Using this methodology, you can conduct an onsite audit for search engine optimization. Begin with research, gathering information to examine if technical SEO best practices have been followed.
SEO goes beyond technical best practices of course; the first consideration is always the quality of the content you have on the website, and how you manage and optimize that. But technical factors do matter, and improving them can give your pages a boost.
This is the first post in the “How to Perform an Onsite Audit for SEO” series. In the coming months, we’ll cover the other four essentials: analyze, test, improve, and repeat.
SEO Data Research
The first step of any thorough SEO audit is to do an exercise in research with a massive data pull. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a variety of tools, I recommend gathering as much information as you possibly can before starting on your analysis. You may have slight variations based on what you’re able to gain access to, but there are really five key areas you’re looking to gather data for:
- Traffic analysis
- Search engine provided data
- Website Crawl analysis
- Backlink analysis
- Keyword analysis
Before you start gathering data it’s essential that you understand what date ranges to pull for your data and how that impacts your figures. Measuring and comparing performance by periods of time requires a bit of thought into how your business is set up. Consider your business cycles, for example, and choose date ranges which take into consideration peak traffic times and traffic lows.
The last thing you want is to examine data which shows only a small slice of the entire true picture. Essential observations can be left out if the wrong time period is selected. For example, if you make 85% of your sales in Q4, then you should look at the entire year. If you see 95% of your traffic from Monday through Friday, then you should look at the seven-day week (or the month, or the quarter). What makes the most sense for your site? Once you answer that question you’re ready to proceed to the next steps of data gathering.
Website Traffic Behavior Analytics
Google Analytics (Free)
Other providers (Paid)
If you use more than one service (for example, Google Analytics and another service) the reports you get for traffic and behavior analysis may differ slightly from one another. This is normal and not a cause for concern. Pull reports which showcase how visitors are getting to your site, and hone in on specific reports showing how search traffic performs. Take some time to sift through your analytics for specific data related to keywords, search traffic, where visitors go, how they interact with your site, and which visitors convert into leads. Reports such as these listed below will be a great start to your analysis.
- Audience All Session Overview
- Audience Mobile Report
- Audience Geo Report
- Acquisition All Traffic Report
- Acquisition Search Engine Optimization Report
- Acquisition Referral Traffic Report
- Behavior Site Content Report
- Behavior Site Search Report
- Conversion Goals or Ecommerce Reports
Search Provider Data
Google Webmaster Tools (Free)
Bing Webmaster Tools (Free)
When given the opportunity to learn more about your site straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth, you should take advantage! Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools provide data straight from the search engines themselves to tell you how your site is performing. While the tools may be lacking in insights and user function, they make up for it with the sheer amount of data provided.
Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. Once these are set up and a few weeks have gone by, you’ll have enough data to start on a thorough audit. There are a few key areas to examine and gather any available data for your analysis.
Google Webmaster Tools
- Review Messages
- Review Search Appearance
- Examine Structured Data
- Analyze HTML Improvements
- Review Sitelinks
- Review Search Traffic
- Search Queries & Landing Pages
- Links to Your Site
- Internal Links Too
- Review for Manual Actions
- Examine International Targeting
- Examine Mobile Usability
- Google Index Status
- Content Keywords
- Crawl Errors & Stats
- Examine Robots.txt Tester
- Review Sitemaps
Bing Webmaster Tools
- Configure My Site
- Review Sitemap
- Review Deep Links
- Review any blocked URLs or disavowed links
- Review any Disavowed links
- Review any geo-targeting
- Analyze Page Traffic
- Analyze Index Explorer
- Review search keywords
- Analyze SEO Reports
- Review inbound links
- Review Crawl information
- Search Brand and Results
- Conduct Site:domain.com Search
- Review Caching
- Review Landing Pages Ranking
- Review rich snippets
- Test for duplicate content
Screaming Frog (One-time Fee)
Moz Website Crawl (Monthly Fee)
Have you ever conducted a crawl of your site? Screaming Frog is the ultimate when it comes to data provided through crawls. The program sends a bot to crawl every page on your site, regardless of whether the page shows up in search or not. The data that comes back helps you to see duplicate metadata, pages that are live that shouldn’t be, redirects set up incorrectly, and much, much more.
Screaming Frog isn’t exactly intuitive so you’ll need to spend the time to get familiar with it in order to set up the crawl correctly. This article on Moz shows you how to combine Screaming Frog data with Google Analytics data, with nice screenshots to walk you through setting up a crawl. Moz’s Crawl, on the other hand, is pretty intuitive and user-friendly. For a through audit, you do need to conduct an extensive crawl.
Moz Open Site Explorer (Monthly Fee)
Majestic SEO (Monthly Fee)
Ahref (Monthly Fee)
Backlinks have always had a great impact on how a site performs in search. For a through site analysis you’ll want to also examine your backlinks as part of the research phase. Some people opt to avoid this but don’t skip step this step.
At Vertical Measures we use several tools for backlink analysis, including Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and Ahref. Using these tools you’re able to see a variety of metrics which speak to the quality of your backlinks. Gather data which helps you to see:
- Suspicious anchor text
- Irregular link acquisition history
- Unbalanced backlink distribution
- Sitewide links
- Competitive link information
- Social linking factors
Authority Labs (Monthly Fee)
SEMrush (Monthly Fee)
Google Webmaster Tools (Free)
If you’ve already developed a keyword list: You need to input your keyword list into a rank tracking tool and let the tool know what search engines and languages you are interested in getting rank information for. The tool will query the search engines and return a report showing where you rank for each of the keyword/language/engine combinations that you identified. There are a number of tools available for rank tracking, but Authority Labs is the service we use to track our client rankings.
If you have no keyword list: If you don’t have a list of keywords that you are trying to rank for, you need to start by generating the target list. Google Webmaster Tools and SEMrush are a great place to start.
For SEMrush, all you need to do is put in your domain and it will show you the high-volume keywords that your website currently ranks in the top 20 spots for. Your site is sure to rank for more, but their data shows the most important keywords simplified for analysis. I recommend getting a pro account, as it will show you much more than the trial version. Review SEMrush and gather data for:
- Organic keywords
- Position changes
- Domain vs. Domain
- Organic keyword Domain vs. Domain chart
For Google Webmaster Tools, you need to have a verified account. Once you log in, you can go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics and Google will show you the keywords that people are searching on that are already bringing traffic to your site, along with how many clicks each keyword is bringing to your site, how many times a page on your website was shown when someone searched on the keyword, and the average position that your page was shown in.
Once you have all this data, you can analyze it to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and develop a clear road map to improving your optimization – which is half the battle in ranking better on the search engine results page. Check in with us in June for part 2: Analyze Your Data.
To help you get started with your audit, check out Act-On’s Free SEO Checkup tool which will give you a full audit of your website’s home page, plus a checklist of what to fix to increase your search engine rankings.