Although having a website was once a novel accomplishment, it’s now become completely necessary in order to succeed. Even if you don’t sell products online and depend largely on local customers, you still need an attractive and functional website so that people can find you.

But it’s not enough to have a simple landing page with contact information. Businesses need a website that’s optimized for search engines. That can involve the addition of keywords in strategic locations, but it’s also crucial that the existing website doesn’t create barriers for human users or for web crawlers.

The problem is that you might not even know a website has issues. If it seems to be functioning well and there are no glaring errors, a business owner might be inclined to think that everything’s fine. If those errors -- many of which might never be noticed by the average site visitor -- go unchecked, your digital marketing efforts could be thwarted.

In some of our previous SEO case studies, we’ve referenced the website audits we’ve performed for clients. This process of analysis is essential prior to starting any kind of digital marketing plan. But what exactly is a site audit and why is it important? And moreover, what’s actually involved?

What is a Website Audit?

First, let’s briefly discuss what a website audit is. We’ve referred to website audits in at least one prior SEO case study, but you might not have totally understood what it is. Simply put, a website audit is an analysis that’s meant to check the health of a given site. It’s an in-depth examination of site (and page) performance.

Why Are Website Audits Necessary?

Think of a website audit as going to your doctor’s office for a check-up. While the visit might seem rather routine and even unnecessary, it’s the best way to determine whether you have a clean bill of health or whether you might have underlying issues that need to be taken care of. Before you go in for major surgery or embrace certain lifestyle changes, you’ll need to know that you’re physically in tip-top shape and that you won’t be putting your well-being at risk.

In both the medical and digital marketing fields, ignorance is not bliss. You need to know exactly what you’re dealing with in order to make necessary progress. If you don’t conduct a website audit first -- and continue to monitor and analyze your site on a regular basis -- the other marketing tactics you pursue might not have the positive impact you’d expect. It’s better to know what’s there now, rather than ignore the need for analysis and potentially waste precious resources on marketing a site that doesn’t serve the client’s needs.

What’s Involved in a Site Audit?

Now that you understand the concept of a site audit and why it matters, we can delve into the details of what’s actually involved.

First, the website needs to be crawled. This step involves mimicking what Google’s bots (also known as crawlers) would do when they find the website, which can tell us a number of important pieces of information.

For example, analysts need to determine whether the site has been indexed -- in other words, whether Google can even find the site. They’ll also need to find and fix any redirects, locate (or determine the existence of) the sitemap and robots.txt file, and ensure that Google Analytics and Google Search Console have been integrated. The individual performing the site audit will also need to discover whether the website’s URL starts with “https” rather than “http” (indicating secure communication) and whether there are any canonicalization issues. Only one version of the website should be crawlable, meaning that a website with a separate mobile version should also be found during the audit (and later fixed). An analyst will also want to check the site for schema markup.

Next, site speed will be tested as part of the audit. A fast-loading website matters a lot for user experience, which is why it’s one of the ranking factors Google takes into consideration. If the site speed is determined to be too slow, the analyst will likely recommend that the website owner upgrade their hosting plan, compress large images, or remove videos that impede site experience. You can actually check your own website speed independent of an audit with this PageSpeed Insights tool from Google.

Now, it’s time for the backlink audit. In our case, we use Ahrefs data to review the backlinks that are pointing to the site. We look at those links to determine their quality (which factors in domain rating, originating location, relevancy, and more). If a website has very few backlinks or has a large number of links we determine to be spammy in nature, we’d identify a need for link-building as part of your SEO strategy. We’d also recommend this route if there’s a high discrepancy between the number of backlinks and the number of referring domains; ideally, they should be close to equal. That’s because “link juice” becomes diluted when you receive more than one link from the same site.

As part of this step, we’ll also take a close look at the site’s anchor text profile. Not only do these links need to come from reputable sources, but the linked text itself should also follow certain guidelines. Under optimal circumstances, we should see the anchor text broken down in this way:

  • Branded keywords (related to the client’s name or website)
  • Keywords involving terms on which the client wants to rank
  • Long-tail keywords (including phrases like “read more” or “click here”)

This breakdown isn’t always what we see, but we do want to make sure there’s diversity within the anchor text. If all of the keywords are branded or they’re all keywords the client wants to rank on, that actually raises a red flag to Google. Even the most reputable websites have backlinks with anchor text that isn’t optimized for their SEO goals. It’s just what happens naturally when someone links to a great website.

As part of this step, we’ll also run a keyword analysis and backlink audit on the client’s competitors. This can show us where the client is already excelling and where they’re falling behind. It can also allow us to go after backlinks the client’s competitors might already have, provided those links have high domain ratings and are seen as high-quality. We’ll also make sure that the client doesn’t have any backlinks that lead to 404 errors or 301 redirect placements (as the latter will make the referring link count for less than it would otherwise).

Once that’s done, we can focus on checking on-page SEO. As you might have read in a previous search engine optimization case study, strengthening onsite SEO is a big part of our campaigns. But before we can do that, we need to assess the SEO elements that already exist on the site.

Typically, this involves making sure that page titles, headers, and title tags exist and are relevant to the content; that meta descriptions are present and accurate; that the website has a blog; that there’s no duplicate content on the website (which we determine using Copyscape); and that the site contains relevant images, infographics, and enriched copy. If the site is missing any of these or what exists doesn’t satisfy best SEO practices, we’ll make recommendations and implement fixes.

With all of this information at our fingertips, we’ll be in an excellent spot to identify what needs to be addressed further and how our web development team can set a campaign up for success.

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Now that you know a bit more about what’s involved in a site audit (and why having one is necessary in the first place), it might interest you to know that website audits are included in virtually all of our SEO packages. Armed with the knowledge you obtain from the audit, you’ll be able to make expert recommendations to your clients and solidify the growth of their campaign and of your business. To learn more about our SEO pricing and service plans, contact our team to get started.