Table of Contents
Why do an SEO Audit?
Doing a thorough SEO audit will help you understand how a site stands versus the competition. Gone are the days where you could just slap out garbage content sites and throw links at them using automated SEO tools to see results quickly. That does not work anymore. You need to understand why your site stands where it does.
There is a lot more analytical work required in SEO now – and if you want to get faster and more effective rankings for your target keywords – there is no skipping a site SEO audit.
The data from your high-level SEO audit will be priceless as it will help you rank the site faster.
Every action you take to play the SEO game – will be backed scientifically and multiply the ranking gains the site gets. You’ll also avoid wasting your time and effort in doing things that don’t matter and won’t help. Hence, doing an SEO audit is not only useful, but also very essential in your digital marketing strategy.
A Quick Recap of the Top SEO Ranking Factors
The New Google Search Algorithm relies heavily on Artificial Intelligence – more specifically “deep learning”.
The algorithm module that deals with AI in Google Search is called “RankBrain” and it is very closely related to the other algorithmic modules like Panda and Penguin – and it is built into the core search algorithm.
It is important to note that the AI is trained by real users using their engine and interacting with your site. This is at the very core of the model of ranking sites moving forward.
Because Google has had the ability to mass track users anonymously, they have used it with recent advances in AI and deep learning.
The purpose of this document is not to explain the details and specifics on how they do this, but rather what you need to do in order to ensure your site outranks other sites in your niche for your chosen keywords.
What is your site’s “Quality Score”?
The primary factor to rank sites is the “quality score” that Google assigns to your site.
Every website has an “entity database” with Google and is assigned a kind of “Quality Score” metric.
This metric is based on Google’s overall evaluation of your site.
The better your sites quality score, the easier it will be for you to rank it high.
Remember, again since the Google AI is tracking real user behavior and using that as a quality signal – we are trying to avoid the scenario where the user visits our page and then clicks the back button which effectively takes him back to Google to search again or continue the search. If this happens, it indicates that users did not find the information they are looking for on our site. Thus, Google will rank your site lower based on its bounce rate.
The elements I have tried to mention below all contribute to a better quality score by aiding navigation and increasing engagement.
Before I list all the specific elements, here’s a summary of what Google AI is attempting to measure as a quality score signal.
1) On-Page Content
How does your site’s content line up with the competition (semantical relations of words using vector graphs) – as compared to the other ranking sites? If your website is helping users understand a concept completely, Google will rank it higher than your competitor without a doubt. I have explained this in detail in my other post about Latent Semantic Indexing.
2) SERP User Metrics
What is the Click Through Rate on your listing when you rank in the SERPs – as compared to the other ranking sites? The Click Through Rate is nothing but the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions.
In layman terms, if a 1000 people view your listing on the SERPs, and if 10 people click on your website:
[box] 10/1000 = 1%[/box]
3) On-Page User Metrics
How are users interacting and behaving when they visit your site? What’s their dwell time, satisfying search intent and terminating search query, bounce rates etc. again – as compared to the other ranking sites?
4) Traffic Metrics
How much of the actual traffic is flowing from your backlinks on the web, including your social signals and incoming social traffic?
5) Link Building Metrics
What is the quality of your backlinks? What is their relevance? How natural looking are they? What is their link velocity?
These are some of the topmost ranking factors, however – you should note that each niche has its own set of benchmarks and baselines for each of these factors.
This is why you need to always closely examine what is happening with the top ranking sites (your competitors) in your niche. You may also want to compare the data with the sites ranking on or around spot 100 – because sites way down the ranks tell you what you don’t want to do.
That said, lets now go over a step by step checklist of items that go into a thorough SEO audit check.
SEO Audit of your Core Website Elements
These are items that need to be checked right at the start. They’re related to the overall larger site elements that will help you get a bird’s eye view of the audit as you dig deeper into the other elements.
1) Site / Domain Age
Sites that have been registered (or expired domains) have more domain age. Sites that have aged a lot have more established trust in the eyes of Google, IF and only IF all other site metrics – including on-page and off-page are healthy, and they have not been spammed or have any shady SEO links (black hat SEO etc) done on them.
Once a site is spammed, and gets into an algorithmic or manual penalty – no matter how old or aged the site is – it can never gain its original level of trust back in the eyes of Google. Age in this scenario does not matter and will not score you any advantage. A spammed and penalized site is useless to rank from an SEO perspective.
Also, a dropped domain (one for which the renewal is not done) loses its age when it is re-registered. When you register it after it drops you gain its backlink power (if you set it up correctly) but you lose its age trust signal. The domain can still be used as long as it was not have have a historical record of spam or de-indexation.
2) Canonical Lookup
Where does the site resolve to? Do both the www and non-www versions of the site resolve to the same location (that is either www or non-www)?
