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Thom Craver

The Why and How of SEO Site Audits

Thom Craver

Site audits are a great way to determine how your site is faring in the search engines. But when should you audit your site? And how do you get started? What kinds of situations should you look for? Essentially, the purpose of a site audit is to discover all the items that may be blocking a search engine spider from crawling and indexing your site. These include a variety of technical on-page factors, server side elements like redirects and even your content itself. Once you've identified any issues, you must then list actions that must be taken to remedy them. Similar to analytics, discovering what's wrong is only one part of the story, and you must also take action.

Site Audit Checklist

If you're new to a company, you need to know what you're getting into. If you're a consultant or an agency, a site audit is the best way to discover what's really going on with a site. Sometimes you may want to check over the work of an outsourced developer. Often times when older sites get redesigned, some code fragments from the old site are copied and reused on the new site. When that happens, pages can get lost, orphaned or unlinked. Over time, multiple redesigns can create havoc on a site.

If a site isn't ranking well, you can find and treat symptoms, but without knowing the underlying cause, you may not ever solve the problem.

Getting Started

When beginning a site audit, you need a way to view all the details about about the pages of the site. View the site holistically looking first at site architecture and structures, then at individual page code. For large sites, being able to crawl all the pages' code could require the need for some automated crawler software. Crawlers will traverse a site from page to page, just like Googlebot would. As it visits pages, the software should log code details like title tags, meta tags and headings, as well as the use of canonical, redirects and the like. Overall, there are many SEO tools that help you to perform the perfect website audit.

In addition to the current status of using certain elements, you must consider your audience. Who will receive the final site audit? Should you present it formally or informally? Agencies, for example, typically leave a deliverable document for their clients. That document should include an explanation of what elements are looked at and why they are important. Remember, your clients don't know all the details of what's important and what isn't. Giving a subtle reminder of what's important is imperative to getting buy-in to fix the issues you discover.

In-house SEOs should keep similar thoughts in mind. Does your supervisor know the importance of title tags or why authorship markup is important? Explain the reasons for testing each item in a manner that is meaningful to your audience.

Lastly, give recommendations for action. So you found a bunch of opportunities to improve your site. Fabulous. But now action needs to be taken. Again, consider your audience and phrase your recommendations accordingly.

The Devil is in the Details

Nobody wants to muddle through too much information. However, you need to provide enough to make a difference in your site's rankings. Sometimes it can be easier to break them into categories. Here are some of the categories you should consider, as well as some of the details to investigate in a site audit:

Site Architecture

  • Splash or Doorway Pages
  • Navigation Elements and Structure
  • Directory Structure
  • Internal Linking Structure
  • Frames and iFrames

On-Page Code Elements

  • Title Tags
  • Meta Tags
  • Canonical tags
  • HTML, CSS and JavaScript Code
  • Microformat Markup
  • Flash and Image elements

Server Elements

  • robots.txt File
  • XML Site Map
  • Redirect Usage
  • 404 and Other Error Pages

Site Content

Content is still king. With Google Panda the consequences became more extreme. High-quality sites are getting high rewards in rankings. This, of course, also leaves the appearance that there are penalties for thin content. As a result, you still need to take time out to examine all your site content. Sites with thin or low content are seeing penalties. Sites that have high-quality content will see better rankings, more visitors and more backlinks.

All-in-all, a thorough site audit will help you discover everything you need to know to get higher rankings.

Do you do something different with your site audits? Leave your best site audit tips in the comments.

Thom Craver is an international speaker, digital strategist, author and adjunct professor. He specializes in SEO and Web analytics. His last article for SEMrush was "Getting Started With Local SEO."

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