Complete SEO Audit Guide to Boost Your Google Rankings
The aim of this guide is to give you the tools necessary to stand up to the Google algorithm. It’s a bit like David Vs Goliath, but with a bit of perseverance and hard work, you can get good results that make it all worthwhile.
With a list as comprehensive as this one, there are bound to be items that for whatever reason you can’t complete. Don’t worry, though. It’s not about achieving perfection, rather you need to complete as many as possible. If you get 90% or more then you’re doing well. After that if the quality of your content – writing, video or graphics – is up to the job your rankings are bound to increase over time.
Another important point is that SEO isn’t an overnight success, it’s more of a slow burn. The Big G takes time to test your web pages against your rivals and only when it’s happy with where to place you in the rankings will you get a settled result.
Quick-Link to all Headings
- So How Does Google Rank Your Web Pages?
- Google has Over 200 Ranking Factors in its Algorithm
- XML Sitemap – Help Googlebot Crawl Your Page Correctly
- Copied Content – Does Your Website Have any?
- Does Your Website Have any Duplicate Content?
- How Many Total Backlinks Does Your Site Have?
- Broken Links (Outbound and Internal)
- Anchor Text – are You Implementing it Correctly?
- How Fast is Your Website?
- What are the Benefits of Cloud Hosting?
- How to Speed up a Slow Website
- How to Check Your Website Speed
- Is Your Website a Mobile Friendly Design?
- What is AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages?
- Do You Have a Responsive Website?
- Google Search Console
- Google Optimize
- High Quality Multimedia Content
- Does the Website Show up for Brand Name?
- Are the Brand Name Results Positive?
- How to Deal With Index Bloat
- Install Google Analytics
- Is the Website W3C Compliant?
- Does the Website use Adobe Flash?
- Are iFrames Used on the Website?
- Inline Styling of CSS
- Does the Site use Deprecated HTML Tags?
- Does the Website Have an SSL Certificate?
- Have the Web Pages got the Correct Metadata and Titles?
- High Quality User Experience
- Summary of Your WordPress or HTML Website Audit
So How Does Google Rank Your Web Pages?
It’s easy to tell that Google is shuffling your new pages around by using Google Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools. All you need to do is look at a search term; let’s say ‘how to bake bread.’ That has 2900 searches a month here in the UK. If you have a page that is targeting this search query and it gets 15 impressions and then 1 click. You know that for roughly 2885 searches your page wasn’t even included. Why? Well all I can think of is that Google must have been testing other pages in its place.
Essentially you’re page is getting shuffled like a deck of cards, but the pack is thousands deep.
Anywhere from 3 months to a year later Google should know where your page should sit in the search engine results page or SERPs for short. There are, of course, pages that rank almost immediately either because of low competition or your website has a high domain authority and page authority – DA and PA in the search world.
Both DA and PA are scored out of a 100 and it’s logarithmic, which means that the higher you score the harder it gets to improve. For example, 1 – 10 isn’t the same as 70 – 80. It’s not equally divided like 1% of 100 is.
Google has Over 200 Ranking Factors in its Algorithm
There are supposed to be over 200 Google ranking factors, but the main ones are:
- Quality of your content.
- Length of content – thin articles are no longer acceptable.
- The amount of linking domains.
- Page speed – is it mobile friendly and responsive.
- Domain authority and page authority.
- HTTPS – Google likes safe and secure sites.
- User experience – Google RankBrain – bounce rate, dwell time, etc.
- Location is important for local SEO and Google maps.
- Brand power and social signals.
- Technical SEO – optimised code, compressed images, etc.
XML Site Map – Help Googlebot Crawl Your Page Correctly
By placing a formatted xml file with site map on your webserver, you enable Search Engine crawlers (like Google) to find out what pages are present and which have recently changed, and to crawl your site accordingly.
A site map is a way of organizing a website, identifying the URLs and the data under each section. Previously, the sitemaps were primarily geared for the users of the website. However, Google’s XML format was designed for the search engines, allowing them to find the data faster and more efficiently.
Though not as popular nowadays as they once were, user site maps are still useful if you have a large site with many hard to find pages. You can add one in the footer if you want to include a discreet link to a list of your pages.
