Auditing your website is an important part of your SEO strategy. It allows you to ensure you are following best practices, pick up on any issues, and find areas of improvement. Without regular audits, you could be missing easy fixes or – worse – something on your website could be severely harming your rankings and you wouldn’t even know about it.
Google itself has a lot of useful free tools for auditing your website. I’ll touch on a couple of those tools here, but for a more in-depth look, read How to Track and Measure SEO Results with Google Tools.
What is an SEO audit?
An SEO audit is an analysis of your website specifically focused on Search Engine Optimisation. It looks at whether your site is following SEO best practices, finds content that can be improved, and assesses behaviour of users on your website.
The size of your website will determine the complexity of the audit and the length of time it’s likely to take. If you have a large e-commerce site, there will be a lot more to do than if your website only has a couple of text-focused pages.
You can fix issues as your audit discovers them, or you can put together a full report and schedule fixes for the future. Again, which option you pick will depend on the complexity and size of your website, plus the amount of issues you come across. You may even need one person to do the audit, and another person – such as a developer – to make the required changes.
How to run an SEO audit
In theory, you can run an audit manually, but this is only really practical if you have a very small website of only one or two pages, with only basic content and minimal technical elements. Most likely, you will want to use one – or more – of the many handy tools out there that have been built specifically for this task. Some are premium tools that will cost, but others are completely free.
Almost every SEO tool out there uses at least some data from Google Analytics and it is one of the must-haves in any SEO manager’s kit. The tool is completely free and holds a vast wealth of information about website traffic, user behaviour, demographics, conversions and online sales.
WordPress has a number of plugins that allow you to connect Google Analytics to your site (such as MonsterInsights and Yoast). Other website builders like Wix and Weebly can be easily connected to Analytics through in-built integrations. If your website builder doesn’t have this option, you will need to either have an understanding of how to edit code, or will need to ask a developer to make the relevant changes.
Analytics provides a number of reports covering user behaviour across your site. It can tell you about the number of purchases, user actions, funnels, demographics, and much more. Though it won’t tell you exactly what an issue is, it will give you plenty of clues where a problem might be, and you can then troubleshoot.
For example, if a user has several steps to go through before making a purchase (Add to cart > Checkout > Payment > Thank you page), and you see a big drop off between Checkout and Payment, it could mean something is going wrong at the checkout. Is a button not working? Is the layout shifting so it’s unusable? Are there loading issues? You can test your purchase process to find and fix any problems.
Cost: Free and Paid
SEMRush is a premium SEO tool mostly used by agencies and large websites. Though its price points will be a bit high for most small businesses, you can still create a free account and make use of some of its tools and data.
With a free account, you can:
- Track your rankings for up to 10 keywords
- Obtain a breakdown and recommendations for SEO-related site issues
- Monitor local listings such as Google Business Profile, Yelp and TripAdvisor
- Check the SEO score of your content on a page-by-page basis
- Audit website backlinks to find potentially harmful links
- Monitor link building campaigns
Limitations to a free SEMRush account mean that you can only run a certain number of searches, analyse a limited number of websites (i.e. just the one), and extract a small amount of data. However, despite these limitations, small sites can still get a lot of helpful information for an audit.
If you opt for the paid version, you’ll have access to even more information and fewer limitations. SEMRush can give you such data as competitor analysis, opportunities for link building, and whether all pages on your website can be found by search engine crawlers.
Cost: Free and Paid
Screaming Frog is an SEO spider tool, which means it travels through your website in a similar way to search engine crawlers. It looks for the same information as search engines and, if it finds anything missing, or problematic, will report back to you.
The tool is downloaded onto your computer and is jam-packed with features. The free version is very generous in what it offers, and the paid option is reasonably priced for businesses with small budgets.
If you choose to use the free version of the tool, you site should ideally have fewer than 500 pages, as this is the limit the free tool can crawl. You’ll be able to find duplicate pages, broken links and missing page titles.
Upgrade to the paid version and you can dig deeper into your website audit.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console helps you see how your website ranks for different keywords, how many of your pages are indexed (i.e. visible in Google Search), and what the experience is like for users.
As another free SEO tool, Google Search Console is invaluable for an audit, particularly if you’re looking at rankings specifically. A list of keywords shows when your website appears in search. You can see how often people search that particular keyword, as well as your site’s average position. If you’re not showing at all for a high-traffic keyword, or are very low down in the rankings, you may need to rethink your content. Do you mention the keyword and similar phrases in your text? Are you providing valuable information? Is your content unique?
Search Console also tells you whether pages on your website are indexed. If they’re not indexed, it means that they’re not showing up in search.
