How to perform an SEO audit

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When you’re working really hard on a long term goal, you often think about the next steps you need to take to keep moving that project forward. Most people have the mindset that “Action = Progress.” However, when you’re too caught up in what you should be doing next, the quality of the project itself can falter. Current problems or areas that need improvement with the project can often get overlooked when people have this mindset.

That’s why it’s important to take pauses for assessment and analysis. How is the project doing? How does the situation compare now from when you started the project? You need to take a close look and see if all of the work you’ve put in so far has had its desired effects.

If it hasn’t, then it’s time to change your overall strategy and game plan. These pauses can be make or break moments for catching a project before it veers off-course and fails.

If you’re working on improving the SEO of your website, these rules apply as SEO is a long-term project (that’s really never “finished” or “complete”). To make sure your SEO efforts are being as effective as possible and your site is actually benefiting from your  SEO activities, you need to perform an SEO audit.

In this post, we’ll be walking you through everything you need to know about SEO audits so that you can keep your SEO plan on track.

What is an SEO audit?

An SEO audit is an assessment of how your website is performing in search engine results. This assessment looks at different components of your website to see how that particular aspect is affecting your rankings, and if it needs to be altered/improved, or if its doing exactly what it needs to.

An SEO audit will help you identify the weak aspects to your website as well as its strong, high performing aspects. Audits help you evaluate what’s not working and you should phase out, and what strategies are achieving great results. SEO audits help you learn what areas of your website you need to focus on and it helps you improve the allocation of your resources.

As you’ll find on the internet, there are many different opinions on what makes up a good SEO audit. Different sources will recommend different tools, steps, and lengths of time to spend on an SEO audit. All of this varying information can get pretty overwhelming, but as long as you have a thorough understanding of how to use each tool, what you are doing/looking for during each step, and why you’re doing each step, you’ll be headed down the right path.

How long does an SEO audit take?

Depending on how in-depth you want to go with your SEO audit, performing an audit could take from a few hours to a few weeks. Yes, weeks. The length of an SEO audit will depend on the size of your website and the scope of your audit.

No matter how long you spend on your SEO audit, one thing is certain; in order to have a quality SEO audit, it CANNOT be rushed. It’s better to overestimate the time an audit will take and carve out too much space in your calendar for this project than the opposite; rushing an SEO audit will allow for oversights and it will prevent you from spending the proper amount of time on each step.

A rushed SEO audit is pretty much pointless; you won’t get useful information from it.

However, it’s understandable that many website owners can’t simply put a month aside to conduct a thorough audit. If you’re really strapped for time and looking to cut down the hours an audit will take, choosing a specific kind of SEO audit could help shave down the time it takes to perform.

What are the different kinds of SEO audits?

Since there are so many components to a website that can be modified for SEO purposes, there are a few different kinds of SEO audits. If you’ve been focusing on a particular area or strategy for your website, doing an audit specifically geared toward that area could help save you time and give you more actionable results.

Here are the most common kinds of SEO audits:

  • Technical audit
  • Content audit
  • On-page audit
  • Off-page audit

If you choose one of the above audits to conduct, or decide to go for a full SEO website audit, you’ll need a thorough understanding of the tools you’ll be using.

Common SEO audit tools (& what they’re used for)

So, what common tools are people using for SEO audits?

How do you perform an SEO audit?

Now that we’ve gone over what an SEO audit is and what you’ll be using to perform your own, we can get into the nitty-gritty: how do you actually perform an SEO audit?

SEO audits are completed by following a list of steps. Each step looks at a different component of your website to see how it can be improved.

There are hundreds of different step by step guides out there on the internet that claim to have THE right list, but in reality there’s no one perfect way to do an SEO audit. The best SEO audits contain the steps that are most relevant to your own website.

We took a look at some of the most popular guides for SEO audits on the web, and in tandem with our own SEO knowledge at Centori, consolidated the information into our own step list for a pretty comprehensive SEO audit. While this list doesn’t include absolutely every component you could look at for your website, we chose the steps that have shown to make the most significant impact on your organic traffic.

If you’re looking for a list of quick hits, check out our SEO checklist. If you’re looking for an in-depth set of steps, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve broken our list out into three different parts so it’s easier to understand what category of SEO each step falls into, and to keep related steps near one another. The three parts are Benchmarking, Technical SEO, and Content.

Centori’s SEO audit step-by-step guide

Part I: Benchmarking

Step 0: Check that Google indexes only one version of your website

Believe it or not, there could be multiple versions of your site on Google. This isn’t an SEO best practice; you should have the same version of your website coming up for users consistently.

The good thing is this is an easy and quick fix. To check what versions of your website Google has indexed, type the following formats of your website address into the browser bar:

If any of these formats turn up a version that’s not your latest website, you can simply add in a 301 redirect to solve the issue.

