SEO specialists often need to conduct an SEO audit to identify the weaknesses of a corporate website and give tips on how to improve its search engine ranking. This takes a lot of skills and can be confusing. Nevertheless, the results of such analysis become a valuable asset for any marketing, advertising, promotional or other efforts.
FAQ by SEO specialists
- Should I conduct SEO audits before the start of website promotion?
- Why should I assess link mass prior to the first negotiations with the customer?
- How do I evaluate the obtained results and create a road map?
- What are the main factors that influence website promotion and improve Google ranking?
- What are the right approaches to search engine advertising in Google in 2020?
- How does high-quality content influences website ranking?
- How to attract maximum users to a website and keep them?
- How often should I conduct SEO audits for effective website promotion?
Very often people don’t know where to start SEO optimization from or want to complete a clear checklist of actions but are intimidated by a bunch of terms and indicators. Therefore, we want to provide a step-by-step guide on a technical website audit based on the apple.com example.
What is SEO Audit?
Definition: An SEO audit is the check of the current technical performance of a website. This meaning, actually, highlights the first goal of such technical analysis.
The second and key goal of an SEO audit is recommendations. Such analysis helps to develop a set of tips on how to improve search optimization rates (or preserve your leading position).
This leads to a logical question: What are these rates about? By saying technical rates, we don’t only mean the number of pages and nesting levels but also several other indicators. You need to understand that such rates were not invented just to complicate the life of SEO experts. These parameters are the indicators checked by search engines. The better they are, the more chances a website has to be at least included in a friendly Google family or, in the perfect case, get to the top.
You may consider an SEO audit as a personal imagemaker of your website. The analysis of search engine optimization will help you create the best look for the website to include it into a VIP club and get unlimited loyalty bonuses.
Search bots also evaluate web resource based on clear criteria and not on their mood. Search algorithms aim to determine for sure whether a website is really valuable. It’s not enough to state that a web resource includes useful information – the information must be full, easy to find, and convenient to use.
What are the benefits of regular SEO audits?
How has SEO evolved? In 1991, the first website was created. 1994 witnessed the appearance of the first search engine – Yahoo, whereas Google appeared in 1997. At that time, SEO was in its infancy. The success depended on the number of keywords on a page and its tags: the more pages with the necessary keyword a website has, the higher is the ranking.
Since 2003, with the appearance of the first quality search algorithms, website content has been gradually improved and structured. SEO basics have started to include more components. The quantity could still be synonymous to quality, but the links were prioritized over keywords. The source and quality of traffic played no role and were useless for marketing and advertising purposes.
2010 was the turning point when quantitative factors were completely overridden by behavioral. The domain age lost its previous importance. Even a young but well-optimized website could easily overtake a 10-year web veteran solely by means of its content.
The modern SEO period started in 2013 with the appearance of search personalization. The SEO advertising based on low-frequency keywords became dominant. As a result, people started to create several one-page websites and use them to attract specific ad traffic.
So now we have arrived to the present day when all the possible rates are adjusted to meet the single requirement – user convenience. No matter on what device or screen a user browses a website. The design must be eye-catching but, at the same time, not tiring to eyes or brain. The content must be structured but most importantly short and concise. It should also remain informative and relevant to the user request.
If you try to figure out how to meet all these requirements, the conclusion will be simple – it’s impossible. They often seem mutually exclusive. Everything is complicated with the ever-changing rules of the game. Predicting search engine tendencies sometimes looks more difficult than unraveling the mystery of the universe. Moreover, tons of competitors are snapping at your heels. This turns into a heavy burden on the shoulders of SEO, advertising, and marketing specialists. They become the first to be responsible for any decrease in sales.
An SEO report is an effective way to keep your finger on the pulse and, at least, have arguments to justify the decreased website performance during website promotion.
In addition to the analysis of the technical state of a website, SEO audit also allows you to:
- Review the list of SEO goals on your website;
- Assess your semantic kernel relevance and the distribution of keywords on the pages;
- Learn whether competitors repeat your practices and find new ways to get into the top;
- Update data on the site compatibility with mobile devices;
- Check the relevance, availability, and accuracy of your existing website content.
This looks pretty grandiose and reminds a fairytale. Nevertheless, you will become less sceptical once you have a clear plan for what needs to be done.
How to conduct an SEO audit that won’t make you feel ashamed?
