A website audit is essentially a health check for a website that uncovers any technical issues a website may have that could impact its organic visibility. They are often technical and forensic in nature, analysing a whole range of aspects, including on page issues, site speed, and backlinks.
An audit is often the first step in an SEO campaign. This is because an audit will reveal where a site is strong and where it is weak, as well as outlining how and why the weaknesses should be improved.
It is often necessary to complete a full audit to understand the current situation a website is in, which allows an SEO to build out a strategy to improve that situation by addressing any weaknesses or red flags that have been highlighted.
It’s important to keep in mind that the cost of an audit will normally be the price of carrying out the analysis within the audit and NOT anything else. An audit is purely an analytical, and not practical, piece of work.
Also, it’s very common for a freelance SEO consultant or agency to insist on carrying out a full audit before they agree to work on your account. It's often the first step in an SEO campaign.
This may seem like a waste of money (especially if you have recently had another agency or SEO professional carry out an audit for you, or if you already have a very good idea of the issues your site has), but it’s completely necessary.
A good SEO will want to carry out their own research and gather their own data, and will be unwilling to trust data from a third party, unless previously agreed, as there’s no real way for them to know how accurate or reliable that data is.
The best way to think of a website audit is like a trip to the doctors: You go in, describe your symptoms and what you’re feeling, and then the doctor makes a formal diagnosis with the information you’ve given them.
You generally wouldn’t go to the doctors and say ‘this is exactly what I have’ and then expect the doctor to take immediate action from that information. Instead, they would use that information as an insight to help make the right call and it’s exactly the same situation here.
Do I need a website audit?
There are many scenarios where a webmaster may need an SEO audit carrying out, ranging from the precautionary and strategic, to the reactive, such as attempting to analyse the cause of a sudden drop in traffic. Here is a selection of the most common reasons for a website audit.
You feel your website is underperforming
If your website isn’t pulling in the amount of organic traffic and conversions that you need in order for your business to be successful, it can be useful to have an audit carried out to show you what can be improved.
This is especially important if you work on your own SEO campaigns and digital strategy as it ensures your efforts are being directed in the right place, meaning that your time is invested as efficiently as possible.
Your website has experienced a decline in traffic
A decline in traffic, whether sudden or gradual, is never good for a website. Many businesses rely on organic leads and conversions through their website as a main source of their revenue, so if these numbers decline, it can spell trouble.
There’s always a reason for drops in organic traffic, but they may not always be obvious to the website owner. Sometimes, they require an expert’s eye to analyse and diagnose.
In this scenario, it’s always best to seek out an experienced SEO professional to lend a hand, as they will have access to wide range of skills, tools and experience that will ensure the real reason for your traffic drop is uncovered and addressed.
You’re curious about your current/past SEO provider
There are a lot of excellent SEOs and digital marketers out there, but unfortunately, the industry also suffers from a lot of dishonest, opaque companies and practitioners.
Sometimes, clients just don’t know what work their SEO provider is carrying out. Other times, little meaningful work is occurring, despite the client still being billed, or worse, locked into a hefty, restrictive contract.
In some situations, work is being carried out, but it’s dangerous and low quality (such as using tactics like blog spam).
In these situations, an audit will offer clarity, peace of mind, and in some extreme circumstances, arm the client with enough information to carry out some damage control.
You want to take stock and benchmark current performance
Not all audits are carried out due to negative factors. It’s good practice to have website audits and check ups carried out regularly, as these will allow you to nip any issues in the bud before they have a chance to develop into anything more serious.
Regular technical SEO checkups and audits should be included in any ongoing SEO campaign as standard. Some technical SEO errors, such as crawl errors, can have a very serious impact on organic visibility, so it’s important these are discovered and fixed as quickly as possible.
You are planning a new website
Analysing your existing website can help shape the strategy and direction behind a website rebuild. By looking at the existing website performance and architecture, you can make informed decisions about what you want a new, improved website to include, as well as the kind of issues you want your developers to tackle (or avoid replicating on the new site).
Again, this is all about maximising the efficiency of your marketing budget by making sure your new website works as hard as possible for you and your business.
