Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The 19-Step SEO Audit Checklist for 2020 [New]

Today I’m going to show you exactly how to do an SEO audit.
In fact, this is the same process that’s helped me grow my organic traffic 30.84% over the last year.
Google Analytics – Organic traffic increase
And I should point something out:
This is a non-technical site audit.
So if you’re not super technical (like me), you’ll love the simple steps in this guide.
Let’s get started.

Step #1: Find and Delete “Zombie Pages”

Type site:yourwebsite.com into Google.
"site:yourwebsite" into Google
This will show you how many pages Google has indexed:
Google – Pages indexed
If this number is higher than you thought, you’re not alone.
In fact…
Most sites have 50% MORE indexed pages than they should.
(I call these extra pages “Zombie Pages”)
As it turns out, deleting Zombie Pages can get you A LOT more organic traffic.
For example, Sean from Proven deleted over 9k Zombie Pages from his site…
…which helped boost his Google traffic by nearly 50%:
Proven – Google traffic boost
Why does this work so well?
Well, Google has said that more content doesn’t make your site better.
Google: Putting out more content doesn
And when you delete Zombie Pages, you give Google what it wants.
Pro Tip: Deleting Zombie Pages also makes the rest of this SEO audit MUCH easier. Fewer pages=fewer problems
With that, here are the most common types of Zombie Pages:
  • Archive pages
  • Category and tag pages (WordPress)
  • Search result pages
  • Old press releases
  • Boilerplate content
  • Thin content (<50 words)
Which leads us to our second step…

Step #2: Check To See If Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly

Mobile SEO is more important than ever.
Why?
First off, 60% of Google searches are now from mobile devices.
Google searches – 60% mobile
Second, Google recently started using their Mobile-First Algorithm.
Google using mobile-first algorithm
This means that Google now uses the mobile version of your site for mobile AND desktop searches.
Google always uses mobile site for searches
The question is:
How do you know if your site is mobile-friendly?
Mobile-Friendly Test
Just pop your site into the tool…
Mobile-Friendly Test – Enter site
…and you’ll see whether or not Google considers your site optimized for mobile devices.
Mobile-Friendly Test – Results

Step #3: Make Sure Google Indexes ONE Version of Your Website

Did you know it’s possible to have different versions of your site indexed in Google?
It’s true.
For example, here are 4 different versions of the same site:
  • http://yoursite.com
  • https://yoursite.com
  • http://www.yoursite.com
  • https://www.yoursite.com
To me and you, they’re pretty much the same.
But not to Google.
And unless you redirect these versions properly, Google will consider them completely separate websites.
(Not good)
Fortunately, this is easy to check… and fix.
Just type each of the 4 different versions into your browser.
They should all end up on the same URL:
Different versions of the same site
In my case, the “WWW” version of my site redirects to backlinko.com.
And when someone visits the HTTP version of my site, they get redirected to the HTTPS version.
All good.
If a version of your site isn’t redirecting properly, no worries.
Just 301 redirect it to the version you want to use.
Then, move onto step #4.

Step #4: Speed Up Your Site

A few years back Google confirmed that your site’s loading speed is a ranking factor.
A site
And they recently rolled out a new update that makes speed even MORE important.
Google update makes speed more important
Here’s how to get your site to load REALLY fast:
First, clean up your site’s HTML code.
You can easily find problems with your code with PageSpeed Insights.
Backlinko (homepage) – Desktop PageSpeed Insights results
Pro Tip: Don’t just analyze your homepage. Test 2-3 internal pages too. I’m talking about blog posts, service pages, and category pages.
Second, run a speed test.
This type of test actually loads your page… and lets you know about bottlenecks that slow things down.
WebPageTest – Results
I personally use WebPageTest.org. But GTMetrix is really good too.
Third, crunch your images.
Huge images can bring your site speed to a screeching halt.
That’s why I recommend compressing your images with a platform like Kraken.
Kraken image optimizer
Pro Tip: Upgrade your hosting. If you spend $10 per month on hosting, don’t expect fast loading times. A few years back I switched from a budget host to $200/month premium hosting. And the speed difference was INSANE.

