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Conducting an SEO Audit: The Complete Guide

An SEO audit is a crucial exercise that provides websites with an objective evaluation of what’s working, what needs improvement, and how to increase visibility and traffic from organic search.

By following a step-by-step SEO auditing process, sites can benchmark against competitors, diagnose critical issues hindering performance, and develop data-driven recommendations to maximize search ranking and growth.

Table of Contents

Overview of SEO Auditing

Overview of SEO Auditing

An SEO audit is a systematic review of a site’s technical and content components to determine optimization levels for search engines.

The goal is to identify areas where a site is underperforming so fixes can be made to enhance visibility and search traffic.

Specifically, an SEO audit evaluates:

  • On-page factors like URL structure, metadata, keywords, content, HTML tags, and site speed.
  • Technical elements like site architecture, structured data, indexing, crawl errors, and duplicate content.
  • External factors like backlinks, anchor text, local listings, and competitor benchmarking.
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By carefully analyzing all these elements, an SEO audit produces actionable recommendations to increase organic rankings, traffic, and conversions. Also, it establishes an SEO performance baseline to measure future improvements.

Conducting regular SEO audits is important for staying ahead of Google algorithm updates and keeping pace with competitors. Small technical problems today can significantly impact rankings and traffic months down the line if not addressed promptly.

How to Perform an SEO Audit: Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you know what SEO auditing is all about let me walk you through the entire process of performing a thorough SEO audit. 

From developing an auditing strategy to documenting your results, here are the steps you need to follow:

Step 1. Develop an SEO Audit Strategy

Before starting an actual audit, having a strategic plan is vital for an optimal outcome.

Be clear on what the audit aims to achieve, whether higher rankings, more organic traffic, lead generation, or sales. 

Establish specific numeric targets for critical metrics like target keywords, rankings, site visits, and conversions. These will serve as key result areas for the audit.

Also, set comparative benchmarks based on competitors for metrics such as their organic traffic, top-performing pages, and number of referring domains linking to their sites.

Of course, sufficient auditing will require a mix of paid and free tools. So, you need to figure out which tools you’re going to use. 

All-in-one paid tools such as Semrush, Ahrefs, and ScreamingFrog cater well through domain authority metrics, custom reporting, and competitive analysis.

Free tools like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Google PageSpeed Insights, and Google Rich Results Test focus individually on crawling insights, internal search analytics, site performance, and structured data testing, respectively.

The MozBar and SimilarWeb browser extensions are good for on-page analysis and external traffic benchmarking. Pingdom helps analyze site speed in detail.

Step 2. Check Indexing Issues in the Search Console

Check Indexing Issues in the Search Console

Having your site properly indexed is critical for organic ranking. So, start the auditing process by navigating to the Index report in Google Search Console. 

This shows you pages Google has successfully crawled and indexed versus pages it has issues indexing. Compare the numbers of successfully indexed pages over time—you want to see steady growth.

Analyze the specific indexation errors to understand why pages get excluded. Common problems include incorrect crawl settings disallowing bots, page errors like 404s or 500s, or issues around embedded resources blocking page rendering. 

Click into each error type to see sample affected URLs—these need fixes first. Also, check indexed versus submitted in sitemaps—mismatches signal crawl efficacy problems.

Fix technical barriers to page indexing by following Google guidelines. Adjust robots.txt and meta settings, resolve page errors, optimize page speed, and implement fixes for AJAX pages. 

Further, leverage tools like URL Inspection to diagnose issues with individual URLs. For each page, inspect the status, fetch and render details, links, and more to identify barriers.

After remediating indexing errors, validate fixes in Search Console to prompt Google to re-crawl and hopefully index the pages. 

Monitor your progress over time until all discoverable pages that should be indexed get indexed successfully. 

Consistently check indexing reports and keep fixing barriers for maximum organic visibility.

Step 3. Run a Site Crawl With the Site Audit Tool

Crawling your site mimics search engine bots indexing pages to surface technical problems impacting organic performance. Semrush’s Site Audit is an excellent free crawler that creates detailed SEO audits tailored to different experience levels. 

Customize project settings like page depth and priority levels, then initiate the crawl from fresh or existing data. Larger sites may require sampling pages versus a full crawl due to processing time.

