Our Steps to An SEO Audit
Being thorough and detail-oriented are the hallmarks of a good SEO, however that doesn’t mean things can’t be done expeditiously. Having done hundreds of SEO audits in my career I have been able to nail down a process for effective local SEO audits. A full version of these audits can take several hours, but the fast version, coupled with some handy tools that automate and speed up the process, can be handled in less than 15 minutes.
Let’s dive in!
Step 1: The Eye Test
A full SEO audit can’t be done with just the eye alone, they need to view a full site the way a search engine would, and this is only possible with tools like Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, etc. This step is an exception to this rule.
As a local SEO in New York City, I’ve found the quickest way to identify some of the more common local SEO issues is by simply loading up the homepage and taking a look. Here’s what we’re looking for:
Step 1.1: Start with the Footer
Most local companies have very important information located towards the bottom of their page, this includes:
- Name, Address and Telephone Number.
- Google Map Embed
- Links to Local “city” Pages
- A Company Description
Often this is located in a sitewide footer area, so that’s why I say to start with the footer. If you don’t find it there, keep an eye out for it in the body content.
NAP and Google Map embed are requirements for a local site, if you don’t see those on the homepage, it’s an automatic item on your to-do list.
Step 1.2: Work your way up: Check for Content and Links
Once done with the footer, working your way up the page and check its text/image content as well as links.
We will do a much more thorough content and internal link check using Screaming Frog, but the eye test is helpful to identifying automatic red flags. If you don’t see much text or image content on the homepage, as well as links to deeper pages (specifically service and location pages, but also blog posts), chances are there is something lacking. Make a note of it.
Step 1.3: Header Navigation
Started at the bottom, and now we’re here, at the header. Common elements that you want to see:
- Links to all service and location pages.
- Contact Us (not really for SEO, but required for conversions)
- FAQ – Customers always have questions about a service. This makes great relevant content that is actually useful to a user.
- Blog (optional) – Not everyone needs a blog, but it’s nice to have.
While it took a while to write all that out, once you’ve done it a few times it takes no more than 30 seconds to do that quick eye test.
Step 2: Screaming Frog to the Rescue (On-Page and Internal Linking)
I say it in virtually every article I put together on SEO audits, there’s no better tactical tool then screaming frog. It makes SEO audits, especially unreasonably fast ones like this, a virtual breeze.
We are going to be using it to diagnose pretty much everything on-page and on-site, including internal links, crawl budget, on-page content, and meta data.
And yes, we’ll still get it done in less than 15 minutes.
Step 1.2: Perform Full Crawl.
Fire up screaming frog in “Spider” mode and plug in your domains homepage. Let it crawl freely while you head over to Google.com for some other data gathering.
At Google.com enter your domain in the site: command, i.e.: site:www.example.com.
The number of results you see is the estimate number of pages in the Google’s index. While this data can sometimes be a little iffy for super large sites, for smaller local sites it’s probably spot on.
Once we have that data, and screaming frog is complete, we can do a very neat thing: Confirm all your pages are discoverable from a simple crawl starting at your homepage.
- Change the filter on Screaming Frog to “HTML” (in the top right corner). This makes sure URLs listed aren’t counting CSS, JS or image files.
- Compare the # of results (bottom right corner) to the number of your site: command.
Notice any strange differences? Make note of them for after we’ve finished the audit. We don’t want to waste any time!
Step 1.3: Page errors/301s
Virtually 100% of sites I’ve crawled with screaming frog have at least a few status codes that can be fixed. This is true of sites that are 100 pages or 100,000 pages. And it’s super easy to diagnose:
- In screaming frog, filter by “HTML” and sort by the column, “Status Code”.
- Goal is to have all 200’s (after all, why link to a page that isn’t “OK”?)
- 404s, 301 or 302s, or even 500 errors should be noted for fix post audit.
Step 1.4: Word Count
While word count can be overblown as a local ranking metric (see my article on local SEO myths for some evidence to that fact), it’s still useful for identifying problem areas. After all, you wouldn’t want a page with absolutely no content, would you?
Screaming frog makes this stupidly easy:
- Stay filtered by “HTML” in the top right.
- Scroll to the “Word Count” column (it’s far to the right)
- Sort this column a few times to get an idea for the scale
Step 1.5: Title Tags
For a sites with less than 50 pages, as many local companies have, diagnosing title tag and meta issues is actually a pretty quick process.