To avoid getting lost in the SEO definition and SEO indicators you need to understand one thing: if you promote a site, you must regularly conduct a brief analysis of the completed search optimization. You cannot just forget about audits and let your website exist without any control and SEO analysis reports. At least once per month, corporate SEO specialists must use Google Search Console to collect data on:
- Hosting and index status
- Content, keywords, and metadata
- External and internal links
And every six months you must dedicate some time to a full SEO audit. Thanks to such a systematic approach, you will have a developed analysis algorithm and a checklist of parameters.
Let’s take a look at a real SEO website audit to understand what must be taken into account and in which sequence. Use this checklist to get some tips and ideas for analyzing your web resource.
Website SEO audit checklist:
- Check the main website mirror and URL format
- Check robots.txt and sitemap.xml files
- Check the HTTP headers of server responses
- Check the design of the 404 error page
- Check for broken 4xx links
- Check for clean URLs
- Check meta descriptions and meta headers
- Check headers
- Check for redirects on the website
- Check page speed
- Check micro-markup
- Check pagination pages
- Check for extra code of website pages
- Check for duplicate website elements
- Check the number of a tags linking to a product page
- Check the display of snippets in the search
- Check the quality of image optimization
- Check the quality of outbound links
- Check whether the technical pages are closed from indexing
- Link Mass Analysis
1. Check the main website mirror and URL format
When you conduct an SEO audit, it’s necessary to define the main site mirror (with or without the www prefix) and make a 301 redirect of the secondary mirror to the main one.
If a user goes to the page without the www prefix but with http, the 301 redirect is activated. No intermediate redirects were detected.
If we remove / at the end of the link, the 301 redirect is activated on the category pages but not on the main page.
2. Check robots.txt and sitemap.xml files
The robots.txt file is used to prevent different search bots from indexing some or all pages of a website. That’s why it is so critical for SEO.
In this case, the robots.txt file is correctly configured and available at https://www.apple.com/robots.txt.
It separately indicates the search bots that are disallowed to scan the page, including Baiduspider (a search bot targeted at the Chinese market), HaoSouSpider (a search bot of the Chinese search engine HaoSou.com), and Sogou web spider (a browser virus which is now actively spread in the web. The recent studies have shown that it primarily targets the computers are located in China).
Another interesting fact is that in China, the indexing of the pages with red Apple products is disallowed.
If a user selects the Chinese language and goes to this category, the double redirect to the main page is activated.
By the way, China bans many products, so its market is highly regulated.
The apple.com sitemaps are available at
Since the resource is quite big, one sitemap is not enough. Thus, they created separate maps for products, news, and countries.
The sitemap includes the pages with noindex and canonical. For example, the page exists in the sitemap but generates a 200 status code.
Yet if you take a look at the code of the page, you will see that the page is closed from indexation and must return a 404 code.
And 404 pages don’t need to be included in the sitemap.
The site map doesn’t have priority, changefreq, lastmod.
3. Check the HTTP headers of server responses
When a URL is accessed, a server returns an HTTP header with various data including a server response code, its last change date, coding of the document, and expiration date (the period during which the content of the URL is relevant).
Judging by the audit of this site, the server returns correct HTTP headers.
For example, the main page correctly returns a 200 server response code.
4. Check the design of the 404 error page
If there is no page at the specified URL, a server must return a 404 mistake. Take care of the design of your 404 page to make sure a user landing on it continues working with the website. That’s why specialists assess this factor during SEO audits and include it in SEO reports.
In the case of apple.com, the 404 error pages work correctly (a 404 Not Found code is returned) and support the overall website design.
The search page also operates correctly. When there are no results, the page is returned. The code shows that this page is closed from indexation, but we have several remarks and tips. Canonical must link to the main search page, namely https://www.apple.com/us/search. Also, noindex and canonical mustn’t be mixed.
5. Check for broken 4xx links
A broken link is a hyperlink that leads to non-existent pages, documents, files, or images.
The SEO audit of apple.com has found some broken links. There are 403 and 404 errors.
For example, the page https://www.apple.com/retail/business/ includes the links
leading to the 404 page
403 errors are server errors which mean that some users are disallowed to access certain pages. These pages are active and throw the error only for the selected countries and regions. For example, https://www.apple.com/pl/tv/ and https://www.apple.com/ru/tv/ return a 200 code, whereas the https://www.apple.com/in/tv/ page is no longer available since it has another URL https://www.apple.com/in/apple-tv-4k/.
6. Check for clean URLs
Clean URLs are user-friendly URLs which SEO specialists recommend using for all pages of a website during its promotion. Visitors may perceive long URLs as unclear and difficult or similar to encryption (e.g. site.com/?pag=1&24%). Choosing a friendly structure of URLs, you make them more appealing (e.g. site.com/catalog).
