Just like balancing your checkbook or cleaning your house, I recommend getting on a regular schedule of performing your own SEO audit. Think of this as cleaning and updating your website, looking for issues that are most likely causing search engine ranking problems. Search engine optimization best practices change from time to time. For example, one SEO technique for optimizing a Title Tag on your website was acceptable a while back - but now, if you used that SEO technique, you most likely aren't ranking as well as you should.
Search engines are constantly updating the search results and how your website shows up on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Now, you can include a meta description tag up to 320 characters in length. These are just a few of the issues that you may uncover during an SEO audit of your site. In this series of articles, I will go through, step by step, the basics of performing an SEO audit of your website (or even your clients' or friend's website). I'll show you what you can do, how you can do it, what to look for, and why it's an important issue to consider during the audit. My main focus is to provide you with things that you do or check that are free. Diving deeper into the data may require a paid tool. If that's appropriate, I'll mention what the tool is, how to use it, and what you'll get out of using it.
Let's first start with some basics about your website. During this SEO audit, we'll focus just on ONE website, one domain name. You may have more than one website or business, and that's OK. You also may have a separate blog on a different domain name. That's OK, too. But for this SEO audit, let's focus on one website (one domain name) at a time.
First, let's perform a few searches at Google.
Search for your company or business name, or the name of your website. For example, for my personal website, I'll search for this at Google: "Bill Hartzer" without the quotes. I should see my website at the top of the search results, typically either #1 or, for some business with name that may not be unique, you should be showing up on Google's first page of search results. Here are a few things to look for, and observer:
- Your domain name should show up on the first page hopefully in the first position. If you don't show up, then there may be an issue.
- Some businesses, companies, and individuals have a Knowledge Graph entry, which will show up on the right side of the page, the right sidebar. If you don't see a Knowledge Graph entry, then you may see a Google My Business listing, which will typically show at least one photo, NAP (Name, Address, Phone) data, a link to the website, reviews, and questions and answers. If you have a local Google My Business listing and haven't claimed it yet, you should claim the listing. If you're a local business and there is no sidebar listing, then you'll want to claim it, as well. If you have a GMB listing, make sure that all the information there is correct. If it's not correct, then you should fix it. Some national businesses (especially if your customers or website visitors are nationwide or international) won't have local listings, and that's fine.
- Take a look at the search results. Are you completely happy with every website that's showing up for a search for your name or business name? If there are negative results or results that you're not happy with, and don't show your business in a positive light, then that's something you'll want to deal with. Typically not a part of an SEO audit, this is online reputation management, and can actually be dealt with properly--so make a note if your results aren't good.
- Take a look at the "site links" that appear below your domain name/home page listing in the search results. Most websites, once they're trusted enough by Google, will have up to several links to pages showing below the search results listing for your website. If they don't show up for a search for your business or personal name, then try searching for your domain name only, such as "BillHartzer.com" (without the quotes). Are the links that are showing good internal links? Are they the ones you want? If not, you can remove them in Google's Search Console. You can't choose which links appear--you can only remove the ones you don't want.
Next, as I just mentioned, search for your domain name, with the TLD (Top Level Domain) ending. For example, search for "BillHartzer.com" without the quotes. Again, are you happy with the search results listings?
It's important to see which pages are showing up in the search results at Google. Let's perform a search for this:
That search query, without the www or full URL, will show which pages that are indexed in the search results. Start looking through the search results, look at which pages are indexed. You should also look at page 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. if you have a lot of pages on your website. Hopefully all of the pages that are in the index are also close to, or exactly they number of pages that are in Google's search results. If there's a big discrepancy, then there may be an issue you need to investigate. For example, for one website I performed an SEO audit on, they had over 100,000 pages on their website. But, Google was only indexing about 25 percent of the pages. I needed to figure out why Google was only indexing 25,000 of their 100,000 pages. I finally did figure it out, made the changes on the website, and now all pages are indexed properly, leading to more organic search engine traffic for the website.
Another search query you can perform at Google is this:
That search query will show all of your site's pages--but if you are using www in your domain name, then it will show pages on subdomains that are indexed. Sometimes a "development" version or another version of your website gets indexed and you don't want it to be indexed. Or, perhaps your "support" version or another version gets indexed. Typically you'll want ONLY your www version (or non-www) version of your website to get indexed in Google. Did you know that these are all different versions of a website?
I've seen websites have multiple versions indexed, and that leads to duplicate content issues. Duplicate content issues can cause Google's bots to use up "crawl credits" when crawling your website, which will inevitably lead to ranking problems. Basically, you don't want to leave it up to Google which "version" to index. Pick one version (hopefully one of the HTTPs versions), and 301 redirect all of the other versions to that one main version of your website. Using the canonical tag properly on your site can also help, as well. Each page of your website should have a canonical tag that tells the search engines the proper URL of the page. That way there's no confusion if they come across another version of your page.
While you look at the pages that are indexed, take a look at the listings:
- Look at the title tags on pages. Do they make sense? Do they describe the content on the page? Do they entice people to click on your listing and visit your website? Are they too long? Do they have a … at the end of the title tag, indicating that they are too long?
- Look at the meta description tags (the info below the title tag in the search results listing). Are they short? Does each page have a unique meta description tag? Now you can include up to 320 characters in your meta description tag. Is what you have enough to get your point across or do you need more information?
- Look at the URLs. Are they all HTTPs URLs (they should be)? Are there keywords in the URLs? Are there parameters like &cat=1?
- When you click to the last page of search results, do you see a statement from Google that says “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 600 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.” The ‘600’ number may vary, depending on how many pages your site has. You generally shouldn’t see that statement. If you do, then Google is purposely NOT indexing certain pages. Investigate why, as you may have a lot of duplicate content on your website or other related issues.
Besides looking for different versions of your website, while you're at it, do this search again:
Look at the results, but click on the image results. Are you allowing Google to crawl all of the images on your website? Are there any images showing up that you DON'T want to show up? You could have images that shouldn't be indexed on your website--so you'll want to take care of those. If you produce great content on your site, typically that content will include not only text but it will include images, graphics, logos, and charts, for example. It's perfectly fine to let those images get indexed, and it can lead to traffic from image search results. Just make sure you have permission to include those images on your website!
These are only a few of the searches that you can perform to start looking at the pages that are indexed. Generally speaking, looking at the pages that Google has indexed will give you a lot of information about your website. If you notice anything amiss, then start investigating it, find out why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.
This is only one of the many things you can do to learn more about your website, which is the goal of performing an SEO audit. In my next article, we’ll go through Google Search Console and look at the data that Google gives website owners about their website. You’ll need to verify your website in Google Search Console (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/) if you haven’t done so already.