SEO Audits - A Tool to Measure Your Strengths and Weaknesses to Improve Organic Traffic

SEO Audit
SEO Audit

"What can be measured can be improved" Peter Drucker

Search engine optimization is as much technical as it is an art. Everything that matters in business can be measured.

SEO is important to the growth and survival of all businesses and therefor you need a plat to measure your current state. Whether you are just starting a deliberate effort or are well into your plan you need to know where you are, what is keeping you from achieving goals and what has and has not worked for you.

This is why having a regular SEO audit is important to your organic search marketing success.

An audit is a tool for your business to understand where you are. You should think about them as a scoreboard you can quickly review to know how healthy your site is in terms of organic search.

What is an SEO Audit?

Any audit, financial, efficiency or SEO is a structured tool you can run repeatedly to reveal the current state of your business or organization. An SEO audit measures important aspect of your site’s success for organic search results.

Important key performance indicators an SEO audit uses score on-page, off-page factors and compares your site to your competition.

Each time you perform an SEO audit you should have a list of immediate action items. Investing in improving these items should earn better rankings over time.

When we bring on a new client we run a full SEO audit. Each week we have automated tools in place to give us some quick view of progress and weaknesses. Depending on the site we will perform a full audit each quarter.

Besides the site's technical health, we are looking for copy quality, media usage and target keywords. We also want to know what the competition is doing, especially missing content and backlink opportunities.

Define Your Business Objectives

No matter what you are targeting you need to define the target. In my personal life I run Spartan Races and specialize in the Stadium Series. I run the age group series, which means I compete against other men similar in age. Next year I will try to podium in the 45-49 stadium series age group.

I am targeting a very specific niche, which means I can focus my training on that specific type of race and my competition. I know exactly what I need to do and can define a training plan to help me achieve this goal.

I could try to target the Mountain series, the US, North American, etc. but these are very broad goals. I don't have the time and resources to dedicate myself to excelling at all these different race types and distances.

As a marketer you need to define your target audience and sales goals. If you don't narrow or niche down your focus it will be difficult to earn profit to drive your business success.

You also won't know what content you should create to attract organic traffic.

Define Target Keywords

In my experience you must know what your target audience is seeking. This means you know what they are entering in search engines, known as keywords.

If you are just writing content you think customers need to know or want to know, most likely you are wasting valuable time creating content no one will read. This was a problem I had developed, and I have consulted several clients about this problem over the years.

aHrefs Keywords Example
aHrefs Keywords Example

For me I started writing 'thought leadership' articles. These are really opinions about a topic and can be valuable to establish your subject matter expertise. But they are lousy to attract readers.

Why?

No one is searching for your opinion. They are looking for answers to their immediate needs.

When I started blogging I focused on writing 'how to' ASP.NET articles. This led to my first book deal, more public speaking and gradually more clients.

Gradually I was influenced to write thought leadership content. And while it is a good idea to create this type of content, you won’t earn sustained traffic and most likely won’t earn any search ranking.

Therefore establishing your target keywords is important. You need to create content to answer customer questions. This will lead to sustained traffic that grows over time.

Most of this traffic will be new to your brand and a source of new customers.

And like thought leadership content, keyword targeting content will establish yourself as a subject matter expert and at a larger scale.

The riches tend to be in the long-tail or search phrases with lower volumes, but specific intent. Targeting these searches can be time consuming, but worth it, especially if you are trying to establish credibility in a market.

You need to earn both Google's and your target audience's trust. Walk before you run.

Establish yourself with specific content for long tail keywords, this way Google has a better idea what your site is targeting. You should then supplement these articles with content targeting 'head terms' or keywords with higher volume and broader intent.

Evaluate Competition

Earlier I mentioned I track my Spartan Race competition. I do this so I know who the best in my category are and can establish the current benchmarks of success. Athlinks provides historical results for all Spartan races and racers. Using this tool I can see everyone's race times for each venue.

Armed with this data I have a good idea what time I need to run in order to approach the podium.

You need to know who is ranking for your target keywords and use tools to determine why.

Once you know why your competition is ranking for those keywords you can then replicate and improve your site to out rank them.

My favorite tools is AHrefs. This tool allows me to do detailed keyword and competition research. Armed with this knowledge I am better able to identify content areas to target to drive more traffic to my site.

Technical SEO

This is the topic I love, coding websites. I love this aspect of online marketing because it is the one area you have 100% control. It is also the area most websites fail and fail miserably.

This is all about creating a great user experience and ensuring your pages have all the proper markup in place to ensure the search spider can understand your web pages properly.

Page Speed

I am passionate about making fast web pages. I shoot for sub-second on desktop and under 3 seconds on mobile. Unfortunately, the average web page takes 22 seconds to load on mobile phones. This means our sites have a key strategic advantage over most of the competition.

So how can you measure your page speed?

My favorite tool is WebPageTest, which includes multiple page performance measurements. Speed index is a metric Pat Meenan created when he created the tool. You want to shoot for 1000 or less. A 1000 score indicates the page was rendered in roughly 1 second.

But you also have tools right on your computer. Each browser had developer tools with performance measurements built right in!

Just hit F12 to open these valuable tools. I start with the network tab and review the waterfall because it visualizes how the page loads.

Lighthouse is built into the Chrome tools and is the underlying technology behind the new Web.dev site.

There are many tools and metrics you should measure, way more than I have time to review here.

User Experience

Search engines are looking to list the best sites for the user's query. This starts with providing a great mobile experience. So much so that Google now uses their mobile index as their primary index.

Not only should you provide a great mobile experience it should be a good experience for all screen sizes and usage contexts.

