Danielle Devereux is an Austin, TX based full-stack marketing consultant with over 10 years experience in digital media.
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There’s a whole world of technical SEO that needs tending to in order to make a site perform and convert at its best. But how do you manage the many, many tasks involved in keeping a site’s SEO healthy? I already covered some of these things in my last blog post: [Part 2] On-Page Optimization For Perfect Technical SEO: Auditing & Site Maintenance, but I really wanted to focus on the process of doing an audit in this on a step by step guide to site auditing for SEO.
Maintaining your site doesn’t have to be a daunting undertaking. That’s because it’s easy (and actually smarter!) to break up your checkups into manageable tasks that occur monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, and yearly. To make it even easier, below is a how-to breaking down all the tasks you need to perform for a kick-ass SEO audit separated into a schedule: monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, and yearly to keep it organized.
Get your calendars handy, download the SEO Audit Checklist, and let’s dive in!
Monthly Checkups: Schedule These Once A Month
To set yourself up for SEO success, there are a couple of tasks that need frequent attention. Keeping these elements up to date can be the difference between your site’s new pages either being indexed by Google, or being completely overlooked. Perform these checkups once a month if you are adding content on a regular basis.
1. Review Sitemaps and Update if Necessary
Updating and resubmitting your sitemap when you make changes to your site is key to a healthy search presence. While it’s not guaranteed to rank you any faster, there’s no harm in being certain Google has the right version of your site on file to index. Review your sitemap monthly, generate an updated version if applicable, and re-submit it to search engines via Search Console. Keep an eye on your indexation rates for anomalies. You can do that by reviewing your sitemap in Search Console along with doing a “site:randomurl.com” search in Google. The numbers should be more or less the same between Search Console and Google’s index.
2. Review 404 Errors and Schedule Fixes if Necessary
While 404 pages do not directly harm your site’s SEO, trust and usability do, as they are major factors in your users’ experience—and if your site has 404s, trust and UX can tank. A 404 error (meaning a webpage on your site cannot be found) can send users away from your site, increasing bounce rate and decreasing your site’s trustworthiness. Fortunately, 404s are often just the result of a broken link or a bad redirect. To keep search engines and users happy, run a monthly crawl in Search Console to locate errors and fix them. You may also want to set up a custom 404 page, so that in the case of a user landing on a 404 page, they can be redirected somewhere relevant. The folks at Creative Bloq put together a nice blog post full of examples of great 404 pages, so check those out.
3. Review Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are web pages designed according to an open source specification. AMP HTML is a subset of HTML for authoring content pages such as news articles in a way that guarantees certain baseline performance characteristics. AMP HTML documents can be uploaded to a web server and served just like any other HTML document; no special configuration for the server is necessary. These are lightweight pages designed to load quickly on mobile devices, which is a characteristic you need in 2017 and beyond. Updating your code to AMP HTML may include things like:
- Replace image references with images sized to the viewer’s viewport.
- Inline images that are visible above the fold.
- Inline CSS variables.
- Preload extended components.
- Minify HTML and CSS
These updates will provide performance benefits that allowing them to be served quickly in Google search results. For more information regarding how this directly affects your Google results read and follow the Google guidelines.
To monitor how your AMP pages are performing, you should again head over to Search Console. You can access the report under the Search Analytics the section where it shows the search appearance filter.
AMP ARTICLE RICH RESULTS
The AMP Status report will help you monitor the status and diagnose and correct any errors in your AMP pages you will see a chart of AMP pages successfully indexed as well as pages with AMP-specific errors. So what are you waiting for? Update your top landing pages today and see how much growth you gain.
Bi-Monthly Checkups: Schedule These Approximately Every 8 Weeks
Completing these checkups consistently will help account for any SEO loose ends you may accidentally create as you update and maintain your site. These tasks, though just as important as your monthly checkups, can be performed every other month.
1. Review Structured Data
Not every site utilizes “rich snippets” (the result of structured data) and that’s ok. There are many types of sites where they are not appropriate (see Google’s list). However, those that are lucky enough to be on the “list” should be using these to enhance their clickthrough rates and rankability. Rich results can be particularly eye-catching next to non-rich results. These snippets can manifest as the average star rating of a business, photos for a recipe, customer product reviews, or an author bio, just to name a few. They make a search result easier to skim, and if they contain the information the user is looking for, are more likely to be clicked. In fact, having a page appear with rich snippets in SERPs can improve clickthrough rates of 20-30% according to Moz. Every other month, head to Search Console to find Structured Data and check your metrics for structured data numbers and performance. Keep an eye out for decreases and errors, and implement fixes where needed.
2. Test Site Speed
Site speed isn’t just an important element of technical SEO. Poor page load speed is a great way to send users running from your site to a competitor. Good page load speed leads to higher user satisfaction with higher engagement rates and more links—all signals that Google pays attention to. Take advantage of Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check your site’s speed on both mobile and desktop.
3. Check Title Tags
Title tags are one of the most important SEO elements on your site—and also one of the easiest to optimize. Check that each of your title tags are optimized for its page’s appropriate keyword, and make sure there are no missing, duplicate, too-long, too-short, or non-informative title tags. Keep in mind that the maximum character count before the title gets cut off in SERPs is ~67. Additionally, be sure to avoid the once-standard title tag formula (primary keyword + secondary keyword + brand name). Instead, include the page’s primary keyword, but make the title more compelling to read from a user’s perspective (rather than a search engine’s).
