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How To Perform An SEO Audit + 20 Tips To Boost Your Google Ranking

by Nick Loomis under SEO

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important factors in digital marketing that decides whether your business’s online presence will fail or prosper. Content, technical, on-page, backlinks, competition, it involves a lot of moving parts and can be overwhelming, but learning how to perform a proper SEO audit and form a plan off of it can be the ticket to getting started.

Doing proper SEO can make it so you don’t have to worry about getting lucky and finding a golden ticket to page one of the SERP, you can just make it yourself.
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Before we dive into exactly how to handle running an SEO audit, let’s talk concepts. What are the major components of SEO to look at first, and what can we start doing to optimize ranking factors?

  • Technical SEO
  • On-Page SEO
  • Backlinks
  • Competitor Analysis

These 4 pillars of SEO are essentially what guides search engine ranking, your organic traffic, and in the end, also your user experience. So with that, let’s chat a bit about what each of these pillars mean on a website that way you can start your journey to that #1 spot on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

If only SEO were so easy, try not to be like this guy.
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Technical SEO: 

Technical SEO is a lot of things, some complex, some fairly straightforward. Let’s go over what makes up the technical side of all of this.

Being able to get Google and other tools to be able to look at your website is pretty important for obvious reasons, so let’s start there. Your robots.txt file is what website crawlers look at in order to learn what pages on your website they should or should not look at. Going into that file manually on your website’s backend and checking that you aren’t blocking out website crawls is important, and we’ll cover it in our audit checklist down below.

We have seen that websites that utilize HTTPS, meaning they have SSL encryption enabled, see a lift in ranking. You can find the HTTP status of your website simply by looking at the URL bar up top.

Page speed is something that can greatly improve not only your ranking with search engines but also your user experience. It refers to your website pages load time.

Don’t let Google get lost in your website’s sitemap.
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The XML sitemap is essentially the guide to your website for Google to crawl during its indexation. Ensuring that this is correctly inputted into a Google crawl/index will be covered later, but in the meantime, here is how you can locate your sitemap.

Site architecture and the XML sitemap go hand in hand, the difference is that your site architecture lives within the sitemap. The architecture generally refers to how your page’s URL structure is set up. More on that in our SEO audit quick fixes section below.

Javascript, almost every online entity utilizes this code language in one form or another, and it can prove to be essential to your SEO efforts. It does tend to fall under something that affects your page load speed (e.g. minification of JavaScript), but nonetheless, it can prove a vital part of your SEO efforts and customer experience. This article has a deeper, more technical explanation of JS (JavaScript) SEO and what it can do for you.

On-Page SEO:

On-Page consists of the stuff that is more front-facing on your website, but here’s a breakdown of what exactly that means. 

Your URL is the address found at the top of the page, and usually one of the first things that your visitors will see. What you set as your URL address for your homepage and content is something that sometimes slips people’s minds as important, even Google says it is on their SEO starter guide.

Content is in fact, king, sorry Randy
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Content, as people like to say, is king. So let’s outline what goes into content SEO a bit here before we break down best practices later on. 

Keyword targeting, pretty straightforward, keyword targeting is the concept of gearing your content using some best practices to show search engines that your content is meant to cover a target topic.

Keyword cannibalism goes along with that, where it is possible to have too many pages targeting the same keyword, this can end up with you competing with yourself for that page 1 search result. 

Duplicate content can also hurt you, having pages with exactly the same content can get you flagged as a kind of spam by Google, so ensuring that it’s not an issue on your website is vital.

We all had to start learning HTML somewhere.
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HTML markup is one of the most vital parts of SEO for on-page ranking. It consists of a few different concepts that are categorized all under markup.

Titles in this context refer to what comes up on your Google SERP (search engine result page) and are what populates the title tag at the top of your browser. These need to be done effectively in order to keep things running smoothly not only when people search things relevant to your website, but also when Google indexes your website. Having the same title for 10 different sales pages won’t do you any good, but we’ll break it down further below.

Meta descriptions, meta data, or meta tags as it is more commonly called, are a big part of the supporting on-page ranking factors. They are what comes up under your Google search result title, and can be a major selling point of your page in terms of getting people to click, as well as what keyword your page is focusing on.

