DIY: 10-Step SEO Audit
Your website is your #1 employee. Your website is always on the clock, but that doesn't mean the work it's doing is necessarily paying off. If your site isn't ranking, your efforts could be suffering. How can you be sure your SEO strategies are in play and working?
If you haven't layered SEO into your website build in the past you could hire a firm to conduct an audit, perform keyword research, and update your site's existing structure. But this can come with a big pricetag and little certainty as Google continues to roll out updates to the algorithm that sends the SEO community into a tizzy. Just as I finished this post Google announced the latest updates to Panda 4.0 and Payday Loan 2.0! It really does look like a mad scramble to a non-existent SEO finish line out here.
Let's take a new approach to conducting SEO audits and embrace the surge of a do-it-yourself culture. You don't need to be a developer or SEO pro to prepare this 10-step SEO audit to see if your website is optimized for your users and search engines.
Step One: Hone in on your Headers.
Search engines look for copy that is formatted larger than the rest of the text, which is different than font size. These tags specifically set aside important text on a coding level so that search engines can crawl the site and easily detemine the focus of the content. There are 6 sizes of headers, H1 being the largest and H6 being the smallest. For right now, H1 is our primary concern so identify all the H1 tags on your website (in the code of your website, H1 text will be surrounded by <h1> and </h1>).
It is an SEO best practice to use only one H1 per page.
Having more than one H1 may confuse search engines trying to understand web page content, and therefore hurt your SEO efforts. A single, specific H1 will communicate the page’s primary message and allow search engines to better connect it with people searching for similar content. More importantly, this allows site visitors to understand the topic of the content on a web page immediately upon landing on it. A good, strong H1 is particuarly important for the homepage of a website.
Step Two: Make more of your Meta Descriptions.
Meta descriptions should clearly describe what the content on a given page is about in 155 characters or less (including spaces). Each web page should have it's own unique meta description. Having one meta description across multiple pages on a site may confuse search engines and users, alike--and does not allow for per-page optimization.
In addition to helping search engines understand the content on a page, meta descriptions may appear below a site link within search engine results. In this way, meta descriptions communicate what content is on a page even before the searcher clicks on the link. So while complete sentences are not necessary, meta descriptions should be concise, descriptive and gramatically correct. Empower users to choose your link based on a clear solution you provide that can solve their specific inquiry.
Step Three: Take time to write Title Tags.
This is the title of the page that displays on the top of your browser’s window or the tab you’re on. It gets cut off when it’s too long, so keep it simple (about 60 characters or less, including spaces). Keeping your title tags as short as possible will increase the likelihood that users will see the entire phrase. In a perfect world, title tags properly fit in both tabs and the full browser window, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t. It’s much more important to ensure that title tags exist on each page of the site and are varied and unique.
Step Four: Believe in Bolded Text.
Like headings, this piece of code signals to search engines that it contains important content. Some sites don’t have any at all, which is okay – the benefits and downsides of having a site that contains bolded text are about equal to those that don’t. Some bolded text can highlight important pieces of the website, but too much bolded text might diffuse the effect.
Be sure to take note of bolded text, but don’t place too much emphasis on it. While having no bolded text may not result in an extreme disadvantage in search engines, too much bolded text could bog down your site. Limit yourself to one or two bolded text blocks (or words) per page.
Step Five: The key to Keywords.
Keywords can be tricky little devils and are increasingly trickier since Google cut off access to keyword information in Google Analytics. Regardless of their complexities and the shift towards a more semantic-based search algorithm, keywords are still important to Google and other search engines. Your company may well have a list of keywords ready based on previous research. Keywords need to be descriptive and clear, but not locked together across multiple pages. Tailor keywords to specific content on the page to best help search engines connect it with people searching for that content.
Well-thought-out, long-tail keywords are probably your best allies when it comes to SEO these days, and they will help search engines connect people with your content.
