An SEO audit sets the stage for your SEO efforts. It reveals quick wins that drive results and a path to success the organization can rally behind.
Yet, so many SEOs still struggle to audit a site to deliver immediate results or instill long-term confidence in the SEO program.
To help overcome the issue, I created a simple, easy-to-follow SEO audit checklist in the form of a Google Sheets template that delivers high results. In it, I listed every audit check you should perform to drive the search performance forward. Simply click the button below and follow this guide to get started on your website SEO audit.
A couple of notes before we get started:
- The advice you’ll read below comes from my 10 years of experience in assisting enterprise-level SEOs in driving results from the search engines. No fluff or theory-based information included.
- If this checklist seems exhaustive, that's because it is! We want you to have the full scope of an SEO site audit, not just bits and pieces.
- For a beginner's guide to technical SEO issues, I recommend: 15 Common Technical SEO Issues and How to Fix Them.
How to Execute This SEO Audit
Although not necessarily required, to really dive in and conduct a comprehensive audit you’ll need an SEO site crawler.
It’s been battle tested on a site with more than 48 million pages, and gives you full access to find SEO issues that plague your site with no artificial limits. That’s no limits on crawl depth, speed, pages crawled …
As you run your crawl through the audit process (and follow along with our checklist!), you’ll gather a list of technical issues. Give each step a grade of pass, fail, or needs improvement.
- Fail issues are a big deal. If fixed, they can result in huge wins!
- Pass means the site meets the standards outlined by Google. It’s not a factor holding back the SEO performance.
- Needs Improvement is for where the issue is not necessarily a detriment but you’re being outpaced by the competition.
Through each step you’re spotting how well the site shows in the audit area. Then a natural prioritized list of issues will emerge to help you work toward improving your organic traffic.
But there are other outcomes, too: SEO roadmaps, projects, team member roles, lunch-and-learn summits, goals, execution plans, new tests, and ultimately successes all come from auditing these areas.
In the end you’ll prioritize the fail issues first, followed by the most promising needs improvement issues based on your time and resources.
Let's get started! Open the SEO audit template and follow along for this thorough checklist that's sure to drive better search visibility and ROI for your business.
|User Experience Audit||On-Page Audit||Technical Site Audit|
The Ultimate SEO Site Audit Checklist
Focus Area: Technical SEO
#1. Robots.txt file
A search engine bot views the robots.txt file before crawling a site. It gives directions on how to crawl (or not crawl) the website, which makes it a good first step in the audit.
For one, it contains instructions about folders or pages to omit as well as other critical instructions. As a good practice, it should also link to the XML sitemap so the bot can find a list of the most important URLs.
Recommended Reading: 14 Common Issues with the Robots.txt File in SEO (and How to Avoid Them)
How to Audit
You can view the file manually by going to mydomain.com/robots.txt (replace “mydomain” with your site’s URL, of course). Look for commands that might be limiting or even preventing site crawling.
If you have access to an SEO tool to crawl the site, let it loose on the site and be sure to set the user agent to follow instructions given to Googlebot. This way, if you’re blocking Googlebot via the robots.txt file, the data from the crawl will reflect that with a “403 Forbidden” status code for the URL instead of a “200 OK” status code and the information for the URL.
Google Search Console historically reports URLs where Googlebot is being blocked. seoClarity users can find this in the advanced settings in a Clarity Audits crawl.
- A robots.txt file must be placed in a website’s top-level directory. Note: the file is case sensitive and must be named “robots.txt” (not Robots.txt, robots.TXT, or otherwise).
- Some user agents (robots) may choose to ignore your robots.txt file. This is especially common with more nefarious crawlers like malware robots or email address scrapers.
- Don’t use robots.txt files to hide private information. The /robots.txt file is publicly available: just add /robots.txt to the end of any root domain to see that website’s directives (if that site has a robots.txt file!). This means that anyone can see what pages you do or don’t want to be crawled.
- Each subdomain on a root domain uses separate robots.txt files. This means that both blog.example.com and example.com should have their own robots.txt files (at blog.example.com/robots.txt and example.com/robots.txt).
- It’s generally best practice to indicate the location of any sitemaps associated with this domain at the bottom of the robots.txt file. Here’s an example: https://www.seoclarity.net/robots.txt.
Common Mistakes with Robots.txt
Auditing the robots.txt file sometimes offers the lowest of all low-hanging fruit in SEO: the code often found on development sites that block Google from crawling the entire domain (pictured below).
This code is sometimes left in place after the site goes live (or carried over from a site in development), which will continue to prevent it from performing in SEO, so it’s quite the find!