Don’t use a set of characters or unsystematic parameters. It’s better to use relevant words, which will allow users and search engines to get maximum information about the page. This will also affect the quality of website SEO advertising.
You probably know that the URL of a page in Google Search results is displayed under the page title and above the snippet (brief information about the page displayed in search results). Similarly to the title and snippet, the URL segments that match the query will be semi boldened.
During the audit, the mentioned problem was detected.
Example of the authorization page:
Only one page has a bad user-friendly URL. All other pages with non-user friendly URLs include noindex or canonical.
7. Check meta description and meta headers
A title tag is used to indicate the title of a page which tells users and search engines its name. The title tag is placed within the head tag of an HTML document. To make website promotion really effective, ideally, every page must have a unique name.
The content of the title tag is displayed in search results. Usually, it’s the first line of a result, therefore, the title tag is really important in SEO audit. If the title includes words used in the search query, they will be highlighted in semi-bold. This helps users to find the pages that match their requests and allows website owners to attract new visitors.
- Use the name of your business or website in the title of the main page. Also, you may add some useful information such as your business address or brief description of services or products.
- The title must match the content of the page.
- Make sure your title is unique to differentiate it from other pages for search engines.
Example of the title tag from the main website of Samsung.
Meta description tag provides search engines with the short description of a page. Whereas a title tag should include only one sentence, a description may contain several sentences (small paragraph). As well as the title tag, the description must be entered within the head tag in the HTML code of a page.
This tag is quite important for website promotion since Google may use it to create short information about the website that will be displayed in search. Note that Google may also choose as a snippet another appropriate text from your website if this content is more relevant to the user’s request. SEO specialists believe that meta description tags can also help Google when the search bot fails to find the appropriate text for search results. Thanks to such descriptions, users can right away form certain expectations of your website.
Make sure your page description is really interesting and informative to users that will see it as a snippet.
Ideally, for quality website promotion all website pages must have unique descriptions. It’s beneficial for both search engines and users. If a website has a lot of pages, you often won’t be able to enter descriptions manually. In this case, you can automatically create the description of every page based on its content. In other words, you generate the description based on certain masks that can be formed with the help of an SEO audit.
Example of the meta description tag from the official website of Samsung.
We haven’t noticed such a problem. A title tag is present on all pages, whereas a meta description tag is missing on some of them.
The website needs to optimize its titles and descriptions based on the semantic kernel.
8. Check headers
To highlight the important text, it’s necessary to use header tags (don’t confuse them with an HTML head tag and HTTP headers). This is also crucial for website promotion since they help to create a page structure that would be clear to users. There are 6 sizes of headers – from the largest H1 to the smallest H6.
The text inserted in header tags is larger than the rest of the text on a page. This highlights it and shows its importance helping visitors understand what the content below the heading is about. The different sizes of all levels of headers create a hierarchical structure of the content which simplifies the navigation.
- Place in header tags the text with no navigation value
- Use header tags when p (paragraph), span or strong (semi-bold font) tags are more appropriate
- Randomly switch from one size of headers to another. Make sure to save the right hierarchy.
Every page must have one H1 header. Note that is must be used only once per page.
We have detected this problem during the SEO audit.
For example, the https://www.apple.com/homepod/specs/ page doesn’t have an H1 header
9. Check for redirects on the website
Conducting an SEO audit, make sure a website doesn’t have a bunch of pages linking to old URLs used for redirect. This complicates user interaction with the resource making visitors load extra data and generally increases the load time, which, in its turn, reduces the effectiveness of website promotion.
Such a problem was detected during the audit.
There are 301 redirects on the website
as well as 307 and 303 redirects
A 303 redirect (See Other) is a special redirect which means that a document has been found but it needs to be accessed using the GET method.
For example, when users search for something on a website and find a single document, instead of showing one document in search results, you can use 303 redirect and specify the found document in the Location header. This way the users will immediately see what they need without checking the search results.
Here the main page links to the Investors page using a double redirect.
10. Check page speed
Research shows that approximately 75% of users leave pages when loading takes more than 4 seconds. Moreover, around 50% of users expect that pages must load in less than 2 seconds. In addition to users, page speed is also taken into account by search engines. Thus, you definitely must evaluate this factor in your SEO analysis report.
In the case of apple.com, the first loading of the main page took 759 ms, which is great.
