Before you get too deep into an SEO campaign, it’s important to run a one-time audit of your site to proactively detect and correct any issues that could interfere with your domain authority. For example, a flaw in your site architecture or an improperly structured navigation could compromise the power or visibility of your site to search engines before you even begin. Running an audit can identify those problems and give you the chance to start off on the right foot. This audit checklist will help you look for the most important elements that affect search visibility, and correct some of the most common problems you might encounter along the way.
ENSURING ACCESSIBILITY AND SEARCH INDEX PRESENCE
First, you need to make sure that the pages of your site can be seen by search engine crawlers and accessed by individual users. Otherwise, you won’t rank highly, and you won’t be getting any organic search traffic.
• CHECK YOUR ROBOTS.TXT FILE. Found in your source code, this file can prevent search engine bots from crawling part, or all, of your site. Make sure it’s configured properly.
• CHECK FOR ANY ROBOTS META TAGS. These meta tags tell crawlers whether they are allowed to view a specific page—if you see a “noindex” tag associated with the meta name “robots,” you’re essentially blocking that page from view.
• CHECK FOR 404S AND BROKEN LINKS. First, log into Google Webmaster Tools. Here, head to “Crawl” and then “Crawl Errors.” This should generate a list of all site errors that the Google bots encounter, which you can then fix with 301 redirects or proper structuring.
• CHECK YOUR XML SITEMAP. The XML sitemap on your site is going to serve as a map for search engine bots. It should follow proper protocols and be uploaded to your Webmaster Tools Account.
• COMPARE YOUR XML SITEMAP TO YOUR SITE CRAWL. Are there any pages that appear in one and not the other?
Double check these lists for consistency.
IMPROVING ON-SITE AUTHORITY FACTORS
Next, look at the smaller factors that influence whether Google sees your site as authoritative or not authoritative.
• EVALUATE YOUR SITE NAVIGATION. Is your site easy to navigate? How easy is it for a user to find what he/she is looking for? Your pages should be vertically linked, with broad categories, subcategories, and individual pages within. In a related note, how many clicks does it take to get to any page on your site—the lower the better, and you can use internal linking to lower this figure.
• MEASURE YOUR SITE SPEED. Use a tool like Pingdom to see how fast your site loads—the faster it loads, the better. You can improve your site speed by fixing any hosting issues, shrinking the images on your site, and clearing out any unnecessary plugins or meta information that could slow information transfers down.
• ENSURE YOUR SITE IS SECURE. Though it’s only going to give you a slight ranking boost, it’s worth upgrading your site to SSL encryption.
• FIX YOUR URLS. Each URL in your site should be short, easy to read with words instead of numbers, and inclusive of relevant keywords. Avoid any excesses here, whenever possible.
• CHECK FOR BROKEN LINKS. Review all your internal links to make sure they are all pointing to proper pages within your site.
• TEST FOR COMPATIBILITY. By now, your site should be optimized for mobile and be compatible with multiple browsers. You can check for this in Webmaster Tools or manually review your page displays by experimenting on multiple devices and browsers.
• SET UP GOOGLE ANALYTICS. Double check to ensure your script is installed properly and that you’re pulling information for every page.
IMPROVING CONTENT FACTORS
Finally, you’ll want to ensure that your current on-site content is executed properly. We’ll dig deeper into the content side of things in Chapter 3.
• REVIEW YOUR TITLE TAGS AND META TAGS. Each of your titles and descriptions should be unique, with keywords relevant to your company. Your descriptions should also be catchy, in order to improve click-through rates. You can test for improper titles and descriptions by heading to Webmaster Tools under Search Appearance and HTML Improvements.
• ENSURE CONTENT ON EVERY PAGE. Each page on your site should have at least a paragraph or two of unique, indexable content.
• REVIEW YOUR IMAGES AND MULTIMEDIA CONTENT. All images on your site, as well as other forms of content, should have alt tags or meta information that presents them to Google properly.
• CHECK YOUR CONTENT FOR QUALITY. This is often underestimated. Is your content valuable, easy to read, and free of spelling and grammatical errors? Any violations here could compromise your site’s authority. This checklist should get you going in the right direction when you’re initiating or rebooting an SEO campaign for your business. Just remember that while the on-site audit is a one-time process, SEO requires months of ongoing commitment to be successful. Cleaning up these on-site errors won’t immediately send you to a higher position in search engines, but it will make it easier for you to do so once you implement a long-term strategy of recurring content, off-site links, and social media activity; which we’ll now start to explore.