way to answer this question is through an example. Imagine this:
You just created content that is a genuine piece of art. You know that your audience will largely benefit from your insights, and you can’t wait for it to go live. So you post your content and notify your customers. The hype train is in full motion as tens of thousands of users click on the link to satisfy their curiosity. But, instead of that amazing content, they are met with disappointment. Your website takes forever to load, and the crowd that was so eager to access the web page just a moment ago starts bouncing. In fact, with every passing second, the bounce rate increases exponentially:
- As page load time goes from 1 to 3 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 32%
- As page load time goes from 1 to 5 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 90%
- As page load time goes from 1 to 6 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 106%
- As page load time goes from 1 to 10 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 123%
Site speed and SEO go together like peanut butter and jelly. So, as you can see, no matter how much amazing content you publish, if your website is not functioning as it’s supposed to, no one will be around to enjoy it.
This is only one of the reasons why technical SEO is so important. It allows search engines to find, crawl, and index your website, and it’s crucial since search engines won’t rank websites they can’t access. Other issues like bad user experience, poor navigation, duplicate content, website security, or lack of mobile optimization will also result in penalties from search engines.
What are the elements of technical SEO?
We have already mentioned crawling and indexing as major SEO elements. Here are other factors you need to consider when performing a technical SEO audit:
- Mobile optimization
- Page load speed
- Link health
- Duplicate content
- Crawl errors
- Image issues
- Website security
- URL structure
- 404 pages
- 301 redirects
- Canonical tags
- XML sitemaps
- Website architecture
From a technical standpoint, your business website needs to load quickly, be crawlable, have clear navigation, contain no duplicate content or links, and above all, be secure. You also need to put other elements in places like content for 404 errors and 301 redirects. Structured data such as schema graphs and XML sitemaps are also vital as they help Google and search engines alike better understand your website content.
While performing a technical SEO audit, you need to be careful not to overdo things. Improving too much at once can, in fact, damage your rankings.
Does this sound overwhelming? If so, you have no need to worry. While there certainly are many elements to consider and much data to collect and comprehend, seasoned SEO agencies like ours possess the experience and technical know-how to tackle these issues and deliver a website optimized specifically for your business.
Key factors of a technical SEO audit
There are three major factors to tend to while performing a technical SEO audit:
- Back-end elements like hosting and indexing
- Front-end elements like website content, keywords, and metadata
- Link quality and outside references
With so much effort required to run a successful business, you’ll hardly have enough time to dedicate to each of these pain points. This is why we advise implementing the Pareto Principle. Named after economist Vilfredo Pareto and also known as the 80/20 rule, this principle suggests that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes.
The largest number of SEO issues is caused by the part of the website that your customers can see and interact with causes. However, much of your efforts will be in vain if you fail to make your website mobile-friendly. Why is this so important, you ask? Here is why.
With 52.2% of all web traffic coming via handheld devices, Google has adjusted its algorithms to stress the importance of mobile-first indexing. This means that your website needs to display immaculate performance on all platforms. By neglecting mobile optimization, you are missing out on a considerable portion of traffic capable of bringing a vast number of potential customers. And it goes even further. Besides just losing mobile-driven traffic, you are also losing desktop-driven traffic since Google is most likely to rank your website very low on its SERP.
This brings us to our next topic.
How to perform a technical SEO audit?
Search engine optimization requirements are changing at a rapid pace. Each time search engines make significant changes to algorithms, SEO professionals need to adapt. That is why our agency closely monitors this ever-changing landscape, ensuring that our clients’ business websites are always up to date with the latest SEO guidelines and best practices.
Note that these changes tend to be less frequent on the technical side of SEO, so we suggest dealing with the technical aspects of your website first:
Crawl your website
The first step, and the most critical element of SEO audit, is performing a website crawl. There are multiple easy-to-use SEO audit tools available online, so choose one of your preferences. Just enter your URL and run the scan.
Once the scan is complete, the tool will display your website’s shortcomings and areas to improve. By carefully studying the results, you should be able to identify possible issues such as low word count, duplicate content, or excess redirects, to name a few. If you are not using an SEO audit tool, conduct a manual search. Here is how to do that.