Other mistakes include:
- Including crawl delays to slow bots down, saving server resources for real users — but this is ignored by Googlebot so no need to include.
- Missing general user agent directives — not using separate rules for each sub domain and protocol. Each subdomain and protocol on a domain requires its own separate robots.txt file.
- Linking to the XML sitemap with a relative path — it must be absolute. For example: “/sitemap.xml” would not be respected but https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml would be.
- Blocking a URL in robots.txt will remove or prevent it from being indexed. You can spot these URLs in the Google index because instead of a description tag Google displays a message that they do not know any information about the URL because they are being blocked. Adding the meta=noindex tag, and removing the block will allow Google to de-index the page in this case. Many sites block quite a bit for security or tactically, I give this a pass here if done in a consistent way though it’s not my preference.
- Not starting a disallow rule with a slash when you mean to block a sub-folder. For example the below is correct for that use case:
This rule is correct because it disallows every URL which sits on the root path www.example.com/something
While the mistake would be the too broad regular expression pattern:
This rule would disallow every URL which contains ‘something’ that you don’t mean to be blocking, e.g. www.example.com/stuff/a-big-something.
#2. XML Sitemap
A sitemap contains the list of all pages on the site. Search engines use it to bypass the site’s structure and find the URLs directly.
Recommended Reading: How to Create an XML Sitemap
How to Audit an XML Sitemap
Your sitemap should reside in the root folder on the server. The most common place to find it directly is at mydomain.com/sitemap.xml or linked to/from the robots.txt file. Otherwise the content management system (CMS) may show the URL if there is one.
Crawl the sitemap URLs to make sure they are free of errors, re-directs and non-canonical URLs (e.g. URLs that have canonical tags to another URL). Submit your XML sitemaps in Google Search Console and investigate any URLs that are not indexed. They’ll likely have an error, re-direct, or non-canonical URL!
XML Sitemap Recommendations
- Enable your CMS to automatically maintain the site’s XML sitemaps. This way, every new piece of content published will be added to the file automatically. (If your CMS does not do this you can utilize crawl tools such as seoClarity to create an XML sitemap from crawling the front end of the website.)
- The XML document must follow sitemap protocol. Search engines expect a specific format for sitemaps; if your file doesn't conform to this format, they might not process it correctly.
- Make sure you submit the sitemap to Google Search Console to ensure the code is valid and correct any errors. Remove all URL redirects and blocked URLs from the file and remove URLs with canonical tags pointing to another URL. You can add detail to your XML sitemap such as images, hreflang tags, and videos too.
- Sitemaps should contain a maximum of 50,000 URLs. If you have more, then you should make a sitemap index that links to multiple sitemaps.
- Generally it’s useful to include as many sitemaps as there are page types on your site, broken down into different types. For example, one for product pages, one for blog pages, and one for category pages.
- Submit and monitor each in Google Search Console. I also recommend regular crawls of each sitemap to monitor for errors.
Common Mistakes with XML Sitemaps
- Containing URLs that redirect, return an error (404), canonical to a different URL, or are blocked. Make sure all sitemap URLs are a 200 OK status.
- Also through site updates, the XML sitemap may become detached from the CMS so new pages cease to be included or old pages not removed.
#3. HTTPS/SSL Encryption
SSL encryption establishes a secure connection between the browser and the server. Google Chrome marks secure sites (those having an active SSL certificate) with a padlock image in the address bar. It also warns users when they try to access an insecure site.
Most importantly, though, Google also uses the HTTPS encryption as a ranking signal.
Recommended Reading: HTTP vs HTTPS: What’s The Difference and Why Should You Care?
How to Audit HTTPS
Visit the site in Chrome and look at the address bar. Look for the padlock icon to determine whether or not your site uses an SSL connection. You can also test your SSL encryption at ssllabs.com/ssltest/ to ensure it is valid.
- For many years this lived in the “nice to have” bucket of SEO but it continues to be pushed by Google to become the web standard. With the final push from Google making it a ranking signal, you’re in laggard territory leaving your website on a non-secure server.
- Ensure that any visit to a non-https automatically rewrites (and 301 redirects) to the https version (e.g. if you type in http://www.yoursite.com it 301 redirects to https://www.yoursite.com). You can test the status code of your pages with crawl tools such as webconfs.
Common Mistakes with HTTPS
- Not updating the https URL within canonical tags. If you have a separate mobile website, then alternate and canonical tags should both have https URLs. Also: https URLs in sitemap.xml for https site and internal links on https site leading to http pages.
seoClarity users can use our built-in crawler to run a crawl and leverage the Parent Page report to find all instances of old internally linked http URLs at scale so they can be updated to the new HTTPs version.