The audit dashboard shows high-level site health and group issues by severity. You must fix errors like security problems or inaccessible pages immediately, as they significantly obstruct bots. 

Next, address warnings around indexing barriers, duplicate content, and page speeds. Finally, notices cover best practice recommendations.

Drilling down, the Issues report organizes the 200+ potential problems making it easy to track progress. Tags help categorize issues spanning Crawlability, Redirects, Page Speed, Security, and more. 

Filtering the expanded list lets you dig into specifics like Core Web Vital metrics or fix 404 errors. External link checkers validate problems.

Ultimately, your site will be optimized for peak search engine indexing by methodically fixing Site Audit findings.

Step 4. Identify Duplicate Versions of Your Site

Managing duplicate website versions is an important audit task with wide-ranging implications. 

Start by checking duplicate content issues directly in your browser. Type your domain with and without the ‘www’, as well as the ‘HTTP’ and ‘https’ versions. 

If you can access more than one variant, you have duplicate versions that may confuse search engines and dilute signals.

Pick your preferred domain version and consolidate signals using 301 redirects or canonical tags. 301s pass signals, while canonicals indicate preferred pages. 

To redirect:

  1. Set up server-side or .htaccess redirect rules pointing versions to the one you want to keep. 
  2. Use Google Search Console property settings to designate your primary domain.

Consolidating to a single domain version eliminates duplicate content risks, focuses signals to boost rankings, and prevents issues splitting analytics data. 

With redirects or canonicals implemented, type various domain versions in a browser again or use ScreamingFrog to confirm they all go to your primary URL. 

Recheck the Search Console for duplicate content or crawler access warnings. Combined metrics equal a successful duplicate domain consolidation.

Step 5. Check for Manual Actions in the Search Console

Sites violating Google’s spam policies may get manual penalties applied either page-specifically or site-wide. These actions can severely damage your rankings, so checking the Search Console is imperative during audits. 

Navigate to Security & Manual Actions > Manual Actions. 

Green means no penalties detected. Red flags require investigating violation reasons ranging from thin content to artificial links.

The first step is undoing actions causing manual penalties, as simply identifying them won’t improve visibility organically. 

Remove paid links, scrape low-quality pages violating policies, and significantly improve content or optimizations. 

Be sure to document all fixes thoroughly and use Google’s Manual Actions guide to inform strategy.

Step 6. Evaluate Mobile Friendliness Issues

Evaluate Mobile Friendliness Issues

With mobile representing over half of web traffic, having a smartphone-optimized responsive site is mandatory. Run the Mobile Usability report in Google Search Console to catch issues causing the mobile-friendliness assessment failure. 

Tap Targets Too Close is a common error—expand details to see affected pages. Content Width Not Set and Viewport Meta Tag issues also appear frequently, indicating an incorrectly set viewport.

Compare other mobile errors against industry guidelines. Chrome DevTools Lighthouse tab quantifies Core Web Vitals metrics measuring user experience—scores under 40 are red flags. 

Google recommends fixing the CLS layout shift, LCP largest contentful paint delays, and FID first input lag problems hampering site interactions via touch. 

You should also contrast tap targets, eliminate render-blocking resources, and optimize images. 

Retest after making fixes using Search Console or Lighthouse. For user retention and rankings boosts, follow all mobile friendliness and page experience guidance highlighted in audits.

Step 7. Analyze Site Speed and Performance

Your website’s speed and performance have a direct impact on user experience, bounce rates, and your organic rankings, making optimization in this area crucial. 

Start by using tools like Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights to benchmark current page load speeds and metrics like TTI and FCP, then diagnose areas for improvement. 

For example, render-blocking JavaScript and CSS often hampers performance. 

By minifying code, establishing browser caching, compressing images and video files, and upgrading hosting plans if necessary, sites can significantly boost speeds. 

The resulting gains in conversion rates and visibility in search results make the effort well worth it.

Step 8. Audit Internal Link Structure

Carefully structuring internal links helps distribute authority to elevate pages’ ability to rank well in search results. 

Using Site Audit’s Internal Linking report, you can uncover pages with suboptimal authority being passed through other internal links by comparing their Internal Link Rank scores. 

