When conducting an SEO audit, you have to look at some page-level elements of your website.
Here are nine page-level factors to check and how to evaluate them.
1. Crawl Your Site
Using Screaming Frog, perform a crawl of your site.
For this crawl example, I used Screaming Frog SEO Spider 7.2.
I also used CNN.com as an example site for all these bits and pieces.
- Fire up Screaming Frog.
- For most basic audits, you can use the following settings by going to Configuration > Spider.
Screaming Frog Basic Settings:
Screaming Frog Advanced Settings:
What to Check
You’ll want to check the following to make sure all of these elements are up to date and they are implemented according to your SEO strategy.
If not, then you’ve identified fixes you’ll need to perform after this audit:
- Keyword in the title tag.
- Title tag starts with keyword.
- Keyword in description tag.
- Keyword appears in the H1 tag.
- Keyword is most frequently used phrase in the document.
2. E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness
Every year, Google updates its quality raters’ guidelines for the world to see.
This has nothing to do with the search algorithms but actually has more to do with Google raters (who are human readers) and how they assess the strength and quality of a web page.
This framework that they use is E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
This means that you must be an expert-level contributor in your chosen field. Seoinc.com mentions the fact that:
“You need to be an expert in your field. Expertise means you need to show the skill of the creator for the Main Content or (MC) and mention it in your content. Expertise is less critical for humor or gossip websites, but it’s vital for medical, financial, or legal websites. The good news is any site can show expertise if the content is truthful and useful for users.”
“You need to show that you are an authority or the authoritativeness of the creator for the MC. And you can get this from the expertise of your writers or yourself. If your page is a community or forum discussion, the quality of the conversation drives authority. Credentials are necessary, but so are personal experiences like reviews.”
“You need to show users they can trust the creator or company of the Main Content, the MC itself and the website. Trustworthiness is especially important for eCommerce websites that ask users for their credit card information. Everything about your site should make users feel safe while they’re visiting. As a starting point, you should immediately implement an SSL certificate on your site as at least 70% of first page results are using SSL (It’s one of many of Google’s scoring signals).”
It is important to note (SEO professionals such as Marie Haynes mention this), however, that not all SEO professionals agree that E-A-T is truly a ranking factor.
It has been speculated by most SEO pros that sites that were heavily hit by the August 2018 Core Algorithm Update have also had significant technical SEO issues they had to overcome, and this is one of the more important SEO factors that you cannot ignore if you want to regain your site’s performance.
Marie also mentions that:
“Google says that E-A-T is very important
E-A-T is extremely important for Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sites
If your site is a medical, legal, or financial site, then having good E-A-T is crucial. Your site may also be considered YMYL if your site gives advice that helps people make an important decision. You are likely also YMYL if you sell products from your website.
We personally think that most websites on the web are considered YMYL. You might argue that your site that sells ball point pens is not helping people make major life decisions. However, if you’re taking credit card transactions on your site, then people need to be able to trust you and as such, you are almost definitely YMYL.
The QRG (https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en//searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf) tell us that a YMYL site that is lacking E-A-T is to be considered a low-quality site.
Again, we believe that many sites are considered YMYL. Pretty much every topic area has people who are known as experts on this subject. Even if your topic is not an obvious YMYL topic, we still would recommend paying attention to Google E-A-T.”
Manish Dudharejia also provides several ways to improve your E-A-T.
E-A-T has become even more of a factor in Google’s latest algorithms.
But, it’s also important to make sure that all of your technical SEO factors are up to par, because if you are lacking in technical SEO, and making your site easily crawlable and indexable, all the E-A-T in the world will not help your site’s performance.
How to Check
Checking for E-A-T- on your site is not exactly a scientific process, but more of a creative one.
These points should help your audit process in finding E-A-T issues on a website:
- Does your site have personalized author information, and does it have personalization enabled?
- This means: author bio, author page, and contact information for the author.
- Does your site have personalized, authoritative content that’s trustworthy?
- This means: fact-checked, high-quality articles. Articles must have factually correct information about the topics they discuss.
- Articles should also be trustworthy in how they discuss the topic. If your writing is of lower quality, and is structured in a haphazard manner, you will not have good E-A-T score on your articles. DO NOT skimp on article quality.
- Does your site have a unique take on things, and does it tackle the subject matter in a way that gives Google an incentive to put it on the first page of their results?
- You can do SEO and optimize your content for the technical all day. You can build links all day. But if your content is weak on your subject matter, it may be a factor in how your site’s performing.
- Your meta descriptions and title tags should all be of super high quality, while also targeting keywords and keyword phrases that your article topics discuss. They should not be written as an after-thought.
SEO headline writing is a different beast altogether.
You should integrate keywords for SEO.
But, you also have to tailor your headlines to social, website visitors, and they should serve the SEO side also while integrating those keywords.
It’s not a simple “write for five minutes and it’s done” scenario.
Here are three points you can check on every page to make sure that your content headlines are written properly:
- Are your headlines written naturally and conversationally?
- These generally tend to perform very well in social, and integration of your SEO keywords just adds a nice ring to it, increasing the quality of your headlines.
