Content optimization

How a site audit increased monthly traffic by 300%

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Want to know one of the best things you can do to kick off 2020? You can audit your website.

I don't know about you but when I first got into SEO those three words were terrifying. Audit my website?

What does that mean? Where do I start? How much will a site audit cost? These are all questions that raced through my head. Auditing your website may sound intimidating but don't let that scare you off because the benefits are well worth the upfront work.

What is a site audit?

A site audit sounds pretty technical, and it can be. Simply put a site audit reviewing your site based on its content, speed, and how well optimized it is for search. Think of a site audit as a sort of checkup for your website. Just like you go in for a physical every year, your website needs a check-in to ensure everything is healthy. Over the course of the year you could have content that is not performing well, pages that are not optimized for search, or plugins slowing down your site and causing performance issues.

We've been there. You'll see from this post that our own website was overdue for a checkup and we had quite a bit of work ahead of ourselves. With hard work and a bit of elbow grease we cleaned up our site and saw some pretty intense results. 

Audit for content

Whether you've been blogging for years or days, chances are that you're having a hard time knowing A) what content is driving traffic and B) what content is holding you back.

If you're in that boat don't worry - there's a way out. This was one of the more labor intensive parts of our site audit so be warned, if you're like us and you've got content built up this may take a while. Fortunately our own platform, Centori, helped shoulder the load for us. If you're not a Centori user don't worry we'll make this part of the guide as tool-agnostic as we can.

Review content by topic

Centori makes this easy but it's possible to do in most CMS platforms that allow you to tag posts.

You should be creating content around a series of topics that you want to be known as an industry leader for. Depending on your industry you might have just a few topics or a wide variety - at Centori we try to center our blog posts around topics like SEO, content marketing, blogging, email marketing, and social media marketing. Centori automatically assigns posts to topics for easy auditing, though we also use Wordpress which allows us to tag posts with a category and view them inside our Wordpress account.

Auditng posts by topic is key as you want to ensure that you are covering a topic fully, and not duplicating content for a particular keywoord under that topic.

The term often used here is 'canabalizing seo' as two posts on the same keyword will dilute the traffic between them causing neither to rank.

If you have lots of posts saying the same thing, they're going to harm your site's rank and ability to be found for that keyword.

If you do find you have content competing for a keyword, choose one post to keep alive and delete the other. Contrary to what you might think, deleting content is one of the best things you can do to increase traffic.

Review content not getting views

Similar to the above section, is there any content that just isn't getting any views?

You're not creating content for fun, if you're running a business the content you create should be a part of your growth strategy to fuel your marketing efforts.

Content is a building block in a larger marketing strategy, but content that is not performing well holds you back far more than it helps you. If you have content that is not getting viewed, it's worth revisiting it to see if it can be updated, have a more engaging title, an inviting featured image, or be deleted so as to not reduce the quality of your site.

In our site audit we found a good deal of older content that was not ranking and had outdated information or just wasn't up to our current standards. This led us to update several posts, and delete quite a few others in an effort to raise the quality of our site.

Remember, Google's job is to answer questions. Every time you type a search into Google it's to answer a question, so Google is judged by how well it can provide results for your search. Auditing your site for content - ensuring you're not duplicating effort, and ensuring the content you have is high quality, is the best thing you can do to ensure that you're blog posts and landing pages have a shot at ranking. 

There are more technical aspects to a site audit though, which we'll get into in our next section. These detail things you can do to ensure your remaining content is structured well and optimized for search so that Google fully understand it and can rank it accordingly.

Audit for structure

Site strucure. Page structure. Meta tags.

These are just technical jargon for something that in actually is quite basic: how easy is it for Google to tell what a page on your site is about? While algorithms can sound complicated, at the end of the day software (no matter how sophisticated) is about data.

Each page is rendered with HTML (hypertext markup language) which is a fancy way of saying it's made of text. Yes your site might have pretty colors or fancy moving parts, but all Google sees is text, take our homepage for example.

Here's a screeshot of our homepage:

 Screenshot

And here's the HTML that Google interprets: 

 Screenshot

Not all bits of text are treated equally though, there are some that Google cares about more.

Yes, even Google plays favorites. I don't blame them though, it's because some pieces of your site pages are more indicitive as to what the page is about. Remember that Google's job is to answer questions, meaning for every search Google wants to show the pages that best answer the question. 