Select relevant, high-quality pages to boost links pointing to priority pages needing visibility lifts. Also, fix broken internal links causing crawl accessibility problems and leaking authority cited in ‘Orphan pages’ not linked to internally whatsoever. 

Having a well-planned internal link architecture lifts conversion potential onsite by better connecting relevant content.

Step 9. Monitor Organic Traffic in Search Console

Regularly monitoring Organic Traffic metrics demonstrates how your technical and content optimization efforts are increasing interest and click from search engine results. 

Under the Performance section of Google Search Console, check metrics like Total Organic Clicks to quantify month-to-month how many more searchers are clicking on result links leading to your pages. 

Segment by landing pages, geographic countries, and devices to fully analyze the growth trends in natural search visibility over time. 

Upward-trending graphs signal strong SERP rankings and visibility driven by current initiatives. Declines, on the other hand, prompt the need to invest in new keyword and link-building efforts to sustain expansions.

Step 10. Benchmark Against Competitors

Comparing your website’s metrics against competitors’ data points allows you to gauge precisely where there are opportunities to exceed their performance. 

In a tool like Semrush, the Authority Score approximates overall domain quality on a 1-100 scale calculated from aggregating backlinks, organic traffic, and other signals driving exposure and conversions. 

Eyeball their Organic Keywords and Traffic to pinpoint areas where you may rank for search terms warranting content development or currently send fewer visits due to subpar page optimization tactics in play. 

If competitors have considerably more Referring Domains, it also flags possibilities around securing additional high-quality backlinks from websites they’ve already tapped into that your site lacks presence with so far. 

Regularly benchmarking these elements focuses your work on outperforming rivals’ positions across all fronts over time.

Step 11. Find Missing Keyword Opportunities

Leveraging competitors’ search rankings to conduct thorough keyword research reveals high-potential terms to target closing visibility gaps. 

By importing competitor domains into a tool like Keyword Gap in Semrush, you can generate lists of keywords they currently rank well for that your own site either misses out on completely or only ranks weakly by comparison. 

Analyzing search volume metrics for the top discovered terms presents prime optimization opportunities to create content that better satisfies searcher intent on subjects your rivals dominate on. 

Subsequently, developing great content targeting the right long-tail keyword opportunities allows you to steal organic traffic from competitors’ listings effectively.

Step 12. Identify Backlink Gaps

Alongside assessing keyword rankings, backlink profile audits spotlight link-building areas to narrow authority gaps against industry leaders. 

Using a backlink analysis tool will help you compare competitors’ backlink sources against your own domain and compile lists of referral sites not currently linking to you.

Identify relevant websites in your sector that feature competitors’ backlinks. From there, develop custom content and outreach emails pitching similarly relevant links pointing users to your domain too. 

Earning links successfully from the same sites/pages that are elevating their domain strength demonstrates closing authority gaps. This amplifies search visibility gains in the long term, eventually surpassing their own page 1 positions.

Step 13. Audit Top Pages

Analyzing the on-page SEO elements of priority pages driving business goals gives tactical optimization direction. 

An automated on-page SEO checker like that of Ahrefs or Semrush compares your selected pages against both industry averages and specific competitors across vital elements like Titles, Meta Data, Headings, Page Speed, Content-Length, and Images. 

The tool quickly showcases deficiencies in effectively targeting keywords relative to rivals along with site averages. 

Detailed breakdowns coupled with custom recommendations generated then enable improving page optimization further by addressing highlighted areas you trail behind in. 

Following competitor and best practice, benchmarks guides enhancement decisions to better attract search visibility. Traffic and conversions subsequently benefit.

Step 14. Set Up Rank Tracking

Set Up Rank Tracking

Implementing consistent rank tracking allows you to proactively monitor your website’s positions for target keywords in search engine results pages. 

Dedicated rank-checking tools such as Semrush and Ahrefs facilitate setup and tracking while providing alerts when rankings shift both positively and negatively. 

Building out custom rank tracking projects starts by importing keywords to monitor, then adding locations and devices to enable multifaceted data gathering across SERPs. 

Checking your rankings on a weekly basis (at minimum) supplies regular insights on how your SEO and content strategies are performing in terms of translating into desired ranking movements.

