When we retired young, we needed something to do. I wanted to learn something new, so we bought ChaChingQueen. We knew nothing about running a website.
We knew the site had solid traffic, a 12+ year track record, a solid social media following, and a vision that aligned with ours.
But we didn’t know what a puzzle it would be. We didn’t know how technically deficient the site was. We had no way to unless we paid a professional to tell us or if we had experience.
I knew the site was slow. I knew the site had way too many ads. If you think there are a lot of ads now, consider there were 3x as many ads before!
So after the site transitioned to us, we got to work learning. I focused on the technical aspects behind the scenes of the site. Erin focused on social media. We both focused on content.
I quickly learned how little I knew about SEO. In fact, I had never heard of the phrase before we bought ChaChingQueen!
This guide provides an extensive overview of the SEO audit process, outlining seven crucial steps to empower SEO experts and beginners alike.
Additionally, we’ll address frequently asked questions and offer a comprehensive tutorial on conducting a SEO audit using free tools.
I am sharing with you what I learned, mostly the hard way, or by paying people to teach me.
Table of Contents
Seven Elements of a SEO Audit
SEO specialists utilize SEO audits to assess various factors, including speed, performance, and user-friendliness.
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Regular audits provide insights into potential technical issues, facilitating continuous optimization.
1. Scan Your Website
Utilize a website crawling tool to estimate the number of URLs, identify indexed pages, and uncover issues affecting performance.
This step involves using a specialized tool to systematically explore a website, providing valuable insights into its structure, the number of pages, and potential technical issues that could impact its SEO performance.
- Utilize a website crawling tool:
- Website crawling tools are software applications designed to browse and analyze the content of a website systematically.
- They simulate the behavior of search engine bots that crawl web pages to index and rank them.
- Estimate the number of URLs:
- Websites often consist of numerous pages, and it’s essential to understand the total number of URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) on the site.
- This information helps assess the website’s scale and potential impact on search engine performance.
- Identify indexed pages:
- Search engines index web pages to include them in search results. Identifying the indexed pages helps ensure that the search engine has properly recognized and cataloged the website’s content.
- Discrepancies between the actual number of pages and the indexed pages can highlight potential issues with crawlability or indexing.
- Uncover issues affecting performance:
- Performance issues can hinder a website’s visibility and user experience. These issues may include slow page loading times, server errors, or other technical problems.
- By using a crawling tool, you can identify and analyze various technical aspects that might affect the website’s performance in search engine rankings.
This step is discovering what you have. You can’t fix anything until you know what you are working with.
2. Identify Indexing Problems
Address pages that Google cannot access, ensuring proper indexing and avoiding common issues impacting visibility.
Spot Indexing Problems:
Indexing is a crucial process in SEO where search engines, like Google, analyze and catalog web pages to include them in search results.
Spotting indexing problems involves identifying pages that search engines cannot access or properly index.
Address pages that Google cannot access
Some pages on a website may be inadvertently blocked from search engine crawlers, preventing them from being indexed.
Addressing this issue involves identifying and removing any barriers that prevent search engines, particularly Google, from accessing and crawling these pages.
Ensuring proper indexing
Proper indexing ensures that a website’s content is accurately represented in search engine databases.
This step involves verifying that all relevant pages are successfully indexed and available for search engines to include in search results.
Avoiding common issues impacting visibility
Visibility in search results is critical for a website’s success. Common visibility issues include pages not being indexed, resulting in lower rankings or exclusion from search results.
Identifying and addressing these common issues is essential to ensure the website is effectively visible to users searching for related content.
Dive deeper into the reasons behind indexing problems: Investigate and analyze why certain pages are not being properly indexed.
Explore the potential impact of a robots.txt file: The robots.txt file is used to control which areas of a website search engines are allowed to crawl. Ensure that it is configured correctly to avoid unintentional restrictions.
Investigate server issues: Server-related problems can impact how search engines access and index a website. Look for server errors or issues that might hinder crawling.
Check for improper redirects: Improper redirects can confuse search engines and affect indexing. Ensure that redirects are set up correctly and do not hinder the crawling process.
3. Check Technical On-Page Elements
Prioritize on-page elements such as page titles, meta descriptions, canonical tags, hreflang tags, and schema markup.
Well-Crafted Meta Description
A meta description is a summary of what a webpage is about, usually seen in search results.