Title

Your page's title is pretty much what you'd expect - it's the title that you give your page. Most content managemet systems (like Wordpress or SquareSpace) will have a title field for your blog posts or pages. This gets set in the title tag of your page and Google uses it to help understand what your page is about, and it's the title that appears in Google search results.

Titles should be under 70 characters, though we shoot for fewer than 60 to ensure the full title is visible in SERPs and social previews.

Meta description

The meta description is another crucial tag for SEO, and frankly it's one we've been slacking on.

The meta description is the bit of text that appears under the title in Google search results, it's also critical in helping Google to understand the content of your page.

Not every CMS will have this built in - if you have Wordpress you'll need to install the Yoast plugin though many CMS platforms do provide this out of the box.

Your meta description should be fewer than 155 characters, and explain the content while drawing a prospective reader in to learn more. Next to the title, your meta description may be one of the most critical SEO elements on your page.

Robots.txt 

Woof, nothing is more intimidating to SEO newbies than a robots.txt. 

It eve sounds foreign. Don't worry though, we'll break it down for you. A robots.txt is a text file that tells Google which pages not to crawl and show in search results. 

Yes - there are pages you do not want crawled. For us, since we're Wordpress users, it's pages like the Wordpress login page, the pagination of our blog (centori.io/blog/page-2/), or pages for our blog authors - stuff like that. It's non-essential content that doesn't help your rankings or make you appear as a domain authority to Google.

Fortunately, most CMS platforms set this up for you! If you are using the Yoast plugin for Wordpress they automatically configure it for you and even easily allows you to exclude blog pagination, author pages, and more.

Headers

We've been covering non-visible elements to your pages, so let's get to stuff that your readers will see.

A big one is heading elements, things like h1, h2, or h3 tags. Heading tags might sound technical but trust me you've come across them many times - in fact we're using a variety of heading tags in this very post! Header tags are HTML elements that are designed to act as headings in your content. H1 headings are the biggest (you should only use one per page, Google analyzes these). H2 headings are a bit smaller and are good for breaking up the text into chunks, h3 headings are also good for this. I like to use H4 headings as sub-sections of a larger section.

Content length

It used to be that you could get away for a 500-word blog post and call it a day. 

Back when the web was a new frontier for businesses, those that had content on their site gained an immediate advantage over those who did not. It's still the case today, but the results come in much more quickly when no one else in your industry is blogging.

Now that the web has grow more crowded it's becoming increasingly more difficult to stand out from the rest of the pack. This doesn't mean that creating content is futile, it just means you need to invest a bit more time and effort into the content you create.

We saw this in examining our own content, a lot of our earlier and poorly performing posts were just not as well researched, in depth, and therefor were quite short. Now we shoot for 1000 words. Not because 1000 words is a magic threshold, but just because if you're writing 1000 words the content must be in depth as long as you're not repeating yourself every other sentence.

Audit for speed

This is where things can get a bit technical, so hold on we'll get through it.

In a perfect world every page on your site will load immediately for your visitors regardless of where in the world they are browsing and what device they're browsing on.

Ever had a slow internet connection and given up on a web page though? Me too - and it kills your conversions. HubSpot has a great infographic on how site speed kills your conversions with data to back it up, so needless to say optimizing your page speed is critical for your success. 

So how do you audit for speed?

Google has a free tool Page Speed Insights which allows you to enter links from your site one by one to analyze for speed, giving you a full analysis of how well your site is performing. Much of the results will be something for your developer or web master to handle, though to list a few common culprits:

  • Large images
  • Heavy CSS or JavaScript

Large images take a while to render and can clog up the load time of your site, an easy solution for this is TinyPNG which compresses images into a smaller file (sort of like vaccum packing clothes to fit into a suit case or a cramped closet).

Meanwhile unused or uniminfied CSS and JS also take a while to load, fortunately most CMS platforms offer ways to optimize CSS and JS load files so they load as quickly as possible.

The results from our site audit

Let's put our money where our mouth is.

As of January 2020 we had about two years of content built up so we:

-Audited our site to identify pages missing key meta tags and structural elements.

-Reviewed content that was outdated or just not getting visits and dumped it.

-Updated the good content and assessed the gaps to map out our content strategy, and built links interally.

It took a while, we've got three years of content built up after all, but the results were well worth it. 

Next steps

See, not so bad right? Auditing your entire website sounds like one of the worst tasks to take on for a week but with a few hours to spare and some dedication you'll come out the other side and much stronger for it.

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