Category https://www.apple.com/ipad/ – 608 ms
Product https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-ipad/ipad-9-7 – 1,88 s
Website check with Google Page Speed:
- Mobile version
- Desktop version
- Mobile version of the product page https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-ipad/ipad-9-7
- Desktop version of the product page https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-ipad/ipad-9-7
Website check in GTMetrix
Product page check in GTMetrix
11. Check micro-markup
Micro-markup (or semantic markup) is necessary to make the Internet and web pages more structured and easy to understand. It helps search engines and special programs to extract and process the information to display it in search results in a user-friendly format. The correct markup speeds up website SEO advertising and helps attract more visitors.
The markup is set in the HTML code of pages with special attributes. You don’t need to create separate export files.
There are numerous kinds if micro-markup which are used for different types of websites. The most popular and commonly used for SEO markup types are breadcrumbs and rating stars.
The analyzed website has the markup for breadcrumbs, but there is a mistake.
Here is an example. Id with a link must be added to the item category.
The website has the Schema.org micro-markup
But the micro-markup for the product is missing.
The example of schema.org markup used for a product page.
The micro-markup of product pages is extremely important in an online store. They provide the search bot with plenty of additional information which allows them to create an appealing and noticeable snippet in search results. Such a snippet attracts more attention and, as a result, generates more visitors.
Open Graph micro markup for social media
The analyzed website has Open Graph micro markup, but the meta description exceeds the limit recommended for effective website promotion.
12. Check pagination pages
Make sure pagination pages don’t result in duplicate text and meta tags on a website. In addition, they must be specifically optimized for search engines. For more information, go to Google Search Console.
If a website analysis shows that rel = “prev”/”next” markup on pagination pages is correct, this means that search bots can properly process the pages and improves the overall quality of website indexing.
Our SEO report shows that pagination is incorrect.
If the pagination pages include canonical, it must link to the main category page. In this case, the page links to itself.
13. Check for extra code on website pages
Extra code may include extensive comments, style descriptions in code tags, style tags, scripts in code tags and more. This affects the ratio of textual content to code and limits the caching of duplicated code sections. The larger percentage of meaningful textual content compared to code your pages have, the better search engines process its content and the more effective is website promotion.
We detected this problem on the analyzed website.
The page https://www.apple.com/shop/accessories/all-accessories/whats-new. The scripts must be moved to a separate JS file.
14. Check for duplicate website elements
Duplicate text can harm a website. Therefore, pay attention to this issue during a website audit. Such a problem often occurs on the pages of pagination, filters, short product descriptions, etc.
Duplicate text was also detected on the apple website.
There are duplicate meta descriptions, H1 and H2 headers.
For example, on the page https://www.apple.com/ru/ipod-touch/, H1 and H2 headers are the same. This is duplicated content.
15. Check the number of tags lining to a product page
Since search engines prioritize the first link to page in the code over other links, it’s important to set the right anchor.
The problem wasn’t detected.
There is only one link to the product with the correct anchor for the whole block.
16. Check the display of snippets in the search
A snippet is a small segment of text displayed in search results along with a link. It’s a brief description of the page content relevant to the search query. Interesting and informative snippets are crucial for website marketing.
This problem was detected.
The snippets of other websites look more attractive and complete than the official website snippets.
17. Check the quality of image optimization
Images are often mistakenly perceived as the simplest element. Yet if you optimize them, you will be thrilled with the result. Make sure to check images during your website analysis. Every image has a file name and an alt attribute that are very useful for website promotion. An alt attribute allows you to enter the text that will be displayed in case the image cannot be shown.
Why do you need this attribute? If a user views your website in a browser with turned off images or uses a screen reader, the alt text will serve as the description of the image.
Alt text is also used in graphic links. In this case, search engines process it as the anchor text of a link. Nevertheless, don’t use a lot of graphic links for website navigation since text links can perfectly deal with that. In addition, the correct image description in an alt tag and an informative file name help image search engines (e.g., Google Images) index website images, which makes website promotion more effective.
An Image Title tag is the text displayed when users hover the image with a cursor. It’s slightly less important for website promotion than an Alt attribute but is also worth using.
This problem was detected.
The Alt attribute is missing.
18. Check the quality of outbound links
Don’t link from your website, especially online store, to third-party resources, when it isn’t justified (links to your groups in social media, your landings on other domains, etc.). This can have a negative impact on the trust of search systems to the resource and your marketing efforts. Moreover, you may lose potential customers that will leave your page.
During the SEO audit, some problems with outbound links optimization were detected.
This website has links to 703 resources
16 of them are broken
For example, on the https://www.apple.com/ios/home/accessories/ page
there is the outbound link that forwards users to the 404 page.
