Every company, regardless of their industry or size, will need to perform a site audit on its website at least once in it’s lifetime. You’d be amazed how quickly websites become dated and fall out of pace with the latest best practices in website design, user experience and search performance. A site audit helps to ensure that your site is working at its optimum.
Different digital marketing agencies have different ideas of how frequently you should be undertaking a site audit. Really, it varies from site to site. For smaller websites (up to 10 pages) we would recommend performing an audit on a 6 monthly basis. For sites between 11 and 50 pages an audit should be performed at least quarterly, and for a site with 50 or more pages, we would recommend performing a light audit on a monthly basis to keep on top of things, and a full audit quarterly. However, this is a very broad scale and your audit schedule should be tailored to your site, business and needs.
What is a Site Audit?
An SEO site audit is the process of assessing your website’s content, structure, UX and their impact on your site’s performance in terms of organic search, organic rankings and conversion rates. The purpose of performing an audit is to identify any problems with your site that may be affecting your SEO.
In order to complete a deep and thorough technical site audit, we’d recommend hiring a specialist SEO or digital marketing agency who are experts in fully assessing the performance of your site. However, if you’re looking to undertake a self-service site audit, we’ve put together an easy to follow checklist to help you. However, a word of warning before we get going – this is not an exhaustive list and does not include some of the more technical tasks that would be best addressed by a professional digital marketing company.
The Check List
- Page Speed
- Meta Data
- Broken links (internal and external)
- Redirect chains and loops
- Thin content
- Check for hreflang issues
- Check for canonical URL issues
- Faceted Navigation & Dynamic URLs
- AMP & Schema
- Duplicate Content & Keyword Cannibalisation
- Page Content
The speed at which your webpage loads has a considerable effect on your SEO. Measuring your page load speed isn’t as simple as typing your URL into the browser, pressing enter and starting your stopwatch. Every millisecond counts so use an accurate online tool such as Google PageSpeed Insights, Lighthouse or GTMetrix to find any issues with your page speed. Given that “53% of visits are likely to be abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load”, it’s essential that your page is loading as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Here are a few pointers to get started on improving load speed:
- Ensure that all images on your site are optimised
- Minify the HTML on your site
- Remove any surplus plug-ins on your site
- Enable browser caching
- Utilise Content Delivery Networks for websites operating in multiple regions
The title tag element on a web page signposts the overall content of a page to Google. In the same way that if you’re given a box with “Cotton wool” written on it, you’d naturally assume that box is filled with cotton wool. The title tag can be seen in the SERPs to let users know what they can expect to click through to. For example:
Optimising a title tag
The title tag also displays on snippets when shared on social media or other digital platforms. Optimising a title tag involves making sure that the title itself is relevant. The relevance of the title tag is key to search engines, SEO and user experience. If you opened a box expecting cotton wool and it was actually filled with broccoli, you wouldn’t be too happy about it. Unlike other elements of a site, Google restricts the display of title tags to 600 pixels instead of to a character count. As a result, Google displays in the region of the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. It’s worth considering that different characters will take up varying amounts of space. For example, a pipe ( | ) would be a better use of space than a dash ( – ).
You want to understand what search terms each webpage is looking to target. These should then naturally be included in your title tag whilst also ensuring that it is attractive to users. For more information on title tags, read our glossary post.
Another thing to remember – make sure that all titles across your site are unique. Having duplicate titles across your site will harm your rankings in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and confuse search engines. If you were shown two identical boxes, both with “cotton wool” written on them, which box would you choose as having the best cotton wool? Of course, Google’s algorithm is aware of this very issue, but your site shouldn’t require Google or your users to work hard to get to what they’re looking for.
Similar to a blurb on the back of a book, meta descriptions describe the content of a page – what a user can expect to find if they were to click on the link. The meta description is your opportunity to entice a user into clicking through to your site – to convince a user that the content of your web page is the best place for their query to be answered. It’s important to note that metadata will not display on your website – it only displays on the SERP. Ensure that your meta description is relevant and between 150-160 characters for optimal performance.
Whilst Google doesn’t consider the content of your meta description as a ranking factor, it will highlight specific words if they’re searched for in the SERPs. For example:
Heading Tags break down the content of a page, much like chapter headings in a book. If the content of your page covers multiple different angles of a topic, these H Tags help search engines to identify the different topics discussed on any given page.
For example, the title tag, meta description and heading tags should all work together:
<title> Famous Female Scientists | Name of Website </title>
<meta name= ”description” content=”Here is an enticing piece of text, encouraging you to click through to the site.”>
<h1>Famous Female Scientists</h1>
<h2>Famous Female Scientists 1950-2019</h2>
<p>Body copy, relevant to famous female scientists between 1950 and 2019.</p>
<h2>Famous Female Scientists 1900-1949<h2>
<p>Body copy, relevant to famous female scientists between 1900 and 1949.</p>
Note that you should only ever have one H1 tag, whereas you can use multiple H2s, H3s and so on. Furthermore, much like title tags, you don’t want to duplicate main headings across multiple pages and therefore cause keyword cannibalisation.
Address and Fix Broken Links (internal and external)
Broken links are links that point to pages that don’t exist, internally or externally. You can find yourself with broken links on your site through a number of avenues:
- The site that is being linked to has deleted the page that you’re linking to – also known as link rot or link decay.
- The URL that you’re linking to is incorrect. i.e. you’ve made a typo when linking to the site.
Broken links hinder your user’s experience on your site so it’s important to keep on top of any broken links and remove them ASAP. Furthermore, include your backlink profile when auditing links so that you can either contact any website linking to you to have the link destination changed, or set up relevant 301 redirects.
Use Google Search Console to identify any issues that crawlers have found on your site. Navigate to Google Search Console > Crawl > Crawl Errors for a full list of links that are causing problems.
Broken Link Fixes:
- Link to a new destination
- Redirect the page (usually through a 301)
- Display 404 error
- Reach out to an external linking site, and request a fix.
Redirect chains and loops
A URL redirect chain occurs when there is more than one redirect between a URL and its destination. Ultimately, this slows down your site, hinders your user’s experience and is detrimental to your own SEO. Redirect chains can occur when URL 1 is redirected to URL 2, then URL 2 is then redirected to URL 3. They’re also a common issue when migrating a site over from http to https or from www. to a non-www. site addresses.
Similar to a redirect chain, a redirect loop is where URL 1 directs to URL 2 which redirects to URL 1 and so on, essentially sending the user (and Googlebot!) in an infinite loop.
The fix for both of these situations is to ensure that there are no redirect loops in place within your htaccess file, or within any redirect plugins you use with a CMS such as WordPress or Squarespace.
Your site should have a sitemap which sits at your top level directory, so www.example.com/sitemap.xml. As you can see, it should be in xml format for Google to be able to read it correctly. You can create a sitemap manually, although this is not advised as it’ll be labour intensive. It would be best to either crawl your site with a tool like Screaming Frog and generate one from there or rely on a plugin such as Yoast which provides a sitemap optimised for SEO.
You should then ensure that this sitemap is uploaded to the relevant Search Console property. This will then allow Google to flag any issues that they have with your sitemap and for amendments to be made accordingly.
Pages that offer little value to users will struggle to rank on the SERPs for their target search terms. Thin content was targeted by Google’s Panda algorithm update in 2011, and continues to be it’s arch-nemesis to this day. The update caused huge shock waves in the search industry and kick-started Google’s vendetta on thin content.
What is thin content? It is content that fails to provide a solution to the user’s query, often with large amounts of text. The days of hitting a certain word count or keyword density are long gone. Just because a page has a high word count does not mean that it is delivering value to the user. As such, thin content is essentially content without meaning.
The fix? Ensure that all content on the page is valuable and relevant. When publishing content, ask yourself, “If I were my user, would this page answer my query wholly and completely? If not, does it point me to a place that can?”. Keep abreast of trends in your marketplace and keep the relevant pages up to date in line with changes in your industry.
If you find yourself unable to improve on thin content, the likelihood is that it’s not content worth having. Remove the page from your site and ensure that you properly and cleanly 301 redirect any pages linking to the page to an appropriate resource.
