The Essential SEO Audit Checklist
A DIY checklist of SEO best practices for self-auditing your own website. Use this checklist to help give your business a healthy presence on search engines.
In the ever-changing world of SEO, it is important to regularly audit your website to ensure it is following SEO best practices and adhering to the Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Doing so will increase the likelihood of maintaining a healthy presence in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) and thus increasing organic traffic for your business.
QUICK FACT: Every year Google updates their algorithm several HUNDRED times, many with names like Penguin, Pigeon, or Panda – but even more with smaller changes that don’t have fun sounding “P” animal names. All of these changes take into effect how people are wrongly using the system, how technology is evolving, and how users are conducting searches.
Our Checklist to Ranking Better in Search
Below we’ve outlined the essential framework to take the guesswork out of your next audit. We've broken it down into 5 main categories:
- Local factors
- Playing defensive
1. On-Site SEO
Here are optimizations to check for your on-site SEO:
- Does Your Site or Page Target Exact Keywords In Various Components? Meta, Headings, and Body Paragraphs
- Are You Using Keyword Families? Create keywords based on relationship to the target keywords for Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI).
- Conversational Keyword Phrases for Voice Search? With the onset of voice search, make sure your keywords are focused on full phrases that people speak.
- Is Your Content At Varied Lengths? A good content strategy balances short-form, mid-length, and long-form articles. Historically, bloggers universally went after the shortest form articles to pump out a regular flow of content but as time has gone on and the web has been overfilled with 300 word articles, longer articles are gaining more value.
- Is Your Content at Varied Types? Content doesn’t have to just be blogs. Video and audio content is an excellent contribution!
- Do You Plan To Regularly Publish Content? Content needs to come out on a regular basis. Frequent content followed by infrequent distribution can hurt your rankings! Stay regular, create a content bank and continue.
- Are You Actively Removing Duplicates? Make sure that duplicate content DOES NOT exist on your site. This could not only cause your content to not be ranked and indexed for work you’ve created but it could also end up with the culprit getting the value, if you don’t report it.
QUICK TIP: Aggregating content is a popular practice and one that has merit. To properly aggregate content, the general rule of thumb is that you have to provide something of value that is different than the original piece, which could include summarizing content, including original feedback in response to the content and so on.
- Have You Included a Sitemap and Robots.txt?
- Have You Used an Appropriate URL Structure? Structure your URL’s right so that the individual URL’s are telling about the SEO on your site.
- Is Your Site Using Google and Bing Webmaster Tools? Verify on Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools (may consider other search engines for other international targeting).
- Are Your Title Tags Appropriately Set? Titles should have a keyword centric description followed by your brand. 50 to 60 characters.
- Have You Included A Compelling Description Tag? Average length of snippets have increased from 160 to 230 characters over 2017.
- Is Your Page Schema Set Up and in Line With Your Business? Enable the appropriate schema on your site to match your business and content. Schema.org has a complete list of markup that Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines have agreed on!
- Are You Monitoring Your Page Speed? Page speed is increasingly necessary for good SERP position. It comes down to Google not wanting to send people to websites that are going to have a poor user experience and load time is your first glance at any website.
- How Is Your Website’s Load Speed? Consider load speed in two pieces – user/browser load time and Page Speed Insights. These don’t always correlate exactly. You may have a low Page Speed ranking but still load a website in a second. You can optimize the backend of your site as much as possible, but if you’re servicing a large number of visitors with a shared hosting account, you may want to consider upgrading to either a VPS or a Cloud Based Hosting system for faster page loads.
- How Is Your Site’s Mobile Load Time? With more than 6 out of every 10 searches being done from a mobile device, Mobile Load times are increasingly important. With most of these searches being conducted on an Alphabet Property, you better believe it is of importance to Google. Note: Accelerate Mobile Pages (AMP) is a movement Google is pushing at, well … an accelerated pace. The goal of this initiative is faster load times on websites for mobile devices and requires a specific page markup that eliminates heavy, non-core elements of the content.
- Have You Put In Place Security Measures? Google wants more security and are rewarding webmasters for it. An SSL Certificate is a must for most websites today.
User Generated Metrics (UGMs):
- Are Your Promoting SERP Click-Throughs? This is where a compelling Meta Title and Description comes into play.
- Are You Encouraging On-Site Engagements?
- Bounce Rate – Avoid “Pogo Sticking” or High Bounce Rates on organic queries as it signals that your content is either not relevant or of a high enough quality to engage.
- Time On Site – Again, a longer time on site shows relevant content. Keeping people on your site longer may increase search rankings.
- Page Views – The more page views your site can generate, again, the higher quality the content appears to Google and positions you site in SERPs respectively.
- Are You Allowing User Generated Content (UGC)? This is a valuable item that most content websites shy away from but provide great content and interaction. This multiplies your effort and provides additional reason to crawl and index your site. You do have to make sure that spam content does not get on your site. Proactively block spammers and regularly patrol your site to remove any that may have come through.
QUICK TIP: Facebook responses on your site are great, but that content ownership is provided to Facebook, not to your website. The comments section just acts as a window to where the actual content exists on Facebook. Best practices include putting the comments directly on your website.
