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What does it take to make a successful website that gets a high rate of web traffic and supports the business or organization it represents? Websites thrive or fail based on the quality of their user experience and accessibility to both live users and search engines.
Modern websites are complex and incorporate the work of many individuals. A wide variety of elements on existing sites could be causing problems for users or violating generally accepted search engine optimization principles without webmasters realizing it.
It can be a daunting task to perform a comprehensive review of the many different kinds of issues that can harm a site’s visibility and appeal, but it is necessary to stay on top of these problems in order to keep up with competitors and maintain your site as a vital resource that visitors will utilize. The first step to improving your website is to run a site audit that scans for common issues and identifies how to fix them.
What is a Website Audit, and how does it differ for Business and eCommerce Websites?
A website audit is a process of analyzing and reviewing the content, links, and code of a website to determine if known SEO issues are present and highlighting them for removal or correction. SEO is vital because search engines drive organic traffic growth by leading users to relevant results of their keywords. Being highly ranked by Google and other search engines helps websites reach their target audience as part of their natural search habits, while site traffic coming from paid marketing can be unreliable and unsustainable. Organic traffic is a great measure of whether a website is more effective than its competitors or comparable sites.
For enterprise business websites that depend on attracting the right audience, websites should have a predetermined set of goals that the site is meant to achieve—for instance, driving visitors to purchase a product or sign up for a member account. Measuring the conversion rate of users who take the next step tells the website operator if their site effectively engages with visitors.
Large-scale SEO may involve complex strategic goals, but before any other considerations, website owners should audit their site. The process is relevant to both production sites and new staging and development versions are yet to go live.
A website audit is a process that goes through various types of issues with the site, such as:
- On-page issues caused by missing or improper use of HTML elements
- Broken and misdirected links that need correction
- Various web page performance and accessibility measures
- Content issues related to the presentation or SEO-appeal of your content
How to Create and Follow On-Page SEO Strategies
On-page SEO encompasses the many improvements to search engine ranking that can be performed by making changes to pages on a website, in both content and technical elements. While other aspects of SEO are harder to predict and control, on-page SEO is fully in the hands of the webmaster. A site audit should identify all the issues present on the website, then provide a clear roadmap to reshaping your website into a more successful version.
The first part of an on-page SEO strategy is to create a set of goals for the site audit and ensuing site revisions to achieve. Do you want site visitors to sign up for your service? Then it’s not enough to get impressions on the site; you need to attract people who want or need your service.
If someone searches for a keyword and it brings them to your website, they are looking for an answer to a question or a solution to a problem. Content should be designed from the ground up towards addressing the visitor. It should be immediately clear that your web page is what they are looking for, or else they will leave.
Along the same lines, there is no point pursuing keywords commonly searched by users if they’re looking for something your business doesn’t provide. This only leads to unsatisfied users who will leave, increasing your bounce rate and lowering your conversion rate. Researching popular keywords that fit your business precisely will give you an idea of how your site is achieving its goals.
Using analytics tools, gather other data about the website’s SEO effectiveness to establish a baseline. Metrics such as monthly unique visitors, page views, search rank for pages, and backlink traffic numbers are relative and only have value in the right context. But recording these figures and setting a goal of improving them is an important way to focus on a site audit and evaluate its success by reviewing the change in SEO stats.
With a focused strategy in mind, audit pages on the site for content and structure that fits your goals. The content itself should contain the targeted keywords without being unreadable jargon. Neither visitors nor search engines appreciate this kind of content. It should also contain clear calls to action. The text should be well-organized using H1, H2, and H3 tags, avoiding paragraphs that go on too long. Overall, visually pleasing content reduces the amount of uninterrupted text, featuring strong visual elements such as images and infographics that tie directly to the text content.
In order to tie keywords into pages more effectively, titles and meta descriptions are a key part of the on-page strategy. Each page should have its own distinct title tag with text that is under 78 characters and a meta description of fewer than 160 characters, or it may be cut off in Google search results. The title and meta description should refer to the most relevant keywords or keyword phrases and also use your brand name, while clearly explaining the page’s purpose.
Web Page Performance Analysis
Web page performance is one of the most important factors to take into account for on-page SEO. Simply put, users may leave the website if they have usability issues, and a site audit will reveal these through testing.
Optimizing for Mobile
The most important part of improving website performance is optimizing for mobile users. The basic reality is that mobile is the dominant platform—as of 2019, mobile phones not only represented 53.3% of web traffic worldwide but 60% of organic search traffic came from mobile devices. Trying to draw search traffic necessarily means committing to mobile accessibility. Google and other search engines have recognized this as well, making mobile readiness a factor in their algorithm.
It’s not hard to understand the goals of mobile optimization. Mobile devices come in many shapes and sizes, and they often use mobile data to browse the web, so a mobile-accessible site needs to have a responsive design that is navigable on all screen sizes while also loading pages quickly. Google’s Mobile-Friendly test can tell you if your site is accessible to mobile browsers.