Yoast SEO plugin also helps you generate XML site maps if you set it up correctly. It doesn’t do this automatically so make sure you go over the setting-up procedure to ensure it is working correctly.
- XML Sitemaps.com – follow this link to create your own site map.
- Create seperate site maps for users and search engines.
- XML Sitemaps also have an SEO Tools Page.
- XML Sitemap Validator Tool.
- Search Engine Bot Simulator Tool.
- HTTP Headers Viewer Tool.
Copied Content – Does Your Website Have any?
Google doesn’t like copied content, for obvious reasons. It’s hard to tell which is the original version. This has the knock-on effect of Google doesn’t then know which page should be ranking priority, which leads to trust issues, among other things.
It isn’t hard to avoid this issue if you either write your own content or use trusted sources.
Websites that sell content like iWriter check all their documents on Copyscape, which is a plagiarism checker.
Copyscape is great for checking one off documents, but it would be tedious for a full website. For that you need to use Siteliner and there is a free or premium version. For most people the free version is all you need.
Siteliner has some great features that give you a deep insight into your website and other peoples. The statistics will probably surprise you at first, but it’s all good to know, even if in reality you don’t actually need to know everything they tell you.
Does Your Website Have any Duplicate Content?
Similar to copied content, duplicate content isn’t good for your search engine rankings. In the same way Google can’t decide what to do with copied content, Google has exactly the same dilemma with duplicate content.
While copied content can happen accidentally, due to things like printer friendly websites creating two versions of the same page, it’s best to be proactive and check if your website has any duplicate pages. You can use Siteliner for both copied and duplicate content, so you only have to run your website through the checker once and your results will be clarify what steps you need to take next.
I’ll be honest, I run a couple of websites through and it said there was a small percentage of duplicate content. I think this is just how the code calculates things, because I wrote all the articles myself and didn’t copy and paste anything.
From what I can gather nearly all websites will show some duplicate and maybe some copied content in the results. My website doesn’t even have the actual pages that it is saying have copied content. It’s just the archive pages that show the posts and Siteliner is classing these as duplicate content.
How Many Total Backlinks Does Your Site Have?
We can split this one up into three smaller sections:
- Total number of backlinks pointing to your website.
- Total number of linking root domains pointing to your website.
- Total number of organic keywords your website ranks for.
So the million dollar question is – how do we find out the total number of links?
You can use Mozbar. Some items are free, with others you get a 30-day trial. Like most professional software you have to pay for the best products unfortunately.
There are plenty of SEO friendly websites that will give you that much information you don’t know what to do with it all. To name just a few:
- Moz – SEO Software, Tools.
- Ahrefs Competitor Research.
- Semrush – All-in-one Marketing Toolkit. 3 free goes per day.
- Majestic – Marketing Search Engine and SEO Backlink Checker.
- Screaming Frog – SEO Spider is a desktop website crawler. Free up to 500 URL limit.
Broken Links (Outbound and Internal)
If you have broken outbound links this can impact on user experience. The good news is that you won’t be losing any link juice. The same applies to broken internal links, but you are at risk of your link juice being interrupted, which isn’t good. You want your link juice to flow from page to page otherwise the page being linked to will miss out on some link juice or power.
You can use a broken link checker plugin or alternatively Yoast, which is the most popular SEO plugin has an in-built link checking tool that will notify you of any broken links.
During the website audit it might turn up that you are being linked to by a domain with a less than handsome reputation. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot you can do other than write a nice email to the other website, but if they’re dodgy then they might not be the best listeners.
If this is the case then you can use Google’s disavow tool in Google Search Console. Google says that this alone isn’t enough, but at least it will ensure that your position in the search results isn’t affected as badly.
This isn’t likely to be a common situation, unless you’ve bought a domain that had previous owners of questionable integrity. They might have had dealings with other spammy sites, so be aware of these things if you are buying a second-hand website or even an expired domain name.
Way Back Machine is a great free tool to check on the history of any website, if you want to be cautious before purchasing a new domain.
Anchor Text – are You Implementing it Correctly?
