All good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) projects begin with identifying what the goals and KPIs of the website are.
However, a well-executed SEO project will also involve a structured evaluation to provide a detailed picture of the site’s current state – a website audit. In terms of SEO, website audits can apply to almost any website aiming to achieve top search engine rankings. In such cases, conducting a website audit can help to identify what areas of your website are performing well, as well as areas of the site that are underperforming, and to create a prioritised roadmap for improvements.
The main feature of this article is to provide a brief analysis of how to conduct a website audit to maximise search engine optimisation efforts. The following will discuss the initial stages of a website audit with the aim to improve a website’s positioning in the search engine results pages.
Why a Website Audit is Important to Your Online Presence
Prior to conducting any type of SEO strategy or implementing any type of SEO tactics, it’s important to carry out an audit. But it’s also important to understand why you are conducting the website audit and what the goals of auditing the site are.
Essentially, a well organised and executed website audit can help identify and measure the key aspects of your website’s current performance. It can also help to identify opportunities to improve traffic quantity and quality, usability and accessibility, rate of return visitors, conversions, and overall performance.
- Traffic quantity: If conducting your own website audit and you find the website is receiving little to no traffic, you need to know why people are not visiting the site.
- Traffic quality: What percentage are new visits? And what percentage are return visits? Evaluate why some of your visitors are returning while others are not.
- Usability and accessibility: Identify navigational and page elements and the pathways a visitor uses to navigate throughout your site. Discover creative new ways to enhance the user’s experience on your site and provide better pathways by redesigning your site architecture – including internal linking structure. According to a Jupiter research study on site architecture, 16% of visitors leaving a site do so due to poorly labelled links. Having a well-defined and organised linking structure will help you overcome this common problem.
- Content analysis: Comparing your website with that of your competitors is a useful benchmarking tactic. Drawing up a matrix contrasting content modules of competitors enables you to better distinguish your objectives and position yourself as an aggressive competitor.
- Key content: Derived from the content analysis above, includes identifying the key content areas your competitors have that you don’t have.
- Audience profiles: It’s important to identify the profile types of online visitors you want your business to attract.
Remember, a website exists as an extension of your company’s overall brand. A website therefore represents you and your business in both the digital (online) and real (off-line) world, so it’s important to make a good first and lasting impression with your website visitors.
Below is a brief list of factors identifying the importance of website audits:
A Website Audit Framework
It’s important to understand website audits are typically comprised of the same elements. Each internet marketing campaign has different goals and different audience profiles it aims to target, including its own challenges to overcome. While there are, of course, many ways to conduct a website audit, the following will outline the major and most common components of a website audit model that can be used on virtually any website.
1. Content Analysis
First you want to begin with a Content Analysis. This involves searching for your target keywords in Google (or any other search engine you aim to rank highly for) and making a note of the URLs of the top ranked websites. If you wish, however, to conduct a more thorough analysis, you may want to select the top 5-15 ranked websites. Choosing to compare more websites will provide more raw data which may be of benefit later in the audit process.
2. Compare & Contrast
This step involves drawing up a matrix where you compare, contrast, and cross analyse between your site and your competitor’s site based on very specific search engine ranking related criteria. Web content expert David Moore at iQcontent publications provides a comprehensive and detailed list of criteria divided into three main categories; Content, functionality, and design. Essentially, what you want to aim to do here is to assess the user experience and counter balance it with search engine ranking factors. Additionally, when analysing your website’s content for optimal performance these are questions you may want to consider:
- Is the main purpose of the site immediately clear from the home page?
- Are the key messages immediately evident?
- Is there a call to action?
- Is the content well-written and free of misspelled words and errors?
- Is the content fresh?
- Is the content easy to scan? Is it easy to understand?
- Is the contact information easy to find, and does the site offer a number of ways to reach the organisation? Is there an easy way to ask questions?
- Is there too much content? Not enough?
- Is there an easy way for the site owner to make changes?
- Does the source code contain search engine-friendly HTML titles, key words and descriptions?
- Do the photographs have corresponding captions?
- Is the site as well-written as its #1 or #2 competitors?
Draw up a matrix to include your website and your competitor’s websites on one axis and on the other axis the list of criteria set out above. Use the scoring method of 1-5,  being the lowest and  being the highest score for each criteria for each site. It’s important to take notes for each criteria: Briefly document the look and feel, or any ideas that may come to you during the process. Once you’ve completed the analysis you should have a matrix filled with scoring data. Sum up the scores for each site and compare the criteria you gave top scores for against competitor sites – and assess whether your site can benefit from such improvements.
3. Analyse Website Metrics
If you have access to your server logs and know how to interpret the data, extract this information it will be useful to measure your sites progress and performance against. If you’re unfamiliar with server logs, don’t understand how to interpret the information, or have access, then you can plug in your site to Google Analytics to view the data in a more user friendly format.
Once you’ve identified what key content, functionality, and design areas require improvements the next step is to determine whether or not, based on the criteria, such adjustments to your site are aligned with your site’s goals and objectives. The purpose of most sites is to attract visitors and to convert them.
The next step in the audit process is to determine the priorities that should be assigned to implement the necessary changes and ensure your information is structured in a customer-friendly manner.
6. Monitor & Measure
The final step in the audit process is to frequently monitor the performance of your website and to align any website changes against your site’s goals and objectives. A good way to keep track of performance is to use Google Analytics’ Annotations feature.