Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your site’s organic (free, non-paid) visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs) to increase awareness, traffic, time on site, and conversions. The name is a bit misleading, however, as search engines are formulated to reflect what, when, how, why, and where users search online to find answers and solutions to their needs, interests, and pain points.
Therefore, SEO includes understanding user intent and how to get helpful, relevant content in front of those users in a way that is easy for them to access. But getting to that point requires a fundamental understanding of where you currently stand — which is why, today, we’re going to discuss how to perform an SEO audit in 4 easy steps.
Why Is SEO Important?
SEO can get extremely complicated, as there are literally hundreds of variables at play, but nailing down the fundamentals can help you drastically improve the way that Google and other search engines crawl your site, interpret your content, and rank your pages.
From a 30,000 foot perspective, these variables include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Page speed
- Crawl errors
- Mobile responsivity
- Secure URLs (HTTPS)
- Duplicate Meta Tags
- Broken links
- URL length
- Keyword placement in title and header tags
- Keyword placement within the first paragraph
- Image alt-tags
- Tag modifiers (long-tail keywords)
- Keyword variance
- External and internal links
- Content placement and promotion
- Content layout and structure
- Mix of content types
- Thought leadership/promotional
- Blogs, webpages, eBooks, infographics, success stories, video, podcasts
- Schema markup
There’s so much more to take into account, but focusing on the elements above is a great place to start when conducting an SEO audit.
At this point, a lot of you might already be feeling a little overwhelmed and wondering whether performing an SEO audit is even worth it.
It definitely is, and here’s why:
- 67% of all clicks go to the first five organic results on a SERP (1), so ranking above the fold is essential to capturing the bulk of the traffic you’re trying to rank for.
- 70% of marketers say SEO is more effective at driving sales than PPC (2), which should be music to your ears if you’re a modern marketer who would rather not pay for leads.
- That said, PPC can (and should) inform your SEO efforts, as 86% of marketers use data from their PPC campaigns to support their SEO strategy (3).
- Page speed is a vital factor for Google rankings even for the most well-known brands, as evidenced by the BBC losing 10% of users for each additional second their site took to load (4).
- 72% of consumers who perform a local search (e.g., “doughnuts near me”) visited a store within five miles of their location (5).
These numbers underscore the importance of how good SEO helps create great user experiences and customer journeys. When potential consumers can find what they need when they need it and are nurtured through the sales cycle with helpful, non-promotional content, they’re more likely to visit these sites and pages again and again, which increases reputation and ranking (not to mention content marketing ROI).
Now that we’ve established the value of SEO, let’s take a look at how to establish a working baseline by learning how to perform an SEO audit in 4 easy steps!
*Note, you should perform an SEO audit every 6-12 months to gauge your progress, pitfalls, and opportunities.
1) Crawl Your Website
The first step in any SEO audit is to crawl your website using one of these SEO tools:
All of these tools will crawl your site within a matter of minutes and provide a detailed report of critical errors, such as:
- Broken links
- Duplicate content
- Orphaned pages
- Bad images
- Poor keywords
- Title and header tagging issues
- And much more
After downloading one of the applications listed above, review the crawling criteria, enter your site’s URL, and click start! Pretty easy, right? Not only will your report detail the errors above, but it will also show you how often Google crawls your site and the pages it crawls most frequently.
You should also manually spot-check your webpages periodically by searching for webpages, blogs, and other digital properties using the keywords you’ve designated for those pages. A good rule of thumb is to check new pages two weeks after launching, make necessary adjustments, and then review your progress again after six weeks to see if additional updates are necessary. From there, you can add these pages to your regular SEO audit cadence.
Lastly, you need to verify that search engines are only crawling one version of your website. If not, Google and its counterparts aren’t sure which site to crawl, which means they’re not sure which site to present on SERPs. For instance, you might have competing https and non-https site versions or you might have different desktop and mobile iterations.
2) Time Your Site Speed
Here’s an interesting stat for you:
Pages that load within two seconds have an average bounce rate of 9%, while pages that take five seconds to load have a bounce rate of 38% (6).
These numbers alone should be enough to make you recognize the importance of having a website with pages that load quickly. We’ve become shockingly impatient in the digital age, so every millisecond matters when it comes to quality SEO.
To understand where you’re currently at with site speed and how that number compares with your competitors, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Simply click here, enter your URL, and click “Analyze.” After just a few seconds, Google will provide a report detailing your site’s speed on both desktop and mobile. Scroll below the fold for valuable optimization opportunities and diagnostics, then team with your webmaster to make the necessary changes for maximum performance.
Here are a few suggested best practices to increase your site speed:
- Optimize your code by removing unnecessary characters, comments, formatting, etc.
- Eliminate render-blocking resources that require executing HTML parsing.
- Reduce multiple redirects between pages to avoid additional waiting time via the HTTP request-response cycle.
- Use content distribution networks to store copies of your site at multiple data centers, providing faster access to diverse users.