Step 15. Document Your Audits

Documenting audit findings professionally maximizes impact and achieves site fixes faster through visual summations and data-driven recommendations. 

You need to capture the audit analysis through engaging slide decks, compartmentalizing observations into strengths, deficiencies, and their optimization recommendations spanning sections like technical SEO, site speed, engagement metrics, and conversions.

Creative usage of color coding, iconography, and data visualization via graphs/charts helps crystallize issues and opportunities.

Drag-and-drop software like Visme simplifies audit presentations.

Be sure to quantify conclusions around commonly measured marketing KPIs over time in easy-to-decipher charts. Common KPIs include traffic volumes, keyword visibility percentages, page load times, and DA score differences against rivals.

Columns and line charts effectively showcase progress, while funnels depict conversion falloffs. Tables, on the other hand, aid structured data.

Export relevant site crawl analysis reports or Google Search Console warning trend snapshots as exhibit slides.

Remember to maintain data accuracy!

Step 16. Develop an SEO Audit Schedule

Sustaining strong organic performance relies on properly scheduled recurring technical and growth audits determining timing sequences.

  • Larger quarterly manual audits should cover links, content, gaps vs competitors, and new wins to pursue. 
  • Monthly on-page optimizations should review landing page copy, speed, and conversions. 
  • Run core Web Vitals checks bi-monthly to catch lags degrading user experience. 
  • Weekly rank tracking monitors keyword movements and ranking volatility. 
  • Run crawl errors, site indexing, and mobile friendliness checks every 2 weeks. 
  • Annual planning reviews cover budgets and growth while offsetting algorithm shifts.

 Following a clear calendar sustains website visibility.

The Benefits of SEO Auditing

There are many tangible benefits to performing regular SEO audits, including:

Increased Organic Visibility and Traffic

Thorough SEO audits help uncover site issues that may be obstructing search crawler accessibility and indexing. Identifying and correcting these can directly strengthen search visibility and drive increased organic traffic.

An audit also produces content optimization suggestions to better target relevant searcher intent.

Higher Rankings and Conversions

Higher Rankings and Conversions

Impactful solutions become possible by diagnosing existing on-page, technical, and off-page ranking deficiencies through audits.

As more SEO best practices are implemented over time, sustained ranking gains on target keywords can be achieved.

Higher rankings naturally earn more clicks and inbound visitors, leading to better conversions.

Enhanced User Experience

Several aspects of an SEO audit evaluate site speed, mobile optimization, navigation, site architecture, and content quality.

Improving these UX elements through audit suggestions increases user satisfaction and engagement metrics.

This produces positive cascading effects on organic traffic, rankings, and conversions over time.

Lower CPC/CPA Ad Costs

Earned organic growth from SEO audits means depending less on paid search and social ads for the same volume of traffic.

Lower paid advertising dependence saves money directly on CPC/CPA bid costs and allocated budgets. SEO efficiency enhances marketing ROI.

Identifying SEO Skill and Resource Gaps

Not all digital marketing teams may possess robust in-house SEO skills.

SEO audits can identify domains requiring external subject matter expertise or additional hiring. This enables budgeting appropriate SEO resources for the best ROI.

Staying Ahead of Google Algorithm Updates

Google rolls out thousands of algorithm tweaks annually, some with major rankings impacts.

Conducting frequent technical SEO audits helps quickly catch any new vulnerabilities before they substantially damage organic visibility.

Wrap-Up

With Google’s algorithms evolving perpetually and competition intensifying, maintaining robust organic visibility through disciplined SEO auditing is critical for success.

Small on-page errors or technical flaws today risk substantially depressing rankings, site visits, and conversions months later if left undetected.

By reviewing the factors search engines deem important and regularly evaluating performance against industry benchmarks, websites can improve their Google perception scores and sustain optimal visibility and traffic levels over the long term.

Phillip Stemann
Phillip Stemann
I love SEO. It's what I live and breathe. I took a different approach than the average SEO expert. I started as a programmer, transitioned into the technical aspect of SEO, which I've always found interesting, and then focused on content using the right tools, which I'm reviewing on my YouTube channel.

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