Now that we know everyone on Google is being posted on one place, we can focus on auditing that place!

Step 1. Start a website crawl

To get a preliminary outlook on the health of your website, using a website crawling tool can be a good place to start.

A lot of online tools available on the web will check for the exact things we’ll be looking into later in this guide, including broken links, indexability, crawlability, and duplicate content.

Here is a list we’ve gathered of a few tools that will crawl your website:

  • Centori’s site crawler
  • Sitebulb
  • Screaming Frog
  • OnCrawl
  • DeepCrawl

Website crawlers will not replace the manual SEO audit we’re describing in this guide, but they can certainly help supplement one and guide you while you’re making your audit.

Step 2. Conduct a competitor analysis

Just as important as knowing how the SEO of your website is doing, is finding out how your competitors’ websites are performing, and what their best practices are.

As a “sidequest” to your SEO audit, we recommend performing a competitive analysis. We’ve got our own set of tools available to help you complete one easily.

In short summary, there are four steps to conducting a competitor analysis:

Identify your competitors

When we’re talking about SEO, your competitors are the sites ranking on Google for your target terms. Identify the target terms you are going after, and see who ranks consistently for them.

Analyze their search results

Type the following in Google site:yourcompetitor.com and observe the number of pages they have indexed, whether there are any pages they probably should not have indexed, and their content strategy.

Looking at these attributes on each page of their website:

  • Titles
  • Meta description tags
  • Meta keywords tags
  • H1 headings
  • URL structure
  • Content and keywords
Analyze their links

There are a host of tools to analyze your competitor’s backlinks profile, some of the most popular are Ahrefs and SemRush.

Crawl their site

Just as you used a web crawling tool for your own site, use it on your competitors to see their results and how they compare to yours.

Step 3. Identify indexing problems (like Zombie pages) & fix them

This step requires the use of Google Search Console. Pulling the “Index Coverage Report” will provide you a list of pages that the search engine is not able to index for one reason or another.

You’ll also want to refer to the data found by the web crawling tool you used; these tools sometimes provide you context that Google does not.

From here, you can make sure that the proper pages are being indexed by Google, and this includes blocking pages that you DON’T want Google to index.

You can make sure Google won’t index a page by adding a noindex tag to it.

The number of pages that Google indexes from your site may be surprising to you, and a lot of them could be zombie pages.

They’ve earned this name because they are “living dead” pages-they do not provide value to your site, they get little to no traffic, and they rarely show up on the SERP. However, these pages WILL affect your search rankings, so it’s important to deal with the accordingly. Here are a few examples of zombie pages

  • Boilerplate content
  • Outdated press releases
  • Thin content
  • Search result pages
  • Archive pages

The list goes on. Once a page has been identified as a zombie page, it should be deleted. After, more is not more by Google’s standards, and if there’s less pages on your website, it’s less for you to keep track of and manage.

Step 4. Check your organic traffic

Now, we’ll be using Google Analytics.

To find your organic search traffic, open Google Analytics, navigate to Acquisition, then under the All Traffic dropdown, choose Channels. Once you’re there, select Organic Search.

You can adjust the time periods shown to you to see how many people have visited your site in the last month, 6 months, year, and so on.

This will help you gauge where your website is in regards to traffic, and it will help you set reasonable goals once you complete your audit.

Step 5. See if you rank for your brand name

Time to check what happens if people try to use Google to find your brand. Type in the name of your company into the Google search bar, and find where you lay on the SERP.

Ideally, you want your website to be the first result. Moreover, you want your homepage to be the first result that users see.

If your website is a few results down on the results page, this means you have some brand building to do. This can be accomplished mainly through link building-and we’ll talk about strategizing to get more backlinks later.

It could also mean that your brand name is too generic, and Google is bringing up results that are completely unrelated to your business but use the same wording. If this is the case, you may want to consider a rebrand to make your company and website name more unique and distinguishable.

If you can’t find your website on the SERP, this means there are serious issues at play. You should have already figured out and indexing problems in Step 3, but it’s possible that your website is facing algorithmic or manual penalties. Checking Google Search Console can help you get to the bottom of this.

Step 6. Do a keyword optimization scan & set up keyword rank tracking

A big part of showing up in organic search is making sure that your website and its pages are optimized for keywords.

To tell how your website is doing when it comes to keywords, you’ll first want to conduct keyword research to identify a list of keywords you want to target.

Then, you can work on incorporating keywords into the following aspects of your website:

  • URL
  • Title and H1 tag
  • H2 subheadings
  • Meta title and meta description
  • Body copy - keywords should be included IN MODERATION throughout the post

From here, you can use another online tool to set up rank tracking for the keywords you care about.