#4. Mobile Friendliness
More than half of web searches come from mobile devices. You should really think of your website as mobile-first, that also happens to work on a desktop if someone tries. At this stage of the audit you’re checking that the basic mobile-friendly aspects are in place.
Recommended Reading: Mobile SEO Optimization: 6 Factors That Help Improve Mobile Search Visibility
How to Audit Mobile Friendliness
Select your most important templates, for example a category page, product page, and blog post. Test them with the Google Mobile-Friendly Test. Prioritize issues reported for the development team to fix.
Mobile Friendly Recommendations
- The best way to ensure being mobile-friendly is to have a responsive web design site on one URL, though Google will still serve mobile sites to searchers.
- The most important mobile-friendly aspects are the page loading in less than two seconds, having readable text, and having fast-loading images. Google offers further resources on how to optimize for mobile.
Note: Google announced mobile first indexing of the entire web on their Webmaster Blog in March 2020.
Common Mistakes with Mobile Friendliness
There are many ways to go wrong in mobile SEO. The most common issues arising today come from limiting the mobile experience compared to desktop. Give mobile users a full experience, not just the parts of the desktop site that work OK on mobile.
Other mobile design aspects that come up are:
- Tap targets being too close together
- Content presented wider than the viewable screen (viewport not configured).
- For separate mobile site:
- Missing annotations (aka “switchboard tags:” rel=”alternate” and rel=”canonical” to connect the URLs as equivalents) between the two sites
- A non 1-to-1 ratio between the mobile page and the corresponding desktop page
- Faulty redirects – make sure that desktop pages don’t inadvertently redirect to a single, unrelated mobile page.
#5. Page Speed
Page speed is an SEO’s best friend. It’s one of the most critical factors that affects a site’s visibility in Google — and this conversation has only grown more important in recent years with Google’s announcement of Core Web Vitals update and page experience.
In the update, the Core Web Vital metrics (which all relate directly to page speed) combine with other experience metrics to create the page experience signal.
Page speed also has a direct correlation with bounce rate and conversions! It’s often first among the “it’s boring but it really works!” takeaways from SEO practitioner discussions. As a result, optimizing page speed and decreasing load time often delivers instant results to a company’s organic presence and sets the tone for improving the search experience.
Recommended Reading: Page Speed and SEO: How to Improve User Experience and Rankings
How to Audit Page Speed
Use Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to evaluate key templates on the site. This data is also within the Google Lighthouse data found at web.dev.
seoClarity’s Page Speed Analysis gives a handy point of view by combining all these issues across the site to prioritize the impact. It also allows you to keep track of page speed on a weekly or monthly basis, making it easier to monitor and evaluate your progress.
Page Speed Recommendations
- Try to have each web page load in less than two seconds. This seems to be the threshold in most studies and how long the average web surfer today can be expected to wait.
- Get a handle on your top detriments to improve page speed.
Common Page Speed Mistakes
- Bloated images and code
- Too many render-blocking resources
- Missing cache policies that requires the browser to recall the image every trip instead of caching it
- Images and CSS that can be delayed until needed but instead load as a render-blocking asset. For example, you don’t need to load that huge image in a menu flyout that only appears when the user performs an action of hovering over it.
#6. SEO Tags in the Head Section
A few important <head> section tags help Google index the site properly. These exalted tags include:
- Meta title
- Meta description
- Hreflang for international sites.
Without these tags, Google is forced to make assumptions on where to pull content from (title and description) to create the listing, which content among duplicates should be shown to users (canonical tag) and who to show it to (hreflang).
Recommended Reading: How to Write the Perfect SEO Meta Description
How to Audit SEO Tags
Install the Chrome plugin Spark, or manually inspect the code on key landing pages via Inspect in Chrome to spot these tags. Assess whether key SEO tags are present in the <head> section. The Spark plugin will display the data if it’s properly coded.
Also, an seoClarity crawl will collect these issues as shown below. This report will show any potential issues with these tags (e.g. duplication, values that are too long, or are missing).
SEO Tags Recommendations
Utilize and configure each tag properly for every page on the site. At this stage, it’s important that the tags are present and valid on the site.
Common Mistakes with SEO Tags
- Duplication, without the proper canonical or noindex in place that shows the duplication is intentional. For example, if a multiple-page article has the same Title Tag but is missing code to show that page 1 or the version show all the pages should be where Google lands people. Some sites may overlook including the canonical tag on every page that causes duplication issues after tracking parameters are added to URLs.
- It also occurs that these tags are found outside the <head> section of the website, which is the same as not being there at all.