Crafting a compelling meta-description involves using language that entices people to click on the link.
For example, a description for a shoe store might say, “Explore top-quality running shoes for all terrains. Our expert-curated collection offers comfort, durability, and style for every runner. Find your perfect pair today.”
An optimized meta description increases the chances of people clicking on your website when it appears in search results.
Effective Schema Markup
Schema markup is like a special language that helps search engines understand what’s on a webpage.
Imagine you have an online store selling shoes. Using schema markup, you can tell search engines specific details about each product, like its name, brand, and customer ratings.
This information can appear as a rich snippet in search results, providing users with more details.
For instance, a rich snippet might show star ratings and a brief product description, making it more appealing and informative.
This enhances the user experience by giving people a better idea of what to expect from a webpage before clicking on it.
Optimized Page Titles
A page title is the name of your webpage that appears in search results.
Crafting an optimized page title involves using clear and relevant words that tell users and search engines what your page is about.
For example, a good page title for a shoe store might be “Best Running Shoes for Every Terrain | YourBrand.”
Think of canonical tags as a way to tell search engines about the preferred version of a webpage when there are similar or duplicate pages.
These tags help search engines understand which page should be the main one.
For instance, if you have multiple pages with similar content, you can use a canonical tag to point to the primary or preferred page, helping search engines show the right one in search results.
Hreflang tags are like language tags for search engines, indicating the languages your content is available in.
They are helpful for websites with content in multiple languages, ensuring that users see the version of a page that matches their language preference.
For example, suppose your shoe store has pages in English and Spanish. In that case, hreflang tags help search engines show the English version to English-speaking users and the Spanish version to Spanish-speaking users, providing a more personalized experience.
By focusing on creating catchy meta descriptions and using schema markup effectively, websites can not only improve their visibility in search results but also provide users with more engaging and informative snippets, making their online experience better.
By paying attention to these additional on-page elements—optimized page titles, canonical tags, and hreflang tags—you further improve your website’s visibility in search results and create a better experience for users, making it easier for them to find and engage with your content.
4. Identify Image Problems
Optimize images by addressing broken images, oversized file sizes, and ensuring proper alt text.
Faster Page Load Times
Optimized images result in faster page load times, creating a smoother and more enjoyable user experience. Slow-loading pages can frustrate visitors and lead to higher bounce rates.
Search engines consider page speed as a ranking factor. Faster-loading pages, facilitated by optimized images, are likely to receive higher rankings in search results.
Well-optimized images maintain visual quality while minimizing file sizes, ensuring the website’s visually appealing without compromising speed.
Better User Engagement
A positive user experience, including fast page loading times and visually pleasing content, can contribute to lower bounce rates and higher engagement metrics, which are favorable for search engine rankings.
Strategies for Optimizing Images:
- Address Oversized File Sizes:
- Compression: Use image compression tools to reduce file sizes without significantly losing visual quality. This is crucial for faster page loading.
- Resizing: Ensure that images are appropriately sized for their display dimensions on the website. Avoid using larger images than necessary.
- Meaningful Alt Text:
- Alt Attribute: Include descriptive and meaningful alt text for each image. Alt text provides information about the content of the image and is crucial for accessibility and SEO.
- Keyword Relevance: Incorporate relevant keywords into alt text, but ensure that it accurately describes the image. This helps search engines understand the context of the image.
- Image Format Selection:
- Use appropriate image formats (JPEG, PNG, GIF) based on the content. JPEG is suitable for photographs, while PNG is preferable for transparent images. GIFs are ideal for simple graphics and animations.
- Utilize Lazy Loading:
- Implement lazy loading to defer the loading of images until they are about to be displayed on the user’s screen. This reduces initial page load times, especially for pages with numerous images.
- Implement Image Sitemaps:
- Create and submit image sitemaps to search engines. This helps search engines discover and index all relevant images on the website, contributing to improved visibility in image search results.
- Enable Browser Caching:
- Configure the website’s server to enable browser caching for images. This allows users to load the images more quickly upon revisiting the site, as the images are stored in the user’s browser cache.
Image optimization is integral to providing a positive user experience and positively influencing search engine rankings.
By addressing factors such as file sizes, alt text, image formats, lazy loading, and sitemaps, website owners can ensure that their images contribute to a faster, more engaging, and search engine-friendly online experience.