For it to be effective, you need a low percentage of keyword rich anchor text. Conversely a high percentage will arouse the suspicion of Google, as they may think you are up to something spammy.
Don’t go overboard and over optimise your content, because that may lead to a Google penalty. Instead you want your anchor text to flow naturally throughout your content. Keep it on point and relative to the story you are telling and you’ll be fine. Keep a wide variety of keywords and internal and external links, which helps make it appear authentic to Google.
If you have too many inbound links all with the same keyword phrase then that will smell fishy to Google. This goes for Alt text as well when you are filling in image information.
You can say, as a general rule of thumb, if it sounds and looks dodgy to you then you can assume it looks that way to Google. It’s a bit like when someone asks you to smile for a photograph – when you try too hard it looks false. In a similar way that is what happens when you stuff a web page with keywords and exact-match anchor text time and time again.
While you have ultimate control over internal anchor text from one web page to another, you don’t have the same power when it comes to inbound anchor text from another website. If you feel someone is linking to you too much you can try and speak to them, but realistically this is an unlikely scenario. You’re more likely to have too few links from other people.
How Fast is Your Website?
There are countless studies that show time and again that slow websites turn away impatient surfers. According to one survey by Google if a mobile website takes over 3 seconds to load over 53% of people will abandon it, yet the average mobile site takes 22 seconds to load. So if over half have gone at the 3 second stage, I can only assume that there will be about 10% or less left when the page is fully loaded. Not good at all.
Here’s the report: mobile page speed new industry benchmarks.
What are the Benefits of Cloud Hosting?
If you want to speed up your website one of the best things you can do is upgrade your hosting. If you’re on a shared server then whenever it gets busy you will get bogged down with the rest of the traffic. By upgrading to cloud hosting, which is the most realistic for a small business or private website because a dedicated server is really expensive, you will get a significant speed boost over shared.
Cloud hosting uses three servers so when one gets overloaded your traffic switches to the second or third server. This also has increased security benefits also.
There are far too many reasons why your website might be slow to discuss here; we need another blog post for that, but some of the main points are:
- Large image sizes. (one png file can be 12 x the size of an optimised jpg file, yet will look identical to the naked eye.)
- Poorly written code.
- Slow server/hosting.
- Too many plugins.
How to Speed Up a Slow Website
Some of the most popular ways to increase website download speed and decrease loading times are:
- Use a caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache.
- Optimise images/use correct image sizes – saves the computer resizing them on the fly.
- Use a CDN – content delivery network – such as StackPath (previously Max CDN.)
- Use Cloudflare, similar to a CDN, but with increased security and offer a free account.
How to Check Your Website Speed
There are some really good website speed checkers available and the free versions are good enough for most people. You can opt for the paid formats, but honestly I can’t imagine why you would need to measure the speed of your website every minute! Some people must sign up to it otherwise they wouldn’t offer the service, but it seems a bit much to me.
I tend to use Pingdom and GT Metrix as my two main resources, but there are some others. Have a look and see which ones you prefer.
There are others out there you can use, but seriously the 5 above are the most popular in their field.
Although most gurus recommend to ensure your website loads within 3 seconds, due to all the factors involved, it is nigh on impossible to get that all the time. You can spend a lot of money chasing that extra second or so, but what you spend is only worth it if your website is making you money in the first place.
If your blog is just a resource for people to read and take notes, without any form of merchandising then you shouldn’t panic over a second or so, but if you are using your website for business then by all means take the downloading time very seriously indeed.
Is Your Website a Mobile Friendly Design?
A mobile-friendly website design is one that doesn’t change regardless of whether you are using a desktop, tablet or smartphone. The benefits of this method are that the user only has one format to get used to. The features will be exactly the same even if they use different devices to log on to you website, which is obviously a benefit for the end user.
Primary features of a mobile-friendly website design include:
- Simple site structure, especially the navigation bar.
- Static content that stays the same across all devices.
- Images are resized accordingly to suit each device.
- Mobile-friendly sites don’t rely on a mobile operating system to work.
- Renders exactly the same on all devices.
There are tools you can use to check how mobile friendly your website is:
What is AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages?