Recommended Reading: A Guide to Crawling Enterprise Sites Successfully
How to Audit Crawlability
Use an SEO crawler to imitate the path taken by the search engine’s bot — an advanced crawler will be able to replicate Googlebot and see your website as the search engine sees it.
Look for reports of crawl issues caused by unnecessary URLs, broken links, redirect chains or incorrect canonical configurations. The right crawler will be fully customizable and allow you to set the crawl depth, speed and frequency. We’re proud to say that our built-in crawler allows for all of that, all with no limitations!
Google Search Console also surfaces crawling errors it has found.
- Remove any hindrances in crawling the site.
- Limit the use of parameters so bots don’t have to consider if or how it impacts the content.
- Utilize links thoughtfully in the content that contextually ties the site together.
- Design the menus and hierarchy in a logical way so the relationships can be seen from this perspective.
Common Crawlability Mistakes
- Broken links, internal redirects, and “spider traps” (where Google is caught crawling link after link without finding anything new; for example a calendar with links to each new month into infinity) are common.
- Pages that are dead-ends to new content should have the “nofollow” tag to communicate this so Google can go down a different path.
- Lack of links
- For example, a mobile site that doesn’t include the header menu, effectively making it an orphan page. Category pages that use infinite scroll sometimes find that some pages do not get crawled or indexed because Google doesn’t see the link path to them because they are below the initial load visible area. Google doesn’t scroll. Extra code can push these links into the HTML or you can add them directly.
Recommended Reading: SEO Crawlability Issues and How to Find Them
Rendering relates to the way Google sees and displays your page as a document - both the content and the code. You’ll stay safe here by sticking to progressive enhancement principles where the content and core functionality of the site is accessible even from a text-only browser.
Recommended Reading: AngularJS & SEO: How to Optimize AngularJS for Crawling and Indexing
How to Audit Rendering
Another way to check how well your page renders to Google is to view the cached version of a few important page templates. You can view this after searching for the page and clicking the option next to the URL to view the cached version.
- We recommend you utilize progressive enhancement so that SEO elements and content render in HTML. Google actually put together a resource on rendering on the web that is quite helpful.
- Other methods like initial static rendering and pre-rendering can get the job done too. (Although these should be your second option after progressive enhancement.)
Common Mistakes with Rendering
The index is where Google stores information about pages it has crawled. It’s also where it selects the content to rank for a particular search query. Google is rapidly expanding, culling, and updating its index of the Internet.
Recommended Reading: 3 Common Search Engine Indexing Problems
How to Audit Indexation
A quick search in Google for “site:domain.com” will show indexed pages. You can dig into these and likely find duplicate content and other “over-indexed” pages too. If you skip to the last page there is typically a “Google has removed duplicates” message that you can click to reveal that will show the pages it has found but consolidated because they think it’s duplicate anyway.
At this point in the audit you know you’re free of “crawl issues.” So to move on from here you want to make sure Google has found your content and has it indexed, ready to show it to searchers. Indexing is the outcome of crawling and rendering your site properly, with the proper tags, and unique and valuable enough that Google thinks it’s worthwhile. You’re indexed by Google if you can see your URL or site by searching it in Google.
To get a bigger picture, Search Console provides indexation levels. They recently added an Excluded assets section as well. Some pages on the internet aren’t worth indexing and this is where Google will share where that’s the case (so you can work on making it better!).
In seoClarity’s Site Health report, you’ll find the indexability data showing:
- The total number of indexable pages on the domain,
- The number of errors as well as the reasons for them, and
- A complete list of indexable pages to help you access potentially problematic assets, evaluate and correct.
Finally, you can review bot activity on the server to see how Googlebot is crawling your site that may explain how your site is being indexed. In seoClarity, you can filter the results by response codes to identify page errors instantly.
You may find that some pages that are not getting crawled simply have no links to them. Improve internal links continuously to ensure the bot can reach pages deep in the site’s architecture as well. With non-indexed pages, check if the content isn’t too thin to warrant indexation.
- The number of pages indexed after searching “site:domain.com” should ring true when you consider your site. If you’re a 100 page site and have a million pages indexed then there’s something off. The same is true if you're a million page site with 100 pages indexed.
- Analytics is helpful here, too. I like to think that every page indexed by Google is there to meet a demand. So the number of pages indexed equaling the number of landing pages in analytics over the course of one year should be pretty close if you’re a great website.
Common Mistakes with Indexation
Indexation problems typically indicate an issue with crawling and rendering. If the site is still under-indexed, then its meta tags and/or content may need to be updated to improve relevancy and demonstrate to Google that it’s worthwhile to index.
The most common mistake though is using the robots=noindex tag inadvertently. We’ve seen more than one example of this tag being mistakenly added to a prized landing page after a development release!