In rare cases, other sub-levels are used, but that is an advanced topic for now. Simply access both the www and the non-www URLs and see if the site resolves to one common URL in both cases (you can see if a common URL in the browser tab finally shows up when the site appears in the browser).
You should also check if it shows up as http or https and if there is an issue with the http to https redirection. HTTPS is very essential in Google’s eyes at this time, so make sure you get a SSL certificate.
How well structured is the robots.txt file? Does it exclude any important pages from being indexed by mistake? Does it exclude pages that result in duplicate content from being indexed (tags, category etc.)?
Duplicate pages may not harm you if they’re not excessively done, but its always better to keep the site clean of internal duplicate content pages.
You can exclude pages to crawl and index via your robots file, and or the no-index meta tag inside the page itself.
The .htaccess file tells your server what to do with when your site is accessed by browsers. You can define if certain urls on your site and if it should be resolving them to other URL structures using complex or simple commands that do the mapping.
You can also block certain files or folders with passwords to the public or from certain bots. For example if you are still setting up a site and don’t want it accessed – you can block it. This is very useful when building your Private Blog Network, because you can block tools like Ahrefs and Majestic from crawling your PBN site and hence hide any backlinks to your main money site from being discovered by your competitors (and therefore hide your PBN entirely). For a detailed guide about what PBNs are and how to find the best-expired domains, just head over to the article I have linked to. If you are into black-hat SEO and churn and burn web sites, then checking out the .htaccess file is going to be a very important part of your SEO audit.
5) Friendly URLs
Is the core URL structure safe from URL parameters?
For example, text in the URL of pages (address bar of the browser) on the site like – ?postid=23345
Proper implementation of permalinks structure is important, so Google can understand the intent of the pages, and title and related keywords in the URL help, but you need to exclude any strange looking URL parameters that appear in them. Google may be thinking that people don’t like them, so why should it?
Your sitemap needs to be planned and structured properly. A sitemap tells the Google bot which pages to get to, how and also the date they were created or updated.
You can also indicate which pages don’t need to be crawled or are not important. You call the Googlebot to crawl and index your site from inside the Google Search Console. However, do note that although Google “looks” at your sitemap – Google is moreinterested in doing a raw crawl of your site – jumping from one link to another to spider all the pages in its database. By doing that, it also forms a link map of your site into its own index – which tells it which pages on your site are the most important pages (they are the ones that have the most links – the most prominent links).
So, its very important to internally link to your most important pages the most from other pages on your site – and to link to these pages from other pages that have the most traffic, content metrics and user metrics.
- Tip – while building internal links you should also use keywords you want to rank the target page for as the text anchors on the linking page – without fear of over-optimization that you would have to worry about when you go about creating off-page links. However, do make sure your anchors are rotated amongst the different primary keywords of your target page. If the anchors appear in sitewide link areas (such as header and footer) its fine that the same anchor appears. Google is OK with that.
If your site is large and you need sub-sitemaps that is also fine. WordPress Plugins like SEO Yoast handle the splitting of sitemaps automatically.
7) Site in Google Index
Checking if your site is indexed properly is essential for your SEO audit. You can do this inside Search Console. You need to make sure that all your pages are crawled and indexed and that you don’t have any 404 errors or other page indexing issues – which includes the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page) indexing issues – should you already have submitted your AMP powered site for the mobile index.
To check if the site is in the Google Index simply do a search like this :
[box] site:thedomainname.com [/box]
If your site appears as the first result, it is indexed. If not, then it is not indexed and has been manually penalized by Google and therefore “de-indexed”.
8) Basic Penalty Check
Google has a manual webspam team and a complex automated spam checking system and algorithm – that sends out notices to webmasters through the Search Console warning them against issues it has found that are related to the site’s profile for ranking in their SERPS.
Checking if there is a penalty – algorithmic or manual on your site if you haven’t done so, is essential.
You can do this by checking inside Search Console. You need to see if you received any notices from Google.
The notices Google sends are of two kinds – “Action against Site” or “Action against links”.
If you have an “Action against Site” notice – then your site drops out totally from the SERPs and you have essentially been de-indexed. There will be a notice from the manual webspam team (a real person) inside Search Console messages. If this happens, you cannot do much other than fixing things and then send a plea and appeal to Google literally begging them to put your site back in their index – because you have cleaned up everything you do (or your SEO company did to your site).
If you get an “Action Against Links” notice – there is no plea you can send. Your site or some pages of it – would basically have a lot of rankings. To fix things you need to fix links and any other on-page and other issues and wait for the re-crawl to happen. Since the Penguin algorithm is not real-time… you will see ranking gains faster and you do not have to wait for a data-refresh to happen to see any benefits of your link purge or SEO fixes.