AMP is an open source project that is promoted by the likes of Google to help make download speed immediate for mobile devices. The web pages themselves don’t have lots of heavy content that takes a long time to render. It also has a bad record with advertises, as it is said that it can heavily impact your advertising earnings.
Of course one of the last things to load on any web page are adverts, hence the reason why the AMP protocol tries to reduce them somewhat. It seems that there is a misunderstanding with AMP and advertising; it’s most likely that people are seeing their regular ads been removed from their AMP pages, when what they need to do is apply a second set of adverts specifically designed using AMPHTML.
When people are used to sailing along comfortably, any new technology is disruptive in the sense that it causes conflict until people acclimatise and learn how to implement it effectively.
Do You Have a Responsive Website?
Responsive design isn’t exactly the same as mobile-friendly. A responsive design will change according to the device you are using. It will perhaps show things on the desktop version that aren’t possible on the mobile version. If the website has some highly technical features, once the browser is reduced some of them may no longer be visible.
The easiest way to check if your website uses a responsive layout is to resize your browser window on desktop; as you reduce the window size, you’ll see the changes take effect.
I use Themify’s Ultra theme, which has their builder integrated into the theme. It gives you visibility options when you’re designing mobile responsive sites. If you want to read more about the Themify Builder you can get it as a plugin as well as with each theme.
Primary features of a responsive website design are:
- Dynamic content changes, as window size is reduced.
- Images are optimised effectively.
- Correct padding, spacing and margin use.
- Reliant on mobile operating system to work properly.
- Renders well across all platforms.
As of July 2018, almost 53% of Internet users logon using mobile Vs 43% on desktop, which goes to show how important it is that you have a website that functions across all platforms.
There are a few different resources out there for you to check if your website is responsive. We recommend the following:
If you use mobiReady you will get a report that goes into great detail what is good and bad about your website. You shouldn’t aim for a perfect score, because quite often these testing tools are only someone’s opinion of what is good and bad. Yes, they are made by highly intelligent software engineers, but often they can lag behind actual best industry practices.
This is simply because there might be a lot of coding to do to update the software, plus not all browsers and operating systems implement new features at the same time.
Google Search Console
If you own a website and are serious about SEO then it’s a must that you are signed up to Google Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools.
For those of you using WordPress, the best way to connect your website is to use Yoast SEO plugin, as it has numerous features to help you synchronise with Google Search Console.
The most useful features of GSC are:
- Check site index status.
- Search analytics.
- HTML improvements.
- Crawl errors.
- Fetch as Google.
- Sitemaps and Robots.txt tester.
An index status is a must to see if you’re in Google’s system, because if you’re not then you won’t be showing up in the SERPs anytime soon.
Search Analytics helps you by telling you what search queries people are using to find your website. It gives you a great insight into what keywords you are already ranking for and what others you should be aiming for.
HTML improvement suggestions with regards to metadata and identical content, etc. You need to pay attention to this section and implement as many of the items as possible.
Googlebot needs access to your website and any problems will show up in the crawl error report. It will also tell you if there are any issues with sitemaps and Robots.txt.
If you have a site that isn’t being crawled or is problematic, when you’ve made the necessary adjustments you can then Fetch as Google. This will try and render the web page and hopefully acknowledge that the problem is no longer existent.
Sitemaps are essential for Googlebot to crawl your website along with Robots.txt file, which tells Google what pages you actually want Googlebot to crawl. All of these things go towards helping Google analyse and understand your website better, which is hugely important if you expect to rank at the top of the search results.
Search Console will show you any warnings or manual actions – Google penalties – that you website has incurred. These are naturally a high priority and you should fix them as soon as possible.
While we’re talking about Google, they have just come out with a new system to A/B test your web pages for best interaction. While not directly an SEO tool, the better your web pages perform, with longer dwell time, etc, the greater the chance of Google ranking your web pages higher.
You can sign up for free to start off with. Google are usually pretty generous relative to other companies – like Apple for instance. You can use a lot of their paid stuff for free permanently if you don’t use the free credit they give you.
Check it out at the link below.
High Quality Multimedia Content
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll be aware just how important having attractive content is towards successful rankings. Embedded video isn’t essential, but it is a great way to give you blog posts a boost, along with images and a word count of at least 2000 words. That’s the average word count for posts ranking in the number 1 spot on Google.
It doesn’t mean that if you write 2000 words you’ll get to number one, because quality and relevancy are hugely important.
Also if you are writing on a subject that doesn’t need a lengthy explanation then don’t fluff out your blog posts just for the sake of it. That will weaken your content. Instead aim for a mix of post lengths, with some only 500 words and others, such as pillar content up to 5000 words or more. Like anything else, it all depends on what the topic is and what type of explanation your readers are looking for.
You can implement rich cards and schema markup to enhance your websites click through rate.
Search results are different today than they were five or ten years ago. For example now we have:
- Snippet box at the top, often with a short answer.
- Basic results – plain blue text.
- Rich results – including ‘breadcrumbs‘ and other schema markup.
- Enriched search results – often more interactive and detailed.
- Knowledge graph results – this is usually a compilation of information from several pages.
- Carousel – this is similar to an image slider and can contain things like recipes.
- For more information check out this Google Search Features page.
Does the Website Show up for Brand Name?
Even a brand new website that is very basic and hasn’t got any real content should come up number one when the company name is queried in the Google search engine.
If not then it’s most likely that there could be indexing issues, but it is something that needs to be quickly resolved.
They do the exact same thing for CSS and tell you exactly how many files both internally and externally you have. Well worth checking out.
Are the Brand Name Results Positive?
While it’s hard to remove bad content on other websites, apart form asking politely there isn’t a lot you can do. Instead the best way forward is to increase the positive results in the search engines. This way people are more likely to think that it’s just a couple of bad eggs causing trouble.
We all know that whatever the brand, there area always going to be haters and people out to make a name for themselves. That’s unfortunately a part of the modern world, not just the business world.
You could opt for a PR campaign that is aimed at garnering as much goodwill towards your company as possible. Do some charity work perhaps, not in a cynical way, but there are numerous options on offer all depending on the negativity towards the company. If it’s poor quality products that’s the issue, then why not do a survey to show otherwise?
How to Deal with Index Bloat
Search engines can often index pages that aren’t conducive to good rankings.
Typical things that can go wrong include:
- Thin content.
- Duplicate content.
- E-commerce stores are especially vulnerable to index bloat.
- Use Robots.txt file to disallow we pages.
- A scattered index can weaken your domain authority and it’s essential that you swiftly resolve any issues.
Dealing with index bloat needs a deeper explanation than what we can go into now, but the main point of doing a website SEO audit is to flag such things up and see what needs repairing.
Install Google Analytics
While not the same as Google Search Console, think of Google Analytics as its twin brother. You need them both if you have a website business that you take seriously.
Once installed you can keep track of the traffic to your website and keep an eye on any spikes both upwards and downward, as they could point to something either good or bad.
Is the Website W3C Compliant?
Here you can use the W3C HTML checker to see if there are any errors or warnings that you should be concerned with. While one or two might not make much of a difference to the overall performance of your site, it’s still good practice to check such things from time to time.
Does the Website use Adobe Flash?
Today’s websites have moved away from Flash for the following reasons. It was an essential technology in its day, but technology doesn’t sit still for now man, never mind for web protocols and computer code.
- It requires a Flash player.
- Historic security flaws, issues and bugs.
- Apple doesn’t support Flash on its mobile devices.
- Flash is inefficient – it’s resource heavy and slows devices down.
- Better solutions available, such as HTML5, which is seamless and modern.
Are iFrames Used on the Website?
While iFrames in themselves aren’t really a problem, there are two reasons why you should choose alternatives.
- Security concerns are valid, due to iFrames embedding code from other websites into your own web page.
- Anything with an iFrame can’t be indexed by Google.
- Google credits the site where the code was embedded from rather than the site where the code is displayed.
- iFrames – or inline frames – are superseded by HTML5.
When you run your website through a speed grader, such as Pingdom or Google Page Speed Insights, you’ll be marked down for render blocking resources, which as their name implies blocks the web page from fully rendering.
Quite often you will have to come to a compromise and reduce the amount of blocking assets that you have, but maybe still end up with one or two left over.