5. Analyze Internal Links
Analyze your internal links, redirect 4xx status codes, and resolve instances where pages lack internal links.
Internal linking is a strategic aspect of website structure and SEO that involves connecting different pages within the same domain. This practice serves several key purposes:
Distributing Link Authority
Internal links distribute link authority (or link juice) across a website. Search engines deem pages that receive more internal links more important, positively influencing their rankings.
Improving User Navigation
Internal links facilitate easy navigation for users, guiding them to relevant content. This enhances the user experience, encourages longer stays on the website, and reduces bounce rates.
Consequences of Orphan Pages
Orphan pages are those that are not linked to any other page on the website. This can have negative consequences:
Orphan pages may not be discovered by search engine crawlers, resulting in poor visibility and exclusion from search results.
Users may struggle to find orphan pages, leading to a disjointed user experience and decreased engagement.
It makes sense too. If you don’t care about a page on your site enough to link to it, then why would google be interested in it. That is how I think about it at least.
Incorporating these strategies into your internal linking and mobile optimization efforts will contribute to a more cohesive website structure, improved search engine visibility, and an enhanced user experience across devices.
6. Check External Links
Examine external links for functionality and credibility, ensuring backlinks do not lead to error pages.
A healthy backlink profile is crucial for SEO success. Here’s an in-depth look at strategies for maintaining and optimizing it, along with insights into identifying and disavowing toxic backlinks.
Strategies for a Healthy Backlink Profile
- Quality over Quantity: Prioritize high-quality, relevant backlinks over a large number of links. Focus on links from authoritative and reputable websites within your industry.
- Diverse Link Sources: Seek backlinks from various sources, including industry-related websites, blogs, news articles, and authoritative directories.
- Anchor Text Variation: Ensure varied anchor text for your backlinks. Natural, diverse anchor text helps avoid over-optimization and signals to search engines that links are earned organically.
- Natural Link Building: Encourage natural link building by creating valuable, shareable content. High-quality content attracts organic backlinks from other websites.
- Regular Backlink Audits: Conduct regular backlink audits to identify new links, changes in the link profile, and potential issues. Tools like Google Search Console and third-party services can assist in monitoring backlinks. We use Semrush.
Identifying Toxic Backlinks:
- Unnatural Link Patterns:
- Look for patterns of unnatural link acquisition, such as a sudden influx of links from unrelated sources. This may indicate manipulation.
- Low-Quality or Spammy Sites:
- Identify backlinks from low-quality or spammy websites. These may harm your site’s reputation and SEO performance.
- Irrelevant Anchor Text:
- Check for irrelevant or over-optimized anchor text. Unnatural anchor text can raise red flags with search engines.
- Link Networks:
- Be cautious of links from known link networks or schemes. These are against search engine guidelines and can result in penalties.
Disavowing Toxic Backlinks:
Google has said this doesn’t really help unless you paid for link, but many experts swear by disavowing toxic backlinks. These experts also get paid for doing them, so there is that.
- Google Disavow Tool:
- Use Google’s Disavow Tool to disavow toxic backlinks. This signals to Google that you don’t want certain links to be considered in its ranking algorithms.
- Create a Disavow File:
- Compile a list of toxic backlinks in a text file, following Google’s disavow file format. Clearly document the links you want to disavow.
- Submit Disavow File to Google:
- Submit the disavow file through Google Search Console. Be cautious and only disavow links that you are sure are harmful.
Trustworthy External Links and Website Authority:
- Authority Transfer:
- Trustworthy external links act as endorsements, transferring authority to your website. Seek links from authoritative sources to boost your own site’s credibility.
- Relevance Matters:
- Ensure that external links come from relevant and reputable sources within your industry. Contextual relevance enhances the value of the link.
- Natural Link Earning:
- Focus on earning links naturally through high-quality content and positive user experiences. Search engines value organic, earned links.
- Positive Impact on Rankings:
- Trustworthy external links positively impact your site’s rankings. They contribute to a strong backlink profile, signaling to search engines that your content is valuable and authoritative.
Maintaining a healthy backlink profile involves a strategic approach to link acquisition, regular audits, and proactive disavowal of toxic backlinks.
Trustworthy external links are integral to building website authority, positively impacting search engine rankings and overall online visibility.