19. Check whether the technical pages are closed from indexing
In addition to using no-index commands for technical pages (admin panel, cart page, order page, etc.) in a robots.txt file, it’s recommended to additionally specify this for search bots. To do that, add the corresponding meta tags to the HEAD of the necessary page. Also, to make your website promotion more effective, mark the links to these pages as rel = “nofollow”. This way search bots won’t try to access the technical pages and index the content to which these links are leading.
We found the technical pages of the analyzed website in the index.
20. Link Mass Analysis
Starting a new project and conducting an audit, an earnest SEO specialist, first of all, analyzes the link mass of a website. The analysis includes both inbound and outbound links. It’s like counting money before you take it. Link mass analysis shows the current condition of a website and helps to detect spam links which can result in a Google penalty.
We don’t mean that the possible problems can show whether the SEO expert should take the project or refuse from it. Any website can be saved from strict search filters and promoted to the search top. It’s all about effort, time, and cost.
When will we get the desired result? – is a common question SEO marketing specialists usually hear from their customers. If you talk about the timeline before your check this simple parameter, you may end up in an unpleasant situation when you need to explain to the customer that everything appeared to be worse than you thought.
Ideally, a quick link mass analysis should be conducted before the first briefing with a customer. Thus in addition to the basic information provided by the customer, you will also have primary data and get a chance to see the real situation. For example, the customer may conceal that before he worked with a poorly qualified or incompetent SEO specialist who led the website to a disaster. As a result, now the page violates numerous search engine filters. In this case, the understanding of the real situation will save you from being blamed for all the current problems.
If you don’t know where to start an SEO audit from, try starting from link analysis. This will help to plan the future groundwork defining not only your politics but also website promotion strategies in general. The 30 minutes spent on link mass analysis and a brief SEO report are worth the effort.
For an automatic website audit, the functionality of old faithful Ahrefs is enough and pretty affordable. You can also draw some valuable insights from Google Search Console (if the website statistics is available) or use alternative tools like Serpstat or SEMrush.
Sample link mass analysis of apple.com
This resource has a developed link mass.
The website is referred by 705,076 domains. The largest number of links belongs to audioboom.com (the music website) with 18,137,453 links.
The domains with dofollow links (680950), except for apple.com, are mainly various blogs, stores, and forums.
In total there are 78,560 domains with nofollow links. These are usually different official information portals and online media.
The domains with the highest domain rating are Twitter, YouTube, Linked.In, plus.google.com, google.com.
The analyzed resource has 34,007,534 backlinks.
Out of these links, 29,641,413 links are Dofollow that, based on the domains, mainly come from different music and game websites.
5,887,519 of all backlinks are Nofollow that, based on the domains, mainly come from various official information portals and online media.
Example of the link on one of such websites
The links to apple.com have 1,731,004 anchors.
And 32,300 of them are non-anchor.
Among the keywords of the analyzed resource, the names of Apple’s most popular software, including itunes, icloud, and apple store, have the highest traffic.
Here are the top organic keywords in the USA:
Organic keywords in the UK:
As a result, the following pages get the highest total user traffic:
Generally, in social media, the content from Customer Letter – Apple, Watch the Apple Special Event, iTunes, iPhone, Mac is the most popular.
Here are the pages popular on Facebook:
And on Twitter:
Let’s summarize the key definitions covered in this article. Each definition will help to explain a separate notion.
SEO audit is a tool that allows evaluating whether a website meets the current market demands.
Link mass analysis is one of its components that should be used as a starting point of the audit. The assessment of inbound and outboard links is the most important when you start working with a project. The information collected during such initial audit will help you to define the current state of optimization and detect the mistakes that were possibly made earlier. The link mass analysis conducted before the briefing with your customer and full SEO audit provides some initial answers. In particular, it shows how much time is necessary to achieve the KPIs a corporate SEO specialist is asked to meet.
The check of the technical configuration of internal optimization parameters allows you to eliminate the possible flaws such as duplicate pages, extra code, broken links, etc. Such testing will make the website more appealing for search bots, improve its ranking, and speed up the indexation of the pages. This will stimulate the website promotion process.
The keyword-based analysis of the semantic kernel and search results shows which marketing solutions are used by your competitors. It also helps to find out which of your methods are borrowed by other web resources and, vice versa, which of third-party SEO solutions may be applied to your customer’s website. This information gives you more space to find new ways to differentiate your offer. Simply put, you get a chance to find a free niche and use it as a bypass to win the heart of your target user.