Google then does what it’s told and removes the URL, while the SEO team submits an urgent ticket to get the noindex tag removed and the page re-indexed.
seoClarity users leverage Page Clarity, which checks the URL daily and sends an email alert if this tag is found (hopefully before Googlebot).
Faceted navigation (discussed in step 13) relates to this step as well. Faceted navigation creates an exponential amount of pages for Google to index. If these are not created thoughtfully, several duplicate URLs can be generated — which causes your site to be over-indexed and dilutes the impact of your most important URLs!
Focus Area: Content
#10. On-Page Optimization
This is where the SEO analysis switches hats slightly from technical-minded to content-minded. Your site is in the game, now let’s think about how it’s being played. In particular, how well it is optimized for relevant keywords? Key areas to audit are how the meta tags, header tags, and body copy are being used to create a great search experience for the target keyword topics.
Before evaluating on-page SEO, conduct thorough keyword research so that you know what phrases various content assets target.
Recommended Reading: 6 Steps to an In-Depth Content Audit That Will Ensure a Traffic Boost
How to Audit On-Page Elements
You can do it in a couple of ways:
- Evaluate the key landing pages for on-page issues manually. If you have built your site on WordPress, some plugins act as an on-page SEO checker, making it easy for newer SEOs to see what to target, often with color-coding or prioritizing areas to target. Although, assessing whether a keyword is present in H1 or H2 headings or the meta description across hundreds or even thousands of pages would soon prove too cumbersome. That’s why, seoClarity offers a better option to do this at scale.
- Crawl your content to find pages on the site featuring specific words or phrases. By doing so, you will identify common problems on pages (wrong keywords or phrases featured in headings, for example). Or audit your content at a granular level.
But you can use this capability to do so much more.
Let’s say that you want to find all pages with video on them to audit their on-page optimization. Simply look for instances of words such as “video,” “YouTube” or “short clip” to access every page featuring a video.
Recommended Reading: Finding Additional Content: Narrow in on Specific Site Features
On-Page Optimization Recommendations
Title Tags - approximately 70 characters, use target keyword. Learn how to run a title tag test.
Meta Descriptions - approximately 150 characters. Wow the searcher in to clicking through to the site, assure them you have their answer. Find more on writing a meta description. I recommend owning the book “Words that Sell” to give you an idea of how to make your listings stand out in search results.
Headers - Specifically the “H1” tag should be a shortened version of the Title Tag typically, between 2-3 words. H2 tags should be used if they follow the format of the page. H3s and beyond are of less importance but if used should be relevant and used in order.
Body Content - Created to improve the search experience. Write with authority and help solve the searchers problems using the target keywords. Find the target keywords for the page and write to them with authority. seoClarity users can leverage Research Grid for this by finding the keywords where the ranking URLs for target keyword are also ranking.
At this stage of the audit, the goal is to spot a few quick SEO tweaks on pages where the keywords are ranking between 3-8. By doing this you can gain wins and reveal an ongoing workflow to improve these elements for the search experience.
Common Mistakes with On-Page Optimization
There are a few common issues with these elements.
- Blank meta description tags may be the most common if SEO is being overlooked.
- Generic title tags are a semi-normal occurrence for example just the product name or category name (e.g. “Hotels” or “Solutions”).
- Keyword stuffing in the page title. That’s old school SEO that many sites used to employ. A setup with 2-3 target keywords stringed together as opposed to a brief, clear, title using keywords that is best for searchers.
- Multiple H1 tags. This has been more of an occurrence with HTML 5 and “approved” by Google but I find it confusing to searchers and to the organization of the page to have multiple H1 tags and still consider it a mistake when I find it. For searchers, the page has one primary topic that should be the H1.
- Not using keywords at all in the headers, instead using marketing language is pretty common. Searchers don’t care about your brand message, they want to know if this page is where they can find answers.
- With meta title and meta description writing, not using active or unique language is a common mistake. These should be more like PPC ads than developer back-end labeling that can be the case.
- Broken images and broken links in the body copy. A crawl of the site will reveal these elements.
#11. Relevant Content
Consider the information gaps of the person coming in from outside the site. Do you offer all the information and context needed to choose the best available product or service for their needs, beyond stating the keyword?
Do you help them learn about the product or service and make a well-informed buying decision? Can they see what is unique about your offering or information? This is relevant content
Recommended Reading: How to Create Relevant Content to Captivate Your Target Audience
How to Audit Relevance
Run a Google search for your target keyword and review the top ranking sites. Why does Google think they’re special enough to rank in the top positions?