If you have not set up a Search Console account – you may check if your site is penalized by searching for the title of any page or post in quotes in Google and checking if the appropriate page/post shows up as the first result. If not – then you need to start checking the severity of the penalty. This can be done by entering your domain name directly in the search and seeing what happens, or just searching for your domain brand name without the TLD or the TLD after a space separator.
9) Total No. of pages Indexed
As a part of your SEO audit, it is very important that you check and compare the total number of pages that have been indexed from your site. This is a key factor that needs to be seen, because if there are pages that have not been indexed, but should be – then you need to analyze why Google is not indexing them.
You can also use this data to check how many pages of content you have that have a rich number of keywords as compared to the thin pages across your site. Then, go ahead and measure this up with your competition (the top ranking pages in your niche that keep appearing for your selected keyword searches) as a key ranking factor.
10) SSL Certificate
An SSL certificate is an absolute must. Even if you are not giving visitors a login for them to access certain areas of your site – getting an SSL is essential now and does help in boosting your trust and help in ranking higher. For e-commerce sites and other sites that provide login areas – its an absolute must, or users of chrome will see a “red screen” while they access your site.
Doing an SEO Content Audit of the Site
The trick to winning the content game is to write amazing content that drives in natural links, mentions, social votes and real clicks from others in your industry and niche and makes you an authority on the subject – while ensuring that each piece of your content is technically SEO optimized properly.
You should typically…
- Avoid Excessive Thin Pages (Sub-300 words, no images)
- Avoid External Duplicate Content (Content copied from other sites)
- Avoid Internal Duplicate Content (Content found on multiple pages. Use ‘rel=canonical’ if necessary)
- Your overall site should have a topically consistent theme.
Your titles should also be naturally written and substantially different articles (Do not have 5 different articles covering different combinations and keywords of the same topic.
For example “Build an App”, “How to Build an App”, Building an App”. Its always best and recommended by Google that you combine those into one bigger article.
Here’s a quick checklist of the quantity of some elements the sites content pages you want to rank, absolutely must have –
- Original Content (First found on your site)
- Original Images (First found on your site)
- 800+ words minimum (1250 to 3000 words recommended, depending on intent of the page and competition)
- 5 to 7 pictures
- 1 video minimum
- 4+ Words In Title <title>
- Headline (H1) Tag
- Sub-headlines (H2, H3, H4) Tags
- Proper Grammar (Basic / Intermediate / Advanced)
- Proper Spelling (Does Google recognize the word or auto-suggest a correction?)
- High-Quality Supplementary Content (Sidebar/Relevant Information)
1) Title Tag with Keywords
Having the primary keyword you wish to rank the page for in its Title Tag, without keyword stuffing the title (repeating the keyword more than once) is essential.
However, while doing this you need to ensure that your title is appropriate to the page content and catchy enough so it gets higher click-throughs when it appears in the SERPs.
If you make your title enticing and not boring – more people will click on it – and when they come to your site and engage with the content – Google will see both of these in combination and give you higher staying power and nudges in your rankings.
You cannot drive a “click bait”. You can’t fool Google because of its using people power and real human user metrics now. Google will see the decline in user engagement and bounce back metrics and drop you from rankings.
2) Unique Title Tag
Your Titles should not repeat across your pages, and they need to be different than those of your competitors. Having a duplicate title tag for many pages on your site will make it rank lower than the competitors who are using unique title tags.
3) Spammy Titles
You should never write spammy titles that have keywords repeating or that don’t make sense (are spun) and appear only to try and get the page to rank higher. Google is using AI to catch Titles that deviate from the baseline of top ranking sites and can quickly detect any spam in the titles.
You can add a Meta description for each page, using ready-made plugins like Yoast for your CMS like WordPress. Make sure that you insert catchy descriptions that quickly summarize the core intent of the page – and at the same time that they are written well to drive a higher CTR in the SERPs when your page shows up.
5) Spammy Descriptions
Just like Title tags, don’t spam the description or stuff it with the same keywords appearing over and over again. Write like you would normally, and if its a product page – tell users right off the bat what the page is about and even announce a special price in the description or a sale – because they will increase your CTR.
However, always make sure to follow through with your promise – because if you don’t then its a practice of “click bait” and Google will catch it with the high bounce back rates and low user engagement levels.
6) Heading Tags
Every page must be optimized with proper H1, H2, H3, H4 tags. Have one H1 and then the rest of the page can be the other Heading tags. Your primary keyword must appear in your H1 and then you can choose how to insert it in your H2, H3 etc based on the number of words in your page.
Make sure you also insert semantically related keywords across your Heading tags. If you are trying to rank at position zero (search snippet area) then your H2 tags must have related questions that match up your search query for that page.
Having unique, high quality images is a must. Simply lifting images from other sites or open Creative Commons or free stock photo sites is not the ideal method. You need to image edit base images that you find – so that they are eventually unique images.
You can check if your images are unique by going to images.google.com and inputting or uploading your image or its URL location. If your site shows up on top for the image (or if its the only image that shows up) – then its unique. Google can also now “see” whats inside each images with its AI – so if you are a site about dogs – make sure you put up dog images in your pages and not cats
Further, Google can read text inside images – so you could add some text too, if you want to use some advanced optimization techniques.
As a general rule of thumb –
- You absolutely need to make sure that the filenames for your images are the primary or secondary keyword you are ranking the page they are located in.
- Putting in an “image caption” is also an essential element now.
- So is adding proper ALT attributes to the image – which can be a slightly longer combination of primary keywords in a sentence.
- A page that has around 1000 words should have at-least 5 to 7 images in it.
Inserting videos from your video channel on Youtube or popular videos in your niche from non-competing sites will help you rank.
9) Word Count
Currently around 1250 words of content are doing very well. However, you need to check the competing pages for the specific keyword that you are trying to rank.
At times you need long-form content that could well easily go over 5000 words. Be prepared to position yourself as an expert in your niche. There is no room for mediocrity any more. Look at what the top ranking sites and content pages are doing and do it better.
Lower than 800 keywords are not advised for primary ranking pages.
10) Keyword Density
Keyword density is the percentage of appearance of your primary keyword against the total number of words on the page. This is one of the most important factors when you optimize your pages for specific keywords.
Currently, the only way to do this is to make sure that you look at the keyword density of the competition. However, around 2% to 3% seems to work well for 1250 words per page.
There is another very important factor though. Just the primary keywords density will not do by itself. You need to ensure that you have semantically related keywords (vector words) also sprinkled throughout your content in a natural manner.
This is called TF-IDF which stands for Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency. This measures how frequently semantically related keywords appear on your page as compared to the topic of the entire document and the websites entity database.
All in all – you need to emulate the keyword distribution metrics of the top ranking sites… because these sites have the ideal metrics.
Having different forms of embedded content on your pages passes a positive signal. You could have a slideshow, podcasts, videos etc. from your channel on other properties or you can embed popular media from authority sites or trending/top ranking content.
12) Internal Contextual Linking
Internal contextual links are links that appear inside the body of your content – within the main content area of the page. These are not navigational links – which are different and appear mostly sitewide – on the header, footer or sidebars.
Contextual links pass down more link juice – especially if the surrounding words (5 to 7 words on either side) are related to them and if the page content is relevant to the page you are linking to.
They also tell Google that the page you are linking to is important. Further, if people actually click on the link and visit the page – then that is another positive signal. Pages that get more traffic and dwell time – usually rank higher. The same goes when your site competes with other pages within it.
Contextual links can be image links too. Make sure to ensure they are do-follow links.
13) Sitewide Links
Sitewide links are mostly navigational links that appear sitewide on all of your pages – and are located on the header, footer or sidebars.
14) Spammy Content on Page
If you put spammy content on your site that is spun, copied, makes no sense and is keyword stuffed etc – providing little or no value to the visitor your site will get penalized quickly and will never rank for your keywords.
Spinning and putting garbage content on your money site or creating thousands of crappy doorway pages using tools in the market – is a surefire way of getting hit. Its a waste of time and effort – so don’t do it, unless you are trying something core blackhat and its on a throwaway site that your really don’t care much about.
15) Duplicate Text
Your site needs to have unique content mostly. If you copy content from other places and 80% of your site has duplicate content – Google won’t rank you for the keywords you are trying to rank for.
However, you may curate content from different sources, cite them and give your unique point of view to the content.
How much leeway you have for this, depends on your niche and type of site etc. Just make sure that majority of your pages have thick content that has depth and is unique.
16) Content Freshness
Depending on your industry and niche, you need to keep adding fresh content to your site or updating the key pages or the top ranking posts etc. Make sure that you update content that needs to be updated if there is new happenings on the topic.
Google rewards content freshness with an immediate ranking boost, that may taper down over the weeks. But, there is definitely a strong correlation between content updates (freshness) and rankings.
17) Secondary Content
Secondary content is content that cannot be seen initially in the browser or by the Google bot. Things like accordion effects are an example, where the user has to click to reveal the content.
However, it is interesting to note that Google is treating secondary content on mobile devices as primary and since Google has moved to a mobile-first index (over desktop first index) – you could get away with hiding large amounts of secondary content in accordion sliders – so Google sees it but at the same time it is not an eyesore to users.
This is an amazing way to insert large amounts of content on pages that will help boost your rankings – without breaking any user experience issues (for example on category pages of e-commerce sites).
18) Images hiding Content
This is blackhat and should not be done – on purpose or by error. Make sure your site does not have any areas where the images overlap the content due to CSS issues or site design and layout issues. Google can see when this happens on your site and they will flag your site for quality.
19) Ads to Content Ratio
The ads to content ratio are important when you have advertisements on your site. Google does not want to penalize you for ads – but if you break the user experience with excessive ads throughout your pages – it is a big red flag.
Inserting too many ads above the fold of your web pages can result in ranking drops – and some people say the recent 2017 update called “Fred Update” (the very first of Fred updates) was specifically targeting sites with heavy top-of-the-page ads.
Under no circumstance should your site have thin content spotted with excessive ads. That will demote you very quickly.
20) Local Site, Title with Location
If you are a site or business targeting local visitors with a local presence in the areas you want to rank for – you need to ensure that your site Title Tag has the location/region mentioned in it.
This will help you rank organically and also in the Google Local “snack pack”. Rank in the Local Snack pack rankings have a ton of other items you have to cover – but having your location appear in your main page titles – is absolutely essential.
21) Outbound Links to Authority sites
The pages on your site that are long-form content or are the key pages – must have Outbound Links to other “authority Sites” and pages in your industry or niche. By no means should you link to your competitors’ pages – but Google is rewarding pages that understand which other authority pages exist in its niche – and pull them into a “link cluster”. back in the days we were all scared to link out to ther sites – fearing that our link juice will leak out. However, this is not the case and Google is rewarding people for sharing other authority and relevant content online.
22) Content Layout and User Experience
Every page of your site must perform a specific function. Whether its a lead capture page or a long-form content page. It must be appealing and perform what it is supposed to do.
When users visit your page and interact with it the way they should – the appropriate signal is passed down to Google which helps you rank higher or solidifies your rankings (in the event Google is testing you with the Google dance process).
Your pages must have appropriate sub-headings, images, videos, links, and proper formatting and written in a way so people can digest and consume your information easily. Every element on the content of the page must lead to the next. You must draw your visitors in and get them engaged so your bounce rates are low (lower than the competition).
You can do this for example, by having an engaging title that piques the curiosity of the user and draws them in. Then have a great opening line and a paragraph and insert a visually appealing relevant image right up high – that may be cut off by the above the fold mark – so the user is enticed to scroll further.
Then once they scroll, you draw them on to the next element – which could be a fancy table with some data or charts etc. or neatly laid out elements etc.
This is why sometimes, embedding a related video works very well. Because it catches the visitors attention and increases dwell time.
23) Code Quality and Valid HTML and CSS
Your site must have valid HTML and CSS code and it must be mobile friendly. Google has clearly said that mobile is now a more significant channel for them and they are now a mobile-first index.
This means your site has to be a responsive design that shows up without any technical or user experience issues on mobile. If mobile visitors to your site bounce back or don’t stick or cannot perform an action they intend to – then your engagement levels will drop that will hurt your overall rankings.
Further, if your site suffers from mobile technical issues – then Google will also penalize your site directly for it.
You should make sure that your pages do not have –
- Broken code (HTML errors, PHP Errors)
- Broken code (Broken <div> tags)
- Broken links (404 pages, missing images)
- Deprecated Code. Infinite loop pages
- No overlapping text
- No images exploding outside of <div> tags
- No hidden text (Turn off CSS to see)
24) Proper Grammar
Writing content on your pages with proper grammar and without spelling mistakes etc. does play an important role. Grammarly will help you out with this, it is not fun to read poor grammar which will just make the users bounce off from your website, and which in turn will plummet your rankings.
25) Standing out in the SERPs
Writing a good meta-description is absolutely essential to keep your rankings intact. Your meta-description tells the search engine what your article is about, however don’t forget that your meta-description is also a trailer to your movie i.e your entire article.
Make sure the trailer is not misleading and portrays your movie in a good light!
Google Evaluating A New Page
Google evaluates your page with a Google dance (frequent bounces in rank positions for the same search keywords over a short period of time) when you publish it and it just enters into the database.
Sites that already have an established higher trust and authority for the topic rank faster at the higher spots.
However, this does not mean you cannot topple them. It just takes more of an effort in terms of content as your page has to build the trust. That is why you will see the “Google dance” happening for fresh content from a site that is not yet trusted or is not very authoritative. Google gives your page a chance and measures user click-throughs when it pushes you to certain spots in the SERPs and then measures user engagement levels when the traffic hit your site through those positions in the SERPs.
Note – at this point Google already has baseline metrics from other search results. So, if your site beats them by a factor of say 3x then Google thinks – hey.. this page looks to be way better – so why not stick its rankings in the long term and why not even bounce it up higher and see what happens and measure again how users engage with the site?
Also, remember that in some sensitive niches like health, medicine etc. Google will never do this because these niches need a lot more controlled content as false or incorrect information from a site that is not trusted can directly harm the health of people. Google’s recent update has destroyed a lot of blogs in this niche, since Google now takes into account .
Usability & Structural Audit
1) Navigational Issues
A site has navigational issues when it does not channel down traffic to relevant pages in a transparent and obvious manner. This can happen when your messages are not clean enough and you do not drive the click. It also happens if you are attempting to rank a content page for a keyword and don’t lead the user to the conversion page where they terminate their search intent.
Too many sub-menus or a heavily cluttered menu with excessive drop down choices that are not separated in a clean manner and cause confusion can also cause this.
Your site must have these basic navigational units which include
- Dynamic Navigation specific to each category
- Breadcrumbs navigation
- Internal links within the content
- Related links (Relevant to the content)
- External Links (Relevant to the content)
- Site-Wide Categories Navigation
- User Sitemap
2) Supplementary Content
Supplementary content is content that does not appear with the main content area of the page but appears in other secondary areas. This can be as widgets or as an additional description in e-commerce product pages. If your supplementary content is not relevant to the primary content on the page, it could be a quality issue in the eyes of Google.
If this exists at a high density then Google may penalize the page for the keyword it is trying to rank for. Low quality and unrelated supplementary content causes topic dilution and distracts the main focus of the topic of the page.
3) Presence of Blog
Most sites doing SEO need to have a blog. Almost every niche needs one these days. The blog needs to provide relevant content on the topic and establish the authority of the site for that topic.
Content, Traffic and Commerce are deeply intertwined.
However, the strategy that goes behind each of the blogs would definitely be different across the different niches. Some niches require excessive content while some niches could make do with short informational posts or even just long-form product descriptions.
For example Amazon as compared to a smaller niche E-commerce website. Amazon does not need a blog to promote its content, the product landing pages alone do the trick and it does not need to funnel down traffic because of its already existing authority and the fact that thousands and millions of affiliates are promoting and bloggers are already writing about the products that get listed – and also that the reviews on the product pages form some fantastic content.
Also, the user engagement and conversion rates are so high because of the science and optimization that has gone into their engine – that its virtually impossible to beat.
4) Number of Posts
The number of blog posts in the blog area of the site and its frequency is an important factor. In an information-hungry niche, the new posts on various related topics need to be pushed out frequently and in regular intervals.
Again always study what your competitors who are dominating the SERPs are doing and try and beat them at it with better metrics. However, be careful that you don’t put out low-quality content that does not engage users.
5) Quality of Posts
By quality of the post, we are basically talking about the overall authority and ability to engage. A post with low quality will eventually get lower engagement levels by users and that signal will be passed down to Google eventually – that will result in a loss of the overall quality score of the site. Churning out content that is put out for the sake of driving blog post numbers and not the users – is a failing strategy.
6) Rich Snippets
Rich snippets are basically schematic tags that do different things on the pages of your site in a structured data format that Google can understand what the page is about better – and therefore categorize the page and make it visually appear better or rank better in the right clusters in the SERPs with the right group of sites.
For example, you can get the “star reviews” star images to show up in your SERP result for your post or e-commerce pages and also include the number of reviews and rating average etc.
If you are providing a specific service, you can tell Google which area you are in and specify which service – so Google clusters your site appropriately in their database of entities.
7) Click Depth to Main Pages
Click depth to your main pages is the number of clicks a user has to perform to get to your main pages.
If users are entering your site from an internal page, then Google wants to know how many hops they are away from reaching your primary pages. If they are on the homepage, Google wants to know how fast they can reach that hot selling product page.
Making the pages inaccessible quickly and confusing users by sending them to dead ends or down the wrong rabbit hole can result in bad user experience that causes confusion and causes users to exit your site quickly – thereby reducing your dwell times and other UX (User Experience) factors.
8) Presence of Categories
Having appropriate categories in your site helps classify the different content units in your site in a clear and concise manner that also helps users navigate into further content within sections that interest them more.
For example – an online e-commerce sports shop should have proper categories for each sport (baseball, tennis etc) and well-structured sub-categories for each equipment type (shoes, clothes etc.).
This not only builds a solid sitemap but helps Google cluster together related content pages when it makes the “entity database” of your site. When you then interlink pages in their own clusters properly – this further boosts your signals and rankings for the entire cluster.
9) Overall Silo Structure
A proper silo structure of your site is when you architect the pages and sections of your site in such a manner that visitors (and the Google bot) only see links to other sections and pages that are relevant to the page or section they are currently located in.
