The Most Important Goals of a Website Audit
Sit with me. Look at the space before you. One day…it will all be yours.
You are about to embark of the never ending journey of optimizing a web presence. Armed with knowledge and various tools to help you along your way, you strive to conquer! Within this vast space, outlined by a perimeter of guidelines, there is infinite room to grow. But before you take your first steps forward and begin the adventure, you need to learn as much as you can about the traps and pitfalls that await you. For this reason, you must conduct a website audit.
The website audit is the foundation of any SEO campaign, and without question should be the first thing any SEO analyst completes before developing any strategy to improve rankings, site traffic, conversions and sales. The audit will help you to determine existing challenges, fix new challenges, and start working toward your goals. The following steps will enable you to complete a successful audit.
Understand The Past
The new Golden Rule of SEO is different than the one you are used to: “Optimize the website for searchers, not search engines.” Search engines like Google try to provide their users with the best, most streamlined experience. In the earliest days of search, it was easier to trick Google through cheap tactics that helped rankings, but provided a poor experience for website users once they made it onto a site. While it’s much harder to manipulate the search engines nowadays, many try. Unfortunately, many may have tried their cheap tricks on the website you are now working on. Just because this is a new project for you doesn’t mean you are starting with a clean slate. There could be thousands of bad links pointing to the website. Others may have stolen unique content from the site and submitted it as their own wherever they could get a link. The more you can uncover about prior SEO strategies the better. You don’t want to work for months for steady forward progress, just to have Google’s next algorithm change wipe it all away because of bad SEO that came before you.
Work with the Present
If you start an SEO campaign without a thorough audit of a website’s existing issues, you will waste time covering your old tracks when you should be forging new ones. I have a checklist of technical aspects that are, for the most part, really easy to detect and fix at the earliest stages of a website. So take care of them as early as you can. If any of these issues happen to sneak past you, you will end up scrambling to put out fires. Here are a few of the big ones.
- Robots.txt: The robots.txt file hides certain pages from search engines. You want to make sure this file includes any pages that should never be indexed, like forms submitted with private information, pages that are a work in progress, or pages generated through on-site search queries. You also want to make sure it excludes pages that need to be found. Take a good look at this file. I have seen sites launch with the main URL included in a robots.txt file. You will get a call within a few weeks wondering why the site is nowhere to be found, and the sound of your hand slapping your own forehead will be heard around the world.
- 301 Redirects: There are a few reasons to utilize a 301 redirect. You are trying to avoid duplicate content penalties. You want to direct a potential customer from a temporarily “out-of-stock” product to a similar product without changing the linking structure of a site. You want to make sure there is only one version of your website to incur the maximum benefits of inbound links. You’ll need to test every link, either manually or via Webmaster Tools. This ensures you won’t lose any potential customers to a dead or outdated page.
- 404 Page: Every site should have a custom 404 page. The 404 page is what a website shows when a user tries to go to a page that doesn’t exist. Instead of the server returning with a blank dead end, the user can still easily navigate to where they were trying to go, and will stay on the site longer.
Look to The Future
Even though it could be quite some time before you start actually optimizing the website, you are conducting this website from the perspective of three separate parties.
First, you are the SEO, conducting an unbiased overview of what is in front of you, and making changes and recommendations based on your experience.
Next, you are the consumer, visiting and engaging with the site. Would you stay on this site, engage with it, and shop on it? How would this website get your business?
Finally, you are the business owner; aware of every goal, budget restriction, timeline, and technical capability. The more you know about the company, the industry, and the people who make the industry thrive (customers), the more informed your decisions will be as you start the campaign. This makes it much easier to focus on improving presence, traffic, conversions, and sales.
Go Forth and Conquer
The initial side audit exists to provide you and your client with as much information about the challenge at hand. Through an audit, you will gain a better sense of the company and industry, as well as the best way to prioritize the initial steps of your campaign. Now go forth and optimize!
Taylor Brennan is an SEO Analyst for the LYONSCG Digital Services team. Taylor has over six years of digital marketing experience, specializing in search and local optimization.