Perform a manual Google Search
Conducting a simple Google search will show you how your website ranks and where to start with your SEO efforts. Here is what you should look into:
- How many of your website pages appear on SERP?
- Does your website appear on the top spot when you search for it by name?
- How well does your website rank on SERP overall?
Next, use site:rootdomain search to discover which pages are being crawled by search engine crawl bots. You shouldn’t sound the alarm if you find that some pages are missing. This doesn’t automatically mean that your website is uncrawlable, but it does paint a bigger picture about what’s going on behind the scenes.
Ensure that only a single version of your website is crawlable
Having multiple versions of a website is not a good idea since it sends mixed signals to search engines on how to crawl your website and which version to display to your potential customers. This could happen due to some conflict between the desktop and mobile versions, or perhaps there could be duplicate HTTPS and non-HTTPS versions.
The impact of choosing HTTP over HTTPS on a website’s search engine optimization is one of the most debated topics in the SEO community, as some business website owners noticed a decrease in revenue after switching to HTTPS. Be as it may, Google strongly favors websites that employ SSL protection and marks those that don’t use it as not secure. That’s why our agency strongly recommends that your website uses only HTTPS.
Perform an on-page SEO audit
While evaluating your website, you’ll discover a wide array of things to look into, so it can sometimes be challenging to decide where to start. However, there is no need to be discouraged. Let’s start by hunting for duplicate pages, headers, and title tags and work our way forward.
How to do an on-page SEO audit?
Various tools such as Copyscape can help you underhand eventual problems that may arise due to duplicate content. It is vital to note some crucial criteria that Google evaluates. These are:
- Page titles and title tags: A title tag is an HTML code that displays the title of a webpage. The recommended length of this tag is anywhere between 50 and 60 characters. Check your title tags to ensure they are relevant to the page content.
- Meta descriptions: Though meta descriptions don’t directly affect your rankings, they convey a valuable message about the web page’s content. They are crucial for driving visitors to your website, so it is in your best interest to keep them engaging and compelling. A few years ago, Google expanded the limit for meta descriptions from 160 to 320, providing website owners with more real estate to showcase their creativity.
- Clear hierarchy: You should hierarchically organize content so your users, as well as search engines, can find the info they are searching for with as few clicks as possible. This is where you need to employ nothing more than common sense. For example, you should keep your products under the products tab.
- Keyword placement: Make sure that every page of your website has a focus keyword included in the first hundred words or so. This will help Google discover the main focus of your content. However, this doesn’t mean that you should jam as many keywords as you can. This kind of practice is known as keyword stuffing, and it may result in penalties. Instead, try to be strategic about where you place your keywords. If possible, try to include them in:
- Alt tags
- Meta description
An on-page SEO audit is extremely important if you want your website to perform well and therefore rank high in search engines. However, it is only one among many elements included in a thorough SEO audit. Moving on, let’s check what other elements you need to consider.
Manage internal and external links
A meaningful website structure is much more than just a sum of fast-loading web pages and an easy-to-use navigation bar. As Google and search engines alike crawl your website, one of the things they evaluate is your internal linking strategy. Internal links are the backbone of well-optimized websites. They guide crawl bots by linking various website content pieces and demonstrating your knowledge and authority in the process. However, an all-encompassing SEO audit needs to go even further beyond your website and follow the trail to other authoritative web pages marked by external links. Another thing you need to do is check website for spam links. SEO spam injections are often well disguised, but the more they stay on your website, the greater the damage they cause.
Check your website speed
People’s impatience grows pretty quickly, and Google is well aware of it. Internet users will not wait forever for your web page to load, and the longer it takes, the higher the chance for a bounce.
In 2018 Google introduced their Page Speed Update that cemented page speed as one of the major ranking factors for mobile websites. Three years later, they rolled out Page Experience Update that enhanced user experience’s impact on website rankings.
You’ve probably heard people say that speed kills. Well, when it comes to SEO, it’s the other way around. The lack of page speed can kill your hopes of ranking high and placing your website within your potential customers’ reach. Today it is important more than ever to have a fast and responsive business website both from an SEO and UX standpoint.
