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Why an SEO audit is so important for your website
Your website is a valuable tool in the modern world, no matter what industry you are in or how big your business is. This is the digital shopfront that never closes, allowing you to reach a global audience, or focus on a targeted local audience if that is the kind of business that you are.
When your website is established, it is important to make sure you enhance it with SEO practices that are going to catch the attention of Google bots and allow you to be seen in more searches. This is not a set and forget process, though – you need to make sure you run a regular audit on your website to ensure your practices are functioning correctly.
To conduct a successful audit or SEO report, you need to have a comprehensive checklist to ensure you are analysing every important aspect of your site so that it is optimised for search results and also provides a positive experience for your customers.
Any business is capable of conducting an audit itself. In this article, we are going to outline every single step of the SEO analysis process and provide you with the comprehensive checklist that you will need to run a successful audit every single time.
What is a free SEO audit?
When you boil it down, an SEO audit is about performing tests for each page on your site. You essentially check each URL to evaluate its ability to appear in search engine results pages (SERPS). The better your website tests during this audit, the higher you are likely to appear in these searches for target keywords, as every aspect you will be auditing is monitored by Google. In the end, these criteria – from meta tags to page speed – all play a big role.
These audits and types of website analysis should be performed annually at the very least because things can change very quickly in the digital world. Google will often update its algorithm and there will be new SEO features that are being focused on, with more potential for penalties to be issued if you are breaching their SEO guidelines.
A thorough audit is going to uncover all of the strengths and weakness of your website, which enables you to take action to improve your organic search and improve your chances of ranking highly in Google. results. As well as SEO, this is important for the overall health of your website because potential customers are going to turn away if they are having a negative user experience when they visit your website URL.
An audit is just as essential as servicing your business vehicles and, if you don’t, you risk watching your brand fall in Google rankings. From there, you miss out on potential leads and conversions, as customers grow frustrated and go somewhere else.
An SEO audit is crucial for your website's SEO health
The primary goal of a free SEO audit is to improve the performance of your website so that you get more traffic flowing in from search engine results. Every single step of an SEO report links with metrics that Google favour, so if you make sure you meet these benchmarks, you’re more likely to get results.
The reason that Google sets these metrics for their organic search is that it wants to ensure that it is delivering the best possible results to its users. It does this by having its bots go through each website URL to check technical SEO data even social media signals, to make sure you’re able to deliver the user experience they want to give their own audience. From meta tags to page speed, title tag profiles, backlink profile, duplicate content and everything in between – your chosen SEO audit tool needs to check all of this. It goes right down to things like HTTP status codes or meta description data – things you may not have even known were important.
By conducting a website analysis report and SEO audit, you are not only appeasing Google and reaching a much wider audience, but you are delivering a much better experience by removing errors. That means you are likely to improve your bounce rate and increase your leads, conversions, sales and other actions because the traffic coming your way is motivated and relevant, and you are delivering your audience the optimum experience.
This highlights the importance of regularly conducting an audit. They are effectively health checks for your website, carefully assessing SEO issues that could harm your brand. If you’re a small business, a free SEO audit report is even more important.
Over time there can be things that change or go wrong, and it is important to detect them using a free SEO tool so that you are delivering the best possible efforts you can. This also ensures you’re not wasting hard-earned time and money on efforts that are only hurting your website URL profile or organic traffic overall.
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SEO practices to increase your website's health
This is the snippet of information you show to Google in the form of HTML so that it can populate the previews that you see when you are conducting searches. These should summarise the content of each page, and include all of the relevant keywords so that Google knows exactly what the page is about and can rank it accordingly.
What should I write in meta descriptions?
It is very important to include the keywords, but it also has to be clean and legible writing so that it can be clearly understood. Remember, these are the words people are going to see when you come up in Google searches, so it needs to deliver the message clearly. Basically, you should treat these meta descriptions like advertisements for your pages.
As part of your regular SEO site audit using an SEO checker, you should identify and inspect every single one of your meta descriptions to check that these fields have all been filled. Any pages that don’t have meta descriptions optimised for search engines will need to be populated. You will also need to update these meta descriptions if any of these pages have changed, if your products or services are different or if you have new offerings.
Using an SEO audit tool to regularly check all of this is important. Run a free SEO report for your business to assess on page SEO health, including any broken links, meta tags that aren’t performing, duplicate content that may be popping up or even site speed issues. All of this plays a role in how your organic traffic performs.
This is also a great time to conduct fresh keyword research and improve your existing descriptions so you are more likely to feature highly in organic search. Additionally, observing if your anchor text is creating a healthy cycle for ‘crawlability’ will also help those bots. Again, all of these gaps or errors can be found through a website analysis or with an SEO website checker or site audit.