Of course a full keyword research analysis will need to be done in order to determine the perfect title tag template for your site, but identifying problem areas and red flags is pretty quick, let’s take a look:
- Stay filtered by “HTML” in the top right.
- Scroll through each of the following columns:
- Title Tags (“Title 1”) – Look for obvious problems (“Home”, “Just another wordpress blog”, as well as empty titles and anything that looks weird).
- Robots Meta tag – Shouldn’t be a problem, but when in doubt, should always be index,follow.
- Meta Description – These should exist for your money pages (i.e. service, location, homepage, etc). If any don’t exist, make note of them.
Step 1.6: Image Alt Text
I’d pay for a tool that does just this one function (i.e. exporting images that have missing alt text).
In the screaming frog menu to go “Bulk Export” -> “Images” -> “Images Missing Alt Text Inlinks”
Export the spreadsheet. All those images need alt text, period. Set that aside as a work object for later.
Step 2: Off-Page + GMB:
Obviously off-page optimization is a whole other process that needs its own focus, and Google My Business optimization is entirely separate as well, but you can grab some quick data to highlight potential issues or areas of improvement.
Step 2.1: Confirm GMB Locations
Is the company listed in Google maps? Just head on over to Google.com/maps and search for their name.
- All their locations should be listed *and claimed*. If they haven’t claimed a listing, put that on your to-do list.
- Phone numbers should be correct (don’t want phone calls going off to some other company)
- Make note of listings with little/no reviews.
We only have ten minutes so we’ll have to keep the GMB analysis limited to that, but there is certainly much more we could do. GMB optimization for local companies is just as important as optimizing the website, and it should be handled separately, ideally by an experienced SEO company.
Step 2.2: Check for Citations
There are lots of tools that check for company citations (such as Brightlocal or Whitespark), but you can actually rig together some handy Google search queries to find them on your own. This neat little trick was shared to me by my buddy Ross, who works at an SEO company near Dallas TX, and it works like a charm!
Say your company name NAP is:
1000 Fake St.
New York, NY 10001
To find where these items are listed on the web, simply encapsulate them in quotes, string together with the AND operator, and Google it:
“Acme Anvils” AND “1000 Fake St. “ AND “New York, NY 10001” AND “212-555-1212”
What this will do is get you an idea for how far reaching your citations are (i.e. how many sites is your company listed on).
What it won’t do is tell you whether you have broken or misspelled citations. That’s a longer process, outside of the scope of the 15 minute audit (although the tools I mentioned above can help to speed the process along).
Step 3: Last Minute Details (Schema, Backlinks)
I’m throwing these last couple of steps together because they can be done relatively quickly, even though they have nothing to do with one another.
Step 3.1: Check for Schema
Head over to Google’s Structured Data Testing tool and drop in your homepage URL.
It will pull out any structured data you have, and also tell you if there are any errors.
What you are looking for is the “LocalBusiness” schema. You can get an idea what you are looking for by going to http://schema.org/LocalBusiness.
Whether or not your site has Schema yet, you will probably want to revisit and make sure it’s correct and thorough. Thankfully the Internet has provided us with ways to get this done via simple copy/paste. My favorite tools are:
Step 3.2: Check for obvious spam backlinks
For larger sites a full backlink analysis is a whole other ballgame, but usually it’s not so complicated for local sites. In reality, local sites they usually don’t have many backlinks at all. I’ve seen loads of businesses ranking with essentially just a handful of backlinks.
This means a very quick analysis for the audit, hence why I’ve thrown this in last minute.
- Go on over to ahrefs.com (or your favorite backlink tool, even though ahrefs is quickly dwarfing all other competitors), and drop in your domain name.
- Check your anchor cloud towards the bottom of the site explorer page. You should see only brand name, URL and maybe some relevant keywords.
- For fuller analysis, head to the “Anchors” tab (from the left hand menu), this gives a full list.
- Anything too commercial, non-relevant, or from otherwise strange sites, should be investigated.
Don’t make any decisions about disavowing just yet (you’ve only been at it for less than 15 minutes!) But if weird backlinks are found, they should certainly be considered as a long term threat to SEO success, and handled accordingly.
I’m not trying to say that 15 minutes is enough time to perform a full SEO audit. However, it’s handy to have a process that can cover all the important fundamentals, and that initial process (aided by some handy tools), doesn’t have to be arduous in order to be effective.