Not quite as simple as breaking into the computer, but not that much harder either.
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Images, who doesn’t love a fun relevant image, well as it turns out, Google does too. Where images become relevant for SEO is within what is called the alt text and the file name. For the file name, you want to make sure that it is relevant to your target keyword and is pretty easy to understand the concept. But what is alt text?

Alt-text is an image description that can be read if an image can’t be seen or loaded, it’s also a great place to input some keywords and show Google that when it crawls the page, the image is relevant to the topic.

Links, links, links! A big part of how you position your content involves your linking choices. What links refer to in this instance are when you link out to other websites from content on your own.

Don’t forget <head> and <body> tags though! In your content, how you set up your titles and keyword content are key, as we said earlier, content is king, so give your pages the royal treatment.

Backlinks:

This article on the importance of backlinks tells us that link authority (how many links you have as well as the quality of them), “strongly correlates with higher rankings,” and they are absolutely right. Using SEO tools like Ahrefs (we’ll get to tools later on in the article) we can give you a clear view of your backlink profile and where your external links are coming from, which in simpler terms, is a list of other websites that have pages that link back to yours. Link building is definitely a large part of your SEO analysis to keep an eye on.

Competitor Analysis:

Learning where you are in comparison to your competitors can be a vital part of discovering where the holes are in your website or blog. An SEO competitor analysis is the process of utilizing SEO tools in order to compare the number and relevancy of keywords you and your competitors each rank for. Looking into this comparison can also be called a content gap analysis, something to keep in mind for our SEO audit checklist.

BOOM! Alright, now that we are through the concepts and the nitty-gritty of what makes up an SEO audit, we’re done! You got it all, nothing else to know, now get out there and get that #1 spot… Ok but actually, let’s go down the list of what tools are available to help us perform our SEO audit then jump into how we get it done.

Getting started with SEO and looking at how many tools are out there can make you feel like this.
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Choosing the set of tools you’ll use to tackle your SEO efforts, or at the very least an SEO audit, can be a nightmare. Instead of crawling through every sales page of what comes up on Google, here’s a list of some of the essential tools we use for not only our clients, but ourselves as well. Along with this list, check out our podcast with industry experts on SEO tool mastery.

SEO Audit Tools

  1. Ahrefs

If you are looking to get in deep and find the most SEO optimization opportunities possible, Ahrefs is a great tool to do just that. It features a ton of reporting tools that go over SEO best practices. It does come with a price tag though, so keep that in mind.

  1. ScreamingFrog

ScreamingFrog is a solid website crawling tool that we use in order to run audits on technical SEO and on-page optimization. There is a free version available, but the paid version is what we would recommend if you’re looking for continual audits.

  1. Google Search Console

Our first free tool on the list, we 100% recommend getting on GSC and connecting your domain to it. It’s also the place where you not only can get some decent search data, but it’s also the place where you can input your XML sitemap to help Google crawl your website!

  1. Moz

A competitor to Ahrefs, Moz is a cheaper alternative that isn’t quite as in-depth with its available tools and reports but is still a solid option. Here’s an article that compares the two in more depth.

  1. GTMetrix

GTMetrix is an awesome free tool that can help you audit your website’s technical SEO at a highly technical level. I know that sounds weird but let me explain. Earlier when we talked about technical SEO, we went over page speed and JavaScript, well, GTMetrix can give you a breakdown to exactly what parts of your code or JS needs to be looked at in order to improve your page speed and crawlability, which is pretty sweet.

You bet your butt it is.
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  1. Google Analytics

If you haven’t utilized Google Analytics before, check out our guide on how to set it up for your website. Analytics is a free online tool from Google that gives you access to in-depth analytics, trends, and reports on all traffic that goes through your website. While this is at the bottom of our list, it is 100% something that we recommend hooking up to your site.

  1. Spotibo

Spotibo is a free to use tool that allows you to perform on-page SEO audits on up to 500 URL’s a month (with more on a paid subscription). We will be using it to take a look at all the major aspects of on-page SEO and where we have opportunities to optimize.

Now that you know a little about what tools are out there and what they are used for, you’re locked and loaded and ready for the juicy stuff. This next part is our own SEO audit checklist that we use to get each and every one of our SEO clients started.

