Our SEO Audit Checklist
by Lindsay Valdez
In order to do well in google, you must first start with a strong foundation
We believe that in order to see growth in organic search traffic, a thorough SEO audit must be the very first step. Understanding the basics of search engine optimization will make for a stronger future for your brand.
One benefit of the SHE Media Partner Network is our unwavering mission to teach our partners how to grow their website’s traffic. We see the importance of not only educating them on SEO and Social Media best practices but also empowering them to try new content strategies and implement best practices on their websites for years to come. Once they understand fundamentally what it takes to grow an audience in modern day digital, it becomes second nature in their approach to business. We feel that not only is organic search traffic typically the most consistent traffic referrer, but beyond that, a website seeing successful Google performance is typically a business delivering quality content and/or products to their readers. That’s why we make the very first step in our audience development program an SEO audit.
SEO Audit Checklist:
1. Keyword Analysis
Are you targeting the right keywords?
Before you begin making changes to your blog or content strategy, you must understand what you’re currently getting rankings for in Google. I’ve worked with many bloggers over the years and often times they don’t fully understand what type content performs best for them. For Lifestyle bloggers especially, they often publish content on a variety of topics. Lots of times I’ll work with bloggers who write about their kids as well as DIY home projects as well as the food they cook for their families. While it’s possible for a domain to rank across niches, it’s common to see one niche have a larger authoritative foothold in Google’s search results than others. When I’m working with a blogger who says they’ve decided to publish more beauty content and less home renovation projects, first thing we do is look at what the data says.
These three tools will help you understand your strongest content verticals:
If you don’t already have your blog connected to Google Analytics & Google Search Console, make that your very next step. The only way you can make an informed decision for your brand is through performance data.
Google Search Console Interface =>
In the last year, Google has added a handful of new areas in their Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools), all of which are extremely helpful in understanding your website better. One particular area that will help you understand what keywords you should be focusing on is the Search Results section.
By clicking into the Search Results area, Google will list out what queries drive clicks to your website from Google search engine results pages as well as what URLs are rankings. From there, you can look at Google Analytics to see the actual traffic that these pages drive your site. And finally, the last step is to use a Keyword Research tool like Uber Suggest or SEM Rush to understand what related keywords have the most search volume.
2. Technical SEO
One metric spoken about often in today’s blogger world is page speed. It’s widely misunderstood, which is why I dedicate a section of the SEO audit to page speed in every audit I do. It’s something that bloggers are warned can make or break their Google organic search performance. In reality, page speed is just one of hundreds of factors in Google’s search algorithm. I always reiterate with our partners that Google best practices should not be viewed as more important than your business goals. If your goal is to generate revenue from running display ads on your content, SEO should be viewed as a tactic to that end versus your key performance indicator.
Run your website through Google PageSpeed Insights and/or GT Metrics. But here’s the catch: if you run ads on your site, your pages are going to run slower than a site that isn’t running ads. There is quite literally no way around that. Because of this, it’s important to understand exactly what these reports return and which parts of it you should be concerned with.
The most important metric in these reports is your First Contentful Paint time. This metric tells you how long it takes for your content to load on the page. Research shows that users aren’t inherently against digital ads showing on the screen until it prevents them from reading the words. At SMPN, we’ve built our ad technology to ensure that ads load after the content and that content loads as fast as possible.
When sites return a slow load time, the most common issue I see is with images. Using standard image formats like JPG and PNG aren’t as efficient as they used to be. Bloggers tend to take photos directly from their phones and then upload them directly to their site. This is going to create massively large file sizes on your blog pages, thus making your pages slow loading.
Another thing I like to check is how a brand is displayed in the search results. Google search has long favored big brands, but not just because they’re “big brands”. It’s what those big brands have that smaller brands don’t that makes the difference. Things like backlinks, lots of content and customer reviews. When Google can recognize your blog/website as a brand, it will allow you to Claim your Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph can be seem on the left sidebar of the search results when it’s available. Here are step by step instructions on claiming yours. It’s important that Google understands your organization.