Your headlines and images have tags that are read by Google. When you get access to your website audits, check these aspects in your site audit. These need to be in order every time you run a report on your free SEO site tool.
When you are formatting your content, it is important to properly tag your headlines using HTML. There is a function in your content creator where you can choose different headlines like H1, H2, H3, etc. Your primary headline is the H1 version that sits at the very top of the page or article. Then you might divide up the page into subheadings that will use the H2 tag. Under each of these subheadings, you can have other sections which are tagged as H3. You can go beyond that, but it is not essential and can get confusing for readers if there are too many. But for SEO, each title tag is crucial. leaving these errors unresolved will affect your organic search.
Hint: Make sure you check if you have duplicate content affecting your performance on search engines. Your chosen free SEO tool should tell you this in your free SEO report. This always needs to be fixed. If you leave these errors unattended, you risk being penalised in organic search altogether. Want to know what that looks like? Zero website traffic and rankings.
SEO and images in your SEO audit tool
Your images should be tagged so that Google understands their context. These headers and images should include your primary terms from your keyword research, and should also make sense to read. With the image tags, even though you might not be able to read them on your website, these tags will also be used for the visually impaired, so it is important that they make sense.
When you are conducting your free SEO report, ensure that you are checking your heading and image tags, see if they need updating and add them in if they are missing. You may need to do some keyword research here as well.
The actual URL links for the pages on your website are part of your SEO issues, too, and need to be checked periodically. Your website audits will show these elements. They should always be relevant to the page and follow a short and simple structure that uses your primary keywords. For example, if you having a plumbing website, the structure could look something like this:
Not only will Google understand them straight away, but your audience will, too. From there, you can optimise the meta description to also be aligned with this, as well as other free SEO aspects. Remember, you want to remove any stop words, and include hyphens to separate each individual word. For example:
You can check each URL yourself, but there are many online tools available that can automate this process for you, most of which are easy to use and get started. You may need to pay an upfront price though.
Of course, we can also help assess this and conduct website audits for you, especially if you’re a small business.
This is an important process as your content can evolve and change a lot over a period of time. In fact, it absolutely should change, as you should be regularly adding new content like articles, blogs, podcasts and videos to keep your site fresh. And that’s important for search engine results page results, and for your audience. Your website free SEO checker will indicate if your content is causing issues, including any meta description related problems. Constantly run a report in your free SEO audit tool to check this.
Step 1 is to assess how much content you have added. If the answer is not much or none at all. Step 2 is to put together a content plan to ensure you are rolling out content in the future for your audience, your social media and your SEO. This content is the perfect way to include your keywords to further improve your SEO.
If you have been regularly updating your content, this could be an opportunity to purge old content that is no longer relevant or to refresh evergreen articles or the like that may need an update. Information in old content may no longer be relevant but still contain the value, so you should use your audit as an opportunity to get your content up to date without having to write entirely new articles. Additionally, assess your backlink profile to see if content elsewhere is causing negative links.
This should also be viewed as an opportunity to use your free SEO tools to conduct a keyword analysis on your articles and other content. There are many platforms available that can help you assess your keyword health – and also provide a vision of what your competition is doing so you can use those keywords.
Your on and off-page SEO needs you to look at gaps in your content so that you can roll out fresh material – but it is even more important to look for gaps in the competitive media landscape. That way you are producing new and original material that your competitors are not, which puts you ahead and positions you as a thought leader in your industry. You can even use a website SEO checker to ‘spy’ on what your competitors are creating content around.
This also involves updating your SEO keywords with new opportunities and ensuring you are targeting the right keywords in your content. When running your report on a free SEO audit tool, you should analyse your content strategies for your business. That includes your news articles, blogs, videos, podcasts, social media posts, ebooks and technical papers, web pages and landing pages. Even if you’re a small business, these parts of your audit are important.
Not every user to your website is going to be motivated to purchase at that very moment. This provides them with useful material that meets their needs and delivers solutions to challenges. This will make your page memorable and means customers are more likely to return when they are motivated to purchase.
An XML sitemap is a guide for Google that outlines your most important pages and which pages link to others. This provides its bots with the roadmap they need to let Google know what pages are available to use in search results. Your website should already have an XML sitemap, but if it doesn’t, it is essential to construct one for huge SEO gains. Again, your free SEO audit tool will help you identify if these parts are influencing your organic traffic.
If you included an SEO sitemap when your website was built (which you really should have), it is important to note that it is a static document – so if you have made any changes to your websites or added any pages, then they will not be included in it unless you manually add them. That is why this is an important part of your audit, so you are providing the best roadmap to Google.
