A Simple DIY Website Audit

Recently, a friend of my wife’s was wondering if I would take a look at a her small business website and give her some insights about what she could focus on to improve. The catch is that she didn’t have the budget to hire me or any other SEO professional. I also have run into several IT managers and marketing people in the past couple months who know their company site is not working right and would love to be able to fix it, but don’t know where to start to gather the information needed to get the beaurocracy to approve those fixes.

That’s why I’ve decided to make a great a DIY site audit template for similar small businesses or in-house IT managers who’ve been handed the “role of SEO” and other who need to know where to start when you’re doing a site audit.

You've got to break it all down in an audit

Breaking down a site into all of it’s pieces can help you understand what’s broken and how it should be fixed.

First of all, you should know that there is a lot of information you need to know about technical SEO and the implementation of best practices. There are real professionals in the SEO field who specialize in this specific part of the optimization process.

There are dozens of insights and opportunities they would spot in this process that you won’t if you follow this DIY process. So hire someone if possible.

That being said, if you’re in over your head, have no budget and have a website with problems that even you can see then I think I can help you.

Helpful Site Audit Templates

Chances are good that if you’re doing this kind of audit then you’re going to want to have it in a more permanent form than an email. You may even need to present it to the “powers that be” to get some of the potential issues resolved that will be revealed in an audit. That’s why I’ve created a template for you in three different mediums so you can update it with your own site audit:

What You’ll Need To Do This DIY Audit

Look closely

Here are some tools to help you take a closer look.

  • Access to Google Analytics
  • Access to Google Webmaster Tools
  • Copyscape
  • A lot of patience and a web browser
  • A victory dance for when you’re finished. Shot of Whiskey, a fine hard apple cider or glass of wine.
  • A good site crawler.

Before Your Run, You Gotta Crawl

When you start your audit you’re going to need some data that will be easier to access with additional programs instead of just a browser. The first thing being a “crawl” program that visits the site, accesses all of the pages and behaves like a search engine spider to uncover some flaws in your site design or architecture.

I personally love Beam Us Up’s free SEO crawler, mostly because it will give you an excel export of the “crawl” data with tabs showing filtered results for the most common issues and it has no crawl limit on it’s free version (just be sure to update to the most recent Java). You can use other crawlers like these as well that have other limits or require licenses.

Let’s Get This Site Audit Started!

High Five! Let's do this audit!

High Five! Let’s do this audit!

Domain Expiration

Fail: Letting your domain expire.

Seriously. If you let your domain expire underneath you, that’s a serious fail.

Letting your domain expire is the most preventable of SEO catastrophes. There’s a whole industry based on ransoming expired domains back to owners who allowed them to lapse. Unfortunately, I let my own domain footinmouthdisease.net lapse and now there’s a medical article site spamming up the interwebs.

Domain Name Redirection

The very first thing I always look at is whether or not they have properly setup their domain name.

  • Does the site show up at BOTH www and non-www without redirecting to one or the other? (
  • Does the site resolve at /site.aspx, /default.aspx or /home/ instead of the bare root domain?
  • I almost always prefer to use non-www for my domains, partly because the internet is larger than the “world wide web” but also I hate having to say “double-you,double-you,double-you”.

Server setup – SSL

If you have heard that a SSL certificate and securing your site to send traffic through HTTPS protocols can possibly impact ranking, then you should know that you can easily make errors in this process, here’s something to check and it’s related to redirects. If you have got a certificate for the root domain, but not a “wildcard” certificate, then you may end up getting some scary messages going to your visitors when they click a link that goes to the WWW version of your site (even if there’s a redirect).

Robots.txt

The robots.txt file is located in the primary directory of your website. This file tells the search engines what pages they can and cannot crawl on your website. It also helps them know what sections of the site to spend their time in. Here’s what to check for:

  • Does it exist? If it doesn’t then make one. (Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress includes it.)
  • Does it block URLs that exist in the sitemap? Then either remove them from the sitemap or the robots file.
  • Are you disallowing crawling of your entire site? Yes. This happens WAY too often.
  • Do you have a ridiculous amount of crawl rules?

XML Sitemap

The xml sitemap is also a file that should be located in the primary directory of your website. This file serves as a map for the search engine to quickly understand how the pages of your site work together. While the search engine will likely find all pages on your site eventually through it’s crawling, it’s important to make that process easier for them by uploading this file and directing the crawler to the pages you would have them see as most important.