- Write your headlines in such a way that they target user engagement and brand reputation as a result.
- Write your headlines to generate discussion and mystery on social.
- Using the AIDA sales principle (Attention – Interest – Decision – Action), you can identify whether or not your headlines meet this standard to be of high enough quality to be included in your site.
Rand Fishkin notes in his Whiteboard Friday on the topic that there are some notable conflicts that can happen with this approach:
“1. Keywords for SEO can be really boring on social media sites. When you try and keyword stuff especially or be keyword-heavy, your social performance tends to go terribly.
2. Creating mystery on social, so essentially not saying what the piece is truly about, but just creating an inkling of what it might be about harms the clarity that you need for search in order to rank well and in order to drive those clicks from a search engine. It also hurts your ability generally to do keyword targeting.
3. The need for engagement and brand reputation that you’ve got for your website visitors is really going to hurt you if you’re trying to develop those clickbait-style pieces that do so well on social.
4. In search, ranking for low-relevance keywords is going to drive very unhappy visitors, people who don’t care that just because you happen to rank for this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, because you didn’t serve the visitor intent with the actual content.”
Naturally, some fields are not always going to have every single quality as part of their headlines.
Let’s be realistic here.
Dry topics, and other types of topics that do not generate very much interest, should be determined to have a different approach involved.
You can’t be everything to everyone, but there are always creative approaches that can be taken to make content in dry, boring industries exceptional.
You can use the points above to audit your site for headlines that will stand the test of time and so that you can improve them in the future.
4. SEO Writing
SEO copywriting is so integral to the process of SEO, that some people forget to write their content in such a way that also includes SEO.
They feel that simply writing content is enough, and that “if you post it, they will come.”
Unfortunately, writing is only half the battle.
The other half of the battle includes SEO – the tangible SEO properties of content that should be integrated so that you do not have issues with Google finding your content high enough quality.
Don’t forget about content freshness! Freshness has its place in SEO, but it was mostly designed for time-sensitive searches and not every single piece of content.
Let’s take a look at some of the common SEO writing factors that should be addressed in a website audit:
The structure of your text is as important as your optimization.
As a standard, your text should attack structure on two fronts: informationally, and from a coding perspective.
In the coding perspective, you should be using standard semantic HTML to define headings and content sections, namely (H1 tags, H2 tags, H3 tags for headings, and P tags for paragraphs).
Informationally, your content should follow a logical structure that is consistent with the topic matter.
Don’t just throw in three unrelated topics in your content’s discussion, unless they are of significant relevance in some way.
Integration of keywords is important, but don’t keyword stuff.
Don’t include six hundred variations of your keywords and expect it to be a high-quality article. That’s never going to happen.
Focus on naturally including your keywords and keyword phrases where they make sense.
Images are another important part of text structure, but they are discussed elsewhere in this audit guide.
If you can use an image strategically in your content to support it, feel free to do so. This point should also be discussed in your website audits.
Don’t forget to include points on image optimization, and their impact on site speed.
High-quality writing is an essential part of any SEO page. High-quality writing makes any SEO content easy to understand, clear to the reader, and communicates points succinctly.
Don’t expect readers to always have a thorough understanding of your topic like you do. That never helps at all.
Always make sure any writing in your audit is clear to the reader.
Make sure that your writing clearly explains every topic, every bullet point, every headline.
Go into 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or more paragraphs if you have to. This also builds on the prior points discussed in this section – keyword integration, text structure, and images should all contribute to this quality.
Lists, Bullet Points, Bolded Keywords & Text for Emphasis
Checklists, bullet points, and bolded keywords and text for emphasis should all be a part of any well-optimized piece of content.
Lists provide a clear hierarchy of items that explain any topic in further detail. They are also clear to the reader (depending on how they’re structured) easy to understand and provide good information in a succinct way.
But, don’t just include lists to include lists. That doesn’t help anyone.
Make sure that any lists in your audit enhances the website’s subject matter, rather than detracts from it.
Outbound Links and Internal Links
Any piece of content should include outbound links to external resources, along with internal links to other related page content.
This provides for greater understanding of the topic when done right and includes authoritative resources to other authors in the industry.
When you link out, you also increase your linking opportunities through other writers who may use Google Alerts to alert them of any new articles that are published on their particular topic.
5. Keyword Cannibalization
This can be a bigger problem than you may think.
If you have more than one page that targets the same keyword, you can experience keyword cannibalization.
This is when two pages trying to rank for the same keyword, and Google is forced to choose between pages.
This means you won’t get much, if any, SEO value from your optimization efforts if your keywords are all too similar.
You can also introduce other problems with keyword cannibalization. OnCrawl talks about these:
- Conversion rate: Why waste your time on different pages with the same goal if one of these is converting better? You should focus your efforts on one of these pages instead of spending energy on lower-converting version targeting the same traffic.
- Content quality: If you are targeting multiple pages with the same keyword, they should also be about the same subject. What you risk is duplicate content, poor quality content, or replicates and you are lowering your chances to receive referrals and links.
- Internal anchor text: If you are targeting different pages with the same subject, you are missing chances to concentrate the value of internal anchor texts on one page.