Step #5: Find and Fix Indexing Problems

Next, it’s time to find web pages that Google isn’t indexing.
To do that, fire up the good ol’ Google Search Console.
The “Index Coverage” report shows you a list of pages that they can’t index for some reason.
Index coverage report
As you can see, Backlinko is pretty much error free.
All good right?
Maybe.
To double check everything is A-OK, I recommend a free SEO tool called Screaming Frog.
Screamingfrog
Screaming Frog crawls your site the same way Google would. And it lets you know about pages that it can’t access.
Screamingfrog – Overview
(For example, if you’re accidentally blocking a page with your robots.txt file… or the page has a noindex tag).
So if you find a page that’s blocked, double check that it’s meant to be blocked.
For example, we paginate comments here at Backlinko.
Backlinko comment pagination
And I don’t want Google to index every single comment page. So we throw a noindex tag on those pages.
Noindex tag
In this case, the pages that are blocked are meant to be blocked.
And once you’ve confirmed that Google can access all of the pages you want them to access, it’s time to…

Step #6: Check Your Organic Traffic

Now it’s time to see how much organic traffic you’re getting.
To do that, head over to Google Analytics.
Then, go to Acquisition >> All Traffic >> Channels.
Google Analytics sidebar
Hit “Organic Search”.
Hit "Organic Search" in Google Analytics
And you’ll see exactly how many people visited your site from search engines last month.
Google Analytics: Organic visitors
Next, set the dates to the last 6-8 months.
And you’ll see whether or not your organic traffic is trending in the right direction:
Organic traffic – Trend
As you can see, my organic traffic has gradually increased over the last few months.
Now:
If your organic traffic is flat (or declining), no worries.
The goal in this step is just to see where you’re at.
Things should start to improve once you finish this SEO audit.
Speaking of…

Step #7: Improve Your On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is HUGE.
On-page SEO – Keyword stat
That said:
You probably don’t have time to optimize every page on your site.
Fortunately, you don’t have to.
Here’s what to do instead:
First, identify your 5 most important pages.
These can be pages that:
  • Target an important keyword
  • Get less traffic than they did back in the day
  • Already rank well… but have the potential to crack the top 5
For example…
Link Building Tools Post
Besides the basics (like including my keyword in my title tag), I didn’t do much to optimize this page.
And because it’s already on the first page for my target keyword…
Backlinko: Link Building Tools post in SERPs
…it has a good chance of cracking the top 5.
Then, optimize your page with the strategies in this video.
Now:
If you’re REALLY pressed for time and don’t have time to implement everything from the video, focus on these 5 strategies:
  • Include your keyword in your title tag
  • Include your keyword in first 100 words
  • Add 5+ external links
  • Add 5+ internal links
  • Use LSI keywords
Once those strategies are in place, let’s dive right into step #8:

Step #8: Set Up Keyword Rank Tracking

Now it’s time to start tracking your rankings in the SERPs.
There are a million rank tracking tools out there.
But to me, the best out there is SEMrush.
Why?
SEMrush is awesome because it doesn’t just track the keywords you give it.
(Although it does that too)
SEMrush – Keyword tracking
What’s cool about SEMrush is that it automatically finds keywords that you rank for.
SEMrush – Tracking ranked-for keywords at Backlinko
Nice.
There’s no doubt about it:
Backlinks are still REALLY important.
In fact, our study of 1 million search results found that backlinks correlate with rankings more than any other factor.
Backlinks correlate with rankings
And now it’s time to analyze your backlink profile.
Here’s how:
First, enter your homepage into a backlink analysis tool.
(I’m using Ahrefs for this step. But you can also use Majestic SEO or Moz)
And you’ll get a report on your links:
Ahrefs – Backlinks profile
Then, check out referring domains and Domain Authority.
Referring domains = the number of sites that link to you.
Backlinko (homepage) – Ahrefs – Referring Domains
Don’t sweat the exact number too much. You’re just benchmarking where you’re at.
You also want to take a look at your Domain Authority.
Ahrefs – Domain Authority
Every tool has its own name for “Domain Authority”.
(For example, Ahrefs calls it “Domain Rating”)
But the idea is the same:
Domain Authority tells you how much authority your site has… based on a combination of the quantity AND quality of your backlinks.
Finally, look for toxic links.
To do that, check out the most common anchor text in your link profile:
Ahrefs – Most common anchor text
If you see a lot of branded anchor text (like “Backlinko” and “Backlinko.com”), you’re good.
Fortunately, that’s the case with my link profile:
Branded anchor text
But if you notice lots of keyword-rich anchor text (like “SEO blog” and “SEO training company”), that’s a sign of a toxic link profile.
Here’s an example of a link profile with spammy anchor text:
Spammy anchor text link profile
And if you want to dig deeper, take a look at some of your backlinks.
Ahrefs – Check backlinks
Most of your backlinks should come from REAL websites.
For example, you can see that most of my links come from blogs and news sites that write about digital marketing and SEO.
Ahrefs – Backlinko – Good backlinks
(Which is good)
But if you notice that most of your links are from shady sites, you might want to disavow those links.
Pro Tip: Spammy links are a normal part of any link profile. So don’t stress if you see a few shady links
A few years back Google stated that they don’t “lose sleep” over broken links.
Google: "GoogleBot doesn
That said:
Broken links are bad for user experience… which CAN hurt your SEO.
(More on that later)
With that, here’s how to fix broken links on your site:
First, find broken pages on your site that Google can’t index.
You can find this info in the Google Search Console’s “Index Report”.
Google Search Console – Index report
I stay on top of broken links, so I’m in the clear.
Here’s what you’ll see if your pages are giving Google 404 errors:
Google Search Console – Index errors
Sometimes you deleted pages for a reason (for example: you deleted a bunch of Zombie Pages).
If so, you don’t need to do anything. Google will eventually stop reporting these broken pages as problems.
But if Google can’t access a page that you want to rank, you obviously want to get that page back up ASAP.
Next, use a tool to find broken internal and external links.
You can use Ahrefs…
Ahrefs – Broken links
…or a free tool like Broken Link Check.
Online Broken Link Checker
Both work.

Step #11: Competitor Analysis

Now it’s time to spy on your competitors.
Here’s how to do it:
First, find your competitors’ best keywords.
You can easily find this info using SEMrush…
Backlinko – SEMrush – Best organic keywords
…or Ahrefs.
Backlinko – Ahrefs – Best organic keywords
Needless to say:
If your competitors rank for these keywords, you have a good chance to rank for them too.
Which makes them GREAT keywords to target.
Second, check out the pages that are ranking for those terms.
Then, figure out what those pages have in common. That way, you know what type of content works best in your niche.
For example, if you look at some of my highest-ranking pages…
Highest ranking pages
…you’ll notice that my content:
  • Is long-form (3k+ words)
  • Contains custom visuals and illustrations
  • Cites research studies, data and statements from Google
  • Isn’t super technical
Finally, see who links to those pages.
To do that, pop a URL into Ahrefs.
Ahrefs – Check competitor backlinks
And take a look at the links pointing to that page.
Ahrefs – Look at links pointing to page
This tells you who the influencers in your niche are. That way, you can start to build relationships with them.
(Which will come in handy when you get started with link building)