- Critical Path CSS Generator.
- Fast Velocity Minify.
- Autoptimize professional setup service.
It is said that minifying your Java and CSS can save approximately 10% and most websites implement it in some form or another. However, it can cause issues and you need to keep an eye on your website when turning on minification.
As long as everything is still working okay then you should utilise minification as it is definitely beneficial.
Also use Gzip compression in your caching plugins or on your content delivery network.
Inline Styling of CSS
There are advantages and disadvantages of using inline styles with CSS. The main thing to consider is that while inline styles are locally applied rather than globally, combined with the cascading priorities of CSS, you can end up changing something that you didn’t intent to alter. For this reason a lot of web developers prefer not to use inline styling on modern websites.
You can apply this reasoning to the website you are auditing and see if it is a problem or not. In all likelihood in the grand scheme of things, it probably isn’t something to lose sleep over. That being, said if you are going for outright website speed – which is always good for SEO – then inlining is best. AMP used inline CSS in the header for this reason.
Does the Site use Deprecated HTML Tags?
You can check if your website is using the old deprecated HTML Tags using the following resource.
- SEO Site Checkup – Deprecated HTML Tags.
Does the Website Have an SSL Certificate?
Google point out on their own Webmaster Central Blog the importance of having a valid SSL certificate. This is even more salient if you are the owner of an e-commerce store or any website that takes payments or holds other sensitive data that would be problematic if it got into the wrong hands.
Best practice for SSL includes:
- Is the SSL certificate valid?
- Does the non-secure version of the site https point to the secure https version?
- If no then divert the traffic using a 301 redirect.
- Does the website have any malware?
- Install a security plugin if not already installed.
Have the Web Pages got the Correct Metadata and Titles?
Things to look out for here are to keep things looking nice from a human perspective, but also to keep them right for Googlebot when it comes crawling down your phone wires.
We’d recommend keeping an eye on the following:
- Are there any duplicate titles?
- Pages with low word count – under 500 words?
- Are there any 404 errors?
- Titles too long and over 65 characters?
- Signs of keyword cannibalisation?
- Pages with missing meta descriptions?
- Web pages with duplicate meta descriptions?
- Meta descriptions less than 70 characters?
- Do the pages use meta keywords?
Some things like enticing copy in the metadata will encourage people to click on to your web page in the search results. Hence, it’s paramount that you do your best in this regard.
High Quality User Experience
Does the website perform well in the following areas? Do you need to remove jarring items or awkward looking graphics and images? Check your website for the following items and correct as many as possible.
- Do all pages and hyperlinks respond when clicked on? (Broken links).
- Are there any slow-loading images over 100kb?
- Are the images all cropped correctly – using uniform sizes for thumbnail, medium and large?
- Have you used compression on the images? Smush or alternative plugin. (Crop images beforehand.)
- Can you easily navigate the website?
- What about the mega menu? Is it intuitive?
- Are there any annoying or aggressive popups?
- Do the adverts look proportional to the content?
- Does the footer look neat and easy to understand?
- Is the website laid out correctly: header, footer, body, sidebar – pop out drawer?
- Are the permalinks easy to read rather than complex structure that includes numbers?
- Is the overall user experience enjoyable?
- Can you read the fonts, are the size and style appropriate?
- Are all the call to actions easy to understand and engaging?
- Can you click on all buttons and links? Are any links hidden or too small?
- Does anything stand out because it’s poorly designed? What needs to be improved upon?
Summary of Your WordPress or HTML Website Audit
Whenever you go looking for problems, it’s almost a given that you will find them. That’s why it’s best not to get too disappointed if you don’t score a perfect 100 on everything. You’ve got to be realistic. If the website performs well and your client and you are happy with it then the numbers and results are secondary.
The aim of the audit isn’t perfection, but rather to ensure that you have a website that is both productive and does itself justice without any glaring or embarrassing errors.
If it looks professional and is easy to use then that is more important than anything.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post. If you’ve got any suggestions that you’d like to add then by all means please get in touch via our contact form or alternatively leave a message below.
Meanwhile, good luck auditing your own websites and until next time, take care.