For example, we’ve been linked from Investopedia, Bloomberg, Yahoo, Annuity.org, Daily Mail, MSN, Family Handyman, Realtor.com, and thousands more. We are in the press often, so I can’t update our press page.
7. Evaluate Mobile-Friendliness
The evolution of mobile-friendliness in search algorithms reflects a significant shift in user behavior towards mobile devices.
Search engines, particularly Google, have adapted their algorithms to prioritize mobile-friendly websites.
This evolution emphasizes the importance of providing a seamless experience for mobile users.
Tips on Designing for Mobile-First:
- Responsive Design:
- Implement responsive design to ensure that your website adapts to different screen sizes. This approach delivers a consistent user experience across devices.
- Prioritize Mobile Page Speed:
- Optimize your website for fast loading times on mobile devices. Users expect quick access to information, and page speed is a critical factor in both user satisfaction and search rankings.
- Mobile-Centric Navigation:
- Design intuitive and mobile-friendly navigation menus. Consider using a hamburger menu, prioritize essential elements, and minimize clutter for a cleaner mobile interface.
- Optimize Content for Mobile Consumption:
- Format content for readability on smaller screens. Break up text into concise paragraphs, use larger font sizes, and prioritize essential information to enhance mobile user engagement.
- Leverage Touch-Friendly Design:
- Ensure that interactive elements, such as buttons and links, are touch-friendly. This makes navigation smoother for mobile users using touchscreens.
Recommendations for Optimizing User Experience Across Devices:
- Structured Data for Rich Results:
- Implement structured data to enhance rich results on mobile search. This can lead to visually appealing and informative snippets in search results, improving user engagement.
- Mobile-Optimized Multimedia:
- Optimize multimedia content, such as images and videos, for mobile devices. Compress images without compromising quality and use formats that are supported across various platforms.
- Prioritize Readability:
- Focus on readability by choosing legible fonts, maintaining appropriate line spacing, and avoiding long paragraphs. A well-structured, readable layout enhances the user experience on both desktop and mobile.
- Mobile-First Indexing Best Practices:
- Understand and implement mobile-first indexing best practices. Ensure that your mobile version contains the same valuable content, metadata, and structured data as the desktop version.
- Mobile-Friendly Testing:
- Regularly test your website’s mobile-friendliness using tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. This allows you to identify and address potential issues that may impact user experience on mobile devices.
How to Conduct a Technical SEO Audit for Free
Performing an SEO audit doesn’t need to be expensive. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial using some of the best free seo audit tools:
Step 1: Conduct A Site Audit Using Semrush
By leveraging SEMrush’s free account features, you can quickly identify and address critical issues affecting your website’s SEO, enhance its performance, and gain valuable insights for ongoing optimization efforts.
By leveraging SEMrush’s free account features, you can quickly identify and address critical issues affecting your website’s SEO, enhance its performance, and gain valuable insights for ongoing optimization efforts.
When we bought ChaChingQueen, I created a Semrush free account and started doing audits. I couldn’t believe how many issues there were.
Over the next 12 months I started attacking each issue. By doing this I also learned a lot about SEO.
As you can see I reduced the issues from 8k down to about 3k. That is, without knowing what I was doing. Most of those 3k are “missing alt image”. I still need to do something about those.
How To Do a Site Audit For Free With Semrush
Conducting a site audit using SEMrush’s free account is a valuable way to gain insights into your website’s health and performance. Here’s a concise guide:
- Log in to SEMrush: Access the SEMrush dashboard using your free account credentials.
- Enter Your Domain: Enter your website’s domain into the search bar and click “Site Audit” under the “On-Page & Tech SEO” section.
- Review Overview: Examine the site audit overview, which provides a snapshot of critical issues, warnings, and notices affecting your site’s SEO.
- Address Critical Issues: Prioritize critical issues flagged by SEMrush, such as broken links, missing meta tags, or server errors. Tackling these issues can significantly improve your site’s performance.
- Analyze On-Page SEO: Explore the on-page SEO section to identify opportunities for improvement. Check for issues like duplicate content, missing header tags, or low-quality pages.
- Check Site Performance: Assess your website’s loading speed and performance using SEMrush’s speed report. Optimize images, leverage browser caching, and address other factors impacting speed.