Some sites may give extra content (i.e. information that is outside the target keywords but helpful to the search experience.) Or, maybe they use videos, images, and other engaging elements that create a positive search experience.
Providing relevance is all about considering the contextual aspects of the user experience.
Websites that do a better job of meeting the needs of searchers have a better chance of landing on the first page of the search results. Your job as an SEO is to determine what’s causing this behavior and then figure out ways to provide a better result for the visitor overall.
To get this right you must consider the user's search intent. For example, if you’re selling a grill, stating how many burgers it holds might be more important to the user rather than the surface area in inches. This is a better connection to their intent of buying the grill that will feed their family.
seoClarity users can leverage our massive keyword data set (28+ billion keywords!) to understand exactly how their audience searchers. Use Topic Explorer to match key topics based on underlying intent and uncover what the users are looking for. Plus, get an inside look at the latest search trends so you can create the most relevant content for your audience long before the competition even knows that a query is in demand.
Create a great search experience for your target audience. After all, creating a positive search experience for your users should be a main priority. We’ve put together a complete framework for this that we like to call search experience optimization.
The best search experience is unique and true to your brand and includes well-written content and a sound site structure.
Common Mistakes with Relevance
- Keyword stuffing
- Not considering what the audience wants to learn
- Lack of semantically related keywords in body content. It’s easy to speak to your target keyword and its synonyms but it takes an extra effort and really thinking about your searcher to get this step right and compete among the top ranking sites.
#12. Structured Data
Structured data found at schema.org provides webmasters and SEOs with the ability to give semantic context to elements of the code. Google, in turn, uses this information to enrich search listings. It’s how Google can show a company’s telephone number, reviews and star ratings, event info and much more on results pages.
This helps attract the user’s attention and boost the organic click-through rate.
However, for schema.org to work, it must be properly executed in the code. As part of the audit process, I recommend reviewing the markup for potential issues and errors, and making a plan for the ideal schema to use for the most important templates.
Recommended Reading: Technical SEO Best Practices: Schema [WEBINAR]
How to Audit Structured Data
Use the Google’s Rich Results tool to evaluate your schema markup and its eligibility to appear as a rich snippet on the SERP. Just grab a few important pages and enter them in.
Google Search Console also reports on potential issues with Schema. You’ll find the report under the Enhancements section (it shows if you have markup added to the site) and it shows errors, warnings and the number of valid URLs in total.
While Google’s tools can get the job done, you’d have to go page by page — which just isn’t feasible for an enterprise site! You can use an SEO platform to audit schema at scale.
We’ve actually written an article just about this. More on that here: Auditing Schema Markup: Confirming Structured Data's Implementation.
- Prioritize schema that will generate Rich Snippets first such as breadcrumbs and videos. This way it will have the benefit of providing information to Google and impact how your listing looks on the results page.
- Check out the Rich Snippet Gallery from Google to see which Rich Snippets would make sense for your site.
- Product markup is great for e-commerce sites to achieve star rating and reviews.
- Other examples include Event schema to achieve the extra space on the search results so searchers can go directly to your event page.
- Also, review managed keywords for universal ranking types to note which competitors might be using Schema to enrich their listings already to help you prioritize.
- Install using the JSON-LD method as this is recommended by Google now and much easier of an ask to developers than coding the schema.org code in line (i.e. the Microdata method).
seoClarity’s Schema builder is a Chrome plugin that makes it super easy to apply structured data to your site. You can try it now for free below!
Common Mistakes with Schema
Not including all of the essential data is a common mistake with schema. Audi tools will flag issues as “required” or “recommended” to help you prioritize the fixes.
Sometimes developers will not include all the information in the tag or extra information, such as an author's first name getting cut off or an incomplete product name. After checking a URL with the Google Structured Data Tool, take a moment to read through the values to make sure everything is complete.
Don’t abuse structured data markup. Google is much more aware of manipulation of Structured Data these days and will happily apply a manual action if they feel you are spamming them.
The many ways you can trigger a manual action from Google include:
- Marking up content invisible to users
- Marking up irrelevant or misleading content
- Applying markup site-wide that should only be on key pages
Recommended Reading: 7 Common Issues with Implementing Structured Data
#13. Faceted Navigation
Faceted navigation helps e-commerce sites expand their reach by strategically creating sub-categories at scale. For example if you’re selling Chicago Bulls hats, you may have both red, black, and white ones.
Most people search “Chicago Bulls Hats” and you have that search experience covered with your category page. With smartly applied faceted navigation you can allow your site to create a page for “White Chicago Bulls Hats,” “Black Chicago Bulls Hats,” and “Red Chicago Bulls Hats.”
