There are more than 1.5 billion websites on the Internet, and roughly 200 million sites are considered active.
That’s a lot of competition.
If you want to improve your search rankings, grow your organic traffic, and beat your competitors, then your first step would be to see do an SEO audit.
An SEO audit identifies all factors that can compromise the success of your SEO campaigns and hurt your chances of improving your Google search rankings.
Think of it this way. If you want your website to appear on Google’s first page for your priority keywords, then you need to know how your site and top posts are doing right now.
You need to make sure you’re targeting the right keywords.
An SEO audit is a must before you launch an SEO campaign. Then, do it every few months so you can spot errors regularly. This way, you can fix the errors before they can cost you tons of traffic.
Below is a 12-step SEO audit checklist and tools you can use.
1. Set your SEO objectives
The first thing you need to do is to get clear about two things:
a. What keywords am I targeting?
b. Are they the right keywords for me?
On the surface, it may make sense to go after keywords with the highest search volumes. But note that these are also the most competitive. It will be very difficult for newer websites to rank on Google, especially if your priority keywords are showing well-known sites on page 1.
Instead of competing head-on with established players for single keywords, identify long-tail keywords that have good search results, or those your site already rank for.
Don’t just go for 1 or 2, but don’t go overboard and target 1,000 long-tail keywords either.
See how much resources you have, then decide if it’s best to go for 10 core keywords or more.
2. Get Google to Crawl your Website
Crawling is Google’s way of finding new pages on your website. If you’ve recently made changes on your site, then it’s a good idea to ask Google to recrawl it.
But why is crawling important?
Crawling allows your site to be indexed by search engines, so it can appear in organic search results. Because organic search accounts for a third to a half of websites’ traffic, you need to make sure Google’s spiders have indexed your site and any recent changes you’ve made.
You can either wait for Google to automatically crawl or recrawl your site (which can take days or weeks), or you can request it to crawl your site (which we recommend).
To do so, you can submit individual URLs or a sitemap to Google.
3. Fix indexing problems
There are two things to watch out for. First, make sure Google indexes only one version of your site. Second, find pages that you want search engines to index but they are not indexing.
If Google is indexing several versions of your website:
Decide which version you want to use, and then 301 redirect the other sites to your preferred version.
To finding pages Google isn’t indexing:
Open Google Search Console, and go to “Index Coverage.”
4. Enhance user experience
There are two ways to improve your site’s UX: boost your site speed and make your site mobile-friendly.
Boosting site speed
In 2010, Google included site loading speed among 200 factors determining search ranking. But this is not the only reason why you should care about your site’s speed.
Studies show that half of users tend to abandon a page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
This means that even if 10,000 users find your page through organic search, you lose 5,000 of them if you can’t show them what they want within 3 seconds.
That’s a lot of lost traffic.
To check your site’s loading time in different countries, you can use the tools and tips listed here.
Then, check for issues that may be slowing down your loading speed. Here are a few more tips.
a. You can use PageSpeed Insights to spot HTML errors.
b. Compress photos using image optimizer tools.
c. Find the right web hosting package for your site.
Today, roughly 50% of search traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. As such, website owners need to make sure that their pages are mobile-friendly.
Mobile optimization is all about ensuring that your site and its pages–including landing pages and ads–can be easily viewed in smaller screens. If your products or services include mobile apps, you need to make sure that these have been optimized for mobile devices.
To check whether your pages are mobile-friendly, you can use a free Google tool.
If you have slightly different website versions for desktop and mobile, know that Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in 2018. This means that Google indexes your site’s mobile version and uses it for ranking purposes.
5. Fix structured data errors
There are lots of benefits to fixing structured data errors. You can help search engines better understand your content. You can also improve your chances of appearing in Google’s rich snippets, and help users find the answers they’re looking for.
To spot structured data errors, go to Google Search Console > Search Appearances > Structured Data. Then go through each error and apply the tips listed on this site.
6. Refine your meta title and meta descriptions
In organic search results, the first thing users see are your meta titles and meta descriptions. Here are a few tips to improve your titles and descriptions:
7. Check your Organic Traffic
As mentioned above, organic search generates more than 30% of your site’s traffic–and you didn’t have to spend a penny to get it.
To check organic traffic, go to Google Analytics > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search.
To check your organic traffic’s trend, set the dates to the last several months. This will help you see whether your organic search is going up, or it’s starting to plummet and it’s time for you to do something about it.
8. Use your Google Search Console Coverage Report
Your Google Search Console report will reveal pages with warnings (in yellow) and errors (in red).
Resolve the errors first before addressing the warnings. Errors may include redirect errors, sites that could not be found, and pages that were marked as “noindex” but appear in your sitemap.
9. Conduct Keyword Analysis
There are several tools you can use to generate keyword ideas and see how competitive these words are. Among these are Ahrefs, Google Keyword Planner, Google Autocomplete, and Ubersuggest. You can also install Keywords Everywhere’s Chrome or FireFox extension.
You also need to track your selected keywords. You can even use SEMrush to identify which keywords you are already ranking for so you can build on your strengths.
10. Conduct Competitor Analysis
Sites like SEMrush or Ahrefs can help you identify keywords your competitors are already ranking for. With the right SEO strategy, you can improve your rankings for these too.
11. Improve Content & On-Page SEO
Now that you have identified your priority keywords and completed a competitor analysis, identify your most important pages or posts. These can be posts that are already ranking well in search results, but can use a little boost to make it for the top five.
Then optimize these pages by including your target keywords, especially long-tail keywords, in the first few paragraphs. Then see if you can improve your meta tags and meta descriptions.
Incorporate external and internal links to your article. You can also shift to a long-form article, as these are proven to generate more traffic, and use images, videos, and other engaging content.
Make your content more informative and user-friendly, so users will visit AND stay on your site longer.
Aside from improving your site’s content, make sure to remove poorly written articles, as these can compromise your site’s credibility when users click on it.
12. Analyze Link Structures (internal and broken links)
As mentioned above, one way to improve content is to add internal links. Make sure that you are linking to your high-priority pages.
Use Google Search Console’s Index report to check broken links as well, and to address these ASAP to keep users within your website for as long as possible.
As you can see, while improving your site’s SEO may seem like a daunting task, there are concrete and simple steps you can take to ensure that you’re on the right path towards better rankings. Start with these simple tips and as you get more accustomed to the best SEO practices, you can find the right ones that work best for you.