This means forming a proper hierarchical structure of pages. The biggest SEO benefit of this is that your link juice does not leak and passes onto the relevant pages in each silo and bucket, without really going out to other unrelated random pages.
Doing this is extremely important and it can help your site build up ranking power and juice just with a perfect internal silo structure.
Audit Check of Essential Pages
1) Core Pages
Knowing which are your core pages is essential. You may have a page that lists your core product for sale or a page that is your opt-in page for a new lead.
Always understand and identify these pages so you can channel appropriate actions to them in a proper flow – from blog content, social media, advertisements etc.
2) Other Essential Pages
Having the following pages is a must for every site. It builds trust with the user and abides by certain laws in each area and tells Google that you care for your users’ rights and are keeping them informed.
Every site absolutely needs to have the following pages if they need to build proper trust with Google (and site visitors).
It is also required by law and can land you up in trouble if you do not adhere to them based on your country
- About Us / Our Company / Company
- Terms of Service
- If your site is an E-commerce Site (or selling anything) you need to have Shipping Information, Refund Policy, Refund Policy
In addition, you should have the following pages and elements updated appropriately.
- Copyright Message in Footer with updated date
OnSite Reviews / Testimonials
Having an area where you insert customer testimonials or have your visitors leave reviews after they have engaged with your brand or products is always a solid factor that Google can measure and is aware of.
- Do not try and fake this and leave false reviews as it could be dangerous.
Below are some elements that are not essential, but are recommended. Not having them won’t hurt your site, but having them will help improve your search rankings to some extent.
- Tables of content (works great with long-form content pages, Wikipedia style).
- Social Media Icons. Google .xml sitemap (this is not essential as Google does an independent crawl of your site anyway, but it can help.
- Comments for information sites
Auditing Site Analytics
Google Analytics and Search Console data – both reveal insights about users and your SEO that you cannot get elsewhere. Understanding the data each of them reveals about your site and acting on any problem areas is part of good technical SEO.
You cannot use one without the other and they both show you a separate set of metrics.
Doing a thorough audit of the following metrics and analytics of the site is essential in understanding where the site stands, where the problem areas are that need fixes and how things can be improved – for better rankings.
Below are some important items you absolutely need to look at, but this is not where it stops. Doing an ongoing analysis as you make new posts, go about doing SEO or making improvements to your site is essential and can help you boost SEO and identify problem areas early.
Bounce Rate and Time on Site
Measuring the bounce rate of users to your site is one of the first user behaviour analytics you should be measuring. You can see this inside Google Analytics dashboard.
Bounce rates that are more than 55% could be harming your rankings and you need to bring them down as much as you can. Look at possible reasons why people are entering and leaving your site – and also look at where this traffic is coming from.
If it is coming from non-relevant pages that could be an issue. Improving this factor alone will increase user “dwell times” and give you a solid on-page metric. The lower the bounce rate the better.
Here are some metrics you should match in general at the very least –
- Below 55% Bounce Rate
- Below 55% 0-10 Second Engagement Time
- 2+ Pageviews/Per visitor
- Time On Site 2+ Minutes
Notices from Google
Once you connect your site with the Google Search Console, you should always be on the lookout for automated or manual messages from them.
For example, if you switch from http to https, or if you decide to restructure some of the sites internal pages and URLs its important to look out for any warning signs when you call the Googlebot to re-crawl your site.
These messages alert appear within your Google Search Console inbox message area and you will get an email from them. They also get flagged inside the appropriate section.
Sudden Traffic Drops
Look at the historical data of your site and see if you had any sudden historical drops of traffic that coincide with a Google update. Chances are that your site was penalized if you see drops in organic traffic around the same time of a Google update.
Knowing which update hurt your site – is the first step in understanding what went wrong and how you can fix things.
Broken Links, 404 errors and/or Missing Pages
You can find broken internal links from within the Search Console. You need to attend to each warning appropriately telling Google that you have fixed it. Having excessive 404s will hurt your site if they are really 404s because anyone could escalate the 404s by pointing randomly to pages that don’t exist from external places, which is why this is not that big of a deal – but should be looked at.
Current Keywords Ranking Health
Look at Search Console keywords ranking report to see exactly which keywords Google is ranking you for and rewarding you for. This will help you narrow down on keywords that you are already ranking for and by building backlinks for them and optimizing for them further – you can get quick easy boosts.
Desktop and Mobile Speed Tests
Testing the appearance and speed of your website ensures that visitors are served your site quickly and don’t click away. Google wants you to have a fast site as it wants users to access information quickly.
You can improve your site speed by a ton of methods, but the overall goal should be to test your site from different geo-locations using a tool like Pingdom and then attend to issues. You could go for a CDN provider like Cloudflare or install caching plugins that speed up your site by reducing database queries and therefore the server load. Choosing the right hosting company for you is a critical decision and is based on many factors including your CMS, expected site traffic, and what your goals are for the site amongst others.