2. Off-Site SEO
Here are optimizations to check for your off-site SEO:
Back Link Profile:
- Are You Actively Seeking Good Backlinks? Increase the amount of quality backlinks pointing users and search engines back to your site! Websites that maintain a high Domain Authority provide great backlinks.
- Are You Disavowing Spam Backlinks? Remove links coming from sites with a poor site score.
- Do You Encourage Positive Online Feedback For Your Company/Brand Reviews? Encourage customers to tell their positive story on the web, including your Facebook Page, Google My Business (for Local Business and Brands), etc.
- Can You Increase Product Reviews? Allow Google Sellers rating on your site to collect and showcase reviews through Google’s Merchant Services.
- Do You Have Nofollow Links On High-Trafficked Sites? Even websites with nofollow links (i.e. Wikipedia.org articles) provide traffic. These links do not directly impact SEO, but do indirectly through encouraging more visitors to your site and the possibility of Wikipedia content being pulled into your SERP.
- Are You Receiving Quality Search Traffic? Send paid traffic to your site to get people there and interacting with it.
- Have You Built a Social Following? Building a social follow allows for you to reach out to a “captured audience” when fresh content is available.
- Are You Building An Email List? A captured audience by emails works the same as a social audience!
3. Local Factors (For Local Businesses Only)
Here are optimizations to check for your local SEO efforts:
- Is Your Google My Business Page (GMB) Set Up? Create and fully build out your Google My Business Page. Ensure information is correct and linked to your site
QUICK TIP: Multi-location businesses should have a GMB page and landing page for each respective location – link each landing page to their respective GMB page.
- Are Additional Online Directories Set Up and Accurate? Make sure reputable online directories are linking back to your site and are accurately portraying your local business information.
- Are You Receiving Local Reviews? Promote reviews on these local directories, when applicable, and encourage localized writing (i.e. 5-stars – Greatest Pizza in Pittsburgh’s Downtown). Actively respond to both positive and negative reviews. This is not necessarily an SEO best practice, but is an online business best practice.
A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away – there was once a guy that said something like this:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
– SUN TZO
I’m going to add a third layer to that and it’s know your surroundings, or in other words know your customers. The reason this is so important, is that SEO is an inbound marketing function and that it is only as good what’s going on in the industry. You may have the best rankings for a keyword no one searches and what benefit does that show for your company? Instead, you need to be aware of what people are searching and where you can best attract traffic, or customers.
- Are You Using Google’s Keyword Planner? Use keyword planners to find the amount of traffic keywords are likely to draw each month, if you rank well. Google Keyword Planner offers information on paid search, that can be interpreted for organic search. Semrush Keyword Planner is another great resource!
- Have You Set Up Google Trends to Determine Focus Points? Use this to stay on top of trends going on in Google Search.
- Have You Conducted Competitor Audits? Search your competitor sites and find out what keywords they’re focusing on. Online tools like Ahrefs and Semrush help understand how you are doing along with your competitors.
- Have You Used Google Alerts For Competitor Names? Find out what your competitors are doing through Google Alerts.
- Have You Enabled Google Analytics & Search Console? See which keywords are generating the most and where you have the most room to grow. Analyze both pages and keywords, then combine the results to start gaining more traffic for each page and including more keywords that generate more traffic.
- Have You Used Google Alerts For Your Company? Be in the know about what’s being said about your company on the web. This is often the first informer on backlinks going up on the web.
- Have You Used These Additional Tools?
5. Playing Defense
This is an all too often overlooked area of SEO. What most people don’t realize is the shady back dealings of the web. There are numerous negative SEO attempts competitors will try to make on your website and you need to be aware of it so that you can play defense.
The Dark-Side of the web is a scary place, but if webmasters stay vigilant they can get past most of these problems.
- Have You Removed Spam Links? This is an integral part of a successful backlink strategy, but taken to another degree. This is specific to awareness of spam links at a whole different level. Stay on top of Negative SEO attacks and respond with Disallows.
- Have You Removed Spam Comments? You've probably already received a ton of unwanted comments about “Cheap Nikes”, “Win a free ipad”, or maybe even something more vulgar. These messages are filled with spam links and should never be published. Mark as spam and delete these!
- Have You Removed Copied Content? Don’t let others get away with using your content! What’s worse than them benefiting from your hard work is original credit being associated to them and your site getting flagged for duplicate content! When you find it, submit duplicate content culprits to Google! Using full-sentence snippets from your blog and searching them in Google is a great way to determine if someone is using your content – likewise, you can use subscriptions like Copyscape to automatically detect these.
- Fight Against Malicious Everything – Site security is huge. There are a lot of malicious items floating around out there, but Google wants to keep their users (the searchers) safe.
QUICK TIP: If you are using WordPress, Scurui is a great service to help assist you in keeping your website safe.
Based on the average number of times that Google updates its search algorithm each year, we are in store for somewhere in the ballpark of 300 additional changes this year. So, make sure that you are actively staying up-to-date on SEO best practices. Use the above checklist as your foundation, but feel free to add to it as needed.