Locked and Loaded!
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SEO Audit Checklist

  1. Current Keywords

Before you get started looking at the rest of your website’s SEO audit, it’s a great idea to take a look at what you already have going for you. That starts with pulling up your list of keywords that you are currently ranking for on organic searches.

In the below example and as we go through our step-by-step process, we use Ahrefs to pull up the organic keyword list of one of our clients Mitio, and we’ll continue to use them as an example as we move through this SEO report checklist. In order to get to your organic keywords on Ahrefs, go ahead and hit the option that you can see on the bottom right-hand side of the picture below.

Ahrefs is showing that we are currently ranking for 962 organic keywords within the United States.

Ahrefs report on Mitio’s organic keywords
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Being able to see what you rank for already can give you a good idea of the effect of any content you have done in the past as well as how your homepage and other web pages have helped you rank. It can also let you know if you’ve been accidentally ranking for anything that maybe wouldn’t result in qualified traffic due to some pages you may have thought you deleted or forgot existed.

  1. Authority Gap

From the current keyword list, we go to look at an authority gap report, which not only will tell you your site domain authority, links, and traffic, but also all of those for your competitors as well. This is the first and possibly the most time-consuming part of the SEO audit process, so listen up!

We start again on Ahrefs (starting to see how useful the tool is yet?) and go down to where it says “Competing Domains” in the left-hand menu.

Ahrefs competing domains menu selection help.
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This will then bring up a report on other websites that share keywords in common with you, with the possibility of sorting it by the percentage of keywords in common, which is what we will go with for now.

Ahrefs competing domains report.
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From there, go ahead and open up some of these competing domains and make sure that they are in fact, relevant competitors to your website. Once you’ve established a list of competitors that you are happy with, go ahead and grab a list of your most relevant keywords and head over to the keyword explorer in order to run what we call a batch analysis.

It starts by entering your most relevant keywords into the keyword explorer on Ahrefs.

Ahrefs keyword explorer example
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Once you hit that big orange button down in the bottom right-hand corner, a new report will come up, then you’ll want to learn more about which domains (websites) are ranking for these keywords specifically. To do so, click on traffic share by domains on the left-hand side of the screen.

Ahrefs keyword explorer example
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The report that will then populate will show the domains that rank for most of those earlier inputted keywords sorted by traffic.

Still with me? Awesome, I know this is a long process, but I promise it’s worth it. 

Our next step is to run the actual batch analysis. Based on your initial lists of competitors, and your newly found competition, go ahead and pick seven to ten of your top competitors and head over to Ahrefs batch analysis function, which can be found under the “More” dropdown menu at the top of the page. 

Ahrefs batch analysis menu example.
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Once you’re on the batch analysis page, go ahead and input your website and then list all your competitors, and hit the analyze button.

What comes up then is what we’ve been building towards for a long time, the authority gap report. This report shows us how we stack up against competitors in terms of authority, traffic, keywords, and links! 

Referencing this report, we can see if you have a content problem (low number of keywords), content quality (lots of keywords but low traffic), backlink generation issues (low numbers of referring domains). All of these issues are reflected in the big metric we look at here, the DR or domain ranking, if it’s low, chances are you have one of the above issues.

Final phase of the batch analysis report.
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  1. Content Gap

Now that we did all the heavy lifting with the authority gap analysis, we can break into the content gap analysis. The purpose of this part of our SEO audit is to see from a high level how you compare to your competitors in ranking for priority keywords & pages.

To start, we go back to the site breakdown of your website in Ahrefs and scroll down to the “Content Gap” menu option on the left-hand side.

Content gap menu example.
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Once there, input your top competitors, these should be the same competitor list from our authority gap audit section above.

We recommend the setup as shown below.

Example of how to enter competitors into the content gap page on Ahrefs.
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The report that will then load will show you a list of the keywords that all of the inputted websites rank for. To get to a list of what you and your competitors compete for within your content, go ahead, and select only 4 or more interactions. This will give you a list of keywords sorted by traffic volume that 4 or more of you and/or your competitors rank for.

Keyword intersection selection for content gap reporting.
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Once you’ve got that going for you, you’re done! This part is much shorter than the authority gap section, but it gives you a good idea of keywords and content that your site may be missing that you can go for or competition between you and your competitors that you need to keep pushing on to get to that number one spot on the SERP.