These are some page speed metrics you need to be looking at –
- Sub 4 Seconds Page Load Time
- Consistent Server Up Time (if your server keeps going down or offline its a big issue, which is where quality hosting plays and important role)
Backlinks Profile Audit
It is always important to understand what kind of backlinks your site already has, and how fast (link velocity) they were built etc.
Having too many thin backlinks can hurt you if you trip the backlink threshold values in your niche – just like you would trip any other threshold variable.
Getting powerful links from authority sites is just as important as getting links from relevant sites in your niche. You cannot build one without the other. Always have a good mix of the different types of backlinks one can get.
The backlinks you get should also be getting you real traffic – and this is a factor that is being measured now. Having a large number of backlinks that actually produce no real clicks or traffic raises a flag with Google and trips the algorithm to mark your backlinks as low quality.
Of course, you need to ensure that the anchors you use in the backlinks are natural and you do not keyword stuff them – or the Penguin Algorithm module will filter you easily for backlink spam. This is a massive topic that needs an entirely different discussion!
While doing a backlink audit you need to definitely check –
- Type of backlinks the site has overall.
- The Power and Quality of each Backlink which can be the Majestic Trust Flow vs Citation Flow, or Ahref Domain Rating or URL Rating of each backlink.
- The ratio of each kind of backlink – guest posts, news release, comments, article links, sitewide thin links, etc.
- The anchors used for the backlinks and overall anchor cloud as well as the sequence of the appearance of each backlink and anchor text.
- Link velocity of backlinks.
- Spam signals in the Backlinks Profile
- Do-Follow vs No-follow link ratio of backlinks
All these need to be looked at individually and then compared to the current top ranking competitors. A site which as excessive amounts of backlinks as compared to the competition and that is not ranking indicates that the backlinks are too spammy or the site content and user experience are very poor or there has been spam or a penalty associated with the site. SEMrush is your friend in this case, and you should go ahead and read up more about it.
Social Media Audit
Social is already a very important factor when it comes to ranking. Having social channels that are active and have appropriate levels of user engagement will power up your rankings.
It is important that you set up your social channels and interlink them and then engage with your users on social with the right content and drive traffic to your site through these channels. Racking up fake signals and fake followers who do not engage or visit your site through the channels, is easily detected by Google as false and it does not help your rankings.
Getting real users, who engage is important.
Getting your posts recycled or mentioned by other authority figures in your niche can help you boost traffic, rankings and take your site viral – thereby pushing the traffic levels further. Your Social Links and channels must be clearly specific sitewide on your main site.
Your Social Accounts must stay active and healthy with new content being added to them regularly. You could announce things you post on your blog or a new product line you released on social.
Ensuring that one social channel interlinks and mentions your other social channels so your followers and users may engage with you on multiple channels are preferred channels is key. This is why you must interlink and interconnect all your social profiles.
When you go about doing your content marketing and spreading your content online, you must post the right content in the appropriate social channel – for example, video on Youtube about new product line vs business anniversary on Twitter or Linkedin. This also ensures that people engage at higher levels with your content and are not spammed with content they do not want. I have written an in-depth article about Social Media Marketing which you should check out!
Local SEO Audit
Local SEO helps you rank in the Google+ Local area which includes the “Snack Pack” of top 3 spots for geo-specific search queries that relate to local businesses.
To qualify to appear in the snack pack or the resulting local search pages, your business needs to be verified by the Google My Business service, which involves registering, getting a physical postcard from Google with a code, validating the code and setting up perfect NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) data across your site, Google Maps, and other citation services and directory listings.
NAP acronym sands for Name Address Phone. You need to ensure that you are consistent in the way you list your Name, Address an Phone data on your site and on other citation and directory sites. Discrepancies in the way you are listed across various properties including your own site and on Google+Local, Google Maps, Yelp, and all the other directory and citation sites – can result in the Google Local engine to not give you ranking points for the citations.
Contact Us Page / Footer Insertion
Your NAP data should be perfect and consistent in the footer sitewide section of your site as well as on your Contact Us pages. Google looks at this very closely for consistency. Your Contact Us page should also include the following
- Proper Name, Address with ZIP and Phone Number
- Embedded Google Map
- Business Hours
For more information on Local SEO, you can refer to this post.
If you want to be a successful SEO, then it is essential that you learn to do a proper audit in the first place. This should be the starting point of any SEO strategy. Furthermore, if you are pitching to a client and cover everything in-depth then it is more likely that the client will want to hire you!
There might obviously be some things which I have missed out from this post, do let me know what I have missed out, and if this post helps you out, make sure you link back to me!