How to do a Basic SEO Website Audit for Free

An SEO website audit will help you ensure your site is SEO-compliant and following best practices. A basic audit can be done by just about anyone who knows what they’re looking for. And that’s what I’m here to help you with today.

Follow these steps to check your website is ready for search success.

Note: Each method and tool mentioned below is free. However, please keep in mind that free tools can often have limitations, such as restrictions on how often they can be used, or taking more time than paid tools. Paid tools are also available for all these audit steps.

Copy and Text

Length of copy

Word count on Yoast
The word counter on Yoast

The amount of words on each page of your website is important. Anything too short is considered thin content, which means Google will – in most cases – consider it not useful to the end user.

A good general rule is to write copy (text) that is at least 300 words long on each individual page. The text should be good-quality and relevant. There is no real maximum or ideal length, and exactly how long it is will vary depending on subject and the intention of the page.

Free tools:

  • Yoast: A WordPress plugin that shows the word count of each page.
  • Web Page Word Counter: Enter a web page URL and it will provide you with a word count.
  • Word processors such as Microsoft Word also provide a word counter.

Spelling and grammar

As well as looking more professional and giving a better impression to your customers, spelling and grammar is important for SEO. Although not a direct ranking factor, lots of errors will cause users to lose trust in your business and leave your site. This will cause a high bounce rate, which is a negative signal to search engines.

Free tools:

  • A word processor will pick up many spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • A real person is often the best option for checking spelling and grammar, as a word processor will not pick up on everything.

Duplicate content

Google and other search engines dislike duplicate content because it makes it hard for them to decide which results to show to searchers. Duplicate content is any text on separate pages that is very similar, and in some cases exactly the same. It’s especially problematic if you have text that’s almost exactly the same as another site, and Google could severely penalise you if it thinks content is plagiarised.

If you have two or more pages on your website that include very similar content, consider merging them. If a merge is not possible, then use a canonical tag on the most important page to tell Google which one it should focus on.

Free tools:

  • Siteliner will run an audit and highlight duplicate content on your site. You will need to manually check all the results, however, as it will also highlight content that is intentionally the same on each page (such as footer text).
  • Copyscape: find external sites that may have copied your content.
  • Screaming Frog: a downloadable tool that will help you find pages that are exact duplicates.
  • The Yoast WordPress plugin will allow you to easily add canonical tags.

Header tags

Website headings on the Charlotte Davies website

The structure of your page is made up, in part, by header tags and paragraphs. The paragraphs hold the main bulk of the text for your website, while the headers divide content into sections.

Headings are important because they help with the readability of a page and indicate to search engines importance of the content and structure of the page.

The main title of your page should always be a Header 1 (or H1). There should only be one H1 on each page, and it should be the main title.

Secondary headers are Header 2s (H2), and these sections can be broken down further using Header 3 (H3). There are additional header available, but these three are significant for SEO.

You should check each page to ensure it has one and only one H1. Most pages should also have at least one H2, possibly more, and potentially some H3s, depending on the amount of content and the structure of the page.

On most website builders, you can add or change headers simply by using the formatting menu.

Free tools:

Meta descriptions and SEO titles

Google search

Meta descriptions and SEO titles are the text snippets that usually show up in search results. While Google now often automatically generates this information from the content on your page, it is good practice to add the information yourself.

By adding your own information, you have more control over the information shown in search results.

Ensure each page has descriptive meta descriptions and SEO title tags, and check any pages with existing meta data to make sure that it is relevant and follows best practices.

Free tools:

  • Screaming Frog: a downloadable tool that lists all your pages, meta descriptions and page titles so that you can see at a glance what needs to be updated.
  • Yoast: a WordPress plugin that lets you easily update meta descriptions and SEO titles

Images

My guide on optimising images for SEO will be useful alongside this section of your audit.

Image size

Are your images bigger than they need to be? If you use lots of large image files on your website, you’ll slow everything down and provide a poor user experience.

Web images generally don’t need to be very large to still look good. They should ideally be less than 100kb, and have a maximum width of 800px (or 2,500px for banner images).

Free tools:

  • Paint 3D: a simple download for your desktop that allows you to edit photos, including resizing them.
  • Krita: a more advanced downloadable image editor for resizing and editing images.
  • Tiny JPG: an online tool for compressing images.
  • Screaming Frog: a downloadable tool that will crawl your site and show you image file sizes.

Filenames

Examples of good and bad SEO image filenames

Filenames play a key part in helping search engine crawlers understand the content of your page. Choose one that uses a few words to describe the image, and insert a keyword if you can. All words should be separated by a hyphen.