Step 2: Analyzing On-Page Elements with Google Search Console:
Google Search Console (GSC) provides valuable data to improve search visibility. Here’s a concise guide on interpreting data and turning insights into action:
- Performance Report:
- Insight: Identify high-performing pages and search queries.
- Action: Optimize content on these pages, incorporate high-performing keywords, and enhance meta descriptions for better click-through rates.
- Page Indexing Report:
- Insight: Uncover indexing issues like crawl errors or excluded pages. I go into this report often.
- Action: Address crawl errors, improve content quality, and submit sitemaps to ensure proper indexing.
- Mobile Usability Report:
- Insight: Highlight mobile-related issues affecting user experience.
- Action: Prioritize mobile optimization by fixing issues like unplayable content or viewport problems to improve rankings on mobile devices.
- Core Web Vitals Report:
- Insight: Identify page speed issues affecting user experience.
- Action: Optimize images, leverage browser caching, and address other speed-related factors to enhance page experience and search rankings.
- Enhancements Report (Structured Data):
- Insight: View structured data errors and improvements.
- Action: Implement or fix structured data markup for rich results, improving how your content appears in search results.
Google Search Console data offers actionable insights to boost search visibility.
By regularly interpreting reports and addressing issues like indexing errors, mobile usability problems, or performance issues, you can optimize your site for better user experience and improved rankings in search results.
I live in Google Search Console.
Google Search Console is your single best free SEO tool. Don’t forget about Bing’s Webmaster tools either!
Step 3: Image Optimization with Google PageSpeed Insights:
- Enter your website URL into Google PageSpeed Insights.
- Address suggestions to optimize images for faster loading times.
Step 4: Analyze And Inmprove Internal And External Linking using SEMrush and Link Whisper.
Link Whisper and SEMrush are two powerful tools for analyzing internal and external links, crucial for SEO strategy.
When I first learned how important internal links were I started manually adding them. We had over 800 orphaned pages. It was taking me forever to add links one by one. I mean forever.
I wasn’t even picking the best links because there is no way can memorize the 1300+ pages on our site.
Then, I discovered Link Whisper. I got the orphaned page count from 800 to about 30 in less than a week, with better and more links than I would have on my own. Plus, they were in better places with smarter anchors.
Link Whisper is a WordPress plugin that makes managing and optimizing internal links easier.
The free version offers basic features, which include suggestions for internal links based on your content. It shows which posts have little or no internal links, helping you identify areas that need improvement.
However, an upgrade to the premium version is needed to add links and access advanced reports automatically. This is why I upgraded.
SEMrush, on the other hand, is a comprehensive SEO tool that also analyzes your backlink profile. The free version provides an overview of your total backlinks, referring domains, and the authority score of those domains.
You can also see your top anchor texts and the top pages being linked to. It’s worth noting that the free version has limitations regarding the number of results and reports per day.
When I hit my limitations, I switch over to Ahrefs free version. That was until I signed up for Semrush. I recommend you do too.
While Link Whisper focuses on improving your internal linking structure, SEMrush helps you understand your site’s external link profile.
Both tools are instrumental in developing a balanced link profile, which is a key factor in SEO.
Remember, the free versions provide a limited snapshot, and for more in-depth analysis, you might need to consider their premium versions.
Step 5: Mobile-Friendliness with Google Mobile-Friendly Test:
- Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to assess your website’s mobile optimization.
- Address any issues identified during the test.
A technical SEO audit is indispensable for website optimization, ensuring both user and search bot understanding.
Regular audits, guided by the expanded seven-step process, and free tools will empower you to enhance their SEO strategies effectively. It has worked for us.
Next Up From ChaChingQueen
Greg is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) with 22+ years experience in Financial Services. He has held numerous FINRA Securities licenses (series 7, 63, 65, and 66), and is an expert on Investment Products and Financial Planning. Greg has 22+ years experience as a real estate investor and degrees in Psychology and Philosophy.
Greg has been quoted/interviewed in Yahoo Money, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, Authority Magazine, Realtor.com, Business Insider, and others.
Greg is an avid runner, and the father to identical twin girls and their awesome brother. His love of budgeting and his kids led him to join The Great Resignation in 2021.
Disclaimer: Any Financial Tips on ChaChingQueen are general and informational. Speak with a professional about your specific situation.