You will need to look at your XML sitemap and ensure that your current and important URLs are included so that Google can locate them. It is also important to remove any URLs that are no longer current in this process. After you have updated your XML sitemap, you can use Google Search Console to check and ensure that your changes have been crawled by Google, and that your new pages are ready to be included in searches.
For strong SEO results and to ensure that we have fresh content on our websites, we are constantly updating our pages by using an SEO analysis. It can take Google anywhere between four days and four weeks, though, to index your pages, so it pays to check up and ensure this has occurred so you are getting the best possible position in Google searches.
You can log into Google Search Console and see whether these pages have been indexed (we will go into greater detail later in the article). Just go to Settings > Crawl Stats > Open Report and you will get a clear graphic on how often Google has been crawling your site. This is easy to use and gives you a lot of insight into how you can improve various parts of your on and off-page SEO.
If you notice that your site is not being crawled regularly, there are ways to speed up the process and increase the frequency. One of the best ways is to improve your website’s page speed, as this is something Google favours. There are many ways you can update your site speed, which we will go into in more detail later. This is also an important part of your SEO audit.
We mentioned the XML sitemap part of the audit process previously. This is important for indexation – if your important URLs are not listed, then they won’t be indexed.
External and internal links in your SEO analysis
The hyperlinks you include on your website are SEO gold as they are a key indicator that bots will be looking for. These include internal links, which are hyperlinks that direct people to different pages on your own website, as well as external links, which takes people to other websites that are highly reputable where you have sourced information from. Whether you’re a large or small business, you need to make sure these URL aspects are maintained. Use your audit wisely here.
Over time, you should be building a large bank of SEO internal and external links for several key reasons. The internal links are going to make it simple for users to navigate your site and quickly access relevant pages (which can include calls to action, which can take them to landing pages for leads and conversions).
External links highlight that your information has been properly researched and sourced, which will help engender trust with your audience and with SEO bots. Having a strong collection of both internal and external links will also be viewed as extremely favourable, so it is going to help improve your SEO and standing in search engine results. However, low authority or content that’s not written well (like high-quality English) may not come out as being credible. It’s all relative.
Over time, your own website and external websites can undergo changes including re-naming URLs or moving content to another page. So, when you are conducting your SEO site audit, you need to inspect all of the links to see if they are broken or still active. Broken links in your SEO report are not only frustrating for your users, and likely to make them go to another site, but it also reflects badly in the eyes of bots and can hurt your SEO. It is important to thoroughly check internal and external links during your audit to ensure they are functioning correctly.
Using your SEO site audit to assess backlinks
There is another form of link that you need to inspect during your SEO audit. These are the instances where other websites are linking people to your site. These are called backlinks and they are SEO gold, as long as they are working correctly and their site is credible. The more reputable the website, the better impression you will get – so having backlinks from major brands with lots of daily traffic is a goal you should always be seeking. But don’t try to seek links from every small business or anyone volunteering – try to pick and choose the best ones.
You can use Google Analytics or your SEO audit tool to inspect which sites are backlinking to your site. You should do this regularly, not just in SEO audits. It should be a goal to constantly grow this list of backlinks as it is vital SEO fuel for your website.
During your SEO audit, you need to check these backlinks thoroughly for two reasons. Firstly, you may have changed or re-arranged your content, which means the links these sites are using may no longer be current. This effectively renders these backlinks useless, so you will need to reach out to these sites if there have been any changes so they can update their link and you can get the SEO juice from it. Another reason to audit these backlinks is that human error is always a factor, and sometimes they may have put in the wrong hyperlink. Once discovered, these can be easily fixed and both sites can get the benefit from the link.
When bots are ranking websites in order to appear in their searches, they are looking for sites of the highest quality. While the content and the structure play enormous roles in this, the actual performance of your website is a very high consideration for bots. This is called technical SEO, and it is vital you have your site running as smoothly as possible to achieve it.
Over time, a number of things can cause your site to begin to run slower. You could be adding more content and videos which are making pages slower to load, your web host might not be the best and their performance may be suffering. These are things that need to be regularly assessed in your SEO audit – think of it as servicing your vehicle.
This is one area that is going to require time and attention. There is no magic website or app that is going to solve your technical SEO issues. You can use a site to get your base site speed and then improve on it, but you are going to need to put in the work.
There are other layers to technical SEO. We previously mentioned having an XML sitemap –this is a crucial part of technical SEO that bots will come looking for, as it means your site has a clear structure that is easy for people to navigate. Having an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate is important as well, as it highlights that your site is secure and will protect users’ data.