4. Check Meta Descriptions
Like title tags, meta descriptions are another piece of metadata that should always be optimized. A good meta description will not just be valuable to search engines, but will also contain useful information and good copy to draw the user in. Google will only show ~155 characters in SERPs (though it will index more), so make sure the necessary user-friendly copy is short enough to appear in full in the results. Make sure all your pages have meta descriptions that are unique, the right length, informative, and contain your target keyword for that page. I recommend using the keyword exactly as it appears in your keyword research tool (rather than a variation of that keyword).
5. Check H1s
A strong H1 is a critical on-page ranking factor. It guides the user’s eye, orients them on the page, and tells both users and search engines what the page is about. Just like its other metadata counterparts, H1s should be keyword-optimized, unique, and informative.
6. Check Alt Tags
This out-of-sight page element should never be out-of-mind. The text of your alt tags offers another opportunity to tell search engines, as well as visually impaired users, what your site is all about. It also increases your potential to rank in Google Image Search. As with other pieces of metadata, make sure each alt tag is unique, optimized for a target keyword, and descriptive.
7. Spot-check Site Content
Careful as you may be when crafting content for your site, there’s always room for improvement. It’s always a good idea to rerun a site crawl using Screaming Frog and make sure you don’t have any duplicate pages, that your word count is healthy, that your meta is in place. Also, run a site:mydomain.com search in Google to make sure your content is being indexed. Check your site to make sure all your content is serving a purpose, well-optimized, and error-free.
Quarterly Checkups: Schedule These Once Every 3 Months
Your quarterly checkups will help you take a look at the bigger picture on a regular basis. You’re doing more than just focusing on fixing individual factors—you’re evaluating the overall performance of your site, reviewing its health, and adjusting your strategy as you go.
1. Assess Keyword Targets
A quarterly keyword checkup presents an opportunity to see how your optimization strategy has been playing out. Are you gaining ground on the keyword targets you’ve chosen, or should you think about re-optimizing? Check in with your go-to tools (AdWords, Ahrefs, Search Console, etc.) to view your targets’ most recent search volume and competition.
2. Run “Links To Your Site” Report in Search Console to Check for Bad Links
A quarterly check for bad links helps ensure that Google has nothing to penalize you for in the way of low-quality or spammy-looking links. Whether the links are remnants of a bygone backlinking strategy or come from someone else, you’ll need all your links to be squeaky clean to keep your SEO healthy. Run a checkup in Search Console every 3 months to remove the links that need removing, and to disavow those that can’t be removed.
3. Look at Historical Site Performance to See How Current Performance Compares to Past Performance
Reviewing long-term site performance can be tricky. Use Google Analytics to take a quarterly look at your site’s performance during the current quarter, the past 12 months, and for all time. You’ll want to be on the lookout for anomalies in your traffic and conversions, whether those anomalies be spikes or dips. Keep in mind that a decrease isn’t always bad, and an increase isn’t always good—it’s all about context. When you find a particularly interesting piece of data, dig into your timeline and your channels to find its cause.
HISTORICAL SITE PERFORMANCE
4. Review robots.txt
Your robots.txt file resides in the root of your website’s folder and communicates a certain number of guidelines to search engine crawlers. You’ll need to check it to make sure crawlers are reaching what you want them to and ignoring what you don’t. You can include your sitemap in your robots.txt—just make sure you don’t disallow the sitemap. Test your robots.txt for errors using Search Console.
5. Check on all items covered in monthly and bi-monthly Checkups
The title says it all, make the rounds on everything covered above as a part of your quarterly checkup. From 404s to alt tags, leave no SEO stone unturned.
Yearly Checkups: Schedule These Once A Year
Finally, your annual checkup allows you to take your strategy assessment to the next level. These once-a-year tasks are more intensive, but can also yield an enormous payoff when applied correctly.
1. Content Audit
Running a yearly content audit on your site will give you a bird’s-eye view of your site’s content, allowing you to see the best- and worst-performing content from a variety of angles. Define your KPIs, use a crawler(s) to pull all the data you need, and start sorting. As you analyze your content, you’ll be able to spot opportunities and make educated decisions about what to do with each piece of content.
For each URL on your site, decide whether you are going to apply one of the following actions: a) Improve, b) Leave as-is, c) Consolidate, or d) Remove. I give you the free template to download in this handy swipe file!
IA+CONTENT AUDIT SPREADSHEET
2. Information Architecture (IA) Review
Review your IA at least once a year to ensure that users and search engines alike can effectively find their way around your site. An IA that’s good for crawlers will be efficient when it comes to click depth, horizontal breadth, internal linking, keyword optimization across levels, and URL structure. An IA that’s good for users will take into account things like intuitive navigation and ease of use.
Get It Done: SEO Audit Checklist Download
If you are ready to go DIY on your auditing, you can grab up this blog post in a handy list form that you can interact with digitally or print it out and check off the items as you go!
If you want to go deeper with SEO content strategy & technical maintenance. You could download my complete swipe file that includes an e-book about on- and off-page SEO, technical maintenance, and information architecture here:
P.S. This blog post is dedicated to my ex-colleagues Shawn Livengood who taught me the intricacies of a damn good SEO Audit, (hopefully, he’s auditing his backlinks and will catch this one). And to my one and only editor-in-chief, Amanda Hopkins, who is seriously pun-y and talented. Deeply grateful to both of them for sharing their wisdom.