In general, having a faster-loading, easy-to-navigate site will increase the time spent on the site and ultimately increase conversions and sales. Faster loading can be accomplished through the minification of code and reduction of the file size of images. Minimal use of complex dynamic scripts speeds uploading while also reducing visual instability.
Another important element to an on-page SEO strategy is fixing technical errors that plague many sites. These can impact both in-person perception of the site and search engine bots. The next section will address why these issues are harmful and how to deal with many of them, but site owners need to have an ongoing plan for monitoring and fixing these problems. They may recur as the site evolves, making it important to keep track of them and maintain high standards for creating new pages and updating existing ones so new errors are not introduced.
What types of errors must be crawled to be identified and fixed to optimize a website?
There are many different technical features of websites that can improve SEO when used effectively. A thorough site audit will go through these step-by-step and present solutions to all problems that are discovered.
As websites evolve over time, links between different web pages may become inaccurate or broken. Internal links take users to other pages on your site, increasing time spent on the site and reducing the bounce rate. Broken links also have a negative impact on SEO, causing search engines that crawl websites to consider them less reliable and not up-to-date. 404 errors and all client and server errors, and other link issues harm the interconnectivity of your website. While Google’s algorithm places less direct emphasis on broken links than in the past, search engine users who experience navigation issues can leave the site, signaling to search engines that it was not a valuable search result..
While not an on-site issue, website operators also need to monitor their backlinks to know how external sites are referencing their web pages. External links are an important source of site traffic from new users, making it important to track backlinks and how visitors are finding their way to the site. While backlinks are beyond your direct control, it is possible to influence them by maintaining friendly contact with the staff of other sites. If a link to your site has stopped functioning or could go to a more appropriate page, suggesting a quick and easy fix is beneficial to both your site and theirs.
Common Errors in Tags and Attributes
Search engines may expect pages to have a single large-text heading using the H1 tag. A site audit can find out if a page uses multiple H1 tags or doesn’t use any, helping you organize your text under easily visible headings that search engines will interpret as useful for searchers. Search engines no longer treat multiple H1 tags as a negative impact on search engine ranking, but it is still valuable to organize content around an H1 heading that contains relevant keywords to the content.
However, many common HTML errors cause issues in labeling pages that reduce search engines’ ability to index your site. Make sure canonical tags are used to define the canonical version of a page you want to appear on search results, and the hreflang attribute is used to identify different language versions of the same page. Also, verify that no title and meta description tags are duplicated or unused.
The robot’s meta-tag can be used to tell search engines not to index some pages. It’s important to review its usage on every page to make sure that no important pages are mistakenly set to no-index, or else they will instruct search engines to not crawl these pages. This may seem too obvious to overlook, but on websites with many pages and constant updates, losing track of non-indexed pages can happen.
Page Images and Videos
A site audit can reveal if any of the images and videos on your site are lacking in metadata that contributes to SEO. In order for images to be indexed and searched efficiently, their HTML tag should make use of all the available attributes. Including a title, caption, alt-text, and description provide searchable text associated with each image, helping image searches find the images more easily.
The Latest Updates to the Google Algorithm: Page Experience, Domain Authority, and Link Quality
With an 86.02% market share as of April 2020, Google is the undisputed leader among search engines, so making content and technical updates due to a site audit means following its lead. The Google algorithm is far from simple, but Google’s search team is transparent about certain positive elements that the search engine expects from websites, and as they update their preferences, websites need to be ready to respond.
Recently Google has promoted a new measure called Page Experience and plans to use it as a factor in search ranking starting in 2021, making your next site audit the right time to ensure it provides a good page experience as well. Page experience is a collection of measures, many of which are already signals of SEO-quality: Core Web Vitals, mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, enabling HTTPS, and avoidance of intrusive interstitials.
Core web vitals monitor several factors:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP): The main content on a web page loads within 2.5 seconds.
- First Input Delay (FID): Users should be able to interact with the page within 100 milliseconds rather than getting delayed by dynamic elements still loading.
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS): Web pages shouldn’t shift visually as new elements load, or users will have trouble navigating.
Enabling HTTPS is a security feature that prevents user data from being intercepted and assures users that your website is run by your organization. Getting a certificate for your domain is easy and affordable, but keep in mind that they need to be renewed or else expire and make the site insecure again.
The rationale for other factors in page experience is clear. As discussed earlier, mobile-friendliness is essential for any website. Misleading and deceptive content as well as intrusive pop-over screens delay users from getting the search results they are looking for, so it makes sense for these to be strong parts of Google’s updated algorithm.
Another popular quality factor in SEO is domain authority, also known as site authority. Several different organizations assign this score to websites, determining their overall reliability and level of trust that factors into how they rank in search engine results. This rating is based on information such as the reliability of other domains that backlink to yours, and the overall quality and visitor satisfaction that results from users who are served content from a domain. While hard to alter directly, maintaining high-quality content and having a strong backlink strategy that accumulates links from other high-reliability websites will raise domain authority.