You likely already allow a user to filter products like this. Faceted navigation is what allows Google to index those filtered pages so the searcher that knows the color they want can skip that step in their conversion funnel and land directly on your Red Chicago Bulls Hats page.
However, faceted navigation can generate problems, particularly if each filter creates a new URL on the site without matching a demand. Google might pick those up, leading to the search engine crawling unnecessary URLs and indexing duplicate content.
While being very useful to users, obviously it's helpful to have the ability to filter down to the specific thing you want so you don’t have useless pages indexed by Google.
Recommended Reading: Faceted Navigation SEO: Optimize for the Long-Tail Experience
How to Audit Faceted Navigation
Search different filters and product categories in Google to see if your pages show up in the index. Check to see if you’re creating too many pages by finding the URL pattern of how your site creates the pages, e.g. searching “site:wayfair.com inurl:color=”
Faceted Navigation Recommendations
This may be the single thing separating the top sites from the pack. The top sites utilize faceted navigation brilliantly. Only pages that align with search volume are offered to be indexed and all of the key On-Page elements mentioned above update to the long-tail target.
- Work with your e-commerce platform to find the right way to implement as many of them have a solution for faceted navigation.
- You can also review 3rd party tools such as Searchdex, YourAmigo, and Bloomreach to learn more about their offerings to help create this setup on your site and provide a great long-tail search experience for your searchers.
The most important elements are that on-page elements update making the “faceted navigation URL” stand on its own, this includes a unique URL, title tag, description tag, and H1 tag unique to that page, as if it were another top level category page on your site.
Common Mistakes with Faceted Navigation
Every possible combination of facets is typically (at least one) unique URL, faceted navigation can create a few problems for SEO:
- It creates a lot of duplicate content, which is bad for various reasons.
- It eats up valuable crawl budget and can send Google incorrect signals.
- It dilutes link equity and passes equity to pages that we don’t even want indexed.
We would recommend the following solution: Category, subcategory, and sub-subcategory pages should remain discoverable and indexable. For each category page, only allow versions with 1 facet selected to be indexed. On pages that have one or more facets selected, all facet links become “nofollow” links.
On pages that have two or more facets selected, a “noindex” tag is added as well in case Google does crawl these pages (perhaps from a direct external link).
Determine which facets could have an SEO benefit (for example, “color” and “brand”) and make sure Google can access them. Essentially, throw them back in the index for SEO purposes.
Ensure your canonical tags and tags are set up appropriately.
For example: a common mistake is having the canonical tag updated to point to the unfaceted version (e.g. a primary category page), which would be a valid setup if you didn’t want Google to index the faceted URL.
Finally, not including these pages in an XML sitemap is a mistake because it misses a chance to tell Google you really mean for these URLs to be indexed and shown to searchers. A crawl of your site will reveal most issues as well because it’ll reveal the URLs and if the proper tags are in place to match the search demand.
A website should support people with physical, cognitive, or technological impairments. Google promotes these principles within their developer recommendations. For SEO, accessibility issues are a combination of rendering issues and relevance laid out above. Google describes accessibility to “mean that the site's content is available, and its functionality can be operated, by literally anyone.”
These elements help these users but it’s also great for everyone, for example having a distinct color contrast ratio, which all users would appreciate.
How to Audit Accessibility
The Google Lighthouse Plugin (web.dev) does a great job of outlining accessibility issues. It will flag items in the code such as missing alt text on images or names on clickable buttons. It will look for descriptive text on links (no “click here”). These elements help bring the site to life for those using screen readers. It’s also not hard to see how a site built to these standards would help Google understand the web at scale.
Be on the lookout specifically for: generic or missing link names, missing alt tags, and headers skipping order (e.g. an H2, without an H1). This is a great opportunity to teach the team about these issues and create an accessibility standard for the site that is great for the search experience for all users and highly encouraged by the gatekeeper of the web, Google.
If you use a crawler like seoClarity’s Clarity Audit, you’ll get notifications on those issues in the site crawl report as well.
- Strive for the basics such as alt tags, relevant names on links and buttons, and headers in logical order. These are likely also used by Google to consume the website.
- Prioritize accessibility in design and help foster a culture of a website available to everyone that is designed to be simple and easy. This category is also a great catchall for something that makes a poor search experience.
- Some portion of Google's intake on websites come from Quality Raters that are instructed to imagine searching for a term with a specific intent, land on a given website, and evaluate it for its quality. SEOs typically have this eye as well, and if something jumps out that gives a critically poor search experience then it can be added here within an SEO audit.
- For example content hidden behind multiple tabs. Content that is poorly written, translated, or outdated content counts. Sites with a poor site structure, confusing re-directs, or that lock you into a geo-experience are accessibility issues.
