03 Jun 2015

14 Steps to Complete an Onsite SEO Audit

SEOs the world wide conduct onsite audits every day, examining core technical elements responsible for helping drive traffic from search engines. Common best practices are available for savvy DIY business owners but subjectivity abounds when it comes to SEO. SEOs and business owners alike are often confused as to what to do, how to prioritize and where to go.

This how-to onsite audit article should help individuals perform technical SEO audits, identifying the core areas of their site in need of improvement. There’s no right or wrong way to perform an audit, but these are our expert recommendations on how to perform an effective one. Others will have methods that go farther in depth, but ours should encompass the best high level audit topics and best practice elements important for SEO.

1. Observe

The most essential step in an onsite audit is capturing the right data. Observing trends is the ultimate task for an SEO, finding meaning in a pile of numbers. There’s certainly no one-size-fit-all tool. Here at Vertical Measures we use a variety of tools to tell the entire story of a site’s SEO health.

Several tools exist, and these are the ones that we use for audits:

1. Site Crawl: Screaming Frog or Zenu Link Slueth

  • Crawl your website as a bot would and discover areas of opportunity by combing through data about URLs, images, CSS, script and apps.

2. Webmaster Tools: Google & Bing

  • Examine website data directly from the source: search engines. Some search engines provide webmasters with data that is extremely useful to discovering optimization opportunities. Google Webmasters Tools is now known as the Google Search Console.

3. Website Analytics: Google or equivalent

  • Understand where your visitors go when they get on your site, how they convert into customers or leads, and what led them to your site in the first place.
Google Branding Logo

4. Backlinks: Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO & ahrefs

  • Examine who is linking to you, the quality of their sites and their relevancy as it relates to co-citation and co-occurrence.

5. Keyword Data: SEMRush & Authority Labs

  • Understand where your site is ranking, observe competitor’s best keywords, note position changes of domains and discover new organic competitors by examining who is already ranking for your keyword phrases today.
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2. Accessibility

Search engines must have access to your site in order to crawl, index and serve up your valuable content to searchers. Ensuring the ease of accessibility is an often overlooked area of SEO. Make it as easy as possible for a search engine’s bot to access your site! As the search landscape evolves, this is one area of importance for every website.

Important elements during this step include: search engine friendly URLs, page load speed performance, external Javascript and CSS, alt text, testing flash elements, examining 404 pages/redirects/500 errors, infinite scroll and malware.


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3. Indexing

Once search engines find your pages, they must then be able to index and understand them properly. Using metadata web indexing, search engines crawl the web and store your website’s information. Many scientific principles are used, incorporating mathematics and even psychology, to fully index the entire web.

Index design incorporates interdisciplinary concepts from cognitive psychology, math, linguistics and computer science. Popular search engines focus on the full-text indexing of online, natural language documents.

Important elements during this step include: pages indexed, crawl issues, mirror sites, XML sitemap, robots.txt and conversion pages no-indexed.

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4. Architecture

Creating a website that is easily navigated by your web visitors starts with the right architecture. But technical & information architecture on a site is more than just navigation. From an SEO perspective, architecture is important for helping to spread authority throughout your site and aids in step 2 & 3 (accessibility & indexing). Additionally, architecture helps to show the relationships among content, showing that your pages and content are connected in meaningful ways.
Your most important pages should be easy to find, ideally within a few clicks of the homepage, and organized in a succinct and logical way – for search engines and users alike.

Important elements during this step include: category & subcategory setup, breadcrumbs, organic landing pages close to the homepage, navigation options, category link to sub-category, sub-category link to product pages.

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5. Links

Although links have received a bad reputation in recent years, they are still arguably one of the most important elements to successful SEO. Links can be extremely dangerous for your site if acquired through suspicious means. During an onsite audit, backlinks should always be examined. Although offsite, backlinks contribute to a search engines understanding of your site. Anchor text, signals from the site, co-citation and c0-occurrence are all impacted by those blue hyperlinks.

Important elements during this step include: inbound link acquisition rate, ratio of homepage to deep links, evidence of link buying, most linked to pages, internal linking structure, broken links, html sitemap, logo – link to homepage & canonical setup, and quality of outbound links.

Link Reconsideration Request
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6. On Page

An onsite SEO technical audit isn’t complete without a thorough review of on page technical elements important for SEO best practices. These elements are the backbone of your site, aiding search engines in determining what keywords to associate you with, what assets to crawl and what elements indicate spam. Unintentionally, best practices are often missed. With a thorough examination of on page elements you can uncover a number of them and work to implement processes and procedures of prevention.

Important elements during this step include: image optimization, image search, meta titles, meta description, meta keywords not spammy, call to actions, ads above the fold, keyword stuffing and over optimization signals.

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7. Content

Algorithm updates such as Panda have made examining content an important undertaking during a technical SEO audit. Cannibalizing your own content, unintentional duplicate content and improper use of rel=canonical are common onsite issues to identify and fix. Implementing a quick rel=canonical and properly mapping your keywords and pages is an exercise that can result in better rankings for example. Or more importantly, help reduce confusion by search engines as to what your content is all about!