Part II: Technical SEO

Step 7. Analyze your website architecture (and fix orphan pages)

Website architecture is an invisible force that affects your SEO a great deal; not only does it help search engines find and index the pages on your website, it also tells them which pages are most important.

The general rule of thumb dictates that the closer a page is to the homepage, the more important it will be considered.

A good website architecture. What do we mean by that? You should be able to get to any page from your homepage in around 3 clicks or less. This means that every page has a clear path to and from the homepage, and no pages are getting buried deep in the website.

Your website shouldn’t be a scavenger hunt for users; the navigation should feel logical, easy, and natural!

Rearranging your website’s architecture could just mean setting up better internal linking, or in more extreme scenarios, getting a web developer involved.

When you’re analyzing your website’s architecture, this is also the time to look for orphan pages. Orphan pages are those that aren’t linked to anywhere else on your site; they are stand-alone.

When you come across an orphan page, first you should assess the purpose of the page and its performance. Then, you can decide whether you’d like to build internal links to that page or simply delete it.

Even if it means big changes for the structure of your website, flattening its architecture will certainly pay off in terms of improving the user experience of your site.

Step 8. Make your website mobile-friendly

The next three steps are also heavily focused on user experience.

It’s 2022, and let’s get real-nearly everyone does at least some (but probably most) of their internet browsing on mobile devices. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, you’re driving away a huge amount of potential traffic and leads.

How to make your website great on a mobile device?

Step 9. Check on your site speed

It’s 2022, and people have really short attention spans. Probably because of all that mobile device usage we talked about in the last step.

This means that site speed is really important for the user experience, and Google has confirmed time and time again that site speed is a ranking factor.

To improve the speed that your website loads at, we recommend the following activities:

  • Clean up the HTML code of your site’s most important pages
  • Run a speed test on an online tool, and fix the bottlenecks it finds
  • Compress your large images
  • Use Google PageSpeed Insights for recommendations of further improvements to make

Step 10. Find and fix broken links

Surprisingly, broken links don’t directly affect how a search engine will rank your site. However, running into “Page Not Found” errors on your website makes for a terrible-and annoying-user experience.

You can identify your broken links using the site audit tool from step 1, or using Google Search Console’s Index Report.

Once you have a good idea of which links are broken, you can go through it and decide to fix them or not. If a link is still relevant and helpful for your users, you’ll want to fix-if it’s outdated or pointless for your users, you can delete it.

Step 11. Analyze your backlinks & identify link building opportunities

The number of quality backlinks your site has is one of the top ranking factors for search engines, so pay close attention to this step. (Don’t worry, we just passed the halfway mark through the site audit, too.)

Online tools can tell you how many backlinks your site has, as well as give information about its domain authority. Domain authority comes from whether or not the sites that link to you are trustworthy.

You want as many backlinks as possible, but ONLY if those are all quality backlinks!

If you’re seeing a lot of links from spammy or fake sites, you’ll want to disavow those links. Some signs to look for are links that stem from link directories, non-indexed sites, or sites that contain a high quantity of mirror pages.

You’re looking to build links from real sites that are trustworthy, so your site can have a trustworthy reputation as well. To identify link building opportunities, find websites and people that fall under these categories and create an outreach strategy:

  • Journalist that write stories about your industry
  • Blogs that create content around your industry or nice
  • Similar but non-competing companies
  • Industry thought leaders and influencers

Step 12. Perform on-page SEO checks

Not familiar with on-page SEO? No worries, we have a post that breaks down what on-page SEO is.

Now that we’re all on the same page for what on-page SEO is, we can go through the most important pages of your website to run a manual on-page SEO check.

Use the following list of questions to look through the pages of your website that users will be visiting the most often:

  • Starting with the title, is it well crafted and clickable? Is your target keyword included?
  • Is there only one use of the H1 tag on the page? Is it optimized, and include a keyword?
  • Is your meta description customized to draw users in and explain what your page is about? Is it the right length as to not get cut off by the search engine? Does it include any target keywords?
  • Are you taking advantage of subheaders correctly on your page to break up text and make your post more readable and easily navigable?
  • Are there target keywords in the first 100 words of the post? Are LSI keywords included throughout the body copy?
  • Do you have 5 or more internal links included?
  • Do you have 5 or more external links included?

Step 13. Optimize metadata

We touched on this a bit in the last step, but you’ll want to pay attention to the meta data of the page and make sure it’s working for your page’s benefit.

Make sure your meta tags and meta description have been tailored for SEO purposes.

Meta descriptions should stay under 300 words, contain a call to action, incorporate target keywords, and have a unique draw for your target audience that makes the page stand out from the result of the results.

Meta titles need strike a careful balance between including target keywords, without getting too packed and losing coherency. Meta tags/titles are visible to the indexers as well as search users, so you want to make sure it is an appealing title that ALSO includes 1-2 target keywords/terms.