Sometimes, non-indexed pages are necessary – if, for example, you have a page that’s only available to certain people with a link, you don’t want it to be searchable. However, in most cases, you want pages on your website to be found, so if it’s not indexed, there may be an issue. Search Console will tell you what the problem is so you can fix it.
Other ways to use Google Search Console in your SEO audit include:
- Add a Sitemap to help Google crawl your website.
- Find out how usable your site is on mobile and desktop.
- Check if any pages are ineligible for Rich Snippets because of errors.
Bing Webmaster Tools
Bing Webmaster Tools is Microsoft’s answer to Google Search Console. Its data is focused on Microsoft’s search products, which is mainly Bing, but also includes Yahoo and AOL. Like Search Console, Webmaster Tools helps you analyse your website and how it appears in search. You can submit a sitemap so Bing can ensure it lists all your pages, see which keywords you’re currently ranking for, and find potential errors on your pages that prevent them showing in search.
Webmaster Tools goes a little further, though, and also helps you easily assess backlinks (links to your website) and do keyword research. A Site Scan feature will analyse your site for any technical issues that require fixing.
Cost: Free and Paid
This plugin easily connects your WordPress site to Google Analytics. If you’re overwhelmed by Analytics and all the information available, MonsterInsights provides a simplified dashboard right in the admin area of your site. Once linked, you can see information such as conversions, user visits, and actions such as link clicks.
While MonsterInsights won’t provide you with as in-depth an analysis as Google Analytics, it can help you spot larger issues such as sudden changes in traffic on certain pages and changes in user behaviour. These can both help you identify that something might have gone wrong. Has something broken that prevents people viewing that page? Have you changed content and seen improvements in traffic? Has a website update caused an issue that means your overall traffic has dropped?
Ahrefs Site Audit Tool
Cost: Free and Paid
Ahrefs’ site audit tool is a cloud-based tool that looks at over 100 pre-defined SEO issues that could be affecting your site. The visual dashboard provides easily digestible top-level data that gives you a decent overview of how your website is faring. Colour-coordinated charts and tables let you easily pick out where there are potential issues, and the severity of them.
Not only does this SEO audit tool tell you what the problem is, it also provides you with some helpful information about why it’s a problem, and how you can fix it. Comprehensive filters allow you to narrow down the data so you can choose focus areas for your audit, such as the most pressing issues.
The paid plan, as you would expect, gives you the best access to the data, but a free version is also available with limited functionality. The good news is that the audit tool is included in Ahrefs’ cheapest monthly plan.
SEOQuake is a Google Chrome extension (also available on Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Opera) that allows you to quickly and easily audit your own website, as well as other sites, on a page-by-page basis. It works in real time, so you can switch it on while you’re browsing a website and get data right there and then, before exporting the results into a report. A toolbar can sit at the top of your browser with some quick figures, which can then be opened for a more detailed report. Or, if you’re not keen on the toolbar, you can use a compact lightbox dashboard instead.
The full SEOQuake audit report provides a quick overview on whether your site SEO follows best practices. From analysing headings on a page, to ensuring your titles are an appropriate length, there’s a surprising amount of information available for a free tool. Though it’s worth saying it’s not perfect and the information should be taken with a pinch of salt. For example, an audit of my own site shows that Google Analytics isn’t installed, which it definitely is. Otherwise, this is a helpful tool for a basic audit at minimal cost.
PageSpeed Insights provides you with information on a very specific but important part of your audit: the user experience. It looks at this from a technical angle, analysing how quickly pages load and whether the content shifts around while it loads. It then provides useful information for improving issues, many of which you will need to put into the hands of your developer.
This particular tool is mainly focused on improving your Core Web Vitals. You can read more about these in my guide.
When you run a report on PageSpeed Insights, you can view mobile results and desktop results, both of which you may find to be very different. Ideally, you want your website to perform well on all devices, but if you have to pick one to prioritise, you should always go with mobile.
Which SEO audit tool should I use?
Like so many things, which SEO audit tool you use will depend on your requirements, including budget, time, depth of audit, and ability to fix issues. If you’re new to this, or only have a basic knowledge of SEO with no developer support, then look at the free tools first. Paid tools will, in general, give you more useful and extensive information, but if you don’t have the resources to resolve the issues, then they’re not that helpful.
There are many SEO auditing tools available. Some provide a fully comprehensive audit, while others will focus on specific areas of improvement. Costs vary from completely free to hundreds of pounds a month, so it’s important to balance your requirements with your budget. Whichever tool (or tools) you choose, it’s important to run regular audits on your site to ensure you continue to rank well and address any potential issues as soon as possible.