Site audits are one of the most important tasks for an SEO professional, and sometimes you need to do one quickly. Here’s how you can complete an audit in 60 minutes.
You should do one of these at the start of a new SEO effort, and then follow that up with a more extensive review. This can help smoke out the major issues most affecting development.
Login to Google Webmaster Tools and the Web analytics package for the site and you’re ready to go.
1. Determine When the Site Underwent Its Last Major Redesign
This includes anything that resulted in significant changes in URLs, navigation, or content. All of these can have a major impact on SEO.
As part of this, check the historical Web analytics data for non-branded search traffic. Have there been any unusual shifts in traffic? These are clues to potential problems for future exploration.
2. Check the Number of Indexed Pages
Use the “site: command” in Google and record that data. Then check the indexing stats available within Google Webmaster Tools (the results are often quite different than what you see with the “site: command”). Compare these numbers to how many pages you think you have. This is another flag of a potential problem.
Given that the indexed pages data from Google is quite inaccurate, don’t expect these to be anywhere near equal to each other. You’re looking for situations where you have 3,000 quality pages on your site and Google is reporting that it has indexed 117.
3. Review the Information Architecture
To do this, take off your SEO hat for a moment and review the way the site works for you as a user. Is the structure logical? Does it flow from higher level topics to more detailed ones in way that makes sense?
The architecture (and the internal links) communicate context from page to page. The more well structured this is, the better it is for users and search engines.
4. Use a Tool to Walk Through the Site
A tool like SEO Browser allows you to see the pages the way a spider does. Are all the navigation links crawlable? Are the important content elements visible? If our first and second checks flagged a problem, you may end up diagnosing it here.
5. Look for Duplicate Content
See if the non-www versions of your pages redirect to the www version of your pages (or vice-versa). Next, look for pages that are referred to by more than one URL. For example, the home page on many sites is linked to using multiple URLs (for example: http://www.example.com and http://www.example.com/index.html).
Some sites have thousands of pages across the site that are referred to by more than one URL (e.g., http://www.example.com/category/product37.html and http://www.example.com/product37.html). This can lead to Google reporting highly inflated numbers for indexed pages.
6. Check the Amount of Content on Every Page
E-commerce sites often have a major problem with this. Handwriting copy for 20,000 products is a non-trivial exercise.
The problem is that pages with images and navigation, and little HTML text content, are seen as low-quality pages by the search engines. They may even be seen as duplicates of one another. If you were a search engine, how would you treat a site that looked like it had 20,000 pages without any unique content?
7. Look for Pages With “Template Content”
The classic example of this is a site with thousands of city pages where the text is the same on every page except the city name has been substituted.
Guess what? You might as well leave the pages blank with this structure. The search engines quickly recognize that there’s no unique content (in the HTML text at least) on these pages.
8. Intelligent Use of Title Tags and H1 Tags
Google Webmaster Tools can give a quick report on duplicate title tags, missing title tags, short title tags, and similar data for your meta descriptions. Go to Diagnostics, and then pick HTML Suggestions.
Duplicate title tags can lead to “keyword cannibalization” where more than one page on your site compete for ranking on the same search term. This is closely related to the problem of duplicate content.
In addition to looking for duplicate title tags, make sure that your keywords are the first words in the title tag (and H1 tag). Don’t lead with your brand name.
9. Check the XML Sitemap File
Look for signs that major sections of the site aren’t included. Also make sure the file is using the canonical version of a URL. If you link to a page on the site using one URL and a different URL for that page shows up in the sitemap file, you’ve just created duplicate content.
10. Review the Robots.txt File
Make sure important sections of content aren’t excluded. Go to Google Webmaster Tools and use the built-in robots.txt checker (you can find this in the Crawler Access section under Site Configuration). This will show you pages that Google thinks are blocked off by the robots.txt file.
11. Perform a Quick Redirect Check
Use a tool such as Live HTTP Headers. For example, go to http://example.com and see if it redirects to http://www.example.com. Then check Live HTTP Headers to make sure the redirect used was a 301 instead of something else.
This quick check isn’t meant to substitute for a complete and thorough site audit. However, it’s good to do this at the beginning of an audit because it will find a good portion of a site’s major problems. This can allow you to provide critical input to the developers on what they should work on while you move onto a more detailed audit.