Check for hreflang issues
This will only likely apply to sites with international versions (i.e. you can switch between languages and/or currencies or have multiple subdomains/subfolders). If you do have an international site, checking for hreflang errors can be very valuable to your SEO as a whole.
You will largely be looking for incorrect hreflang tags within your html, where the country code does not match the correct URL. For example, a page with a French language code should have an hreflang tag that looks like this <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=”http://fr.example.com” /> assuming you have a French subdomain. The most common errors are with the URL part not being changed, or the country code not matching the URL. You may also encounter errors if you automatically applying hreflang tags to every page, regardless of whether the page in another language exists. Only include tags to pages that exist and are relevant.
You can check your hreflang tag issues through Search Console under ‘international targeting’. There are also a number of online tools (including Screaming Frog) that allow you to audit your hreflang tags.
Check for canonical URL issues
Related closely to the hreflang error above which uses the ‘rel=’ attribute, your canonical tags should of course point towards the page you wish to indicate as the ‘preferred’ URL for Google to index. Things you want to look out for are usually obvious, starting with simply the canonical URL being the wrong URL. Others include having dynamic URL parameters that aren’t supposed to be there (defeating the object of using canonicals) or simply not having canonical tags at all.
Faceted Navigation & Dynamic URLs
Errors here usually revolve around dynamic URLs not returning their respective HTTP response headers and unique page titles (where appropriate). The use of dynamic URLs is common now, particularly with many sites using “web app” frameworks. The issues arise when dynamic parameters change page content for the user, but do not return new http headers or other important page data such as page titles. If the content is completely unique to the user, these should be returned. On the other hand, if the dynamic parameters are merely filtering the content (such as an ecommerce store) then using canonicals to point to the original, unfiltered content will do the trick, allowing users to have an almost unlimited amount of filtering options, whilst Google indexes the most logical place for them to land from the SERPs.
Schema data can be one of the best ways to enable a website to create a more rich experience for searchers, and having your content pulled through to search results encourages engagement and positions you as an authoritative body. Schema data can be checked for errors using the structured data testing tool from Google which will show you incorrectly implemented schema data. This allows you to understand where data requirements are missing, and either edit your current schema or site templates to reflect a complete set of structured data.
Conducting a site audit thoroughly is no small task, and it’s a wasted exercise if not done properly. Whilst there are elements of a site audit that can be completed after some light research, we’d always recommend hiring an agency like Yellowball to help with the technical side of a site audit to make sure that you’re really getting the most out of an audit and to ensure that all audit activities will keep you out of harm’s way from Google’s Manual Actions.
Duplicate Content & Keyword Cannibalisation
As a website grows it often runs into issues relating to duplicate content and keyword cannibalisation. This can be due to a number of reasons: excessive amounts of widgets being used, multiple teams working on the website, lack of clear content strategy or perhaps PPC landing pages that have been created but have not been no indexed.
Duplicate content issues are relatively straightforward to amend. Take a crawl of your website or analyse how your widgets are being used to understand if the same content is being used across multiple pages.
Keyword cannibalisation is slightly different. A really good way to understand if pages are being cannibalised is to check if your intended page is being ranked for its intended keywords. It’s a clear red flag when a blog post starts to outrank a page due to the amount of valuable content on it. It may also call into question your target keywords because a blog post is more likely to rank for informational searches compared with transactional style searches.
Nevertheless, auditing your site whilst taking into account duplicate content or keyword cannibalisation can unearth deeper issues. Whilst this can be frustrating, it’s worth getting to grips with these issues as solving them will result in better long term growth!
More often than not, an SEO audit will refer to more technical aspects of a website and for good reason. We’ve always been of the mindset that your technical SEO and onsite optimisation represent the foundations for a campaign. Without these parts in place, you are somewhat wasting future investment of time and resources.
Don’t forget to audit your page content though, especially on critical landing pages. Are you providing the best solution for a searcher’s query? Does the content need to be updated due to changes in the market? Was the content laid out in the correct priority order?
We strongly suggest that you revisit your page content as part of auditing your website. You may find that you have omitted key information, or that key sentences do not read correctly and may be affecting your conversion rate. We’re sure that you’ll find ways to improve your content and therefore your ability to rank!