Step #12: Make Your Content 10x Better

Back in step #7 you SEO-optimized 5 of your most important pages.
And now it’s time to make the content on those pages 10x better.
Why?
It’s simple:
To rank in 2019, your content needs to kick butt.
With that, here’s how to make those pages 10x better:
1. VERY short intros.
No one wants to read long winded introductions like these:
Long intro
Instead, keep your intros short and sweet:
Short intro
2. Small paragraphs.
People don’t read online. They skim.
And small paragraphs help skimmers consume your content better.
Use small paragraphs
3. Lots of subheaders.
Subheaders help break up your content into digestible chunks.
Use subheaders
Use them early and often.
4. Use visuals, images and video
Multimedia makes your content MUCH more compelling.
(Plus, visuals help people learn and understand)
For example, in this SEO checklist post, I use lots of images:
Use images
Visuals:
Use visuals
And videos:
Use video
And because my content is easy to read and understand, the average user spends 05:08 on that page:
SEO Checklist – Average time on page

Step #13: Optimize For UX Signals

RankBrain is Google’s new AI algorithm.
Unlike the old Google, RankBrain measures how users interact with your site.
RankBrain uses UX signals
Which means:
To rank in Google today, you need to optimize for UX Signals.
In other words, your content needs to make users happy.
When you do, Google’s going to give you a HUGE rankings boost.
For example…
A while back I noticed that this post on my site wasn’t ranking that well.
SEO Campaign – Old
(It was hovering between the 10th and 15th spots for my target keyword: “SEO Campaign”)
SEO Campaign – Historic ranking
And when I looked at my content, I realized why…
My content didn’t give people searching for “SEO campaign” what they wanted.
Instead of steps, they got a case study of ONE specific strategy:
SEO Campaign – Only one case study
My post also had lots of outdated screenshots:
Outdated screenshots
In short:
Because my content wasn’t optimized for UX signals, Google buried it.
So I decided to overhaul the entire post.
Specifically, I:
  • Replaced the case study with a step-by-step guide
  • Included more actionable tips for beginner and intermediate SEOs
  • Added examples from several different industries
  • Lots more
In the end, I had a piece of up-to-date content that was a PERFECT fit for someone searching for “SEO campaign”:
SEO Campaign – New version
Sure enough, because my content is designed to make Google searchers happy, my page quickly went from #15 to the #4 spot in Google.
And it recently hit the #1 spot:
"SEO Campaign" SERPs
Very cool.

Step #14: Flatten Your Website Architecture

Your site architecture is simple:
It’s how the pages on your site are organized.
As it turns out, your website architecture is REALLY important for SEO.
Why?
Two reasons:
First, site architecture helps search engines find and index all of your pages.
When your site’s architecture is a big ol’ mess, Google’s gonna have trouble finding all of your pages:
Complicated site architecture
But when your site architecture links your pages together, Google can easily find and index your entire site.
Good site architecture
Second, architecture tells Google which pages on your site are most important.
In general, the closer a page is to your homepage, the more important it is.
Closer to homepage = More important
The question is:
How should your site’s architecture look?
Well, I know I said that this SEO audit wasn’t going to be super technical.
So I’m going to keep this super duper simple…
You want to keep your site architecture flat.
In other words, not like this:
Deep site architecture
Instead, you want it to look like this:
Site architecture – Flat
(Super flat)
Or put another way:
It shouldn’t take more than 3 clicks to go from your homepage to any page on your site.
Any page should be fewer than three clicks from the homepage
In some cases, you’ll need a developer to completely overhaul your site’s navigation.
But you can also just add internal links to different pages…
Add internal links
…and add links to the sidebar:
Add sidebar links
As long as users can reach any of your pages in 3 clicks or less, you’re good.

Step #15: Rewrite Duplicate Meta Tags

Google recently said that your title tag and meta descriptions are “easy wins”.
Title and Description tags are easy wins
And I’d have to agree.
ESPECIALLY when it comes to fixing duplicate titles and descriptions.
Fortunately, you can easily find duplicate metas in the (old) Google Search Console.
Just head over to Search Appearance → HTML Improvements.
Google Search Console – HTML improvements
And you’ll get a list of duplicate metas:
Google Search Console – Duplicate meta tags
In my case, I have 8 pages with the same description:
Google Search Console – Duplicate meta tags – Backlinko
These are all different pages of my blog feed (which aren’t indexed anyway). So it’s no big deal.
But if important pages on your site have duplicate meta tags, I recommend rewriting them ASAP.