- External links: External links can boost the SEO value of a page targeting one keyword. But if you have different pages targeting the same keyword, then your external links will be split between those different landing pages. You are thus sharing external link value among different pages instead of focusing it onto one.
How to Check
In Screaming Frog, after we have crawled our site, we can check the title and meta descriptions in our pages to see if there are any instances of more than one page targeting the same keyword.
After finding these pages, check Google to see if you have any pages showing up for these keywords.
If you have more than one result for your site that is showing up for these keywords, you likely have keyword cannibalization issues that you must fix.
6. User Engagement & User Experience
In today’s SEO, user engagement is an important factor in the quality of your page, and comprise attributes that are very important to get right.
It has an impact on SEO, as Anna Crowe writes:
“User experience (UX) has an impact on SEO.
If you don’t think about UX, your website will end up in the trash next to the TV dinner and mushy peas.
In fact, 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content and layout is unattractive.
Main Street Host, a digital marketing agency, saw a 66 percent increase in page views to their attorney profile pages by updating the content and optimizing call-to-action buttons.
And, Ezoic saw 186% increase in earnings per 1,000 visitors after creating a better UX.”
While it may not be a direct ranking factor, there are indirect but intangible benefits to creating a website with quality design, and creating higher quality content that results in an even better user experience, leading to better user engagement.
They are intangible because they cannot be linked to any direct ranking factor on Google.
So, we can’t say “we changed the keyword here, and this resulted in an immediate improvement in click-throughs on the button right next to this keyword.”
It is not definitive, and this is a conundrum for user engagement that many SEO professionals face in their reporting.
How can you reliably tie different user engagement metrics to your SEO efforts so that you can move forward with the proper strategy that will get results?
It’s important to note that different levels of website quality can impact user engagement.
Quality refers to many things: the quality of your website design. The quality of your content.
All of these can be major indirect factors that can influence people to purchase your product or sign up for your service.
And, different levels of quality can impact user engagement.
For example: if you have a one-off landing page that is a wall of text content, you may only expect two user engagement metrics: dwell time and a click on the call to action button at the end.
If you have a more complex site that includes many different types of buttons for calls to action, such as live chat, a call us phone number, sign up for our newsletter, listen to our podcasts, view our videos, and other calls to action, you will need to take inventory of these and audit them to make sure that you have created proper user engagement across your website.
Did you know that you can construct custom URLs to track all of these specific user engagements and much more? It’s true.
Not only that, but there are many different user engagement metrics to track in Google Analytics that will help you interpret what’s happening on your site more effectively.
Fortunately, there are many ways to audit your user engagement metrics to make sure that what you are doing is having a positive influence on your site.
7. Identify Any Custom URLs Created for the Purposes of Tracking
How to Check
This is an easy check with Screaming Frog.
You can simply audit all of the main URLs that were crawled by Screaming Frog. Use the search feature in the program to look for any URLs containing “utm”.
If they are linked on your website, they should show up in a Screaming Frog crawl.
UTM parameters are unique identifiers. Using UTM parameters, SEO professionals can create unique URLs for any campaign conversion component that a site owner may want to track.
You can also search in Google Analytics for UTM pages, because they will be dumped into the main GA traffic for landing page URLs.
Just click on Acquisition > All Traffic > Source / Medium.
All of your UTM URLs that you have created should show up in here.
You may want to read this guide on SEJ, written by Amelia Willson, for tips on how to use UTM codes for conversion tracking.
If you are reading this and you don’t know how to create UTM URLs, the Google Campaign URL Builder may be just what the doctor ordered.
8. Check for Abnormally High Bounce Rate in Google Analytics
If your bounce rate is abnormally high (into the 65% and above range) it can point to something else (slow page speed), low-quality design, low-quality content, or other issues that are causing the low engagement.
It could also mean that your topics are not driving the user engagement.
Maddy Osman wrote a fantastic section in her book chapter on on how to track user engagement metrics in Google Analytics. There are many more metrics to check in her guide.
9. Check User Reviews
User reviews are another user engagement metric that you can use to check the effectiveness of your SEO strategies.
If your site creates great user engagement, they will likely purchase your products and services.
If the great user engagement extends across your business, they will more than likely leave positive reviews.
How to Check
Just check your review sites like Yelp, BBB, and other review sites.
Keep a running tally of the metrics on these sites every month.
They will help you assess whether or not your site’s user engagement is performing as it should.
Yes, it’s an indirect factor.
But it can be a telling factor in terms of how your website is performing.
People also leave website feedback in reviews, and they can be a great indicator as to how well your site’s performing (or not).
It’s important to note that it isn’t exactly a direct, determining factor.
There are always exceptions.
I was involved in a site where someone was hired as a “reputation hit man” to go after the company and post negative reviews.
Yes, these people do exist.
While disgruntled customers and past employees may sometimes be the culprit, there are cases where reputation hit men go after companies and that is all they do all day.
Be mindful of reviews and make sure that you’re not buying into something like this.
That is why audits on this part of your business is important because reviews can also give you great insight into how your site is performing by whether or not users are and continue to remain engaged.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by author