One more consideration is reducing the number of spam and other negative links. Links that lead to untrustworthy sites have a negative SEO impact, as do backlinks that direct to your domain in a ‘toxic’ way, for instance from spam web directories. In general, a few toxic links are inevitable, but if your backlink analysis identifies a high amount, they could result in lower search rankings. In those cases, toxic links should be disavowed, telling Google to ignore them.
How to Use Analytics and Crawling Tools for Site Audits and Resolve SEO Issues In Bulk
When taking into account the many different elements that need to be reviewed during a site audit, websites with a large number of pages such as large eCommerce businesses are impossible to audit manually. A number of different tools can be used to review technical SEO issues, content issues, and web page performance issues. Good use of automation can catch mistakes that would not have been spotted otherwise, truly making a site audit all-encompassing.
What tasks are best resolved by automated site-crawling and analysis tools?
As previously explained, compiling data about your site’s current performance and researching keywords is an integral part of a site audit. Install Google Analytics on the website to learn current visitor numbers, organic search traffic, and which pages are doing the best. For web page performance, running web page URLs through PageSpeedInsights delivers information on key statistics in page loading speed and other measures.
On-page technical issues are one of the aspects of the site audit best addressed by additional tools. The sheer variety of issues, from link errors to misused HTML tags, necessitate using a site crawler to check each URL and get feedback on how to quickly fix issues.
Reviewing pages to make sure they have high-quality content might seem like the most difficult part of a site audit—content is more subjective than technical SEO. But there are a number of objective measures that can help improve site content, and automated tools can make it easier. Spelling and grammar checkers, whether through the site’s CMS, a word processor, or a site like Grammarly, ensure that visitors won’t come across distracting grammatical errors.
Regardless of the persuasiveness of the copy, it can be ignored by readers if it isn’t organized well, so scanning pages for the length of paragraphs can tell you if the writing is too dense. Auditing the word counts on each page is also useful since pages that are too short or too long are sub-optimal for SEO purposes. Finally, using a readability checker like Hemingway or Readable can improve content quality. Checking pages in bulk can help fine-tune the content to be as effective as possible.
While there are freely accessible tools for some elements of a site audit, there are some features that aren’t readily available. Free tools will be good at one thing, but a site audit needs to be comprehensive while not using too much time and resources, so there are many reasons to use an all-in-one site analytics and auditing tool. Using SEMRush, MozBar, Ahrefs, Elite Site Optimizer, or other tools can integrate with the website and yield analytics data, then perform a crawl for the purpose of finding on-site issues.
Working with bulk data for a whole site can be made easier by downloading the results of on-site issues into spreadsheets or viewing them as charts. As useful as the data collected by a site crawler can be, it needs to be viewed in a form you can easily understand and act upon.
How a Site Audit is Done, and How it Helps a Business Grow
To give an idea of how effective a site audit can be, we can examine a case where a business needed to improve the viability of their eCommerce website and performed a comprehensive site audit with the help of eGrove Systems.
An organic food manufacturing and distribution company needed to improve the effectiveness of its eCommerce website for selling its products. When setting goals, the target was clear: increasing the conversion rate from visitors to purchasers of their goods, and raising overall sales from the eCommerce site.
Achieving this goal meant performing a site audit to find SEO issues that were holding the site back, then addressing them to improve the site’s capabilities.
The site audit scanned for on-site issues such as:
- Missing title and description tags, missing H1 tags and missing and mismatched canonicals.
- Broken or error links like Client Error Links (4xx), Server Error Links (5xx)
- Unoptimized Site and Page loading speeds
- eCommerce products pages that were not Mobile-friendly and responsive
- Content lacking SEO and Keyword-rich content
Keeping the focus on the goal of increasing conversions and sales, we enabled powerful analytics and eCommerce sales tracking to provide practical Business Insights so the company could get a leg up on their competition. The audit revealed a need for improving the customer experience, which we achieved by creating more attractive landing pages for purchasing products and making checkout easier.
By implementing the site audit’s recommendations, the eCommerce business saw clear results. Relevant traffic was increased by 30% from searches based on targeted keywords and the brand name. With an optimized website with a mobile-responsive design, it could load fast on all types of devices for convenience. With a more efficient flow from discovering the site, to choosing products, all the way to checkout, customer experience improved, and eCommerce sales were increased by 15%.
A site audit is one of the most significant parts of any SEO and digital marketing strategy. The hard work that goes into promoting your brand can be completely wasted if the site is dragged down by technical issues. Laying out a step-by-step procedure for a site audit based on the goals you set for your site can become the basis for a long-term strategy that identifies the best ways to attract a strong base of loyal customers and improve their experience on your website.