The other thing I spend a lot of time on is user experience. To me, success in modern day SEO is hugely dependent on a seamless user experience. The list of metrics that Google looks at to gauge user experience is time on page, bounce rate, exit rate, pages per session and session duration.
Use your mobile device to navigate through your website. Can a user easily and obviously navigate from page to page? Does it load quickly when they do? Pay careful consideration to any hinderances to content viewing.
3. On-page Analysis
Are your most important pages optimized for Search?
The homepage is the most important page of your business, so let’s start there. So many times, I have started an audit only to learn that the homepage title tag and meta description fields simply state the name of the site. These tags exist to help Google understand what your business and content is about. Make sure these fields not only have been utilized, but that they incorporate the most important parts of your business. We’ve already talked about how your website navigation should include the most important content verticals on your site. So it’s very likely that whatever topics are included in your navigation are the topics that should be mentioned in your homepage SEO title.
The homepage title field can be updated in WP: In your WP admin dashboard, in the left (black) sidebar click on Setting => General => Title & Tagline.
The homepage meta description can be found in various places in WP depending on what SEO plugin you’ve decided to use. My recommendation for SEO plugins is first, Yoast, second Jetpack and third, All-in-One SEO. It’s also important that every single blog post on your site has an optimized HTML title and meta description.
The content on your website is the number one ranking factor in today’s SEO ecosystem. For every search query made, Google’s main objective is to rank the most helpful piece of content that matches the intent of the searcher. If your page best fulfills the search query but let’s just say your page takes 5 seconds to fully load vs. 3 seconds, Google is still very likely to rank your page at the top. While backlinks and page speed are two important factors in SEO, high quality content remains the single most valuable factor.
Make sure your blog post content:
1. Is true
2. Is supported with data, facts and depending on the topic, with expert opinions
3. Is unique & interesting
4. Backlink Analysis
A backlink or inbound link is one that points to your website from another website. From the very beginning these have played a huge role in Google’s search algorithm. Even today, Google is far from being able to tell whether or not content is technically accurate, so they rely on backlinks as signals for popular, credible web pages. The problem with this is that backlinks are far harder to come by today than they used to be. Brand new sites popping up are likely going to have a much more challenging time getting backlinks than one that existed in the aughts, when linking to other sites was free flowing and webmasters were less savvy to the value of links.
But nonetheless, no matter how many backlinks your blog has, it’s important to know what’s there. In every audit I do, I run the website through the Moz Link Explorer. You can use a free account to do some basic link analysis.
One thing I include in every audit is a list of suggested broken pages to redirect. Broken pages on your website isn’t typically a cause for concern. Google understands that to a certain extent, any website is bound to have some broken pages.
There are two situations though when you want to pay close attention to your broken links. The first is during a website migration. One of my first big technical projects while working at SHE Media was a migration of one of our top properties, Soaps.com. The tech company tasked with the job hadn’t run a full crawl of the website, which prevented them from understanding all the pages that were there. When the site moved from a custom CMS over to WordPress, 404 errors shot from roughly 1,000 to over 85,000 overnight. This was an obvious huge red flag that something was not migrated correctly, and we needed to fix it.
The second time it’s important to understand your 404 pages is when backlinks are pointed to them. You don’t want your users to land on broken pages. If an important page of your website is broken, one that users can access, you must fix. When users click on a link and land on a broken page, this can negatively impact your brand reputation and should be fixed. Another reason is because if backlinks are pointed to 404 pages, it’s just wasted link authority. By redirecting the page to another non-404 page (choose the most similar and if there isn’t one, redirect to the homepage), the link authority from the backlinks will flow through to the properly working page.
If you are a WordPress person, use the Safe Redirect Manager plugin and redirect the broken page to a similar page that works using a 301 redirect.
These are the main 4 areas I work through for our partner SEO audits. Stop by my Lunch & Learn SEO workshop at BlogHer Creators Summit in Brooklyn, NY on September 19 at 12p ET and learn more about the SEO audit process.