  1. Backlink Profile

Your backlink profile can have one of the biggest effects on your overall site ranking, who references you and places you as a thought leader in your industry, and how trustworthy those outside references are all that make up your backlink profile. Connecting or earning a backlink from a higher domain rating site boosts your backlink profile and therefore your domain rating faster, to put it simply.

Example of an Ahrefs backlink profile.
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Your backlink profile is what comes up on the site overview of Ahrefs when you first input your domain into the site explorer section (as seen above).

Looking at this profile, you can see that our number of backlinks has slowed lately, and the majority (81%) are from domains that have 10 or less domain rating, this would suggest that the site needs some backlink profile help, and that can give you a good place to start in terms of what to look for in an SEO agency partner or SEO specialist.

  1. On-Page SEO

For this part of the audit, we are going to hop off of Ahrefs, crazy, I know. To start our on-page SEO audit, let’s go ahead and check that our domain is indexable in the first place, we do that by going to www.google.com/ and type site:{Your Website}. What results will be Google’s list of your indexed pages and how they appear on the SERP.

Google index domain search example.
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You can also take a look at how Google has indexed your site using Google Search Console (GSC), and going to the “Index Status” section.

Now that you know your site is indexed on Google, let’s take a look at more on-page SEO factors using another free tool called Spotibo. Simply create an account then head to the home page and input your domain. The crawl shouldn’t take very long and will generate a  great breakdown of your title tags, meta descriptions, images, links, URLs, anchor text, and more.

Spotibo results page example.
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  1. Technical SEO

The next part of our SEO audit is focused on the technical side of things. To get this part done, we will be using GTMetrix, another one of the free tools that we discussed earlier.

To use GTMetrix, simply input your domain URL and have it test your site. Once it’s done running, you’ll have an in-depth technical report on aspects of your website code that affect your site speed and mobile compatibility.

GTMetrix results page example.
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As for your Robots.txt file that we touched on earlier, now is a good time to navigate to it, manually open it up, and check what’s inside. What we are looking for is to make sure that only URLs that we definitely want Google to ignore are present on the file, and that we don’t accidentally make the big mistake of having all of our website unindexable. (as below)

Robots.txt file that blocks the entire site from being crawled.
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Our last two points on the technical side of our SEO audit involve a bit more of our website structure, the first of the two being our HTTPS encryption.

Ensuring that we are SSL certified and all is well there will not only assure visitors of your website’s security but also help boost your ranking according to Google. You can tell if you are HTTPS certified by looking simply at your URL and seeing if the address begins with https://, if not, here’s some helpful information on how to get it set up.

The last part of our technical SEO audit is our XML sitemap and site architecture. To locate your XML sitemap you can check out this helpful article. Once located, we want to do two things, the first is to ensure that our sitemap is correct. Using ScreamingFrog, we can see how many URLs the crawl encounters, and if it matches the number of URLs on our sitemap, that’s a good sign.

ScreamingFrog URLs encountered results.
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The second step of the sitemap process is to make sure that we submit the XML sitemap to Google. We do this via GSC (Google Search Console). Within GSC, we navigate to the “Sitemaps” section of the left-hand side navigation menu, and in there we can manually submit our sitemap to Google, which will help out with Google’s own crawling process and ranking.

Google search console menu example.
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For the most part, Google is perfectly able to crawl and index your site, but why not make it as easy as possible to give yourself the best possible chances at hitting those target keyword ranking. It will also help Google index your site faster as well as easier. If your site is fairly new, this can be a key boost to getting you ranked on the SERP.

  1. Internal Linking

With everything that you can do to generate awesome keyword ranking and appear high on the SERP, we want to ensure that we spread the wealth across more of your site, and internal linking can do just that. Now, I’m not going to tell you that you should go into each and every page on your website and find places to link to your other pages at least a few times, but also, if it’s possible, please do yourself a favor and do just that.

Ensuring that your high ranking pages are complemented by relevant content is one of the single greatest factors to keeping people on your website longer, and in turn, driving more conversions in the long term.

In order to audit where you are at with internal links, you can head over to SEOreviewtools.com and utilize their free internal link analyzer. 