Now, it's time to enter the second phase of the SEO site audit. Once you’ve finished checking your site for the five components listed above, turn your attention to your Content Management System (CMS) and/or your website to examine specific site analytics. This data will supplement what you’ve found in the Page Source and help provide a more comprehensive understanding of your website.
Find your website’s overall site traffic. You’re presented with a number of analytics, but for our purposes we will focus on:
2. Conversion Rate
3. Time Spent on Site
4. Visitor Source
5. Social Optimization
Step Six: Take a look at Traffic.
Depending on what kind of company you have, site traffic can vary widely – there really is no set number of visits you should be striving for; traffic volume varies by industry, audience and type of website. For right now, find your average site traffic over the past year and break it down by monthly average. Then find how much your site traffic has grown since this date last year. If you’ve been active on social media or a company blog, that number should steadily increase.
If you have not been active on social media or a blog (or worse: if you have) and site traffic has been stagnant over the last year, your site may be lacking meaningful content, contain broken links, or something else that needs to be assessed immediately.
Traffic is one way you can measure and assess SEO success. SEO efforts can be quantified and validated (or not) based on traffic, so use this number as a way to find out if your efforts are working.
Step Seven: Consider your Conversion Rate.
Conversion Rate measures the number of users who complete a specific action on a website (such as submitting a webform, or signing up to receive newsletters) compared to the total number of site visitors. According to Hubspot, any conversion rate higher than 3-5% is great. To manually find your site’s conversion rate, use this equation:
Total Conversions / Total Views * 100 = Conversion Rate
For example, if a site has 1,000 unique visitors in a given period and 50 of them submit information, the conversion rate would be 5%. If that number remains consistent, the company could expect 5 out of every 100 unique visitors to convert.
If there are mutiple conversion points on your website, you will want to look at each one individually rather than pooling their data. This will give you the clearest picture of what users are doing and not doing on your website.
Great SEO strategy drives users to a site, but conversion rates indicate whether or not those users are quality visitors. A site may pull 50,000 visitors a month, but if only 40 of them convert into leads, huge opportunities are being missed.
Step Eight: How much Time is Spent on Site?
Session duration can say a lot about a website. This metric is not necessarily available on all CMS’, so you may have to search elsewhere for this type of analysis. Google Analytics (which is free) is recommended to get this information and more. Average time spent on the site can shed light on both the quality of the site’s content and the visitors. High quality content will engage users for longer periods of time and highly qualified visitors will want to spend more time interacting with it. Both are brought together by effective SEO tactics like formatting titles, headings and the like.
Step Nine: Visualize the Visitor Source
Check your CMS for measures on traffic sources – how many people found your site as a result of paid advertisements, organic search, or email marketing? How you analyze these results will depend on your company or industry, but this is great information to have when performing a site audit. If a company spends a pretty penny on paid advertisements online, but less than 1% of its total site visitors were referred from one of those advertisements, the ROI may not be worth the spend.
Knowing where site visitors are coming from is valuable for determining if SEO is working properly. Great keyword research and meta descriptions translate to higher organic search traffic, while a great social presence brings in visitors who already want to connect with your company.
Step Ten: Spend time on Social Optimization
Perhaps the easiest portion of a site audit is assessing whether visitors have the chance to share the content on your site with others; this occurs primarily via social media platforms. Make all original content available for sharing via social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.); 'email to friend' features are also quite popular.
It’s imperative that the social network’s icon is included and not just a text link to the website. The trademark “f” for Facebook or the little blue and white Twitter bird catch the eye and let the visitor know that content can be shared. Social sharing exposes your content to the entire network of the person who shared it, so make it easy for people to connect you with potential leads.
That’s it! By completing the 10 steps listed above on your own, you have gained a better perspective on how well your website is performing from an SEO standpoint. If it went as expected or better, keep doing what you’re doing. If your site seemed to underperform, you might want to consider a more in-depth site audit and possibly employ a third-party agency to recommend improvements. Either way, more analysis is available with Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools.