The Ultimate Guide to Mastering SEO Website Audits in 2024

Elevate your website's search engine performance with our in-depth guide to mastering SEO website audits in 2024. Learn the essential steps and tools.

12 minute read

May 7, 2024

Do you have a website? Want it to show up high in Google searches? Then you need to learn about SEO audits. They help make your site better so more people can find it. An SEO audit looks at all the parts of your website to see what's working well and what needs fixing. It's super important to do audits often so your site can keep up with Google's changes and beat out your competitors. Here's a quick overview of what we'll cover in this guide:

TL;DR

  • An SEO audit looks at all the technical and content parts of your site to find and fix problems that hurt your Google rankings. 
  • You should do audits regularly to keep up with Google updates and stay ahead of competitors. 
  • The audit process checks technical stuff, on-page optimization, user experience, mobile-friendliness, and off-page factors like backlinks. 
  • After the audit, you need to prioritize and make the suggested changes to improve your rankings and website performance. 
  • Keep monitoring your site after the audit to make sure the changes are working and your site stays up-to-date.

Understanding SEO Website Audits

Before we dive into the details, let's make sure we understand what an SEO audit is and why it matters. An SEO audit is a full check-up of your website to see how well it's doing in Google search results. It looks at things on your website pages and off your website that affect your Google rankings. The audit finds any issues and gives you suggestions to make your site better for both Google and the people visiting it. It's really important to audit your site often so you can catch problems early and keep improving.

What is an SEO Website Audit?

An SEO website audit is like a doctor's check-up for your site's health in Google searches. It systematically looks at various on-page and off-page parts that impact how high your site ranks, finds problems, and tells you how to fix them to boost your visibility and user experience.

Common Questions About SEO Website Audits

Why do I need an SEO audit? 

To find and fix issues hurting your Google rankings and site performance. 

What things does an SEO audit look at? 

Technical parts, on-page optimization, user experience, mobile-friendliness, backlinks, and online reputation. 

How often should I do SEO audits? 

At least every few months, but more often is better to stay on top of changes. 

Can SEO audits be automated?

Parts can be, but you still need a human to analyze and prioritize. Tools like SE Ranking can help ($55-$239/month). 

Fun fact: If the word "audit" makes you a bit anxious, you're not alone! But for SEO pros, an audit is exciting because it means actionable ways to improve your site's marketing. So let's reframe audits as a helpful tool, not a scary test.

Defining Goals and Objectives

Before starting your SEO audit adventure, you need a clear map of where you want to go. Defining specific goals keeps your audit focused and in sync with your overall SEO strategy and business needs. 

Common SEO audit goals include: 

  • Boosting Google rankings 
  • Getting more visitors to your site 
  • Improving user experience 
  • Finding and fixing technical problems 
  • Optimizing for certain keywords or audiences

Setting Clear Goals for the Audit

Be sure to set super specific goals for your SEO audit before you begin. This keeps you on track and makes sure the audit supports your master SEO plan and what your website aims to achieve. Some examples of good SEO audit goals are increasing Google rankings for your most important pages, getting more people to visit and stay on your site longer, making your site faster or mobile-friendly, and improving content for your main keywords.

Identifying Goals and Objectives

To pick the right goals and objectives for your audit: 

1. Use the SMART method:

  • Specific: Be precise about what you want to achieve.
  • Measurable: Use numbers or percentages to track progress.
  • Achievable: Make goals realistic based on your resources.
  • Relevant: Ensure goals support your overall SEO and business plans.
  • Time-bound: Set a deadline to accomplish each goal.

2. Ask yourself:

  • What do I most want to improve about my site's SEO?
  • Which site issues are likely having the biggest negative impact?
  • How can I measure if the audit is successful?
  • What's a reasonable timeline to complete audit tasks?

3. Keep in mind audit goals can shift if you uncover major unexpected issues. Stay flexible! 

Check out tools like Semrush ($119-$449/month) to help with goal setting and tracking. An SEO expert there made a great point: "Have a huge website? Not an issue. Crawl it fast by verifying your domain and tuning the speed settings. Or skip crawling unrelated sections entirely by setting parameters to exclude and/or include certain website sections."

Conducting a Technical SEO Audit

Now let's get technical! A technical SEO audit looks under the hood of your website at things like code and structure that impact how well Google can find, understand, and rank your site. This audit identifies underlying issues that may be invisibly sabotaging your SEO.

Table of SEO components and how to check them during an audit

Technical SEO Component

What to Check

Tools to Use

Site structure and architecture

- How pages are organized and linked together

Screaming Frog, DeepCrawl

URLs

- Search-friendly URLs that don't compete with other pages

Screaming Frog, Google Search Console

Page speed

- Pages load in under 3 seconds

Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix

Mobile-friendliness

- Site uses responsive design and works well on phones

Google Mobile-Friendly Test

Crawl errors and status codes

- Identify problems as Google explores the site

Google Search Console, Ahrefs Site Audit

Technical SEO Audit Checklist

When doing a technical SEO audit, you want to analyze: 

  • Site structure and architecture: How your site is organized and how pages link together 
  • URLs: If URLs are search-friendly and don't compete with other pages 
  • Robots.txt and XML sitemap: Files that tell Google where and how to find your content 
  • Page speed: How fast pages load (slow = bad for SEO and users) 
  • Mobile-friendliness: If your site works well on phones 
  • Broken links and redirects: Finding and fixing dead ends that frustrate users 
  • Duplicate content: Avoiding content that looks like copies to Google 
  • Structured data: Code that helps Google understand your page content 
  • Crawl errors and status codes: Identifying problems as Google explores your site 
  • Security: Making sure your site is protected, especially if it collects info 
  • Hreflang tags: For websites with multiple languages 
  • JavaScript: Making sure Google can read content loaded by scripts 

There are lots of tools to help automate technical audits, like Ahrefs ($99-$999/month) and Screaming Frog ($0-$259/year). But you or someone on your team should still carefully review the results to prioritize fixes.

To recap, a technical SEO audit is crucial for finding and fixing behind-the-scenes issues that can seriously hurt your Google rankings without you realizing it. It's worth doing a thorough technical analysis a few times a year, plus any time you make major site changes. 

Analyzing On-Page SEO Elements

Next up is the on-page SEO audit. This looks at the actual content on each of your site's pages to make sure it's optimized to show up in searches and provide a good user experience. Basically, it checks if your pages are structured in a Google-friendly way while still being engaging for real people.

On-Page SEO Audit Checklist

When auditing on-page SEO, look out for: 

  • Page titles and meta descriptions: The text that shows up in Google results for your page 
  • Headings (H1, H2, etc.): Breaking up content into clear sections 
  • Content quality and keywords: Having substantial, relevant content that uses key search terms naturally 
  • Images: Using descriptive file names, alt text, and compressed sizes 
  • Internal and external links: Linking to related pages on your site and authoritative external sources 
  • Anchor text: Using relevant phrases in your link text, not generic "click here" 
  • Page loading speed: Aiming for under 3 seconds 
  • Mobile responsiveness: Making sure page layout adjusts well to smaller screens 
  • Structured data: Adding special tags to help Google classify your content (like reviews or recipes) 
  • Duplicate content: Avoiding very similar content across pages Tips for doing an on-page audit: 

1. Use a tool like Clearscope (starts at $199/month) to scan your pages and get tailored optimization suggestions. 

2. Install browser extensions like Mozbar or the Semrush SEO Writing Assistant to get real-time on-page SEO metrics while you browse your site. 

3. When auditing large sites, focus on your most important pages first, like the homepage, top product/service pages, and blog posts that get the most traffic.

Remember, the goal of on-page optimization is to make each page as targeted, useful, and intuitive as possible for both search engines and human visitors. Finding that balance is key. An on-page audit will show you opportunities to do better on both fronts.

Evaluating User Experience and Mobile-Friendliness

Google has made it crystal clear that websites need to be not just crawlable, but also user-friendly. That means your SEO audit has to look at user experience (UX) too, especially on mobile devices. More than half of web traffic is mobile these days! To audit UX and mobile-friendliness, you'll want to look at:

  • Ease of navigation (clear menus, search bar, etc.) 
  • Readability of text (font sizes, colors, line spacing) 
  • Convenient page layouts 
  • Fast loading on all devices 
  • Working buttons and links 
  • Accessibility for users with disabilities 
  • Forms that are quick to fill out 
  • Proper redirects for broken/old pages 
  • Annoying pop-ups or hard-to-close interstitials

User Experience Audit Checklist

Here's a more detailed checklist for evaluating UX: 

1. Site navigation and architecture 

  • Is it easy to find key pages from the homepage? 
  • Are related pages grouped logically? 
  • Is the navigation menu uncluttered and mobile-friendly? 

2. Page layout and design 

  • Does the visual hierarchy guide users to important content? 
  • Is there enough whitespace? 
  • Do images and videos enhance the content? 

3. Page load speed 

  • Do pages load in under 3 seconds on desktop and mobile? 
  • Are image files compressed? 
  • Is the code optimized? 

4. Mobile usability 

  • Does your site use responsive design? 
  • Is text readable without zooming? 
  • Can key actions be completed with one hand? 

5. Forms and CTAs 

  • Are forms simple and only ask for essential info? 
  • Do buttons stand out and clearly state their action? 
  • Is it obvious how to proceed through multi-step processes? 

6. Technical UX 

  • Are 404 error pages helpful? 
  • Do links open in the same tab? 
  • Is your site secure (HTTPS)? 

Tools like Google's Mobile-Friendly Test, PageSpeed Insights, and Lighthouse can help automate some UX checks. But there's no substitute for having real people actually use your site and give feedback. ContentKing (starting at $39/month) is a lesser-known but powerful tool for tracking and improving UX and mobile SEO. I love that it monitors your site 24/7 and alerts you to issues in real-time.

At the end of the day, Google is going to rank sites that provide the best experience and answers for searchers. A good UX audit will help make sure your site does exactly that, on any device.

Conducting an Off-Page SEO Audit

You might think SEO is all about what's on your website. But there's a whole world of off-page factors that influence if your site shows up in searches. Basically, Google looks at your site's digital footprint and reputation. An off-page SEO audit examines how the web perceives your site. The main things an off-page audit looks at are: 

  • Backlinks: Links pointing to your site from other sites (the more high-quality, relevant links the better) 
  • Anchor text: The actual text other sites use to link to you (this helps Google understand what your pages are about) 
  • Unlinked brand mentions: Online references to your site/brand without an actual link 
  • Social media presence: Your activity and following on social platforms 
  • Online reviews: The quantity and quality of reviews on sites like Yelp or Google My Business 
  • Local citations: Your business' name, address, and phone number (NAP) listed on directories and websites 
  • Competitor benchmarking: Comparing your site's off-page SEO to your top rivals

Off-Page SEO Audit Checklist

To do an off-page SEO audit: 

1. Use tools like Semrush or Ahrefs to analyze your backlink profile.

  • How many backlinks you have 
  • Authority and relevance of linking sites 
  • Anchor text distribution (aim for variety, not just exact keywords)
  • Potential spammy or toxic links to disavow 

2. Check your social media metrics 

  • Followers, engagement rate, frequency of posting 
  • Opportunities for improvement 

3. Monitor your online reputation 

  • Search for brand mentions, reviews, and comments 
  • Address any negative feedback promptly 

4. Audit your local SEO (if you have a physical location) 

  • Check for consistent NAP info across the web 
  • Optimize your Google My Business listing 
  • Encourage happy customers to leave reviews 

5. Identify off-page SEO opportunities 

  • Authoritative sites to try to get links from 
  • Unlinked brand mentions you could reach out about adding a link 
  • Influencers or businesses to partner with for mutual links Off-page SEO boils down to improving your site's authority, relevance, and trustworthiness compared to competitors. 

Aim to build a diverse, high-quality backlink profile over time rather than trying to game the system.

Reminder from Ahrefs: Check for issues related to: 

  • Incoming links: detecting orphan pages, issues with nofollow links 
  • Outgoing links: detecting links to redirects, broken pages Your site doesn't exist in a vacuum online. 

An off-page audit will show you how to improve your larger web presence for maximum SEO impact.

SEO Audit checklist criteria

Factor

Description

Tips

Impact

How much will this change improve rankings and traffic?

Prioritize highest ROI opportunities first

Effort & Resources

How difficult or time-consuming is the change?

Start with "quick wins" that are easy to implement

Importance

How essential is this to overall site goals?

Focus on changes that support key business objectives

Timeliness

Is there a deadline or time-sensitivity?

Stay ahead of competitors and algorithm updates

1. Impact 

  • How much will fixing this improve rankings and traffic? 
  • Prioritize the highest ROI opportunities 

2. Effort/resources 

  • How difficult or time-consuming is the change? 
  • Start with "quick wins" 

3. Importance 

  • How essential is this change to your site goals? 
  • Focus on business priorities 

4. Timeliness 

  • Is this a time-sensitive change? 
  • Stay ahead of competitors, algorithm updates, and industry trends

Here are some tips for turning recommendations into results: 

  • Create a detailed action plan with specific tasks, owners, and due dates 
  • Communicate priorities clearly to everyone involved 
  • Automate change implementation where possible (like with a site crawler) 
  • Build in time for testing changes on a staging site 
  • Monitor before-and-after metrics to measure impact 
  • Schedule regular check-ins to keep implementation on track 
  • Document changes for future reference 

Tools like Ahrefs Site Audit let you schedule daily, weekly or monthly crawls to automatically surface new issues and track your progress over time. Prioritization is both an art and a science. Use data to inform your decisions, but don't underestimate the importance of stakeholder buy-in and team bandwidth. SEO is an ongoing process of continuous improvement, not a one-and-done checklist.

Monitoring and Maintaining SEO Performance

Congrats, you've done the hard work of auditing your site and implementing high-priority changes! But SEO success requires ongoing vigilance. You need to regularly monitor your site to protect your progress and proactively find new opportunities. Some key things to monitor: 

  • Rankings for target keywords: Use a tool like Semrush Rank Tracker.
  • Overall organic traffic: Utilize Google Analytics or Search Console.
  • Engagement metrics: Track bounce rate, time on site, and pages per visit.
  • Backlinks gained or lost: Monitor with Ahrefs or Semrush.
  • Core Web Vitals and page load speed: Use PageSpeed Insights.
  • Google algorithm updates and industry changes: Set up Google Alerts.
  • Technical site health like crawl errors: Check weekly or monthly with Site Audit.
  • Content and keyword relevance: Review Analytics, Rankings, and Site Audit Content Score.
  • Search vs. actual page content: Render pages with Dynamic Rendering from Ahrefs.

Key Takeaways

  • Well folks, we've covered a ton of ground in this monster guide to SEO audits. I know it's a lot to remember, so let's recap the key points: 
  • An SEO audit is a comprehensive check-up of your website's search visibility and performance. It surfaces issues and opportunities to improve. 
  • Start every audit by defining your goals and success metrics. Keep the audit focused and aligned with business objectives. 
  • A complete SEO audit looks at: - Technical site health and crawlability - On-page keyword and content optimization - User experience and mobile-friendliness - Off-page authority and reputation 
  • Prioritize audit recommendations that will have the biggest impact in the least time/effort. Create a detailed action plan and adjust as you go. 
  • Treat SEO as an ongoing process, not a one-time project. Monitor key metrics, implement new optimizations, and engage teams across your org. The SEO world is always changing, so your audit process has to evolve too. Stay curious, experiment often, and never stop learning.

Final Thoughts

You made it to the end, adventorous reader! I hope you feel armed and ready to take on the wild world of SEO audits. It's not always an easy journey, but trust me, it's worth it. As you go forth and optimize, remember what really matters: helping people find solutions to their problems. The best SEO strategies put users first and let the rankings follow naturally. Stay passionate, stay humble, and stay open to change. 

With the right tools, team, and mindset, you have everything you need to achieve SEO greatness. Oh, and one more thing - if you want to make the content optimization part of your SEO workflow way easier, check out Swiftbrief. Their AI-powered content briefs and optimization tips are a game-changer. 

You can try the blog outline generator or content brief generator to get blog post outlines and briefs in a snap. It'll save you tons of time in your content planning and help ensure you're hitting the meta titles and H tags just right. Now go forth and audit like a boss! You got this. And if you have any other SEO questions, the Swiftbrief team would love to chat. Happy optimizing!

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