#15. Authoritative Content
Authoritative content is unique to a brand and showcases their expertise on a topic. This works to build trust with the target audience.
This is where you really give the target content a hard look - look for original facts and research. Great content is genuine and written with care. Remember that the reader arrived after doing a search. They have a problem to solve, something to learn, or a fear to squash. Does your content answer the call? Does it calm their fear?
This is also the step where you evaluate the topic clusters for SEO, surrounding your content with blog posts and resources. These assets can target new terms in their own right and give you a chance to showcase authority on a subject and interlink the content.
How to Audit Your Content for Authoritativeness
Evaluate how the site is targeting “awareness” keywords. To see these, filter out Google Search Console queries containing words like “how” (seoClarity users can do it using Search Analytics). Evaluate rankings and performance, looking for low-hanging fruit (pages ranking between positions 11-40, requiring a little push to appear on page one.).
This is also a good step to find content gaps. These are commonly areas where your competition ranks but you don’t — it’s time to create more authoritative content to fill those gaps!
A great way to find them is to find the keywords where three competitors are in a prominent position but you are not. These are likely easy wins for you if you simply showed up and created the content.
You should also do keyword research to determine the opportunities at different intent stages related to the target keyword. For example, if you’re selling running shoes, an article on “how to choose the best running shoes” and “tips for running a marathon” are topics that can expand your authority for the primary terms (running shoes), and help move searchers down the funnel, without leaving your site.
Authority Content Recommendations
- Produce content about your target keyword as if you were a media outlet assigned to covering it. Cover your “beat” with content like new innovations, best practices, and biggest mistakes. Interact with your community to gain feedback on your content. Share it on social media, and update it with new information.
- Deliver upon the correct searcher intent, analyze the SERP to understand applicable search features, review top ranking content, and set specific goals.
- seoClarity users can leverage tools such as Content Ideas that will pull in the top People Also Ask and other sources to generate content ideas. Find more on creating content for SEO.
#16. Off-Page SEO
Off-page analysis is a look at everything happening off the website that is impacting SEO, i.e. external links. The quality and quantity of relevant websites sharing and linking to your content is a good sign that your content is worthwhile. It’s the original Google innovation and currency of the web.
How to Audit Off-Page SEO
- Grab your top two competitors along with your own site.
- Run them through a backlink network such as Majestic to see the top linking sites. seoClarity users have access to the Majestic link network through their subscription.Review the top links pointing to your competitors.
- Break down where they came from, e.g. sponsorship, resource creation, media mentions, viral content.
- Be on the lookout for links related to your most important keywords.
- Do the same for your site to understand where your links are coming from.
- Also look at your analytics to see your referring sites - remember that the best links are the ones that drive traffic because it is a path on the Internet that real people actually found useful to travel. Google’s innovations around off-page analysis will correspond with links that get traffic because they indicate quality.
After this review of backlinks, you’ll have some specific targets and a good understanding of what drives linking in your industry.
Off-Page Analysis Recommendations
- For your own link profile, look for at least 75% of your links pointing to a page other than your home page.
- Look for diverse anchor text that shows natural linking to many sources, i.e. if all your links are to your home page with your brand as the anchor text you’re probably only getting low-quality directory listing links.
- Develop a plan to grow your referral traffic through strategic linking. Participate in industry forums and websites.
- Fix broken links and redirect content to maintain the link path for users.
From here my favorite link building tactics are the skyscraper and content outreach methods.
After auditing your backlinks, you can develop a plan on how to incorporate these tactics to best your competitors.
Common Mistakes with Off-Page SEO
The biggest mistake SEOs make with off-page tactics is doing outreach without researching the specific value that may be brought to the person they're contacting. Skipping the competitive research part, which can reveal invaluable nuggets on what is driving their off-page success is another misfire.
Congratulations! You made it through a site audit. Doesn’t that feel great?
You now are an expert on how to tactically improve your website and perform an SEO audit. When performing this site audit in the future or across other sites, remember:
- Prioritize your site audit tasks in order of impact and level of effort in a grid.
- Address the high-impact, low-effort items first and work from there.
- Show progress on where it is paying off. For the areas you scored “Needs Improvement”, determine the appropriate Standard Operating Procedures and Workflows to train your digital marketing team to set a new standard (Pro-tip: we have a great library of workflows and SEO resources over on our blog!).
Over time, as you continue to address these areas on your site, you’ll see the “Needs Improvement” notes turn into your strengths as you see the SEO performance improve.
Not sure if you’ve remembered it all? Bookmark our convenient, free site audit checklist to guide you through each step of the process.