SEO audit

The Startup’s Guide to Performing an SEO Audit

With 93 percent of online experiences beginning with a search engine, it’s no secret that ranking well on search engines is crucial to the success of your business. While search engine rankings are determined by over 200 factors, the best place to start is by running an on-page SEO audit to see where your site currently stands.

I’ve compiled a list of the most essential items of any on-page SEO audit, as well as some insights as to why each factor matters.

Keyword research

Keyword research lies at the heart of any SEO foundation, and identifying the target keyword theme of each page should be the first element of your on-page SEO audit.

Search engines use keywords to understand what a website is about, which helps them start to understand which websites do the best job of providing the things that someone is looking for. For example, if you are a pizza shop that constantly talks about Hawaiian pizza on your website, and someone searches for “Hawaiian pizza,” your website is much more likely to come up as one of the top search results.

Keyword research consists of identifying a list of phrases that best describe your business, identifying which of these will receive the highest number of monthly searches with the lowest amount of competition, and using them throughout your website to help search engines understand that you website relates to those keywords. My favorite tools for keyword research are SEMRush and Google’s Keyword Planner.

On page SEO site crawl

After determining the keyword theme for each page of your site, the next step is to pull existing data on each of your pages. Download Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider tool to pull important information for every page of your site, such as:

  1. Title tags: the title of each of your website pages when they appear in search results
  2. Header tags: the title and subtitles of each page of your site that appears when someone visits your site
  3. Meta descriptions: a short description of each page of your site that appears in search engines
  4. Inlinks: the count of how many times you link to a particular page on your site
  5. Alt text: a description of every image on your site that helps search engines to understand what the image is about

Site structure

Setting up a proper site structure helps search engines better understand what your website is about, making it easier for you to rank for the terms that will be most relevant to your site. The easiest way to make your site structure simple to understand is to use proper URL formatting, and set up your URLs in a way that help search engines to understand the flow of your website.

Here are a few quick tips for making your URL structure easy to understand:

  1. Include relevant keywords early in the URL
  2. Don’t use symbols or numbers when avoidable. When in doubt, try reading a page’s URL out loud. If it’s easy for you to say it, it will likely be easy for search engines to read it
  3. Length (somewhat) matters. Try to keep it under 100 characters

Content quality

SEO consists of writing really good content, and then jumping through a bunch of little hoops. While this probably tops the list for the most vague advice that you’ve ever heard, the biggest takeaway should be that SEO is all about writing content that will be helpful to your readers. Some of the best ways to start are to use sites like Reddit and Quora to understand what topics your target customers are interested in, and what questions they are asking about those topics. You can then write content that discusses those issues. I also recommend using Google Analytics to understand what pages are performing best on your site. Once you identify a series of pages, look for any common themes between those high-performing pages, and try to replicate those themes in future blog articles.


Also on StartupNation.com: 9 SEO Tips for Startups


404 errors and 301 redirects

Ever had the experience of driving somewhere, taking a wrong turn and finding yourself at a dead end? 404 errors are the online equivalent of a dead end, and are an issue that can hurt your search rankings. I almost always recommend fixing these errors by setting up a 301 redirect to the new URL of the page, or the next closest URL on your page that will provide the visitor with what he or she is looking for.

Duplicate content

Duplicate content is often described as a penalty that search engines can throw at your site. However, a much better way of understanding duplicate content is to look at it as a filter that search engines use to only show the “original” version of the content. When search engines come across duplicate content, they try to understand which is page is the original source of the content, and choose to only show that original version in search results. In order to help search engines, I recommend setting up canonical tags to point search engines to one of a series of duplicate pages, as well as using canonical tags to inform search engines if they should pay attention to the www or non-www version of your site.

Sitemaps

Imagine trying to navigate through a new town without a map. You could probably find your way to the most important destinations, but it might take you some extra time to find them, and you certainly wouldn’t be able to find everything that you were searching for. Without a map, search engines encounter the same issue: they can usually find the most important pages on your site, but they will probably miss a lot of other important pages. The best way to avoid this is to create a sitemap, the map for search engines to understand where to find the different pages on your site. After building your sitemap (a quick Google search will reveal countless free sitemap generators) and uploading it to your site, go into Search Console and submit your sitemap to Google. 

Site speed

Over the past year, site speed has become one of the most important on-page ranking factors both directly and indirectly. A faster website receives a direct boost in rankings, while also minimizing bounce rate, which tells search engines that the contents of your page are topically relevant and useful to the reader. Some of the easiest ways to reduce site speed are to:

  1. Minimize image file sizes (images often take a long time to load)
  2. Enable browser caching (allow browsers to “save” previous versions of the site for returning visitors so they need to load less information)

For WordPress sites, I recommend downloading WP Smush and WP Super Cache to take care of both of these issues.

Mobile friendly

Earlier this year, Google announced that more than half of Google searches are now happening on mobile devices. If more than half of the people who visit your website do so from a phone, doesn’t it make sense to make your website easy to use on phones?

You can test your mobile friendliness on Google’s Pagespeed Insights, but the best test is to visit your website from your phone and see how easy it is to use. If you have a hard time clicking buttons or reading text, talk to a developer about making your website mobile-friendly.

Implementing these audit suggestions will drastically improve your organic search rankings, but realize that these changes will take time. SEO is a long-term effort, so those looking to jump to the first page of Google overnight should explore other options. For those looking for short-term gains, PPC services may be much more closely aligned with what you are looking for.

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