  • Does an XML sitemap exist?
  • Is it formatted correctly?
  • Has it been submitted to Google Webmaster Tools?
  • Does the sitemap contain pages excluded in Robots.txt?
  • Does the sitemap include improperly formatted URLs?
  • Do the pages included in the sitemap deserve to be included? Don’t add empty eCommerce listings or stub pages.

Malware

I've got a Hunch Hunch You've Got Malware

Hunch Hunch, What What?

If your site has been compromised by a php inject or has hijacked your comments or forums then you’re in for a bad time. Check periodically for warnings in Google webmaster tools, and also beware sudden spikes in traffic to the user generated portions of your site. I’ve helped several people recently who had to disavow a ton of links pointed to forum pages that were generated with links to pills, pron and gambling sites.

Site Load Speed – Page Timings

The page load speed of a site can often influence the way search engines look at a page or site. If it takes too long to load, they will assume that provides a worse user experience than if it were to load faster and they most certainly take that into consideration when ranking websites.

“Amazon finds a 100ms slowdown – one tenth of a second! – can mean a 1% decrease in revenue.”

According to surveys done by Akamai and Gomez.com, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds. 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with web site performance say they won’t return to the site to buy again and around 44% of them would tell a friend if they had a poor experience shopping online.

One of the best ways to understand how Google has indexed your site is to do what is called a “site search.” This involves using a search modifier for google along with the domain of your website. The search query would look like this: “site:basecampleasing.com.” This search will return all pages that Google has indexed for your site.

  • Does the # of indexed pages match the real # of pages?
  • Are there duplicate pages being indexed?
  • Are there thin or stub pages being indexed?
  • Has your site been indexed at www, non-www or with /index.php or any other URL string?

URLs

Page URLs should be structured in a way that makes sense with the content on the site and that makes sense to the user if they were to simply read it. This usually involves including a topical category level in the URL if applicable and using targeted keywords in the URL where possible.

Below is an example of the way a very solid URL for SEO would be structured:

http://www.example.com/category-keyword/subcategory-keyword/primary-keyword

vs.

http://www.example.com/prod/cat/unit1234

You will need to carefully plan out any URL re-writing with proper redirects in your HTAccess file to fix these structural URL issues. Don’t make any sudden changes that could cause pages that are indexed to suddenly return error messages.

Meta Titles

Meta titles are supposed to be coded into the head of the HTML on every page on your website. This element generates the title that you probably see in the top tab of your web browser as well, and more importantly, the title snippet seen on the SERP for pages on your website is pulled from that title tag. It is also one of the most important elements that Google looks at when trying to understand what a page on your site is about and it’s relevance.

Meta titles also should generally include targeted keywords that are relevant to the content on that specific page. The title should be unique to each page on the site to signify the difference in content across the site. They should include both a strong keyword phrase and the name of the company in order to maintain consistency across the site. A big issue is title length, with far to many people making them too long, which will cause Google to make some changes to it’s SERP.

Meta Descriptions

Taking control and writing an effective meta description allows you to draw more searchers through to the site increasing your click through rate which makes your organic reach more effective even if you’re not changing your rankings directly.

Meta Keywords

We could exchange reciprocal links! Oh, i know..want to be part of my link wheel?

Created with due respect to Ryan North of Dino Comics from his template

Seriously? Sigh. Come on people. Just kill these tags if they exist.

OG tags, Twitter Cards and Rich Pins

These tags from facebook help populate the correct image, title and description for when your page is shared, and leads to increased click through from that social media channel. Adding Twitter card markup has a similar effect but also gives you relevant analytics data at analytics.twitter.com to show you your tweet’s performance. Verifying your site with Pinterest allows you to post rich pins from your site which improve click through.

Headings

Don’t think you’re going to suddenly jump to the top of the rankings when you use header tags but don’t forget them either. You should naturally be using h1s for things like the blog post title, and h2s for sub-topics. It’s helpful to remember that using headers also is a usability issue. I always use these headers as “tabs” to grab skimming page visitors looking for the piece of content they need.

Duplicate Content

What Out For Duplicates!

What out for duplicates of your original content!

