Google’s extraordinary power – along with its increasingly strict requirements for the websites it ranks – means there are more ways than ever for a website to run right over a cliff. Following all the rules is getting tougher, but the rewards are growing, too.
If you want to be sure you’re maximizing the business benefits of your website, a website audit is the way to go. A good website audit takes into account all the factors that can influence your website’s success: From your perspective, your customer’s, and Google’s.
The challenge here is simple: A website audit consists of many moving parts.
In fact, there are lots of technologies you could use and varying approaches to each individual step. With that in mind, every “step by step guide to a website audit” is going to look different. But that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a right way to do your site audit.
For this guide, we won’t exhaustively list every one of the specific apps, plug-ins, and other tech tools you could choose to help your website audit. Odds are, you probably have software in your technology stack that can help, and no one app is essential to a good website audit.
Instead, we’ll zoom in on the indispensable elements that a complete website audit should cover, including what questions you should ask at every step throughout the process – so you can not only deliver the audit, but learn the key lessons from it and report insights throughout your organization.
A comprehensive website audit actually has five parts. A large team can sometimes work on all five simultaneously, but we find that following them in the order given will help you build on the insights each step provides and cut down on duplicate work.
Here they are:
1. Technical Audit
A technical audit is step one for any website audit because it provides you with information on how the underlying technology is performing – or not performing. This affects every other aspect of the site and how people use it, so it comes first.
Technical Audit Steps
- Is your site using an SSL certificate? Is it properly and consistently implemented?
- Is your site using a Content Management System to make updates easy and consistent?
- Have you changed or obscured all default CMS settings, including login page location?
- Does your site use security best practices, like denying access after several failed logins?
- Does your site render right on all major browsers? Have you done cross-browser testing?
- Does your site render on mobile platforms? Have you used Google mobile-friendly test?
- Is your site using Google Analytics or another suite and reporting data from all pages?
- Have you recently updated (patched) all software plugins and modules on your site?
- Are site logins, contact forms, and social media integration working as expected?
- Does your site perform regular backups? Can it be restored in less than 24 hours?
2. On-Page SEO Audit
Many people consider on-page SEO the fun part of a website audit because it’s the part you truly have the most control over. When it comes to the technology it uses and endorses, an enterprise can take months to make big changes – but on-page SEO can be radically improved in as little as one day.
On-page SEO consists of all those factors on your own site that influence your search placement. Experts have estimated about 200 Google ranking factors, some of which are unproven ... so we’ll home in on those known to make the biggest impact in a website audit.
On-Page SEO Audit Steps
- Does every page on your site have a keyword-optimized title tag and a meta description?
- Is text on each page substantial, helpful, informative, and rich in relevant SEO keywords?
- Does the site have relevancy indicators including its business address and phone number?
- Are content pages set up for easy sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and – yes – Google Plus?
- Does your site use an XML sitemap to improve your pages’ indexing and crawlability?
- Are you using readable, keyword-enriched URL structures and avoiding dynamic URLs?
- Are your content pages making appropriate use of header tags and linking deep content?
- Are your major content pages and categories easily reached through the main nav menu?
- Are on-page images optimized for keywords and usability using alt text and filenames?
3. Off-Page SEO Audit
Off-page SEO is often the most challenging part of achieving great online visibility – for technicians, marketers, and business owners alike. There are many factors where you have only limited, indirect control, so it can be harder to move the needle on off-page SEO.
In the past, it was tougher to integrate off-page SEO into your website audit than it is today. Over time, Google has grudgingly provided resources for this, and SEO experts have developed insights that take away some of the mystery ... if you do things in the right order.
Difficulty counting “all” the backlinks that point to a site remains one of the biggest problems in digital marketing. No matter what tools you use or how diligent you are, it’s impossible to get the same view of your link portfolio Google has.
Luckily, there are tools that can be effective, such as:
- Google Webmaster Tools – for the “official” option;
- Majestic SEO – a high-quality tool that banks on a huge link index database;
- Ahrefs – A versatile suite that works well for monitoring multiple websites.
Off-Page SEO Audit Steps
- About how many total referring domains link to your entire website?
- About how many backlinks do your content and landing pages have?
- Are you monitoring the growth of your entire link portfolio weekly?
- Is your backlink portfolio growing or shrinking over time?
- Have you used Google Disavow Tool to cut bad backlinks?
- How many shares is your site receiving on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus?
- Is your site getting traffic and mentions from your social platforms and YouTube?
- Are you reaching out to, and sharing content with, social influencers regularly?
- Are your backlinks relevant in terms of their location, language, and focus topic?
4. User Experience Audit
User experience is critical if you want your website to be helpful and persuasive. In a nutshell, it refers to the ability of each user to find what they need on your site, make use of it in the way they expect to, and develop positive associations with your brand along the way. User experience is the place where design, technology, and intent intersect to facilitate activity on your site.
User Experience Audit Steps
- Are your site pages loading in less than three seconds on the average internet connection?
- Does your site have simple, easy-to-use navigation menus and on-page “breadcrumbs”?
- Does your site use minimal (or no) advertising that might interfere with content viewing?
- Does your site use minimal (or no) obnoxious lead capture methods like “eye-blasters?”
- Does your site use videos in a low-touch way – e.g. embedded without auto-play?
- Does your site use responsive design so it can be viewed easily on mobile devices?
- If your site is currently using Flash, do you have a clear plan to phase it out in 2018?
- Are you using lossless compression to ensure that large graphics load more readily?
5. Content & Funnel Audit
In 2018, no website audit would be complete without a nod to content strategy. Good content has developed into one of the most powerful forces for enhancing online visibility and building relationships of trust with prospects. As the heart of the inbound marketing philosophy, content is how you demonstrate your willingness and ability to add value to your prospects’ lives.
Content Audit Steps
- Is your content built with a clear understanding of buyer personas and product use cases?
- Are content pages helpful, useful, informative, relevant, and attuned to the user’s jargon?
- Do you have fully optimized landing pages with one page per product, service, or offer?
- Are content pages of 300-500 words outnumbered by pages of 1,000 words or more?
- Does each piece of content move a specific type of user one step in the buyer journey?
- Do all major content pages include relevant, engaging visual elements?
- Do all major content pages include attractive social sharing buttons?
- Do landers and opt-in pages make use of progressive profiling?
- Do content pages use personalization whenever appropriate?
The Last Word on a Comprehensive Website Audit
If you’ve never done a website audit before, this might seem a little like scaling Mt. Everest.
Although your first website audit is anything but easy, things do get simpler with time. Why? If you follow the steps above, you’ll align your site with digital marketing best practices that will be much easier to sustain in the future.
How often should you do a website audit?
Depending on the size of your site and the tech tools you bring to bear, your initial audit might take several weeks to complete. After that, however, things should be a lot faster ... especially if you can work with your content team and Web developers to stay on track.
After your first audit, it’s a good idea to follow up in three months.
Once you’ve addressed any problems the initial audit discovers, you end up with much more leeway: A follow-up audit every six months might be enough to keep your website healthy.
Even one end-to-end website audit will put you way ahead of your less informed competitors, so use these ideas to get started today.