Part of your technical SEO audit tool and report is your site speed. There are many ways that you can improve this to make for a better user experience and also to improve your SEO and standings in searches. This is why website speed is important to SEO.
Optimise your code: Get rid of redundant characters in your code, including commas, spaces and full stops etc, and get rid of code comments and any unused code. There are programs available to automate this process and it will deliver enormous boosts to your site speed.
Get rid of re-directs: Internal links are fantastic, but if the chain is too long it is going to take too long for pages to load. For example, you want your redirects to look like:
www.mywebsite.com => www.mywebsite.com/URL4.
If you have redirects that look like
www.mywebsite.com => www.mywebsite.com/URL2 => www.mywebsite.com/URL3 => www.mywebsite.com/URL4 =>
then you need to get rid of those unnecessary redirects.
Improve your browser caching: Browser caching is handy for your visitors so they don’t have to wait for assets to load again every time they visit. However this can slow down your page, so set an expiration date of a year for caching. If a visitor has not returned in a year, it means they will get the full load again once, but it will remain cached if they return again anytime inside of a year.
Spread the load: By using content distribution networks (CDNs) you are placing duplicate versions of your website across multiple servers, which will share the load. That means you are not limited to the speed of a single server, which could cause a slowdown if it is overloaded with requests across multiple websites.
By undertaking a regular report on a comprehensive SEO audit tool, you are not only going to improve your own website but understand the SEO tricks that your competition is using. When you are researching organic searches, then you will also be able to identify missed or lost opportunities when it comes to keywords and strategies, see areas where your competitors are weak, spot gaps that can be filled in your SEO strategy and get a full view on how your organic strategy is matching up against your competition.
You should always be conducting a fresh keyword analysis strategy and audit. These keywords can shift and evolve over time, and it is important to understand which terms, words and phrases people are using today to reach sites like yours, not what they were using last year. These terms can change dramatically as technology changes. For example, more and more people are using voice rather than text to search these days, using assistants like Siri.
It is also important to compare yourself with competitors across a wide variety of keywords and search terms. For example, if you type “plumbing”, “plumbing services near me” and “emergency plumbing” into an engine, you are very likely to see different competitors at the top of each search. You want to appear towards the top of as many different relevant searches. This presents an opportunity to see who is at the top of each different search term so you can match and beat their SEO strategies.
Creating a strong SEO strategy means you need to understand your target audience, what motivates them and how they are searching for sites like yours. What search terms are they using, on what devices, at what time of day or night. By discovering all of these trends, you can tailor your content for motivated customers so that you can increase your leads, conversions and sales.
You can use other platforms or audit tools to discover the needs and challenges of your audience as well. For example, phone calls to your sales team will uncover regular questions customers are asking, so you put that information at the forefront of your content. Your social media also presents an opportunity to open dialogue with your audience and discover what they are looking for.
Google Analytics can help you assemble a lot of the data you are looking for in your audit under the Demographics and Interests reports, which allows you to compile a large list of common threads like age, location, interests etc that you can use to build your content around. This data can also be farmed through social media using built-in analytics functions in platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.
To go even further, you can conduct your own market research by sending out surveys. You can build these in-house using survey creation tools, or there are various platforms you can use where respondents are paid for their answers and you can get detailed analytics.
We know that you would have put together a content strategy right back when you built your website, but this is not a set and forget process and you need to address this strategy in every SEO audit. It might need some tinkering – and it might be back to the drawing board because things can change a lot in the online space in six months.
Google is constantly updating its algorithm, so you need to stay on top of what they are favouring and audit what they are penalising at the current moment. Your competition is also going to be looking to sharpen and improve their content strategies, so you want to be a step ahead of them as much as you possibly can.
This extends to social media platforms, where the goalposts can shift at the drop of a hat. While the purpose of an SEO audit is to make your website as attractive to search engines as possible, you always want to use social media as a vehicle to funnel traffic to your website using your content.
While there are many paid audit sites and apps out there that might come with more features, Search Console is the most powerful free SEO audit tool available to you to improve your website.
Previously called Webmaster Tools, this is your dedicated free tool from the search engine giants themselves that gives you most of the tools you need to successfully monitor and troubleshoot your website, not only in SEO audits, but on an ongoing basis.
You will need to register and verify your domain with the Console if you haven’t done so already – which is a simple process with plenty of instructions and support provided. Then you will have access to all of the tools you need, but the analytics will only start from when you have verified your domain with Google Search Console. Get this process done as soon as possible to have access to the best data.