Step #16: Launch a Skyscraper Post

The last step of this SEO audit is to publish a piece of content using The Skyscraper Technique.
Why?
It helps Google quickly find and index all of the changes you just made.
For example, look at the spike in “Pages crawled per day” whenever I publish something new:
Backlinko – Pages crawled per day
And this video will show you exactly how to execute the Skyscraper Technique process:
But as a quick recap, here’s how it works…
First, check out the top 10 results for a keyword that you want to rank for.
For example, I recently published a piece of content called: “27 Ways to Increase Website Traffic”.
Increase website traffic
Before I wrote a single word, I analyzed the first page for keywords like “how to get more traffic”:
SERPs for "how to get more traffic"
The content I found was pretty good. But nothing special.
Next, publish content that’s 5x better than what you found.
I took things up a notch with my post.
How?
I included lots of detailed steps:
Increase website traffic – Detailed steps
Screenshots:
Increase website traffic – Screenshots
And techniques that are working RIGHT NOW:
Increase website traffic – Techniques working right now
Finally, it’s time to promote your post.
This part is key.
When Google sees a flood of people (and links) coming to your site, they say: “This site is blowing UP. We need to send Googlebot there right now.”
(Like I mentioned earlier, this helps Google quickly process all of the changes you made to your site).
In my case, I sent out a newsletter to my email subscribers:
Increase website traffic – Newsletter
And promoted it on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter:
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter promotion

Bonus Step #1: Get More From Your Internal Links

Internal linking is one of the most underrated SEO strategies on the planet.
The question is:
How do you internal link the right way?
It’s simple:
Make sure you link to high-priority pages as much as possible.
Link to high-priority pages often
You can see all of your site’s internal links in the GSC.
Go to Search Traffic → Internal Links.
Google Search Console – Internal links
And you’ll see the pages on your site that get the most internal link love.
Google Search Console – Most internal links
Pro Tip: You might find a handful of non-important pages in this report. For example, you might have lots of links pointing to your privacy policy or contact page. That’s usually because you link to those pages from your site’s navigation or footer. Don’t sweat it.

Bonus Step #2: Use a Site Audit Tool

I tried to keep this SEO audit process as non-techy as possible.
But if you want to dig deeper into your technical SEO, I highly recommend using an SEO audit tool.
Which tools do I recommend?
Actually, I use and recommend two.
The first is Seobility.
seobility
Unlike most audit tools, Seobility is VERY easy to use. Plus, the reports are simple to understand and take action on.
seobility – Report
Even though SEMrush is mostly known as a keyword research tool, it has a surprisingly in-depth site audit feature.
SEMrush – Audit

Bonus Step #3: Optimize for Featured Snippets

Featured Snippets can DRAMATICALLY increase your organic traffic.
Featured Snippets can increase organic traffic
For example, a while back I got this page to show up in the Featured Snippet spot.
Featured Snippet for "channel description"
And organic traffic to that page shot up like a rocketship:
"Channel Description" organic traffic increase from Featured Snippet
How do you get your content in the Featured Snippet spot?
This guide (and study) has you covered.
SEMrush – Featured Snippet study
To sum up the guide, to show up in the Featured Snippet, you need to…
  • Have your content optimized for mobile
  • Have HTTPS installed
  • Use lots of headers (H2 and H3 tags)
  • Include short answer to questions (42 words)
  • Link out to authority resources
That’s about it 🙂
Now It’s Your Turn
That’s it for this SEO audit process.
And now I’d like to hear from you:
Do you have any questions about this process?
Or maybe you have a cool tip that I didn’t include here.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

The 19-Step SEO Audit Checklist for 2020 [New]

Today I’m going to show you  exactly  how to do an SEO audit . In fact, this is the same process that’s helped me grow my organic traffi...