Important elements during this step include: proper pagination, duplicate content, canonical mapped, HTTPs, “/” check for duplicates, examine for unique product descriptions, rich snippets, content quality, noindex category & tag pages, RSS feed.

Matt Cutts on Duplicate Content
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8. Keywords

Understanding the keywords that search engines currently identify your site with, their position and the quality of such are another element of a technical audit. Monitoring rankings on a daily basis is an outdated practice, but having a thorough understanding of where your site as a whole ranks is not. We examine keywords and search engine results pages (SERPs) for inconsistencies, problems and opportunity. We look for “blue ocean” opportunities, keyword areas where competitors haven’t ventured quite yet.

Important elements during this step include: examining keyword rankings, looking at organic not provided traffic, rankings compared to competitors, landing pages for branded search and site search.

“If you’re ranking number one, that guarantees about 18%, 19% of your traffic. But then if the SERP has a lot ads, it has a lot of photos in it, the ads on the side, a number one or two ranking might be less meaningful.”
-Cyrus Shepard

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9. Analytics

When visitors are on your site, where do they go? Are visitors coming to the right pages? This might not seem like an SEO activity, but usability is an important element of SEO. These questions and more should be answered while reviewing your web analytics program. Depending on the reports available, there are many important areas to examine such as high bounce pages, high exit pages and more!

Important elements during this step include: traffic inconsistencies, conversion tracking, code on all pages, site search, annotations, linked adwords, linked WMT, filters, channel distribution, referral traffic from links and eCommerce tracking setup.

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10. Ecommerce/Conversions

The fruits of your marketing labor can be seen by examining conversion data. For an onsite technical audit, examining return on your marketing dollars is often seen when examining these conversions. B2B and B2C alike each have definitions of what a conversion is to them and if set up properly, those conversions can be examined using a web analytics system. From an SEO perspective, the end goal is to improve not only search traffic but have those users turn into customers. During an audit we examine several elements, including conversions, to showcase the full website performance picture.

Important elements during this step include: shopping feeds with images included, feeds updated regularly, unique product copy, cyclicality, conversions and canonical usage.

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11. International

Traffic can come from all over the globe, not just the home country for many websites. If you serve up content in other languages or cater to customers in other countries, an onsite audit should include an international examination. Search engines have made it easier in recent years to handle international SEO in the best possible way, while avoiding duplicate content issues – common for translated pages in multiple languages.

Important elements during this step include: hreflang tag, URL international version, WMT geo setup correctly and geo backlinks.

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12. Semantic Markup

Reinforcing the meaning of a page can be done through semantic markup, which is HTML specifically used to tag elements and identify their meaning. This helps web browsers and search engines alike discover the true meaning of a page. From an SEO perspective we examine the semantic markup of a website and utilize best practices to reinforce semantic meaning on a page.

Additionally, markup can provide Google with information allowing them to show things like answer boxes. Answer boxes tell visitors the answer to their query direct from the search result, you’ll often see these for “How-To” queries. It occupies large real estate in the search results, valuable for obtaining clicks but equally important for search engines to understand your content better.

Important elements during this step include: use of structured data, rich snippet worthy content, markup validated, microdata.

“According to SearchEngineLand.com 25% of Google searches result in a knowledge graph answer box seen here.”

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13. Video

Video is often an important element on websites today. Video functions as entertainment and information, aiding in selling a product or educating a prospect. Specific optimization best practices exist to ensure search engines understand video content. Although search engines are becoming more savvy every day, they still struggle with really understanding what a video contains, what it’s about and exactly what is shown via video. These SEO elements are important to understanding its meaning, affecting rankings of video content and landing pages with video.

Important elements during this step include: video rich snippets, video optimization, video sitemap, video embeds, video tagging, video annotations, transcript, video CNAME alias and share buttons.

Amount of Uploaded YouTube Video
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14. Local Strategy

The last step to any great audit is to identify branding and local opportunities. Conducting searches for your brand, understanding how your local results show up in search, finding local opportunities and submitting to news feeds are key areas of this step of the audit. Even if you’re not a brick and mortar location, you can still benefit from local optimization.

Important elements during this step include: local citations, NAP consistency, Google News Feed, local reviews and relevant local associations/partnerships.

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There you have it, the 14 essential steps to completing an onsite audit. You’ve seen all the elements important for conducting a thorough audit on your site. Whether you’re a small business or a large one, these tips can help you dive deeply into understanding your site a bit better. Have an important step to add that we missed? Share with us in the comments below!

1 Comment

  • Tech Studio Jun 04, 2015

    thank you. i read articles from an seo news feed every day and see countless breakdowns. this one is brilliant in its brevity and yet detailed enough to be extremely helpful. this one is going to be printed and stapled to my office wall long with Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. :)