You have a new website that is about to go live
Carrying out a pre-live and post-live audit on any new website is always a very good idea. Development environments are very different to live environments and it’s often much quicker and easier to fix issues before a website goes live.
When a website is being moved from a staged to live environment, it’s very easy for things to go wrong, such as links breaking or pages being removed/deleted. An audit would catch these at the first instance, which guarantees your shiny new site delivers the best user experience possible.
What are some example SEO issues that are usually discovered in an audit?
A full SEO audit should uncover, or at least comment on, an entire range of issues, however the most common are:
- HTML tag issues, including poorly optimised page titles, meta descriptions, and headings.
- Content issues, including thin or duplicate content.
- Indexation issues, including the incorrect use of noindex, nofollow and canonical tags.
- Website speed and performance issues.
There are a whole host of other issues that the auditor may choose to dive into, as the whole task is very much a discovery process. The beauty of discovering these issues is that it’s possible to create an actionable list of what can be improved on a website.
The scope of the audit will change depending upon the situation and context around the website (i.e it may be more necessary to focus more heavily on content in some situations, but on website architecture in others).
The best tools for SEO audits and website health checks
A proper audit will rely on the use of some tools to help an SEO extract and analyse data. There are tonnes of great tools on the market that can help with website audits and health checks, some of which can be automated.
It’s important to keep in mind that simply running a data dump from a tool doesn’t count as an audit - the data on its own is useless in many cases - what you are paying for is the analysis, interpretation and feedback of this information from the SEO.
Search Console (or Webmaster Tools, for ye olde fashioned folk) is probably the most used tool within the SEO world. This is vital for checking a whole host of technical issues. It also offers important search metrics, such as impressions, clicks, average ranking position, and inbound search query data, as well as giving webmasters access to all of their backlinks. It's also where you will be notified if your website happens to have any manual action penalties applied to it.
Google Analytics is the industry standard for measuring website traffic and performance. Analytics data is important for audits as it can highlight any low traffic pages, which can help auditors investigate the cause. It can also help analyse any traffic drops, which could potentially caused by penalties or algorithm updates.
Another hugely popular tool, and with good reason. Screaming Frog allows you to grab and analyse huge amounts of website data in one fell swoop, which is especially useful when working on larger sites. You can easily discover and diagnose issues with website architecture and onsite SEO factors from a single crawl.
SEMRush is an SEO powerhouse, and it receives a lot of love for its keyword research and competitor analysis tools. But it also has a great auditing tool, which displays site errors and warnings in an easy to read dashboard, allowing you to track any changes on a day to day basis. It makes some of the more technical SEO elements easier to digest, and includes helpful pointers and advice.
Raven Tools Site Auditor
Raven Tools Site Auditor is another great offering that allows for website health checks to be automated. Better still, it’s free for small sites (under 50 pages), and it outputs a lot of quality data. It may not look as sleek or polished as SEMRush, but it’s still a great tool to have in your SEO audit arsenal.
Note: Woorank has a paid option which I’m yet to test, so this section refers to their free offering on their website and via the Chrome extension.
Woorank is a great little tool for quickly checking up on important SEO factors of a single page, which is ideal for those times when you need details at a granular level, but don’t want to fire up one of the more heavy duty tools mentioned above. Woorank quickly lets you see important elements like page titles, meta descriptions, <h> tag usage and link usage. It’s a handy tool, especially for quickly generating some ideas or for checking the basic SEO elements of a piece of content.
GTMetrix is one of the best tools for analysing site speed and performance. It’s dead easy to use and there’s no annoying fluff, ads, or restrictions. Essentially, the tool is running two similar tests at the same time, Google’s Pagespeed Insights and Yahoo’s YSlow. Using GTMetrix, it’s easy to diagnose common speed issues with a website, as well as checking server performance.
The main aim of an audit is to gather data which can then be analysed, highlighting any strengths and weaknesses with a website.
Sometimes, audits may seem tedious, or even unnecessary, but they serve a really important purpose, and they are vital when it comes to maintaining good website health.
At the end of the day, it should be your goal to present the best user experience possible for your users. Devoting some attention to performing some basic website health checks can help you do this more easily. What’s best for searchers is also what’s best for Google, so making sure your website is a well oiled machine can help propel your organic traffic.