If you can’t edit filenames directly on your site, you will have to re-upload newly named files and replace them across the board. Don’t forget to delete the old files once new ones are in place.

Free tools:

  • Generally, you will have to manually check the image filenames of your website by looking through your media library.
  • Phoenix Media Rename: a WordPress plugin that allows you to rename image files already uploaded to your site.

Alt text

Image alt text is hidden from most users, but can be seen by search engine crawlers. It is useful for providing information about the page content, as well as making it more accessible to users with visual needs.

All your images should include alt text, which should be an accurate description of the image. Ideally, include a keyword or two while maintaining natural language (i.e.  a properly structured sentence).

Free tools:

Technical SEO

Plugins

Woocommerce plugin on WordPress

If your website is built on WordPress, you probably have at least a few plugins to help improve your site functionality.

While plugins are incredibly useful, an excessive amount can create security risks and negatively affect site speed. A regular audit will help you remove duplicate plugins that are doing the same job, update outdated plugins, and replace those that are out of date.

Take a look at my full guide to auditing WordPress plugins.

HTTPS

HTTPS is a secure version of HTTP and is now vital for the SEO of your website, even if you aren’t collecting secure information such as payment details.

You get a HTTPS site by purchasing an SSL certificate, usually from your website host. This is then assigned to your website so the URL becomes https://www.yourwebsite.com instead of http://www.yourwebsite.com.

If you don’t have an SSL certificate, Google may show a warning message to users before they enter your site, which can prevent people actually reaching you.

To check whether or not you have an SSL certificate, open your website in a browser, and check the URL: does it show HTTPS or HTTP at the start? Secure sites will also have a locked padlock symbol next to the URL.

Mobile first

Your website should prioritise mobile viewing and work correctly on smaller devices. Text should be readable, links should be easily tappable, and the layout should shift to look good on a mobile screen.

You can check your mobile friendliness by opening your site on a mobile phone and browsing it. Does anything look odd, or is anything difficult to read? Does any part of the site not function correctly on mobile?

If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you may need to redesign it completely, or at least update the elements that don’t work on mobile.

Read more about becoming mobile first.

Free tools:

Google’s Mobile Friendly Test – a free tool to check if your page is mobile-friendly

Site structure

Navigation

Does the navigation of your website make sense? Is the menu clear and can users easily find what they’re looking for. If you have a small website, this is unlikely to be a major problem for you, but if your website has more than a handful of pages, you should think carefully about your website structure.

Do you use nested menus and child pages? For example, a charity may have a Fundraising page (the parent page) that is then divided into several relevant child pages detailing different options for raising money. The pages are grouped and sub-categorised to divide large amounts of content and be easily navigable.

Sitemaps

The XML sitemap for the Charlotte Davies SEO website

Does your website have a sitemap?

Sitemaps let search engines easily identify website structure and navigate your site.

There are two main types of sitemap: XML (for search engine crawlers to read) and HTML (for real users to read) and you should have both, but particularly XML.

To check, enter www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml, where www.yoursite.com is replaced with the actual URL of your website. In most cases, this will bring up a sitemap if you have one.

Free tools:

  • Yoast: a WordPress plugin that will automatically generate a XML sitemap for you.
  • Xml-sitemaps.com will generate a XML sitemap for non-Wordpress websites. However, you will need to understand how to upload it to your website.

Broken links

Broken links are frustrating and prevent search engines crawling your site effectively. By auditing your site links, you can identify any problems and either fix the link or remove it entirely.

Free tools:

  • Broken link checker is an online tool that lists any broken links and where on your website they’re found.

Redirects

A missing page error on a website

Redirects are useful if a page has been removed or temporarily taken offline. If external sites are still linking to that non-existent page, a redirect will take them to another useful page on your website. This prevents users receiving an unhelpful error message when they land on the removed page.

While you can’t necessarily change external links to your site (although you can try contacting the site owner and asking them to make an update), you can update your internal links.

Any links onto your own site that are pointing to a page that no longer exists should be updated. This will help speed up the navigation around your site and inform Google that the page has changed.

Free tools:

  • Screaming Frog: a downloadable tool that will tell you which links are redirecting, where they’re pointing to, and where they’re redirecting to.

Conclusion

SEO audits should be taken on a fairly regular basis to make sure your site is the best it can be. While there is a lot of information here, you don’t have to do it all at once. Instead, break it down into sections and gradually make your way through each. Doing an audit slowly is better than doing no audit at all-

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