3) Check Your On-Page SEO
Once you’ve crawled your site and identified major issues, it’s time to resolve your on-page SEO challenges. The most common examples involve:
Site Hierarchy and Structure
The overall structure of your website will impact your SERP rankings (for better or worse) because, as a navigational blueprint, it’s the defining feature of the user experience. So, it’s important that you lay out your site in such a way that makes it easy for users to find what they’re looking for and for Google to understand what to crawl and how to crawl it. This means building or updating a site using:
- Intuitive and simple logic that allows every user to reach their destination in 3 clicks or less
- 3-7 primary navigation categories
- 5-7 secondary navigation destinations
- HTML or CSS code
- Consistent URL structures
If your site’s structure isn’t intuitive, the user experience will suffer, which will be reflected in key metrics that impact SEO (click-through rate, bounce rate, time on page, etc.). Further, Google rewards websites with great structure by creating sitelinks on SERPs that lead to key product, blog, about, and contact pages, so a well-structured website is crucial if you want to guide your target audience through every step of the buyer journey.
Duplicate Title and Header Tags
As we’ve discussed before, repurposing content is okay — encouraged, even! Duplicating content, especially in the form of title and header tags, however, places you on extremely dangerous SEO ground.
If you’re using the same tags on multiple pages, you’re giving search engines mixed messages that they’re unable to interpret, which means they’re going to crawl and rank whichever page they deemed to have better SEO. So, for example, if you’re using the same tags on a product page (high conversion value) and a blog page (less conversion value), it’s possible that the blog page might rank higher than the product page. Not good, folks.
To fix the problem, go to the “Search Appearance” section in the Google Search Console and click “HTML Improvements.” If you have duplicate tags, they’ll show up here. Then, just hop into the backend of your site and make on-page copy adjustments as necessary. But be considerate and intentional as you do so. Title and header tags are a major SEO contributor, so make sure you’re using relevant keywords that are proven to resonate with your audience.
Or, if the page(s) with a duplicate title tag is outdated and no longer relevant, you can set up a 301 redirect to the newer, more relevant page.
Missing Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions don’t directly impact your SERP rankings, but delivering an optimal user experience that improves key performance indicators (clicks, time on page, etc.) definitely does. And since adding expressive meta descriptions that clearly introduce the content on the page significantly improve the user experience, they likewise have the power to improve SEO.
Therefore, every page on your website needs to have a unique and vivid meta description that:
- Is roughly 150 characters long
- Includes a close variant of that page’s primary keyword
- Gives an accurate preview of what the user can expect when they click on the SERP link.
If you don’t include meta descriptions, users will be less likely to click on your link and more likely to bounce if they do because they won’t be prepared for what they’re presented with. Any way you slice it, failing to include a meta description will hurt your SEO efforts.
Primary and Secondary Keyword Placement
While not quite as important as they used to be, keywords remain the lifeblood of your SEO initiatives. As such, you need to designate a primary (or focus) keyword for each page and also determine secondary keywords to use throughout your copy, header tags, and alt-text. To help search engines decipher the main purpose of the page, you should include the primary keyword in your title tag, H1 tag, meta description, and the first body paragraph on the page.
In the past, lazy content creators were able to sneak one past the goalie by stuffing their pages full of keywords to achieve higher site rankings. But this made for some pretty funny (i.e., terrible) copywriting and a horrible user experience, so Google updated its algorithm to not only ignore keyword stuffing but also actively penalize people who tried to use this black hat tactic.
4) Review and Update Link and Backlinks
The links on your site should align with your overall site structure and hierarchy, helping users navigate smoothly from page to page to learn more and explore your solutions to their needs, interests, and pain points. However, pages that are moved or deleted will result in broken links, which is one of the most common reasons for a high bounce rate — not ideal for SEO success.
To check for broken links, head back to the Google Search Console and look for any “crawl errors” on your dashboard. You should be greeted with a full list of broken links that you can fix by either updating to a new destination or removing entirely.
In addition, external websites that link back to your content (backlinking) can vastly improve SEO, especially if those sites already have good authority with Google. For example, a backlink from Nike is going to be far more beneficial than a backlink from your uncle’s cobbler shop in rural Delaware.
This SEO phenomenon is known as “link juice” and actually seems to carry more weight than good and relevant keyword usage. Basically, when a page with good authority links to your page, they transfer some of the goodwill they’ve built with various search engines to that page. It’s a “Standing on the shoulders of giants” kind of thing, but they’re friendly giants who appreciate your hard work, so it’s all good.
You can use Ahrefs or SEMrush to perform backlink audits that will reveal your link profile, opportunities for more and better links, and even competitive analysis. If your analysis indicates that you’re not where you need to be with this SEO strategy, here are a few helpful tips to get more backlinks (and more link juice):
- Create and distribute useful content
- Develop content for specific audience segments
- Seek out guest posting opportunities with industry leaders
- Explore co-marketing opportunities with your industry partners
- Mention brands you admire in your content and on your social media profiles
- Quoting memorable brand leaders in your content (with proper attribution, of course)
Achieving good backlinks is easier said than done, but it’s well worth the effort if you have the time and resources to commit to executing a long-term backlinking strategy.
Act-On’s Audit Tool Can Expedite the Process With More Actionable Insights
Now that you know how to perform a quick, easy, and actionable SEO audit, what are you waiting for? Start improving your site’s performance today, and watch the relevant, high-intent traffic come rolling in! Better yet, before you do, reach out to one of our marketing automation experts to learn more about Act-On’s SEO Audit Tool.
If you’re not quite ready to have that discussion, but you’d like to keep reading about the importance of SEO and how to improve content engagement on your digital properties, please download our eBook, “Personalizing the Web Experience: The Key to Better Customer Interaction and Engagement on Your Website.” In it, you’ll learn why personalizing your content is so important, how to customize your content for your various audience segments, and how machine learning can help place the perfect asset in front of the right user at the ideal time!