Part III: Content

Step 14. Bulk up thin content & delete duplicate content

Have you ever clicked on a link, thinking it will have just the information you’re looking for, only to be sorely disappointed when the page loads? Instead of the juicy, valuable info you need on the subject, you find a few sentences that barely even skims the surface.

You’ve just fallen victim to thin content. Thin content is any page that provides little to no value to users, and it can look a few different ways. Thin content may be short, vague, unoriginal, or low value affiliate content.

Just as bad (and worse in the eyes of Google bots) is duplicate content. Especially if the content is duplicated from other sites. You can use online tools to identify other pages on the internet that are similar to your own, and then differentiate your pages from there.

To address thin content issues, you’ll need to go through your pages and pull out pages that “just aren’t doing it” for users. You can then beef these posts up with valuable information and content, or delete them.

Step 15. Build a list of page update opportunities

“Freshness” is something that Google looks for when ranking pages. It’s also something that users care about, and it’s very easy for users to tell when a page hasn’t been updated in a while, or it has become completely outdated altogether.

To improve your rankings and seem hip to the kids, you’ll want to create a list of pages that would benefit from a page update.

You can then go through those pages and verify that their information is still accurate and relevant to the target audience. If there have been important developments on the topic since the page was last updated, you’ll want to include them.

Make those pages something you know your audience would want to read right now.

Step 17. Find pages ranking in positions 5–10 for high-volume keywords

This is about taking your high-performing content and making it even better. A ranking of 5 on the search engine result page is nothing to sneeze at, but the truth is that organic traffic increases exponentially with every ranking you can get above that.

So look through your website for the pieces of content that are ranking anywhere from fifth to tenth place on the SERP for their high-volume target keyword.

Then, you’ll want to check out the pieces ranked above your page, and tailor that content to be even more valuable than the content that is indexed higher.

This will really challenge your SEO content development skills, as it’s difficult to make a great post even better. You’ll need to get creative and into the SEO weeds a little bit, but this extra time to put the icing on the cake will pay off when you see your rankings slowly but surely rise.

Step 19. Optimize your content for UX signals

UX stands for user experience. This step is all about designing your posts with the user experience top of mind. How do you do this?

The most important thing is to align your content to the user’s search intent. For a deep dive into search intent, check out our post here.

Think about why the user is making a certain search query, and what they hope to find when they type that query. Then, make sure your post matches exactly what they want to find.

To optimize your content, look for pages that aren’t performing the best, and take a critical look at why the content may not be resonating with users. Looking around at how the competition answers that query may help bring the issues to light as well.

You may need to keep the same topic, but pivot the purpose, angle, or style of the content you’ve created surrounding that topic.

Carefully go through everything you’ve included in the piece and decide, who is this really going to be helping, and how? If you’re drawing blanks for answering these questions, it’s time to switch up the content.

Step 20. Find your website’s “content gaps”

This step will require some creativity, and some snooping.

Content gaps are topics that your target users want to find content for on your website, but you don’t currently offer any pages on that subject.

It also refers to keywords that your competitors are ranking for, but you aren’t.

To remedy this, you’ll want to see which keywords your competitors have been targeting, and then check which one’s you’ve built into your content strategy. If there are disparities, you’ll want to take this into account and start building in keywords you were previously missing in your content plan.

Your content gaps don’t have to come directly from your competitors either. You can also keep up to date with the latest news, developments, and trends in your industry to identify keywords that your users are definitely using at this time.

Step 18. Launch a Skyscraper Post

There’s a reason this is the last step of our SEO audit; this step will help Google process all the changes and improvements you made throughout your SEO audit faster.

Sounds pretty sweet, right?

Completing this step happens in two parts; first, you need to create a pieces of content optimized for a target keyword that is significantly stronger the content currently ranked for that keyword.

Next, you’ll promote the post heavily. This can be done through sharing the content on a variety of social media platforms, mentioning the post in an email newsletter, etc.

Once you get the word out there about your post and traffic starts flowing in, Google will become alerted and send search bots to your site.

When you publish new content, the amount of pages crawled per day on your site will go up. Once the bots are already there for the skyscraper post, they’ll be able to look around and see what else is new-which is exactly what you want after an SEO audit.

What do I include in my website’s SEO audit?

While all of these steps are significant and can help your website’s SEO, we acknowledge that there’s a lot of them. When you’re conducting your first SEO audit, start looking at the aspects of your website that you’ve never studied before-this is where you may find the most juicy and drastic changes.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it to this point in the post, you’ve realized that an SEO audit is more of a marathon than a sprint. We hope that this guide teaches you how to be intentional about the way you go about your SEO improvements, and shows you just how vastly different that SEO activities can be from one another.

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