There are actually two ways to look at this issue. The first way is looking for content that’s been duplicated on the site itself. This can happen really easily in big eCommerce site where there are a lot of entries. It’s also a common side effect of many CMS platforms. This should be detected in your crawl. Remove the duplicate, any links to the duplicate page and add a 301 redirect. If you can’t because your CMS has it’s limits, then add a rel=canonical tag to the one you’d prefer to be indexed.

The send thing you need to watch out for is off-site content duplication. Use a 3rd party tool like Copyscape to check to see if your content is duplicated on other sites. This could be your own site copying from others or a problem with scraping by 3rd party sites. If your site shares content with other sites, it could be stemming from use of a manufactures description for your eCommerce products, laziness or plagarism and should be hunted down and stopped immediately.

Duplicate Content

What Out For Duplicates!

There are actually two ways to look at this issue. The first way is looking for content that’s been duplicated on the site itself. This can happen really easily in big eCommerce site where there are a lot of entries. It’s also a common side effect of many CMS platforms. This should be detected in your crawl. Remove the duplicate, any links to the duplicate page and add a 301 redirect. If you can’t because your CMS has it’s limits, then add a rel=canonical tag to the one you’d prefer to be indexed.

The send thing you need to watch out for is off-site content duplication. Use a 3rd party tool like Copyscape to check to see if your content is duplicated on other sites. This could be your own site copying from others or a problem with scraping by 3rd party sites. If your site shares content with other sites, it could be stemming from use of a manufactures description for your eCommerce products, laziness or plagarism and should be hunted down and stopped immediately.

[See what I did there?]

Image Optimization

There’s a lot of things you could be doing wrong with your images. Here’s the two most important ones:

  • All images should have non-spammy but relevant descriptions added as alt text and optionally in the title element as well.
  • All images should have a filename that is relevant to the product, and not just a string of numbers or slider1432, because that also is a signal to search engines about the relevance of the image.

Favicon

This small image in a .ico format is displayed in the browser and becomes the icon when the site is bookmarked. It’s the cherry-on-top. Don’t forget about it.

Broken Pages – 404 & 500

There are a lot of reasons why you could end up with a 404 that go beyond the page simply not existing. It’s key to map out how many pages are actually broken through your crawl, where those errors are linked from, how they are broken, and get them fixed.

The 500 error is a server error message and tends to be a programming or CMS caused issue but still should be fixed with the same following process.

When check your crawl to see how many of these errors have been created don’t just fix the problem that created them on the page. Be sure to add 301 redirects via your HTaccess file for those broken URLs to a relevant resource page. Once you’ve done that check in Google Webmaster Tools to see if their crawl errors has that page listed and mark it as fixed.

404 Page

It’s going to happen eventually. Someone is going to type in the wrong address, click on a mal-formed link and end up on your 40 page. But that doesn’t mean you should lose the value of that visitor. Make your 404 more than an apology, guide those visitors to your highest value pages and offerings or at least entertain them with clever error messages.

Gathering All Of The Data

Now don't get too frustrated.

Now don’t get too frustrated. This is going to help make it all better in the end.

Okay. This is where the rubber meets the road. I’ve provided the template of your choice in Google Documents, Spreadsheets and Slides for you, now go and see just how many of these mistakes your site has made.

Presenting Your Audit Findings

You don't have to dance, but you are certainly entitled to.

You don’t have to dance, but you are certainly entitled to do so.

While there are even more parts to check for every area I listed and tons more beyond that you really should be feeling good when you complete this audit. It may take some time to actually get these things fixed, if they ever are, but you will know you’ve done everything you can to improve the situation. Good job!

2 Comments

Steve Webb

Well done Jeremy!

As you mentioned, there are A TON of things to consider when you perform a full-blown technical SEO audit (that’s what keeps me busy). But if you don’t have the budget for that option, there are still lots of simple things you can do (as you’ve pointed out in this post).

Depending on how competitive the industry is, small sites can absolutely see big improvements by doing the simple stuff correctly. More competitive industries will obviously require more work (and stronger off-page signals), but you’ll still need to take care of the simple stuff.

Jeremy Rivera

Exactly. With larger sites, it’s almost always just ALL the simple stuff stacking up and getting crazy as the size of the site increases.

Redirecting 1 or 2 pages: Easy
Redirecting 1 or 2 thousand pages: Hard.

And remember folks. There are professionals who do this for a living for a REASON. Get help when you can!

Comments are closed.