You can add your XML sitemap to this tool so that you have an easy platform to audit, monitor and update it. You can add multiple users, so you can have as many of your team as you want to access the platform and monitoring your web performance. But the best features are the detailed graphs that allow you to monitor and improve your keywords and site performance.
All of the data is provided in clear, easy graphics and tables that make it simple for beginners to understand how their website is performing, then make the right adjustments. This makes Search Console essential for your SEO audit, along with your general monitoring and management of your website.
Analytics is equally as important in the audit process, but it is a little bit more complicated to manage – the flipside being that it delivers more comprehensive data. This is a platform that allows you to monitor every aspect of your web activity, including your advertising ROI as well as organic traffic, social media traffic and detailed insights that really allow you to get to understand your customers and develop content and web strategies to meet their needs.
There is a paid version available that includes advanced funnel reporting, audit insights, attribution modelling, roll-up reporting and unlimited data. This version is more for the advanced user, with the free version providing all of the tools and functions that most businesses need for their website.
Analytics allows you to add tracking code to your website so you can get detailed audit data on how very specific functions are running, including your call-to-action buttons. This helps you fine-tune your targeting so that only motivated buyers looking for your product or service are reaching these landing pages or CTAs, and you are more likely to achieve leads, conversions and purchases.
The analytics delivered by this audit platform will find the common threads between visitors coming in from search results along with social media clicks, and build the dossier of your ideal customer. These details enable you to target the right audiences moving forward, so this is an essential and powerful tool.
There are many other features, but the good thing about Analytics is that you can use it for basic audit functions, then go as deep as you want from there. These basic functions are essential for your SEO auditing and provide all of the data you need to be successful.
Common SEO mistakes that can lead to penalties
As we have mentioned previously, search engines change changing their algorithms and it is vital you keep on top of these updates through an audit, so you know what they are favouring.
It is also important to follow these algorithms because they include certain practices that they are cracking down on. Favourable SEO strategies are often called White Hat SEO practices, while the dodgy methods that are likely to penalise you are called Black Hat SEO strategies. Here are the Black Hat strategies you need to avoid in 2021 so that you don’t risk pushing your site down the rankings in search results.
Broken pages: We mentioned backlinks and how powerful they can be for your SEO. They can be equally dangerous if they are pointing to broken links. If you have changed or abolished a URL and there is a backlink pointing to it, ensure you set up a redirect to the new page so that the visitor is finding the correct information, not a broken link.
Multiple, poor quality pages: Quality over quantity is the name of the game when it comes to SEO. Search bots favour a site with 20 high-quality pages over a site with 100 sparsely populated pages. Do you really need that many pages? Do you have the time and resources to ensure they are all populated properly? Always focus on having quality pages that you can maintain over time, rather than too many pages that you don’t have time to update.
Duplicated content: This goes back to the previous point. It can be simple to use content from one page on another page that is relevant. This is a huge no-no, and is likely to attract a penalty.
Unattainable keywords: This is not going to get you penalised, but it is bad practice. There are certain keywords that you are just not going to hit because the competition is too high. Many keyword analysis tools will outline the keyword difficulty and if these are too high, don’t focus on them.
Keyword spamming: This is a big one that search bots hate. Back in the pioneering days of the internet, people were able to trick search engines by stuffing keywords into headings, content and anywhere else they could fit them. ‘Plumbing services for people looking for plumbing at the best plumbing rates’ is content stuffing and will land you in hot water.
Buying links: Ignore those ads, ignore those sites, ignore those mates who say you can just buy backlinks instead of earning them. Google knows and they will punish you for it. There are no shortcuts to link building.
Having thin content: The artificial intelligence powering the last algorithm update means it can read content on par with highly intelligent humans. If you have thin content that offers little except the inclusion of your keywords, this is not going to work for you anymore. Your content needs to be fresh, relevant, in-depth and thought-provoking.
Packing the top of your site with ads: This is often-called ‘above the fold’ content, the first part of a web page a visitor will see before they scroll down to view more. If you are stuffing all of your content and advertising into this ‘above the fold’ part of the screen and ignoring the rest, then you could be penalised.
Hidden content: Another trick used by people in the past. This could be paragraphs of keywords stuffed into a website but invisible to visitors. Bots are smarter than that in 2021. Use your audit to check this.
There are many other high-level types of Black Hat SEO, but the message is clear – focus on what Google and its users want and you will be in the clear. Try and play trick in any way and you will be penalised. Ensure you are on the lookout for anything that could be flagged by using your audit or SEO report as gospel.
Don’t have an SEO audit tool? As a small business owner, we know your are busy so let us take care of the SEO hard yards for you.