Employ analytics and compare website metrics
This is where you check whether your analytics tool, such as Google Analytics, reports live metric data. If it does, then your code is installed correctly. If it doesn’t, contact our agency and let us fix your code.
In case you are using Google Analytics, take a glance at the header of each web page and ensure that you have the tracker code placed above it. Now, all you need to do is compare the metrics data to the results from the site:domain search you conducted earlier. The number of pages should be similar. If that’s not the case, some of your pages are not accepting crawl requests.
You can also use Google Analytics to check your bounce rate. You do that by logging into your Google Analytics account and clicking on Overview under the Audiences tab. High bounce rates indicate that users are not finding what they are looking for on your website. In that case, you need to ensure that your content is properly optimized for your target audience.
Check your off-site SEO and do a backlink audit
Backlinks are an essential part of SEO as this type of hyperlink showcases just how relevant your web page is to other users. However, that’s not the only thing crawlers focus on. They also look for brand mentions, further increasing the importance of monitoring what is happening both on and off your website.
Here is what you need to focus on when doing an off-site SEO audit:
- Perform a backlink audit: By performing this step, you will get insight into the kind of backlinks pointing to your website. Backlink audit helps you assess your current link profile and check how it affects your business website. This way, you’ll be able to find areas that need improvement to get more high-quality links. Another benefit of backlink audit is that it allows you to see the number of backlinks your competitors have and do your best to outshine them.
- Analyze competitors’ keywords: Taking a sneak peek at your competitors’ backyard is not frowned upon in the digital world. It is actually preferable. Check how your competitors rank for your most important keywords and explore their backlinks to see how they compare to yours.
- Engage on social media: Social media can be a constant whirlpool of backlinks and engagement, so use it to boost your SEO. Your main goal should be to determine what social media platforms your target audience uses and make your presence known there. By leveraging social media, you’ll be able to increase the number of backlinks as well as brand awareness. This is much simpler than orchestrating a link-building campaign.
SEO audit benefits
Here’s a staggering fact:
According to BrightEdge, 68% of online experiences start with a search engine, while 53% of cumulative website traffic comes from organic search. However, when it comes to click-through rate, only 0.78% of internet users click on second-page results on Google’s SERP. That’s less than one in a hundred searchers.
So, what can we learn from these numbers? Well, they tell us that if your business website doesn’t rank on page one, you will hardly see any traffic. And that certainly doesn’t bode well for your ROI. Considering this, it is no wonder that 61% of marketers say that SEO is their top priority when it comes to inbound marketing.
If you can manage to get your business website to the top of search queries, it will be much easier to get a higher return on investment. However, mastering SEO is no walk in the park. To be truly effective, you’ll need an all-encompassing strategy that includes on-page SEO, off-page SEO, copy, content, and technical SEO. Furthermore, you’ll need a regular optimization plan to ensure consistent ROI. This is why you need a reliable SEO agency with the knowledge and experience to tackle these issues.
An SEO audit is a process of identifying problems and errors that prevent your website from ranking high on Google and search engines alike. So far, we have discussed all the areas that make up a proper SEO audit. Let’s end this article with a recap of all the steps you need to take to ensure that your business website is fully search-engine optimized:
- Benchmark your rankings and scan your competition
- Check whether there are duplicate versions of your business website in Google’s index
- Check your website’s indexed URLs
- Look into manual actions
- Analyze your website’s speed and loading times
- Ensure that your website uses HTTPS
- Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly
- Resolve any indexation issues
- Analyze your page experience
- Audit your on-page SEO
- Fix broken internal links
- Clean up your sitemap
- Check your redirects
- Identify and fix duplicate content issues
- Look for thin content pages
- Fix issues with orphan pages
- Compare your content to your competitors’ high ranking pages and analyze searcher intent
- Do a backlink audit
This is what a thorough SEO audit looks like. It takes a lot of time and requires a high level of expertise. And it is not a one-and-done kind of process. You need to monitor and improve SEO constantly so that once you reach that premium rank in search engines, you actually remain there. Alpha Efficiency can help you take this massive load off your back. Contact our agency and let us take care of the technical side of your website while you take care of the business side.