There are many aspects of user experience, many are subjective, but many are measurable. Speed is one very measurable and controllable user experience metric. Other items to look for are color contrasts, touchable action items like buttons, etc.

I have spent so much time over the past decade plus reviewing sites I can typically load pages and within a matter of seconds find areas that can be addressed. But I lean on tools like Lighthouse and WebPageTest to provide real data to take action.

If you load your site on your phone and find it difficult to navigate or reach content, then your user experience needs work.

Google understands good experiences please users more and they surface these good user experiences over competition in search results. You want to make sure you have a great user experience because most sites are still deficient in this area.

On Page Basics

The first two things I look for is a true authoritative domain and use of HTTPS. There are 4 potential paths visitors will enter your site:

You want all entrances to ultimately reach a single domain over HTTPS. You should either choose the www alias or your actual domain as the final domain. It should only be served over HTTPS.

Once a page loads there should be a TITLE and META description elements in the document's HEAD. There should also be one and only one H1 element.

Site Level Signals

The next area I focus on are 404 or missing pages and 301 redirect chains. Missing pages can be bad because you may have external backlinks pointing to the missing resource. These are called borken backlinks and are an easy source of link equity you can redirect to a new, related page to help it rank better in the search engines.

Search Console 404 Report
Search Console 404 Report

Speaking of redirecting, 301 redirect chains are also bad. These are where you have a 301 redirect pointing to a URL that also has a redirect configured. Each hop in this series dilutes the link equity and reduces your chances of ranking for the target keywords.

I see this issue develop on aged sites. Content you wrote a decade ago is no longer relevant and you point it to newer content. Or maybe you changed your site URL patterns.

You should now change the initial redirect to point to the final URL, reducing the number of hops.

A good, free, tool you can use to find missing pages is the Google Search Console. It will list errors Google has found on your site, including 404 pages. You will see what URL is linking to the missing page so you can evaluate how important redirecting is.

Search Console HTML Improvements
Search Console HTML Improvements

I try to redirect all missing pages because it sends a clear signal to the search engines the site is maintained and a quality resource. Not fixing these errors is like not fixing broken windows in your store. They send a clear signal to customers you don't care about the state of the business and therefor the products and services you sell. In this case Google is the customer looking for quality signals like clean windows.

Speaking of broken links, you should track links you have lost over time. These are valuable resources you can reclaim to improve your search ranking. If a page is already linking to your page you only need to make sure it points to a page you want to rank. You have already earned the link, use it to your advantage.

Page Level

I already mentioned a few on page items I look for like H1 and META tags. But there are more.

Every page should have a rel canonical tag with a value to the final, true URL. This keeps you from suffering from potential duplicate content. Search engines look for this element to know where the original source for content is located and will credit that URL with any incoming link equity.

Review Content/Copy

Out of all the areas I review this tends to be the most complicated area, even more than judging user experience. Content can mean lots of different things. For SEO it leans on a combination of copy (the text on the page) and media (images and videos).

First, media.

Research shows pages with images and videos rank better than those without. So I always include at least one image or photo with every article. I try to make sure it relates to the topic, even if it may be a little abstract.

When possible, I try to create a corresponding video and include it in the article.

But there is more to it an just adding an image or two to an article. You need to make sure to include alt tags and those tags should include targeted keywords. But what about the actual copy, how should it be written?

As you can tell, I tend to write longer content now. It performs better in search engines and the research backs it up.

There is more to it than just writing to write though.

You should write to match the user intent. Sometimes searchers are looking for lists, or thorough content (which I classify this article), others want examples, etc.

You should see what is ranking and create similar and better-quality content than is currently ranking. Otherwise your chance of out ranking the competition is limited.

You should also structure your content for digital reading, not print. This means short paragraphs that leverages white space to make the text more readable.

That is why I tend to write 1-3 sentence paragraphs. This helps visitors scan the text for an answer to their question.

You should also include a collection of sub-headings, using H2 and H3 elements to organize the copy, again making it easier to scan.

Backlink Profile

I can't emphasize this enough. To rank you need backlinks.

Most web pages have zero pages linking to them. Without links you most likely will not rank, at least not for anything significant.

More importantly, what type of pages are linking to your content?

And what does your competition's backlink profile look like?

You should always be seeking to improve your backlink profile by earning links from quality websites. You will have to make a deliberate effort to make this happen, this means identifying good link sources and performing structured outreach.

I won't lie this takes work but pays big dividends.

A proper SEO audit can give you a full backlink profile providing an actual blueprint on how to improve your link profile to compete for those valuable serps to drive your traffic.

Citation Profile

If you are a local business you need to execute local SEO, the first place to go is local citations. These are business listings on various websites that list your Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP).

Not only do you need to have these citations the information has to be correct and consistent. An audit can reveal where you have these listings and what those values are. Your first course of action should be to update any wrong listings.

These are signals Google uses to identify your business for searches related to your business in the local area.

Action Items

Now that you are familiar with what an SEO audit is it's your turn to use this knowledge to create your own audit strategy. You can use the key points I highlighted to help guide you toward this goal.

A full SEO audit is rather lengthy and covers hundreds of items. Many are easy to measure, some are somewhat subjective. But you need to establish a baseline of your current SEO health.

Then you can start taking strategic action to improve your organic search results. It will not happen overnight, but will build over time.

If you want a complete SEO audit please contact us and we can perform a more professional SEO audit that covers lots of on page, technical aspects of your site, your current search profile as well as your competition’s strengths and weaknesses.

Not only can we perform a detailed initial audit we can create a regular audit plan to help you track your site's progress to help improve your organic search ranking ability.

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