SEOreviewtools.com result report example for internal links
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Based on the results that you see there, you’ll be able to tell how needed a round of internal linking is, if you just need to ensure you’re doing it moving forward, or if you need to sit down and grind through a larger part of your URLs and add internal links.

Congratulations!
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And with that last part of the audit, you’ve officially run your first SEO audit! Woo! Now you’ve got a ton of information on where you stand in Google’s eyes as well as in comparison to your competitors. Now, what to do with your audit report? Well, you can always take it and reach out to us to take some next steps on improving your SEO (sorry, obligatory sales pitch), but if you’re not quite ready to take that leap, let’s go over some easy fixes you can take a look at yourself.

SEO Tips for Easy Fixes

Before you start putting together a big overarching strategy to tackle each and every aspect of your SEO audit results, let’s tone it back for a second and go over some quick fixes that can be taken care of first, that way you can focus more on longer-term solutions and strategies.

  1. Sitemap Structure

Having a logical architecture can help keep your links clean and organized, which in turn leads to an easier to navigate website.

For example, here’s a quick list of what a proper sitemap structure would look like for an eCommerce website:

  • https://www.websitedomain.com/catalog
  • https://www.websitedomain.com/catalog/category
  • https://www.websitedomain.com/catalog/category/product 
  1. Subpoint: Redirects

Ensuring that your redirects that are already set up are correct, functional, and intentional is a great way to quickly recover some search engine optimization. In part 5 of our SEO audit, we use a tool that pulls a report on multiple details related to your website redirects. Go ahead and use that to form a quick fix strategy that tackles any errors there.

CMitio.org redirection report from Spotibo.
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  1. Subpoint: Duplicate Content

Fixing any duplicate content is a must, and can really help show Google that your site isn’t spammy. You can see if there is any duplicate content in part 5 of our SEO audit process above. Getting a proper redirect to just one URL in a group of duplicate pages is a good place to start, and just ensuring that it doesn’t happen again through a regular SEO audit cadence is key.

Your SEO audit and these tips can help you on your way to knocking it out of the park.
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After everything we have been over so far, we’ve only just begun to form an SEO strategy, so let’s talk about the next steps on how to keep things rolling. I promise this is the last list you’ll have to read over.

SEO Next Steps, How to Keep Growing

  1. Core Sitemap / Important Pages

Taking a look at your core sitemap, that being the pages under the top navigation bar on your homepage, and ensuring that they are properly set up with SEO best practices and solid keyword targeting and keyword research is vital to set up a good foundation for all of your future SEO efforts to build off of. Utilizing well-built landing pages that are built to turn your website visitors into conversions and not just relying on your homepage is a strategy that we ourselves use, not only in SEO, but also in our PPC client pages.

That’s what it’s all about.
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  1. Keyword / Content Strategy

Using the authority and content gap results from our SEO audit (steps 1 and 2), you’ll be able to put together a plan on what keywords you’d like to rank for and become more competitive pretty easily. And even once you work through that list, there’s always more out there. Taking that plan and acting on it is a whole different beast, however.

Writing well-targeted keyword content isn’t super easy or convenient, if it was, Google would probably implode in one way or another. So much can go into a content strategy; article publishing frequency, content best practices, relevant industry research data, and more. The trick is working that all out and making it happen. (That’s where we come in)

  1. Using Audit Results

Putting together the above strategies is definitely necessary, but let’s not forget to use what we learned from our SEO audit. Taking your findings from those and working with your webmaster a bit, you can now make informed decisions on how to repair, improve, and grow your online presence. Just don’t think that you are done with everything here, regular SEO audits are always helpful to check in on your progress and growth, sorry.

Yeah, SEO audits aren’t a one-time thing, sorry.
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The Start of a Journey

As you now know, SEO isn’t a super straightforward few things to optimize on a page here or there or link to your website on social media, but something that involves your entire website and beyond it even. But with the takeaways from your SEO audit and new growth strategies, you’re sure to be on your way to growing your business. Speaking of growing your business, we talked through a lot of processes, SEO tools, audit strategies, and next steps here, and it can definitely be overwhelming.

Don’t panic though, we got you. If you want to reach out and see how KlientBoost can help, our dedicated growth strategists are ready and able to help you work through how we can partner up to create new business, growth opportunities, and wins. You can contact our team here or shoot us an email at hello@klientboost.com!

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